Mayor says Mount Olive is working on fixing its finances
By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on October 5, 2010 1:46 PM
MOUNT OLIVE -- Mount Olive Mayor Ray McDonald Sr. responded Monday to concerns about the town's finances at the town board's monthly meeting.
McDonald addressed a town financial audit from the 2008 fiscal year that pointed out several long-running issues, including the way the town reports financial information and separation of employee duties.
Town staff members are working closely with the Local Government Commission -- a division of the State Department of the Treasury that assists municipalities in making financial decisions -- and the commission's report is "the one that matters," McDonald said.
"The (Local Government Commission) is trying to help us come up with some ideas for how to fix those problems," he said.
Also, in regards to the separation of duties, the town is simply too small to have that many employees, the mayor said.
"The number of people we've got working is about all we can fit in that front office," McDonald said.
At the meeting, the commissioners were also provided information about all budget adjustments made throughout the current year.
The town of Mount Olive has suffered financial struggles for months as officials cut jobs, suspended town employee 401(k) fund contributions and are now changing the way town departments spend money.
Even if the town's situation improves locally, state financial issues could affect how much money the town receives from state-collected tax revenue next year. Additionally, the town will receive about $25,000 less in Powell Bill money for street repairs this year, Mount Olive Finance Officer Arlene Talton said.
The mayor has confidence in town staff and is optimistic about the town's future, but mentioned that at some point, a tight economy becomes an issue of losing some services as a consequence of cutting personnel, or potentially raising taxes.
But "don't jump to conclusions until you see the budget next year," he said.
Mrs. Talton also briefly updated the board on the total amounts of money coming into the town from ad valorem and motor vehicle taxes.
In other business, the commissioners discussed options for the railroad crossing at Center Street and Hillsborough Street in the south end of town. The state Department of Transportation studied another railroad intersection, at Center Street and County Road, and will pay to install a crossing gate at the intersection. The crossing is currently controlled only by a warning light.
The Hillsborough Street intersection is also uncontrolled, but because it is a town-owned road, the town would be required to pay about $21,000 of the $210,000 it would take to build a crossing gate.
Officials gave the town three options to consider during the discussion: Build the crossing gate, close the road, which dead-ends on one side of Center Street, or draft a letter that would essentially assume town liability for the intersection.
Town attorney Carroll Turner did not recommend the latter approach, and advocated against closing the intersection due to convenience issues for people who live in the southern part of Mount Olive and safety concerns for police responding to emergencies. Installing the gate, if it could be accomplished from a financial standpoint, would be the best option, he said.
The state could offer the town a three-year payment plan to cover the $21,000, with a $7,000 payment each year, if the town can afford it, Town Manager Brown said.
The cost would come at a difficult time for the town, Commissioner Gene Lee said.
"First thing, we don't need any more debts," he said.
But the town does have to take residents' safety into account, the mayor said.
"If we put the gates there and it saves somebody's life, it's worth every dime spent," McDonald said.
The commissioners tabled the discussion until the Nov. 1 meeting.
Mount Olive Police Chief Ralph Schroeder announced that the town will hold trick-or-treating for children Saturday, Oct. 30, from 6 to 8 p.m.