David Lambert, town manager of Robbins, in December 2017

David Lambert, town manager of Robbins, in December 2017. (Photograph by Ted Fitzgerald/The Pilot)

David Lambert, town manager of Robbins, announced his resignation at the end of a specially called board of commissioners meeting on Tuesday.

A native of Robbins and former town commissioner, Lambert was hired as manager in September 2016.

“This is one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make, as I have strong sentimental connections to this community,” he wrote in his letter of resignation. “I came to Robbins to solve problems and I am incredibly pleased with what we have been able to accomplish.”

During his time as manager, Lambert spearheaded a rebranding initiative for Robbins and helped secure more than $5 million in grants and other awards. He guided local recovery efforts after Hurricane Florence and advocated for the town in meetings with state senators in Raleigh.

Lambert’s resignation is effective Aug. 9 , but he has offered to continue working for the town on an “interim basis” if the manager position isn’t filled by then, providing he has not accepted another job.

The meeting on Tuesday had been convened to discuss Lambert’s proposed budget for the town, which included a property tax rate increase of 11 cents. Despite having authorized a larger increase of 15 cents during a work session in January, the commissioners rejected the prepared budget.

According to Lambert, the 11-cent rate hike would have represented an average annual cost increase of about $80 for residents. 

The board voted instead to adopt a revised budget with a 66-cent tax rate — nine pennies less than the budget originally prepared by Lambert. The lower rate was reached after the commissioners’ decided to give up their annual salaries, a combined annual expense of nearly $16,000, and to eliminate a vacant police officer position, a cut Lambert had advised against.

“In my professional opinion, the reduction of our police force will significantly reduce services for citizens and the proposal presents significant administrative concerns,” he wrote in a memo shared with the commissioners before the meeting.

While less than the maximum tax increase authorized by the board, the originally proposed rate of 75 cents was met with strong opposition by commissioners Kevin Stewart, Terri Holt and Brandon Phillips, who is a police officer in Taylortown.

“We cannot bankrupt the citizens,” Stewart said, citing recent increases to the town’s water and sewer rates. “Not everyone can afford it.”

The three commissioners voted in favor of the revised budget, while commissioners Joey Boswell and Nikki Green supported Lambert’s original budget. Lambert submitted his resignation letter to the board after the decision, but said he planned to resign “regardless of what happened tonight.”

Still, Mayor Lonnie English told the commissioners they were “making a big mistake by getting rid of David.” 

“You’ve lost somebody that helped us get $5 million in grants,” English said, “and if you don’t have someone of that caliber coming in again, we’re going to go backward.” 

Lambert did not want to tender his resignation during the commissioners’ regularly scheduled meeting in June, he said, because of a clause in his contract requiring him to provide 60 days notice.

A graduate of North Moore High School, Lambert holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and a law degree from Elon University School of Law. He previously worked as a case coordinator in Randolph County’s Family Court.

He is the son of the late Charles Lambert, an educator and former member of the Moore County Board of Education.

An emergency meeting was called Thursday to address the budget approved two evenings earlier. In a surprising reversal, Stewart proposed that the commissioners approve the original budget that he had voted against.

He said the change was based on the cycle of “deferred maintenance” that would be continued by the revised budget.

“Deferred maintenance has got us where we are now,” Stewart said. “The more we keep putting Band-Aids on stuff, the more it is going to cost us.”

Green was unable to attend the emergency meeting. Following a split decision by the four board members on hand, English cast the deciding vote in favor of the original budget.

Copies of the budget will be made available for public inspection. Residents are invited to comment on the budget during a public hearing on June 13.

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