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Public pans council over budget

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BY LINDELL JOHN KAY
Staff Writer

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Rocky Mount City Council took a shellacking from the public on its proposed budget Monday night.

Mayor David Combs tried to preempt some of the anticipated abuse by telling the packed house that the 2018-19 fiscal year budget is still in the works.

"Nothing is set in stone," Combs said.

The council is redrafting the spending plan, looking at certain expenditures, including a request by City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney for a third assistant manager.

Rocky Mount isn't Charlotte and doesn't need another assistant city manager was the consensus of residents who spoke during the council meeting's public comment period.

Businessman Lige Daughtridge questioned whether another hearing would be held since the council is in the middle of a redraft.

City Attorney Jep Rose said only one hearing is required, but the council could hold an additional hearing if it chose to do so.

Councilman Rueben Blackwell said the council is in the midst of reworking the proposed budget and should hold another hearing. The council voted to extend the hearing until its June 25 meeting.

Daughtridge also asked why Powell Bill money wasn't used just for road improvements, among other questions.

Bruce Harris said he doesn't understand why the council would build an Event Center without a plan for parking.

Bronson Williams said he supports Small-Toney's budget, including the request for a third assistant manager. He said the budget as is will help improve the quality of life for residents.

Budget cuts wouldn't put money back into city residents' pockets, since the 2.5-cent per $100 in valuation tax hike was going through as planned to pay down debt on the Event Center, Williams said.

During the council's workshop prior to the regular meeting, council members agreed to submit to the manager a list of items that should be kept and items that should be eliminated in the budget.

Councilman Tom Rogers said he thinks a third manager isn't warranted.

Small-Toney said she has around 10 department heads who report directly to her, that she works 10 to 12 hours a day and she never had such a workload in any other city.

Combs suggested Small-Toney work with her two newly hired assistant managers for a little while to see how that works before adding a third.

During the regular meeting, residents took the opportunity to air out other complaints. Charles Chambliss said the council should scrap the Committee of the Whole, a workshop that occurs prior to the council's first monthly meeting.

"It's not consistent with Robert's Rules of Order," Chambliss said, adding that discussion takes place in a conference room and votes take place in chambers.

Both meetings are open to the public. The conference room has seats for about two dozen people; the chambers has around 150 seats with standing room in the back.

Resident Samuel Battle made an empassioned plea to the council to do something about the gang problem in Rocky Mount.

"Don't forget where you came from, Andre," Battle told Councilman Andre Knight.

Knight responded by saying he helped Battle learn to read when he was young and assisted him after he was released from jail.

Battle, and fellow resident Rodney Atkins, questioned why the dilapidated church owned by Knight's family sitting in the parking lot of the Event Center hasn't been moved.

To kick off the meeting, the council welcomed new member the Rev. Richard Joyner, who will now represent Ward 3.

Joyner said it is a great privilege to serve on the council.

Resident Johnny Cunningham said he welcomed Joyner, saying Ward 3 would support him.

Joyner is head of chaplin services at hospitals in Nash and Edgecombe counties, pastor of Conetoe Chapel Missionary Baptist Church and a 2016 CNN hero for increasing access to healthy foods for locals.

A reception was held for Joyner after the meeting.

Joyner replaced former Ward 3 Councilman Lamont Wiggins, who was appointed as a state Superior Court judge earlier this year.

Joyner will serve until the next council election in October 2019. At that time, if elected, he would serve the remainder of Wiggins’ term, which expires in 2021.

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