Funding for the Robbins Police Department was a hot button topic of discussion during the town’s Board of Commissioners meeting Thursday in the only scheduled meeting of the board before a new fiscal year budget was needed to be approved.
The budget that interim town manager Jon Barlow constructed that was presented to the public ahead of Thursday’s meeting was approved by the board in a 4-1 vote, with the dissenting vote cast by commissioner Joey Boswell. The other commissioners used the public comment portion of the meeting to clarify their stance on the funding across the board, and for the police department.
“The board definitely supports every department that works for the town,” said Nikki Bradshaw, mayor pro tem. “This was not an easy task for any of us, but there has never been any discussion of defunding the police. This was a budget process and I think we did the best that we could do.”
The budget features a one cent tax decrease and a 3 percent increase for sewage rates for town residents that will begin at the start of the new fiscal year beginning on July 1.
The ad valorem tax rate for the town is 74 cents per $100 valuation. The general fund is budgeted for $1,428,050, and the water fund for $842,580.
The budget included no additional personnel, but budgeted for the full-time salary for Clint Mack, who was announced as the town’s new manager during Thursday’s meeting. He will start on July 6. (Read more here.)
During the public comment portion of the meeting, the commissioners heard from Brandon McGaha, a staff representative for the N.C. Police Benevolent Association, who asked the board to go back to the drawing board with the proposed budget to provide the funding needed for the Police Department.
“What we’re seeing is a trend of local municipalities who are not properly funding their police departments,” he said. “Your town has been brought to our attention. We’ve began to examine some of the things that are being cut from the proposed budget.”
Commissioners said during their comment portion of the meeting that the Police Department is receiving a $78,000 increase from what was initially budgeted for last fiscal year. For the coming year, the budget includes $477,300 out of the general fund for the police department, and $20,000 in capital expenditures to purchase two surplus police vehicles.
“Looking at our estimates, y'all's police department should be funded at about $500,000,” McGaha said. “Last year’s budget was too low.”
McGaha said getting used vehicles was a quick fix for the department, and could lead to further maintenance and safety risks for officers in the future. Police Chief Lawson Thomas said that currently five vehicles in the department’s fleet have over 100,000 miles and the newest vehicle is a 2019 model.
Thomas also said that the department for the current fiscal year operated at more than $480,000 for expenditures, and Barlow reminded the commissioners of the flexibility in a budget regarding incoming cash flow and unforeseen costs.
“You have to realize that the budget is a living document,” Barlow said.
Former town manager and Robbins resident David Lambert spoke during the public comment segment to say that other departments in the town are also falling behind in funding and it’s coming at a cost for the town.
“We’re about to have unprecedented amount of funds through the FEMA projects, the head works, all these improvements that are about to happen. COVID money is coming in and can be used for capital projects, once they decide how we are supposed to spend it,” Lambert said. “Unprecedented amount of time to invest in this infrastructure and invest in this program.”
Stating that some of the “band aid” fixes were what he instituted while serving as town manager, he said the need for a full-time director for the Public Works Department – a position that has been vacant for two years – is needed for infrastructure improvements.
The Board also unanimously approved the annexation of more than two acres of property near the N.C. 705 and N.C. 24-27 intersection, and also rezoned it for commercial use. The property adjoins several other parcels of satellite annexation at the intersection.
“The reason we are requesting the annexation is we are looking at a retail store on that intersection,” said Scott Brown of the 4D Site Solutions who will oversee the engineering and surveying of the project.
“In order to serve that site with water and sewer, the county does not have any utilities out in that area, just the town of Robbins.”
Brown’s site plans for the property he had at the meeting said “Dollar General” in large print across the top of the paper.