Mayor Lestine Hutchens was in a good mood on Friday, only days after the passage of Elkin’s town budget.
“It’s strong. It makes the right decisions for Elkin. It makes some necessary cuts. It doesn’t raise taxes,” said Hutchens in a phone interview. “I’m very satisfied, especially about the reaction that led to a third budget workshop.”
Elkin adopted a $4,759, 926 budget, a six-percent increase over last year. The Water Fund is expected to generate $1,167,810, a 3.9-percent increase.
The initial proposed budget was controversial. Commissioners proposed eliminating two 911 dispatchers and transferring calls to Surry 911 during the evening hours. The lobby door of the Elkin Police Department would be locked at night posting a sign of the sergeant on-call. Commissioners proposed tapping into the Lillard Fund removing 50 percent of the fund balance to offset a special appropriation request by the library. A staffer for the Public Works department assigned to leaf and limb removal was slated for elimination.
Residents struggled to understand the logic of the cuts, as the town indicated it had a budget surplus of more than $200,000 and all town employees would be given raises, some eligible for additional merit pay.
Hutchens said the decision to propose the cuts was the doing of the board of commissioners. “Since our retreat, we instructed the town manager to come up with ways to cut approximately $150,000 from the budget… Elkin has looming challenges, especially with the water lines underneath. We’re going to have to come up with millions down the road. That’s why we needed to explore all options,” she said.
At a public hearing on June 9, residents pushed back, jolting commissioners from adopting the plan. Hutchens said the town scheduled an extra budget workshop on June 17 and had invited John Shelton, Surry emergency services director, to come to the workshop and brief commissioners and residents regarding the specifics of shifting to Surry 911.
“Shelton’s presence was informative. I think we’ve all learned a few things during his testimony. One is that all 911 calls go to Surry 911 and are then transferred to the Elkin Police Department, not the other way around,” said Hutchens. “However, people didn’t want to give up the local service.”
Chief Monroe Wagoner of the Elkin Police Department objected to the staff-cutting proposal. Wagoner was backed by Shelton at the budget workshop who told commissioners that if he were living in Elkin, he would not want the Elkin Police Department to pass its emergency calls to the county.
“Yes, when you have a person of that dedication express those comments, it did carry a ton of weight on commissioners restoring the funds. Commissioners made the right decision,” said Hutchens.
Hutchens said she was touched by the amount of people from the Elkin Public Library who came out to voice their concerns on funding. The spur of interest was after commissioners proposed tapping into the Lillard trust fund, an account established in the 1980s after the death of James Lillard and left for the town to administer for library purposes. According to the town, the account has $60,000 in the fund. The town will withdraw $10,000 from the fund each year to offset special appropriation requests by the library.
Trustees said the Lillard Fund was not designed to balance the town budget, especially during a year when the town is showing a budget surplus.
“Each side has a point,” said Hutchens. “I’m impressed. People came out. That’s what they need to do. You know, the compromise that worked out makes sense. Right now it’s $10,000 out of Lillard, and $75,000 from Elkin taxpayers. This amount can always change. Maybe the library can come up with a greater reason on needing Lillard money sooner. If anything, it gets a conversation going, I’m happy about it.”
Hutchens said commissioners eliminated the leaf and limb employee because the new service will be more efficient. Residents are now required to call Public Works for leaf and limb pickup service, which should happen within 72 hours of the call.
Hutchens also said that all town employees are being paid according to a 2008 pay study. “The increases in salaries is cost of living,” she said.
Anthony Gonzalez may be reached at 336-835-1513 or on Twitter @newsgonz.