Landis officials discuss progress, goals during budget work session
By Natalie Anderson
LANDIS — Town staff presented aldermen on Monday an outline of the past year and discussed future plans during a preliminary work session for the upcoming 2021-22 fiscal year budget.
Interim Town Manager Leonard Barefoot said Monday’s discussion was too premature for a budget workshop but that the presentations would allow town aldermen to reflect on the past fiscal year as it looks ahead to “where we want to go.”
Finance Director Diane Seaford said the town last week received a $15,000 check via the state’s debt set-off program. Debt set-off is a way to collect outstanding balances from accounts that are no longer active. Seaford said debt set-off for the town had not been filed since 2017.
She said the town has received $65,000 in state sales tax refunds for purchases that had not been previously submitted over the previous three years. She estimates the town has close to $6 million in outstanding debt.
Seaford praised the town for receiving clean audits from two independent firms, noting that the town “went from receiving letters from the (Local Government Commission)” to having “no findings in this year’s audit.”
Pam Doubis, who’s retired and working with the town’s finance department, told aldermen the fund balance in the sewer fund has remained negative since 2016-17, but it has improved from $420,794 outstanding in the 2018-19 fund balance to $266,527 outstanding at the end of fiscal year 2019-20.
At the March 9 meeting, Raleigh-based accounting firm Ann R. Craven told the town a total of 27.85% was left for the town’s fund balance in the 2019-20 fiscal year. The fund balance partially serves as a savings account. The LGC prefers that rate be 40%. In the 2018-19 year, that rate was only 8.77%.
Moving forward, Seaford said, the department plans to implement finance and purchasing policies for the town by the end of the 2021-22 fiscal year.
Landis’ Revenue and Billing Supervisor Rebecca Powell told aldermen the town has implemented new advanced metering infrastructure, or AMI, meters throughout town, which allows the department to see in real-time anything that may be off with utility usage. Additionally, the new system eliminates the need for three employees to spend days physically checking meters. Currently, only 40 homes don’t have the new meters, but those homeowners are required to upgrade the infrastructure themselves before a new AMI meter is placed by the town.
Powell said the system will soon undergo an audit for any anomalies. She clarified the new system cannot be hacked into — a concern among many local citizens, said Mayor Meredith Smith — and that the town is notified immediately if there are any incidents of tampering with meters.
Seaford and Powell remind the town that information about efficient energy use has been published on the town’s website following many concerns from customers about their high utilities bills. Smith encouraged locals to call town hall and go through their usage with Powell if they need to better understand their bill amounts.
Public Safety Director Zachary Lechette, who began his role in December, said the department received 13,000 calls for service from law enforcement in the 2019-20 fiscal year, and 800 calls for fire services. He anticipates both departments are on track to meet or exceed that same volume by June 30, the end of the current fiscal year.
In February, former interim Police Chief Kevin Young was promoted to assistant public safety director. Additionally, Charles Sheeks, formerly a lieutenant with the Landis Fire Department, was promoted to captain. Dakota Toms, previously a patrol officer, was promoted to patrol sergeant.
Lechette said he expects to be able to hire the first public safety officer position in the 2021-22 fiscal year. That officer will be trained to respond to both police and fire calls.
Lechette said the department is in the process of replacing existing rifles for officers at no cost to the city.
For the upcoming fiscal year, Lechette said he plans to have the department’s policies published online. Additionally, he told board members public safety vehicles moving forward will have red, blue and white lights as seen in other towns with public safety departments.
Parks and Recreation
Parks and Recreation Director Jessica Stamper told board members the Lake Corriher park fared well throughout the pandemic, with a significant increase in the distribution of fishing passes and equipment. Stamper added that from April to October, or the peak season, there were only three weekends without cabin rentals. The park currently has two available cabins for rent, along with six tent sites.
Stamper said looking ahead, she’d like to explore adding another tent site and a play structure for children. Board members discussed eventually providing more athletic and recreational activities for youth.
Public Works Director Ron Miller said ElectriCities is not anticipating any changes in rates for the town’s wholesale power purchase for the upcoming fiscal year, but due to the pandemic the town will not receive a rebate as it did in 2019 when it received $1.5 million and in 2020 when it received $900,000.
Additionally, Miller noted a continued expense is debt payoff on the town’s ownerships share of a reactor at the Catawba Nuclear Station. The anticipated payoff is in 2032.
Miller said he’s received a lot of questions about whether solar power is allowed, and he clarified that it is for residential use only. However, he has not heard back from a number of solar energy vendors that have made contact, and doesn’t believe it’s cost-efficient at this time.
Miller said there were no major outages this year, adding that the nearly $100,000 set aside for severe weather helped offset other expenses. He recalled seven water main breaks, but attributed it to dramatic fluctuations in the temperature within a few days’ time.
Miller said he would like the town to move forward with making improvements to the water pipes throughout town, a project that began in 2017 using a grant from the USDA but was ultimately rejected by the Local Government Commission at the time due to the town’s finances at the time.
Miller also requested that the town consider renting a street sweeper next fiscal year.
Smith and board members discussed the contract the town currently has with Waste Pro for its trash services due to many complaints of roads being missed on weekly routes.
Human Resources Officer and Town Clerk Amber Levi said she has helped implement a new payroll system, a new hire orientation program and a new filing system for personnel records. Additionally, internal audits are currently underway along with job description assessments.
“A majority of what she just said is going on was not going on before I got here,” Barefoot said.
Levi also told board members the design of the town’s new website will take between six to eight months.
Also at the meeting, aldermen appointed local residents Mark Bringle and Catherine Drum to the Landis Planning Board. Ryan Nelms was appointed as an alternate member.
Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.
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