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Council 3-2 cuts travel

By Jim Buice
The Clemmons Courier

Although the 2014-15 fiscal year budget ordinance of nearly $6 million was approved in Monday night’s Clemmons Village Council meeting, most of a lively debate for just a fraction of that amount continued to center on the merits of travel funding and membership for the N.C. League of Municipalities and the National League of Cities.
That was the focus of the previous meeting when the Council voted by a 3-2 margin to cut out all travel expenses for the NCLM and NLC and led to dropping the town’s membership in the NLC.
Councilwoman Mary Cameron, who is on the NLC’s board of directors from Clemmons as the state’s only representative, made a motion Monday night to amend the budget ordinance to reinstate membership in the NLC and restore the travel allotment, all for a reduced figure of $6,800.
Councilman Mike Rogers, who has represented Clemmons on the NCLM and NLC along with Cameron, helped make the case for the importance of being a part of these organizations, but the 3-2 vote against the motion held again with councilmen Norman Denny, Bill Lawry and Darrell Roark opposed.
All three commented they couldn’t see the value of Clemmons being a part of the NLC. In Monday night’s meeting, Cameron provided new information that the group was willing to drop its membership fee from $1,600 to $750. She and Rogers outlined other ways to reduce travel costs to $5,700 for the NCLM and NLC. The numbers mentioned in the last meeting for travel topped $20,000.
“The bottom line is we have to be there or we’re going to be passed over,” Cameron said. “We can’t do that without retaining membership and without providing funding for travel to these organizations. So I think, given the new numbers, this is a middle-of-the-road compromise. We’re saving money, but we’re still able to be there and be part of the program.”
Cameron provided letters of support from four of the five previous mayors of Clemmons and other elected officials. Susan Jones, wife of the late Chris Jones — a longtime councilman who was past president of the NCLM — spoke during the public hearing. She called the decision “disturbing” and asked the Council to rethink its decision.
“In the last 15 years Clemmons has been one of North Carolina’s small towns with a voice on the state and national level, thus allowing us to enjoy more benefits due to our recognition by others in these organizations,” Susan Jones said. “If this cut takes place and we no longer participate in order to save money, we will certainly stand to lose all that has been gained by the hard work, time and efforts of previous councils.”
Ed Brewer, a former Clemmons mayor, also spoke in opposition to the “short-sighted” decision.
Mayor Nick Nelson, who introduced the proposal to trim the travel reimbursement for the NCLM and NLC, said he see benefits in being part of the NCLM but has a concern “that we are also advocating for other municipalities versus really taking to task the reason why we would be there which is Clemmons issues in Clemmons.”
Roark again stated that he agreed the Village should participate in the NCLM, but he said: “I’m not asking anyone to pay for that. I’m going to pay for it out of the $300 that I get paid here a month to travel in North Carolina. I don’t see the need for the National when the North Carolina is going to represent us in the National level anyway.”
Denny added that he didn’t think Clemmons received enough feedback on the federal level, and Lawry again said that Cameron brought back information from the NLC that “advocated for amnesty for 30 million illegal people” in the United States.
“This is absolutely not what I was put on Clemmons Council to advocate for,” Lawry said. “Show me something that the National League of Cities has given us that counterbalances that.”
Cameron said she couldn’t understand what had changed since last year when the Council gave her permission to be part of the NLC board.
“I applied and I was appointed, and now you’re saying what was good then is not good now,” she said, adding it would mean an extra meeting a year and there was a monetary component to it. “I got approval for a two-year term, and now I’ve been allowed to go to one meeting, and that’s it.”
Rogers said: “We were at $4.3 million in the General Fund two years ago, $4.8 million last year, and this year is projected at $5.2 million. It’s not that we’re in dire straits, and I think the money has been reduced dramatically. It’s well spent for our participation.”
After the budget ordinance passed by a 3-2 margin (with Cameron and Rogers again opposed), the stormwater utility fee rate for fiscal year 2014-15 was approved as presented by a 3-2 vote. However, there was confusion over a second motion made by Rogers to reduce the rate by 50 cents a month due to projects coming in a lower rate.
Attorney Warren Kasper then asked the Council to take a new motion and start over with the first motion, which was upheld by a 3-2 margin.
Gary Looper, village manager, concluded the meeting by “formalizing and acknowledging in public” changes made in the May 27 meeting to assign all 40 points in the Village’s choice of a division road project to Lewisville-Clemmons Road.
Instead, the point assignment was shifted to Idols Road, another of the finalists along with the Peace Haven/Styers Ferry Road Connector. Looper stated in the previous meeting that there was no guarantee the allocation of points would change a priority level or lead to funding approval.
Concerns were raised by Council members about changing what had been agreed upon in the meeting, but Nelson, who is the Transportation Advisory Committee representative for the Village, explained his position.
“As the appointed TAC representative, it was my responsibility to submit the qualitative objectives,” Nelson said. “Although Council had made a motion, I felt it was important to me that discussion with the leaders and safety around this community, for me, new information came to light, which I felt was important to share with Council. The information was provided by Fire Chief (Jerry) Brooks, who had suggested that putting a median down Lewisville-Clemmons Road would decrease response time and safety.”
Although the widening of Lewisville-Clemmons Road was Looper’s recommendation to receive the points, Nelson said he also knew that Idols Road was “a viable project” and that there was a time constraint with the deadline of June 6 coming before the next council meeting.
“My problem was with the process, not the project,” Cameron said. “The public’s business should be conducted in public.
The council also:
• Voted to fill positions on various Village boards, including Michael L. Combest, Raymond McDowell and Debbie Taylor on the Planning Board; Daniel Parks and Chris Safley on the Zoning Board of Adjustment; Eric Blanks on the Stormwater Advisory Board; and Ted Warren on the Triad Municipal and ABC Board.
• Heard from Looper on a new contract agreement with Forsyth County and the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office for community policing. The projected annual cost is $1,058,629.
• Heard from Looper on the most recent bids on the Village Point Lake greenway project. Looper said that the NCDOT had reviewed all the forms and accepted the second lowest responsive bid of $894,112 over the lowest bid of $885,663 from James R. Vannoy & Sons Construction Co. because all the requirements were not met.
• Heard from Looper regarding membership in and funding for the NCLM Regulatory Technical Assistance Fund, but any action was tabled until the first meeting in July.
• Agreed by consensus not to consider a right-of-way disposition request for a tract on Valley Oak Drive because of stormwater concerns.
• Approved resolutions for tax collection for 2014 taxes, and 2013 and prior years’ taxes by the Forsyth County Tax Collector.
• Heard from Robin Dean in the public comments of the meeting about the need to relocate the Clemmons Post Office from the present location on U.S. 158 to Kinnamon Village Shopping Center.