Morehead City, N.C.
Oct. 16, 2019
TO THE EDITOR:
In an Oct. 13 letter to the editor, an opinion was expressed that improving the street sweeping service and voting for a 3¢ tax increase reflects a tax and spend mentality. This letter explains why both represent sound decisions made to improve services to citizens and meet coming financial needs with a conservative pay as you go approach.
Clearly, Morehead City needs to continue street sweeping to meet three critical needs. First, we are a tourist destination and must put our best foot forward, and second maintaining a pleasant living environment for its citizens. The third and most important reason for sweeping is to prevent trash and debris from clogging storm sewers and lines. When debris accumulates, water builds up in our streets along low lying routes such as Bay, Avery, Fisher and Shepard. High water is a nuisance, a safety hazard and contributes to flooding low lying areas. In our coastal community, controlling water runoff justifies the need.
Therefore, the decision is not whether to do it but what is the best delivery system. Communities rely on city employees or a private contractor. Our most recent experience has been with a private company at an annual cost of $30,000/year. This approach was intended to produce the lowest cost, but resulted in greater citizen dissatisfaction due to low quality. Citizens complained when the “dust devil” made a pass in front of their homes and didn’t vacuum up the debris. The public service supervisory staff worked diligently with the contractor to improve service, but was not successful.
In the latest budget proposal, staff recommended that we purchase our own street sweeper with a projected service life of 10 years with the purchase being offset by eliminating the annual contractor bill of $30,000/year for a total savings of $300,000. These savings will be reduced by our labor/benefits, maintenance and supply expenses. The purchase price is $172,708 including three valued options totaling $20K of the price. The options allow the sweeper operator to clean both gutters and storm drains, upgraded the sweeper motor for increased vacuum and added stainless steel fittings to reduce part maintenance in a corrosive environment. The unit has been delivered and the council voted to change an existing part time employee to full time (consent agenda item at last meeting) with operations set to begin. A cost comparison between in-house and 3rd party services generally favors contract service as cheaper due to labor/ benefits. With quality being equal, the choice is clear, but our experience taught that quality was lacking, even with additional supervisory costs. This budget vote brought the service back under the direct control of the city.
A second example of the tax and spend mentality was said to be exhibited when three council members voted for a 3¢ increase dedicated to funding future capital requirements. After completing a four-month budget process, staff recommended a number of improvement/repair projects requiring immediate attention including:
• Replacement of the existing Jet Vac truck ($450,000) to clean storm and sewer lines when clogged.
• Begin construction on the new city hall building (estimated $5M) in 1st Quarter 2020.
• Replace 25-year old deteriorated playground equipment at Shevans Park ($350-500K).
• Repair of the 100 worst street problems projected to cost $6.2M over a 5-6-year period.
• Relocate and replace Wildwood Fire Station with modern facilities not subject to flooding with suitable sleeping and bath facilities for coed work shifts of five crew members. Potential cost of $5M, including land acquisition.
• Upcoming purchase in two years of new ladder truck at cost of $1.2M.
This list of big hitters is included in the five tear capital plan along with the normal items such as police car replacement (5/year), renovation of city sewer pumping stations and the like. All needs cannot be met at once, but the critical financial message was Morehead City needs a reliable funding stream to meet future needs.
The staff’s recommendation recognizes that as critical, aging infrastructure is replaced the funding source cannot be dependent on interest bearing debt instruments. Their recommendation finances part of the needs described in the five-year capital plan with the new funds now being directed into a capital reserve (savings) account. It’s a “pay as you go” plan which also relies on grants to offset costs. In discussions prior to voting, no one was willing to pass a 5¢ increase, several wanted to delay until after the election delaying the decision another year and the remaining were willing to implement a moderate funding plan paying for demonstrated needs which NO council member considered invalid.
While Bill Taylor was absent and not able to vote due to a surgical procedure, he wrote a letter of support to be read into the official record.