09/16/10 — Mount Olive has to lay off to handle debt load

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Mount Olive has to lay off to handle debt load

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on September 16, 2010 1:46 PM

Austerity moves by the town of Mount Olive have claimed two more jobs and a third could be looming, Mayor-Pro Tem Kenny Talton said Monday evening.

One is in the police department, while the other is in the water distribution department -- further evidence that the town's financial picture is not as rosy as some people would like to paint it, Talton said.

Part of the problem, he explained, are mistakes and miscalculations in the budget, including an underestimation of garbage collection costs, and bills that had to be held in order for the town to gain sufficient funds to pay them.

However, he also said that he thinks most people can understand such financial difficulties in these hard economic times.

Town Manager Charles Brown refused to discuss the layoffs, citing personnel rules and advice from the town board.

But Talton said he was not aware of any such instructions, adding that he believed such information should be out in the open.

"A couple of months ago, we convened a special subcommittee, or a committee, to look at the current year fiscal budget," Talton said. "That consisted of myself, Charles Brown, (Commissioner) George Fulghum and (Mayor) Ray McDonald. We wanted to evaluate the budget for the current year and see what we could do to address the concerns with the economy and Clean Water Bonds, those funds we were hoping would be refunded. We knew at the same time that we might not see that money and if we didn't it would add more to the flames.

"All of this is public information. There is no need to skirt around the issue, just the fact these are difficult times and call for difficult decisions. I do know that Charles is under an extreme amount of pressure. He is doing the best that he can with the resources that he has got. When you are dealing with personnel, these are his troops and the last thing he wants to do is add more kindle for a fire."

The cuts will save the town $62,270.

Also concerning the town is the future of the temporary 1-cent sales tax increase that Gov. Beverly Perdue is hoping to allow to expire on July 1, 2011.

"She's said she's going to let it expire, but she also said she wasn't going to lock herself into that," Brown said.

Even with the extra penny, the town lost nearly six digits worth of sales tax revenue from 2008 to 2009 due to the recession. Losing it could cost between $20,000 and $50,000.

And while it may be early to be concerned about it, Brown said the recession has taught them the necessity of planning ahead.

"What we're trying to do is ensure we're in a position to weather the storm next year, more so really than the year we're in right now," he said.

The town has made about $579,000 in cuts, starting with a $310,000 reduction from last year's budget: Cutting positions, delaying equipment purchases and even setting guidelines for donations to charitable organizations.

"What we've been doing with our budget, which has raised a lot of eyebrows, is trying to prepare, not just for this year, but for next year," Brown said.