Several Goldsboro residents spoke out during Monday night’s city budget public hearing saying they hoped council will be fiscally responsible during this year’s budget deliberations.
Sally Johnson, who retired from the planning department in November, said this year is the first time she has looked at the city budget not as a city employee but as a taxpayer.
There is $720 budgeted as a cellphone stipend for council. She said council members receive city-related calls all the time on their cellphones and it should be considered as part of serving the public. Johnson said in the fairness of all, the expenditure should be eliminated.
The proposed budget also has an additional $80,000 earmarked for the city’s consultant fee, increasing the total fee to $155,000, she said.
“It is my understanding this is due to the funding of a strategic plan,” she said. “While I applauded the council’s willingness to look forward, I believe more detail is needed as to what is actually constituting a plan and what the council hopes to learn.”
Mayor Chuck Allen thanked Johnson for her input and reminded everyone in attendance that the budget is only a proposed budget and subject to change. The reason for the public hearing was to get input from citizens that will be considered when council holds its budget work session starting at 2 p.m. Thursday.
A city employee pay study has also been budgeted at a proposed cost of $28,500, and although the study is sometimes necessary to keep the city competitive with salaries and benefits, including the six or seven times they were done during Johnson’s 42 years of employment with the city, she said she thought they were used to “cherry-pick” who would benefit and who wouldn’t.
“I know the last time we heard, it was going to cost $2 million to implement that study and it was never implemented,” she said. “And if you’re not prepared to follow the recommendations of the study, you might as well save the $28,500.”
The community/employees functions and awards line item cost in the proposed budget has increased from $4,300 last year to $34,050. Johnson said it was her understanding that the reason for the increase was to hold block parties in each of the council members’ districts.
Johnson said not only did she think it was irresponsible spending but also possibly illegal if a block party was used to solicit votes in the November election.
“Gentlemen, there are people working for the city that don’t make $30,000,” she said.
If the expenditure remains in council’s discretionary fund, Johnson asked that block parties not take place until after the election.
Council’s travel expenditures also concerned Johnson with an addition of more than $14,000 in the proposed budget for a total of $30,000, Johnson said.
“I think there needs to be more oversight in this regard,” she said. “As taxpayers and employees of the city, we have difficulty understanding that kind of expense. While your citizens tighten their belts and make do with less, council should also be willing to at least hold the line on costs that are not necessary.”
Johnson said it was also “mind-blowing” to see nearly $100,000 allocated for two pickup trucks in the budget that include a $60,000 pickup truck for distribution and collections and a $32,000 pickup truck for the fire department.
Councilman Bevan Foster thanked Johnson for her insight and said another thing she might be interested in is the $4,000 annual cost that goes toward meals for council members, including food before each council meeting.
“We are all grown men,” Foster said. “We can eat before we come here, if need be. We shouldn’t be spending the taxpayers’ money on food for us.”
Mark Colebrook, a teacher at Brogden Middle School, asked last year that a teachers’ supplement pay be funded and returned Monday night to ask again. He said Wayne County commissioners have proposed an increase in teachers’ pay and asked on behalf of the county and city that council consider a teachers’ supplement during their budget deliberations.
Other issues speakers wanted addressed are paving roads, cutting expenses at the city’s golf course, paying down debt instead of spending $11.1 million for a new Herman Park Recreation Center, which the 2019-20 budget does not address, and instead spend the money on infrastructure in the city.
Resident Carl Martin said the golf course was losing $200,000 and at a past meeting a couple years ago, Councilman Gene Aycock said if there wasn’t any improvement in the golf course, he would be the first to close it.
Martin asked Aycock to make a motion to close the golf course and the audience applauded.
Aycock did not make a motion because the budget hearing was held to get feedback from citizens and think about what they said during budget deliberations.
The city’s 2019-20 proposed budget of $63.4 million does not include a property tax increase. Residential water and sewer rates are also proposed to remain the same. The council may have two budget work sessions prior to adoption. The budget goes into effect on July 1.