By Laura Crosio
Amid some tough questioning by one local and the disapproval from a council member, Archer Lodge town leaders adopted their budget for the coming year. The tax rate will not increase and has remained the same at 15 cents per $100 property valuation since incorporation in 2009.
Resident Debbie Barnes dissected the proposal and peppered board members with numerous questions about the planned spending. Among her comments was suggesting town leaders form a separate finance committee staffed with non-partisan members who had no ties to Archer Lodge’s decision makers. The town’s current budget committee consists of several council members, including the Mayor, and the town’s paid consultant, C.L. Gobble.
“I think that’s something you probably want to do,” said Barnes. “I think the citizens need to have input into the budget. This would be more transparent than it is now.”
Barnes noted the town was spending more to cover administrative fees, including hiring a part-time town manager, a second part-time employee to cover absences for Town Clerk Jean Overton and payments to the town attorney and management consultant. She also questioned the town’s cell phone policy, which allows a $50 per month allotment to the Mayor and members of the council.
“Do you believe the citizens of Archer Lodge are getting the best bang for their buck?” asked Barnes.
“Absolutely,” responded C.L. Gobble.
The budget was approved with Councilman Mark Wilson disagreeing after listening to final comments from Barnes.
Most discouraging to her was the town’s efforts to purchase land for future recreation space from councilman Carlton Vinson. Vinson did not attend the June 8 town meeting.
“It represents a conflict of interest,” Debbie Barnes said. “He’s the seller, on the town council and a budget officer. This has nothing to do with the park, it’s entirely unrelated. It just represents, in my head, a big red flag.”
“I can see where you would be concerned,” said Councilman Mark Jackson. “But we’ve not done anything illegal, immoral or out of order. We’ve done everything as up and up as we know how to do.”
During the evening’s meeting, the town approved spending $450,000 to purchase 29 acres from Vinson for a future town park and recreation center near Archer Lodge Middle School. They also agreed to purchase an additional 13 acres from Vinson’s neighbor, Iris Lusk, for $101,000. The town hopes to pay for some of the purchase with $150,000 they are anticipating from a grant they’ve applied to through the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF). The balance will be funded for by a loan that must be approved by the N.C. Local Government Commission and town council.
Councilman Mark Wilson again cast a negative vote.
“I tend to agree with Mrs. Barnes with the conflict of interest,” said Wilson. “I have not resolved them in my mind. We need to do something for the children but it needs to be done ethically and I have ethics issues with regards to this.”