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LUMBERTON — A 2% cost of living adjustment hike for city employees and an increase in water/sewer fees for residents are in the Fiscal Year 2021-22 budget approved Wednesday by Lumberton City Council.

The budget also includes a $30,338,740 General Fund, $14,203,550 Water and Sewer Fund, and a $36,218,090 Light and Power Fund.

The property tax rate remains at 65 cents per $100 of property.

The cost of living adjustment for payroll is effective on or after July 1. And as of Wednesday the recommendation was to increase the water and sewer rates by 7.2% after July 1. Residential base water rates for 1,000 gallons or less inside the city would increase from $9.23 to $9.90 and from $22.90 to $22.55.

Councilman John Cantey asked that Council meet in January to revisit the cost of living adjustment, with the goal of making it larger.

“It’s gonna depend on our finances when we get back in January,” City Manager Wayne Horne said.

Council also approved allowing Emergency Services Director Bill French to accept an $87,565 funding reconsideration from the N.C. 911 Board. The funding will help replace radio dispatch consoles and help the fire and police departments transition to 800 MHz Viper radios.

French said when the project is complete, funding will be paid for through grants or the 911 Fund administered by the state 911 board, and not by using city money.

“I’d like to say thank you, Bill, for your time and efforts in this,” Councilwoman Karen Higley said.

Council members also approved an End of Summer community event, with fireworks, at the start of Labor Day weekend on Sept. 3. The event will replace the 2021 Family Fourth Celebration.

Recreation Director Tim Taylor said the department has been unable to set a date for the Family Fourth Celebration with COVID-19 gathering limits still in place.

Also approved Wednesday was awarding contracts to tear down and rebuild residences at 530 Swann Drive and 1703 Maryland St.

“Both of these properties will be complete teardowns and rebuilds,” said Brian Nolley, assistant director of Planning and Neighborhood Services.

“I just would like to say thank you to you and management as well,” Cantey said. “We are rebuilding our community back one or two houses at a time.”

Council also approved the formal acceptance of the American Rescue Plan Grant Funds, of which Horne estimated Lumberton could receive $5.9 million.

Also approved was a memorandum of understanding in support of Robeson County being included in the Opioid Settlement Fund Distribution, a national lawsuit by governments against opioid manufacturers. The approval was one step in the process of securing funds.

Council members also heard from Public Works Director Rob Armstrong that the Rosewood Mobile Home Park CDBG Sanitary Sewer Extension Project is close to completion.

Because of COVID-19 and delays in getting materials, the project has been extended for 75 more days, causing the need for an extra $74,000 for additional services from The Wooten Company, Armstrong said. The funding will be covered by a Community Development Block Grant Infrastructure grant, and the request was approved by City council.

The Council also approved the surplus and transfer of a 1992 Grumman fire truck from the Lumberton Fire Department to Robeson Community College for use in firefighter training.

The truck has been decommissioned since August 2020 and no longer meets state safety regulations for department use, said interim Fire Chief Chris West. The contingency of the donation was that the truck would not be used for interior firefighting operations.

“However, the apparatus can be used for training and educational purposes,” West said.

Council members voted to approve giving the Lumberton Police Department authorization to apply for and accept a 2022 N.C. Governor’s Highway Safety Program Grant in the amount of $130,500.

Lumberton Chief of Police Mike McNeill said after the meeting that the department is seeking to renew the grant it first received about three years ago. The police chief told council members that the grant funds at 85% the positions of two DWI officers.

Also approved by City Council was giving $1,300 to The Village organization, which plans to host a Juneteenth celebration on June 19, a day celebrated historically to mark the emancipation of slaves.

Another contract was awarded for the tearing down and rebuilding of a property at 144 Spearman St. The project will be paid for using Hazard Mitigation Grant Program – Matthew grant funding.

Council members selected The Wooten Company to provide engineering services for the Well Relocation Project and the Asset Infrastructure Assessment Water System Mapping Project. The projects are funded by a $2.3 million grant from the N.C. Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.

Council members approved Wednesday the reimbursement of $129.41 to West Lumberton Kiwanis for building a wheel chair ramp at a Lumberton resident’s home.

Also approved was a resolution of support for House Bill 500, also known as the Disaster Relief and Mitigation Act of 2021. The act seeks to make the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency permanent and establish “targeted funding” for flood mitigation, according to the House bill.

Council members approved an annexation request from Barbara Benton for property at 101 Arbor Lane, and revisions to the city’s land use ordinance to comply with state guidelines. A request by Steven Branch to withdraw an application for rezoning of a property on Country Club Drive also was approved.

Council forwarded to the City’s Planning Board special permit use requests by Sharon Smith to relocate from 202 to 215 E. Third St. and operate her natural hair care school, and by Shanese Spaulding to open a beauty academy at 312 N. Elm St. City Planning Director ArTriel Kirchner was given authority to set dates for public hearings.

Council members also accepted a property donation from The Conservation Fund and Scottish Packing, Inc.

The Conservation Fund, a nonprofit organization, donated 10.35 acres on Campbell Street to the city to add to Lumber River Trail and to add a canoe/kayak access area. Scottish Packing, Inc. donated 1.58 acres on Kinlaw Street for a future park and canoe/kayak access area on the Lumber River.

Cantey said the land donation and plans are part of city revitalization efforts.

“A grant from the Attorney General’s Environmental Enhancement Grant program will cover transaction costs, site cleanup and construction of the canoe/kayak access,” according to information in the city’s agenda packet.

After a closed session, Council accepted a donation of land on Noir Street, which is adjacent to the Public Works department.

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