Review of June 3, 2014 Board Meeting
The first item on the agenda was to allow Ms. Debbie Luther to speak with the mayor and board regarding a water survey. She spoke ad nasuem for about 15 minutes, outlaying the reason why the board needed to raise the water rates. After she addressed the board, Mayor Winston went on to say that he appreciated her suggestion and they wanted to look into other avenues to see if they could maintain the water system without a water rate increase and before he could complete his train of thought, he was asking for an amendment to the agenda so they can hold a public hearing to raise the water rates. At the suggestion of Luther, the board plan to raise the water/sewer rate by 7.5%. They will hold a public hearing on July 1, 2014 at 5:50 p.m. to receive citizen's input but more than likely, despite input from the citizens, they will raise the water rate again. Now, I know the board is regulated by law to make sure the WSOM is able to sustain itself. The problem I have with the rate increase is the lack of fiduciary accountability the board has shown to protect those paying into the water system. We continue to have billing issues, there are some customers that say they have to call city hall to get their water bill because they never receive one via mail and there continue to be issues regarding the reading of meters. There are several customers that say their meters are not getting read and they have posted pictures showing the inaccessible meters but they are being charged a fee and they are not aware of how those numbers are calculated. Also, the mayor and board have not taken any steps to recover any of the monies lost, mishandled, misappropriated and/or stolen during the last administration. No one is willing to show accountability for over $900,000 in missing funds and this board is not taking any viable steps to recoup the missing funds. In my opinion, if they would show the citizens they are actively pursuing means to give the citizen's answers instead of their usual, we don't know what happened to the money response, the fact that our water rates are being raised by 7.5% would be a lot easier to accept; knowing that those entrusted to monitor the coffers of the City of Lumberton. The previous board allowed the system to go unchecked and the current board is too busy micro-managing every minute detail while sticking their heads in the sand when it comes to budgetary issues and economic development. There was a vote to move the center field light pole at Fifth Avenue Park. The department heads gave their reports; again Abner Keith, Chief of Lumberton Fire Department was absent and didn't bother to send anyone in his stead to give a report to the board. Winston gave his monthly address to the board and he wanted the Chief of Police, alderman and even the Public Works Director to find a summer activity for the children of Lumberton. The board approved the minutes of the regular called meeting on May 4, 2014 and the special called meeting on May 20, 2014. The board paid the following claims for the Month of May, 2014: Paid claims, $77,831.36, Unpaid claims $121,633.62 and payroll, $54,328.43. Alderwoman Cora Rogers and Alderman Tommy Dukes submitted the following recommendations for use of public parks located in the City of Lumberton: request for use should be submitted through the board or city hall, they should have the name of the person/persons sponsoring the event, type of event, who will be responsible for clean up/security, no alcohol/drugs/firearms/fighting will be permitted, no parking on grass, if you bring anything to the park such as jumpers/trampolines/swimming pools, you must sign a waiver of release, and no selling of products/services except by a non-profit organization. The board is still adding items to the list. If you have any suggestions, the board would like for you to submit them before the next board meeting. These rules apply to special events and will not include impromptu birthday parties held at the parks. Here's another opinion, we all know that Tommy Dukes wanted to initiate these rules because he has some control issues and did not like that an event, sponsored by EnviroChem, was taking away from this sales the weekend the park event was hosted. My question is this, was the park left dirty, in disarray? No. So, the rules have been followed. It's amazing that members of this board have so much time on their hands to micro-manage anything that's enjoyable but never have enough time to go to training, MML meetings, APD events, ect. They are so busy trying to protect their own business interests that they can't look for any business ventures to bring to the city. The next agenda item was to waive the restriction on the property located in Book 1F page 160 for Industrial Park and to sign waiver of restriction to allow agricultural only on said property. This is a move by Ben Winston to give the county what he called an olive branch. It seems that the Lamar County Board of Supervisors does not want to funnel any resources to District 2 (Lumberton). The county does not want to mow the lawn, so they are proposing to turn our Industrial Park into either a watermelon field or cow pasture. I am researching this matter a little further before I contact Warren Byrd, Supervisor, District 2. But what I know is that one of the restrictions outlined in the county's acquisition of the land was that it was not to be used for agricultural purposes. Now, Winston is trying to have it converted to agricultural use. Let's keep in mind that the 250 acres were sold to Lamar County for $99,000 for economic development. That's 396/acre. In this area, the median cost for an acre of land without timber or structures can range from $800-1200 but land with timber can sell for $1500-2500 an acre depending on age of timer and location of land. No matter how it’s calculated, 250 acres for $99,000 is a steal not a deal and Lumberton continues to be on the losing end of these types of deals. Winston said we should just capitulate and give the county what they want because if we don't they will cut us off. From the looks of the recent decisions made by the Lamar County Supervisors, district two has already been cut off. Just recently, they announced the plans to add a $1.1 million dollar shelter/call center in Purvis. The location will be in Purvis but the board never considered the easily accessible 472 acre Industrial Park in Lumberton; instead they opted to put in a corner of their industrial park in Purvis and the only thing they have to offer Lumberton is hopes of methane producing cattle and watermelon. I will be blogging on this further after I meet with Warren Byrd to see why nothing is being earmarked for District 2 (Lumberton). In addition to the $1.1 million dollar facility, the Lamar County Supervisors also purchased $400,000 in road equipment for the other districts. Several members of the Lumberton Board of Alderpersons said they would go meet with the Lamar County Supervisors at their first Friday breakfast meeting, but Mayor Winston said it was held too early in the morning for him and asked them to tell them about the meeting when they returned. So, meeting that could possible lead to economic development for the City of Lumberton, is held too early for your mayor to attend. How disappointing! The board went into executive session for personnel issues but no actions were taken. Before dismissing the meeting, there were citizen's comments. On comment came from Veronica Fells wanting to know what actions the board was going to take to repair the driveway the damaged and improperly replaced when they were repairing a sewer line. Winston was hesitant to respond but he muddled through and said that he along with Alderman Hugh J. McGraw and Alderman Tommy Dukes went to her property and viewed the damage and they determined that it was too costly for the City of Lumberton to repair and they were denying her request to have the driveway repaired. After Alderman Quincy Rogers asked some questions, it was discovered that Winston advised the homeowner not to get any price quotes. Before the process ended and the clerk read the paperwork regarding the damage, Mayor Winston acknowledged, in an open meeting, that the City of Lumberton was responsible. So, Veronica, your next step is either to get your estimates and have the work completed, report this matter to the state auditor's office because they came onto your property and they have a written agreement that the work will be completed to your satisfaction or get you a lawyer and subpoena every one that was at the meeting that heard Mayor Winston admit to culpability. The meeting was about to close but Alderman Tommy Dukes wanted to get something off his chest. He was upset with Alderman Quincy Rogers because a person from Duke's ward asked Rogers about an issue he was having. Apparently Duke's think he's the ward boss for Ward 4 but I would suggest he learn his ward lines before he get upset about someone crossing them. After the matter was explained and addressed by the chairperson of the Lumberton Planning and Zoning Committee, it was explained to Dukes and he didn't know the zoning of his ward; so that could possibly be the reason why the person went to a more knowledgeable alderman. Afterwards, the meeting was adjourned.