ROANOKE RAPIDS — Fire Chief Jason Patrick highlighted two of his staff members during the Roanoke Rapids City Council work session on Tuesday.
The department has a new Fire Safety House, through a Fire Prevention and Safety Federal Emergency Management Agency Grant for $125,000 with the city’s investment of $6,250.
“I want to recognize a couple people that have put a lot of work into this — Deputy Chief Wes Hux and Fire and Life Safety Educator Michael Butts,” Chief Patrick said.
The new house replaces an older one, of which Patrick shared the history beginning when he came to the city in 1997. The department borrowed the house from then Carolina Telephone, who eventually donated the house to the fire department, Patrick said. It is about 30 years old.
“With a lot of the help of our guys, we remodeled it twice during the time we had it — about 23 years,” he said. “From the start, Wes has been there with helping to put the grant together.”
Patrick said Butts will use the new house the most as one of his primary jobs is Fire and Life Safety educator. He also does some of the department’s CPR and first aid classes and has been instrumental in the graphics.
“Michael and Wes have put in the time and effort in getting the funding,” Patrick said. “As soon as the COVID regulations are lifted, we can get out more and get our message out.”
In other news, Police Chief Bobby Martin said some complaints have come to the department about golf carts in the city.
“Some citizens brought it my attention — I want them to know we do listen, but we also have concerns and we also have to remember the safety of everyone else in the city limits,” Martin said.
Presenting a draft of a proposed ordinance to council for review, Martin said during his research he reached out to city attorney Geoffrey Davis and City Manager Joe Scherer.
“I have my reservations in regard to it and wanted to discuss with council to get your feelings about having golf courts within city limits,” Martin said. “As we know, we do have them in the city limits, there is no registration required, no ordinance that covers golf carts specifically, so I reached out to other municipalities to find out.”
Chief Martin offered some pros of having a golf cart ordinance.
• Registration would offer a way to regulate who is in charge of the golf cart and who is the responsible person.
“And if any ordinances are violated, this would turnabout change in terms of safety concerns and handling of the golf carts already in the city limits that have no registration,” he said. “We get complaints, we go to the area, and we warn the individuals.”
Some of the cons he offered include the following:
• Golf carts are not safe to allow on a street with 35 mph zone.
“You still have to cross those main streets,” Martin said. “If you allow them and you don’t name each and every street and we stop someone, they may say, ‘It doesn’t say this in the ordinance.”
• If carts are involved in collisions, they will not hold up and a serious injury or death may occur.
• Registration needs to be regulated by the police department.
“The issue then would be manpower to oversee this program and that would bring into question juveniles operating these vehicles without supervision and carts on the streets at night,” Martin said. “How safe is it?”
Martin said additional discussions about registration fees and fees for violating the ordinance should also take place about the proposed ordinance.
In other news, Planning and Development Director Kelly Lasky shared an update on moving forward with the Community Development Block Grant Neighborhood Revitalization program.
As a condition of grant funding approval of $750,000, on April 20, council will be asked to formally adopt 14 resolutions, such as a Financial Management Resolution, a Citizen Participation Plan, a Code of Conduct and a Fair Housing Policy.
“On March 18, the city did receive our formal package from the state which we returned as required to start using administrative funds to satisfy grant conditions listed in these contract documents,” Lasky said. “The grant agreement sets forth all of the program guidelines, saying we have to spend the funds in accordance with the application.”
Mayor Emery Doughtie asked from which funds will folks be paid who are hired to complete the project.
“Let’s say the assistant planner — where would the money come from to pay that person?”
Lasky said the state will provide guidance on where to code in order to be reimbursed.
“But as expected, there are no city funds committed to this, and so everybody would be paid for with the grant,” she said.
In budget news, Scherer outlined a FY 2021-22 preliminary budget review, with overall budget estimates with estimated revenue at $15.6-16M. But on Tuesday, he had not seen the North Carolina League of Municipalities revenue forecast, he said. Initial budget submissions are at $16.9M in this preliminary stage, he said.
The proposed budget calendar involves several work and planning sessions, before an estimated June 18 passing final budget date.
He read from his report, the past fiscal year has been tough causing reduced staffing, no assistance from the prison system, facilities temporarily shut, programs canceled, revenue reduced, dealing with the virus response and trying to keep employees safe.
He also mentioned some upward trends:
• Recently the economy has picked up with January sales tax revenue the highest in a long time
• Travel is picking up again
• Other revenue sources continue a slight upward trend
• Some major expenses are also trending up, such as fuel, health insurance, tipping fees and street light costs
“For the FY 2021-22 budget, we plan to address major needs of our personnel and equipment needs, some of which have been lacking in past years and are becoming critical,” Scherer said.
Some of the budget priorities include salary and personnel benefits, public safety forces, infrastructure repair and keeping facilities open.“
The major budget inclusions:
• Repaving — $400K
• Restoring positions in police department and public works
• Possible use of American Rescue Plan funds ($4.19M) for cost-of-living adjustment
• Public Works capital — refuse, truck, knuckle boom and leaf machine
• City Hall elevator replacement
• Police and fire department vehicles
Mayor Pro Tem Carl Ferebee said in addition to the protection and other items a city is expected to do, folks considering relocating here expect recreational activities.
“When people come to relocate, if the wives in many cases don’t like what is going on, they will not come,” he said. “We have to look at those too, going back to the Aquatic Center, etc., those types of things and Parks and Rec areas. People look at that for their kids and they look at their kids more than themselves in many cases.”
Scherer said the city plans on revisiting a list of some of the cut backs from the last budget and the restoration of those prior to using the dollars elsewhere that the city receives.
“I believe they are for restoration funding,” Scherer said.
Doughtie said the city has had to cut back on some things ever since he has been sitting in his chair as the mayor.
“I see we have $400,000 in next year’s budget for repaving,” he said. “I don’t know how far down we will go. At some point we can talk to Public Works and see what they are going to do. Anybody that travels through our community — we don’t maintain 10th Street. I appreciate the state being so generous to us as they have been in the last several years.”
He added, “I know our police department, that is something I put very high on my priority list. I think when people look at moving to a community, the schools, the crime rate, the infrastructure, those are things they look at. If you don’t have good roads, schools and a safe community, they continue to go somewhere else.
“It’s wonderful we are going to receive this money, as I have stated in the past, just before I was elected as the mayor, the fund balance was 8%, that is right at the minimum we are required to have by the state government. We have been able to get it to about 20-25% and we’ve had to drop back some, but lean times will continue to come. They come and they go, and the people who will survive and advance will be the ones who are prepared for it.”
In addition, Scherer shared some miscellaneous information.
The final donation for the centennial clock repair is forthcoming, allowing the clock repair and installation of system upgrades to begin, he said. Also, the N.C. Department of Transportation has indicated it has a resurfacing package with Rose Brothers Paving to repave the area of West 10th Street, from zero to Roanoke Avenue.
“They are hoping to have it done this summer,” he said. “The state has also come out with some new judicial guidance that in general, 18 year olds are to be considered juveniles and not adults for criminal acts. The police department has received training and guidance on how to handle these situations.”