TOWN OF SPRUCE PINE: Council hears requests during budget session

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SPRUCE PINE – The Spruce Pine Town Council met with department representatives Monday, April 20, for a budget work session for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

Michael Woods, the representative of Parks and Recreation, said the No. 1 priority for his department was a new bathroom at Brad Ragan Park. The current bathroom, located near the ball field, was constructed in 1983 and is “falling apart,” Woods said.

“We have to do something,” he said. “The walls are separating. You can’t shut the doors without having to lean into them and slam them. The rock work is coming off, the wood is coming off and the gutters are all smashed in.”

Woods said he had looked into a two-stall pre-constructed modular bathroom, which would cost approximately $53,000 with an additional $15,000 to prep the site. The board asked Woods to look into a stick-built bathroom and report back on the cost. 

Spruce Pine Police Chief Bill Summerlin spoke on behalf of his department, which requested two new vehicles at the cost of approximately $80,000. Additionally, Summerlin requested a $500 per year clothing allowance for detectives, who wear plain clothes and are currently buying their clothes. Other officers are provided with a uniform.

Summerlin also suggested coming up with a type of incentive rather than a standard pay raise “all the way around” to encourage his officers to stay at the police department and “go the extra mile.”

“We’ve lost a few of our officers to the sheriff’s office,” Summerlin said. “We thought it was the pay, but it turns out we are competitive with other departments.” 

Summerlin admitted he couldn’t put a price on the incentive, but said he thought it is what the department needs to keep the employees he has. 

Russell Lankford from the water-wastewater department reported multiple items and repairs needed. One of the most substantial items is a return pump replacement at the waste plant that would cost approximately $159,000. Lankford said the pumps are worn out from having to be disassembled daily for many years to remove the trash.

Director of Public Works Phillip Hise spoke on behalf of his department, which he said needs a new vehicle and either another new vehicle or significant repairs on one. Additionally, Hise requested approximately $130,000 to pave damaged roads, especially Greenwood Road, which he said is in “terrible shape.” 

Executive Director of Spruce Pine Main Street Libby Phillips said her department is mostly focused on funding repairs of the Spruce Pine Footbridge, better known as Pine Bridge. Phillips said she was still waiting on a possible grant fund from Hometown Strong but said she had secured a large bulk of the funding from the state. 

No one from the library was present, but they requested $8,650 for the upcoming year. 

Crystal Young said the “biggest issue” for the town in the upcoming year would be a decrease in sales tax revenue. Young said the League of Municipalities is anticipating a 5-20 percent decrease, depending on how long the COVID-19 crisis continues. 

All council members and attendees were seated six feet apart to follow social distancing guidelines. 

To ensure there were fewer than 10 people gathered at a time, representatives from each department had a staggered entry, with one entering after another had left. 

All council members were present except James Acuff.