Albemarle City Council approves budget

At its Monday night meeting, the Albemarle City Council voted to approve its budget for the 2024-2025 fiscal year.

Mayor Ronnie Michael announced a public hearing for the budget and, when there were no comments from the public, moved forward with the council vote to approve the budget.

Councilmember Benton Dry made a motion to approve the budget ordinance and Councilmember Chris Whitley seconded the motion.

Councilmember Martha Sue Hall brought up some questions and concerns during the time for discussion.

“I will not vote in favor of this budget, and here is the reason,” Hall said. “We have got a capital improvement plan that is about that thick that we as a council have not done anything with nor have we been given any idea how to fund it.”

Hall mentioned how department heads had brought lists of items to previous council meetings and that she had thought those would be prioritized.

“I guess I’m a bit concerned that we do the same thing year after year. We make a list, and we don’t come up with how we’re going to fund it,” Hall said. “A budget is not just making pluses and minuses. It’s looking and it’s being proactive.”

Michael pointed out to the council that members could still make changes to the capital improvement budget.

“You can always make those changes. Council had indicated that they wanted not to have a tax increase, and the city manager has given one without a tax increase,” Michael said. “So it’s up to the council if you want to make any other changes.”

Hall said she wanted the council and city to work on doing better to fund their lists of capital projects, particularly in being proactive about funding future needs.

After some discussion about the reasons for fluctuations in the budget, Michael called for the vote. The budget passed with two council members voting no.

The budget totals more than $83 million. It includes no property tax increase, as well as no increases in planning and zoning fees, motor vehicle fees and water and sewer rates. The solid waste collection fee will rise by $11.03 per month.

“Since the adoption of the City’s Strategic Plan, Community Survey ratings on Albemarle as a place to live and raise a family have improved significantly. Residents have noted improvements in feeling of safety, diversity of businesses and services, and parks and open spaces. This budget, developed within the framework of the City Strategic Plan builds on the recent progress we’ve made. I thank our residents, elected leaders and city staff for once again playing valuable roles in shaping a budget to address the needs of our community,” said Darren Rhodes, interim city manager.

The City of Albemarle released information on Wednesday with budget highlights.

It noted the primary focus of capital spending in the budget is for street maintenance, which was the top area for improvement cited in the community survey and a primary goal of City Council. The $1.3 million in the budget for funding of street maintenance represents the largest city allocation in this area ever.

Other highlights include:

• Purchase of mobile-accessible restrooms for special events.

• Replacement of ball-field lights at both Don Montgomery and Rock Creek parks.

• Generator installation at the Old Whitney raw water pump station.

• Technology updates at all sanitary sewer lift stations.

• Continuance of the water meter replacement plan.

• Cleaning, inspections and repairs for water plant clear wells.

• Funding for improvements along the U.S. Highway 73 to enhance electric system reliability.

• Funding for phase four of five in LED street light conversion project.

• Police will add three vehicles for sworn officers.

• Purchase additional protective equipment for police.

• Continuing the City Parks and Recreation Master Plan.

• Pickleball court resurfacing at Rock Creek Park.

• Plan to determine staffing needs over the next five years.

• Funding for Land Use Plan Development.

• Expansion of marketing for the Albemarle Business Center.

• Continued funding of the Downtown Catalyst Grant Program.

Following the vote to pass the budget, the council viewed a presentation about changes to the utility billing system. (See additional story.)

After the presentation, the council heard from unannounced delegations.

The council first heard from Boyd Stanly, of Kannapolis, about his concerns regarding the City Lake special environs overlay district. He was assured that a public hearing on the issue would take place at the June 17 meeting.

Next, the council heard from two concerned citizens from Coggins Avenue in Albemarle about activity involving four-wheelers and other off-road vehicles disturbing residents of the street, some of which has been reported to the police.

“This neighborhood is getting out of control,” said resident Shirley Simons. “We’ve been living over there for about 50 years, and it’s never been like this.”

Fellow Coggins Avenue resident Brenda Ingram concurred, adding that she had also heard gunshots in the area, one of which struck her daughter’s car.

“We got in the house just in time or we probably would’ve gotten hit,” Ingram said.

Simons and Ingram suggested more patrols and surveillance of the area.

“The police do come through, but they just ride through and everybody’s already gone, so they don’t see the activity,” Ingram said. “We just need help on Coggins Avenue.”

Councilmember Dexter Townsend said he was aware of many concerns from residents of the area.

“We’ve got to give them some help,” he said.

The council assured the residents that they would look into solutions to the problem.

Marina Shankle is a freelance writer for The Stanly News & Press.