Equipment purchase raises questions at Council meeting

Finance Director, Sheila Cutrell, Leslie Kubasek, and Town Manager, Kim Callis. 

At the June meeting Town Council adopted and appropriated funds for the fiscal year 2020-2021 Town budget. “In considering the effects of the COVID pandemic, utility service discounts were increased to 25% while also freezing capital expenditures totaling $914,017 and employee cost of living adjustments/incentives. These frozen items were to be revisited in October.” The Budget and Finance Committee met with town staff on October 30 to discuss the release of these funds.

“Unless you are here everyday, you may not fully be aware of all that our employees have done every single day in dealing with this. We have had some employees who have been indirectly exposed and have had to be isolated and quarantined. The other folks have stepped up to the plate and worked extra hours to get the job done and they have done it with a great attitude. We want to thank each and every one of them for that,” said Callis.

Some of the larger expenses included a $20,000 upgrade to the speaker and audio system in the Council meeting room, the purchase of a 2021 Ford Police F150 totaling $44,000, replacing the softball field fencing at Parker Park costing $140,000, and $300,000 for street maintenance equipment (Crew Cab Truck, $48,000, Motor Grader, $198,000, and a tractor, $54,000).

Councilman Shep Moss asked if the motor grader was primarily used for dirt roads to which Callis responded, “No. It’s used for the few gravel roads that we are responsible for. We do have to grade those from time to time but it is also used on the shoulders of our major highways because we maintain our own streets. Especially on busier roads in and out of town we use the motor grader to shape and condition the road shoulders.”

“And do we have a motor grader now?” asked Moss. Callis said that the Town does own a motor grader but it is 27 years old without a climate control cab and that finding replacement parts and maintaining the piece of equipment has proven to be difficult.

“It is my understanding that we use that less that 30 hours a year. Would a lease not be more wise than a purchase if we’re only using it on average less than 30 hours a year?” asked Councilman Moss. “We can look into that but this was all discussed earlier in the year,” answered Callis. “Oh I understand but this was done before I came on and I just have some questions about it,” explained Moss.

Councilman Mike Moody added, “In some instances the motor grader is used by the Town to pull out other vehicles that have become stuck like a dump truck and we just felt that it would be proper at this time that the Town go ahead and invest in this piece of equipment now and long-term if we can get another 25 years out of this one that would be a good investment for the Town.”

“That’s a lot of money for 30 hours a year,” said Moss. Callis said, “I think it’s more than 30 hours a year because this equipment is used when we have a snow storm continuously and that could easily be 24 to 48 straight.”

Councilman Ben Taylor asked Councilman Moss, “Where are you getting 30 hours? Who did you get your information from? That’s the first I’ve heard of that.” Moss replied, “I have just become privy to some information that the motor grader is only used about 30 hours a year and it’s taken almost five years for it to get it’s first 200 hours of service.” Taylor replied, “That’s news to me.”

Ben Taylor moved to approve the request to release the appropriated funds. The motion carried with Councilman Moss and Councilman Honeycutt voting “yes with exception”. Council Honeycutt explain that he voted with exception based on the fact that this was done before he became a Council member and he had some questions on some of the items.

Callis announced that Governor Northam’s office has made $60 million in CARES Act funding available for municipal utility relief. “We’re not sure what that means at this point. It will be administered through the department of housing and community development. I do think it’s important that you know that today the utility discount has put over $484,000 back into the hands of our citizens and businesses and should it be continued for one year, it will be almost $900,000.”

While Finance Director, Sheila Cutrell, was discussing CARES Act funding, Mr. Callis took a moment to update Councilman Honeycutt on the CARES Act Committee meeting. “The $200,000 that we requested for utilities was not approved for that but we do want to make sure that it comes back to our community in some form but they meet this Thursday.” Honeycutt asked, “Has there been any indication that that is what’s going to transpire?” Callis answered, “I have not received any indication either way.”

Councilman Moss asked if there was a reason that the utility request was not approved. Mr. Callis responded, “The committee, in spite of what we thought was a very persuasive and meaningful argument, the committee felt that it was revenue replacement. We felt that it was not because revenue replacement would be to replace items that were lost because people just couldn’t pay them. We intentionally put this discount in place to help people and the committee could not get past that.”

Moss asked why the Town even submitted this request when the instructions clearly state that CARES Act funding cannot be used for this purpose. Callis explained that the Town saw this coming when they put the utility discount in place and that it was not loss because of the pandemic or because people couldn’t pay it, we intentionally allowed them to keep that money.”

“It was my understanding that it was indicated several times that this would not be approved as presented and that the deadline was extended and it was denied a second time,” said Moss. Callis replied that the request had only been presented one time and that the Town was told that the CARES Act committee did not feel comfortable approving the request.

Ben Taylor applauded the Town’s efforts in preparing the list of items and asked if anything other requests had been denied. Sheila Cutrell explained that paid sick leave was denied even though the guidance specifically says you can use the funds for that. “Because the committee had denied that request for Chase City, they did not want to approve it for us and then have to go back to the other towns and say that they could use it for that reason.”

Mrs. Cutrell asked the Council to approve the use of CARES Act funding to install new customer service windows in Town Hall for the safety of the employees. “To take the security of our employees to the next level we would like to replace the glass at each of the four customer service windows and in the lobby with bullet resistant glass. The additional cost of using bullet resistant glass is $7,675.” This is one of the items that were denied by the CARES Act Committee because the Town had not been using them prior to the request. Council unanimously approved the request.

A resolution was approved to have a separate tax rate for one motor vehicle owned and regularly used by active volunteer members of the fire department, rescue squad, and active auxiliary members.

As the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office is moving away from a .40 caliber platform, which is what the South Hill Police Department continues to use, Chief Bowen requested the procurement of six H&K rifles from the Sheriff’s Office. They will also be purchasing .40-caliber ammunition from the M.C.S.O. as they no longer need it. These will replace surplus military rifles that the SHPD currently has. “They will allow for some of the same capabilities as those rifles, but they are a police product. Money is available in our asset forfeiture funds.”

The Council approved minor changes to the Chapter 42 Noise Ordinance that mainly focused on updating the language according to Kim Callis. “After much deliberation it was felt that the ordinance as it was, was in pretty good shape, however it needed to be updated to reflect more contemporary language to not talk about tape player so much as DVD players and things like that. We also wanted to amend the ordinance violation to reduce it from a Class 1 misdemeanor to a Class 3 misdemeanor and then upon conviction of a third violation within a twelve month period it will become a Class 2 misdemeanor.”

David Hash led two public hearings. The first was a request by Superior Investments, Inc. to rezone the property at 1021 West Atlantic Street and 1041 West Atlantic Street from Commercial District C-2 to Urban Mixed Use District MX-3. The second public hearing was a request by Steven Arthur to use the property at 825 West Danville Street for small engine sales, parts, and repairs. Councilman Moss asked Mr. Hash if there were any restrictions with fencing that applies to this particular location. Mr. hash replied that there was not since Mr. Arthur would not be doing repairs at the address, which will serve as a parts sales store. The Council unanimously approved both requests.

Town Manager, Kim Callis, and Finance Director, Sheila Cutrell, recognized Leslie Kubasek for her ten years of dedicated service to the Town of South Hill.

Ruthie Kinker asked the Council to approve an additional race be held to support the South Hill Road Runners scholarship fund to benefit any junior or senior cross country runner or track athlete who is eligible to attend Park View High School. The Council approved a 5K resolution run set for January 1, 2021.

Councilman Mike Moody thanked the citizens of South Hill for their efforts in keeping grass, pine tags, and brush in the proper place and keeping the streets and drainage clean.

Shep Moss asked why Town employees who are volunteer fire fighters are no longer allowed to go out on calls during work hours. Mr. Callis answered that it had long been the policy that Town employees are not allowed to go out on calls during work hours. At the start of the pandemic Chief Wells asked, if needed, could some of the Town employees respond to calls. As more volunteers joined the fire department, Callis said that he reached out to Chief Vaughn and asked if they could handle it without town employees. “We were told that they could handle it.”