STALLINGS – Leaders in Stallings made changes to the current Capital Improvement Plan and opted not to change the town’s voting structure at this week’s council meeting.
Council members voted Monday, Feb. 25, to move any project costing less than $50,000 from the improvement plan to the town’s operational budget. All the items moved to the operational budget may not make the final cut in the budget to be voted on in June.
“What we will do at the staff level is we will look at those items which are operational and recommend which year we will look at them,” Town Manager Brian Matthews said.
Mayor Lynda Paxton described the CIP as a “living, breathing document,” which will change over the coming years as the town sees what resources they have available and what the town’s needs are. Budgets for each item on the CIP have not been decided, and the council will continue discussing projects included in the plan through the next five years.
Projects currently on the CIP are things like the completion of Stalling Municipal Park, updates to the Pleasant Plains streetscape, resurfacing town streets, the Lawyers Road Phase 1 and 2 sidewalk project, the Stevens Mill sidewalk project, Town Hall and Civic Building renovations, Blair Mill Park improvements, the Monroe Road Project, possible future land purchases and more.
Items such as Christmas decorations, computer and server upgrades, website redesign, town identification signs and more were moved to the operational budget for now. Town staff will decide which projects are the most necessary at this time as the budget continues to shape up heading into June.
Before moving forward on approving any projects, many council members are concerned with keeping Stallings debt free and not taking on too much at one time.
“What we found out is that we are one of the few cities or towns that our auditor knew of in Union County that is debt free and we have a fund balance,” Councilman Fred Weber said. “I think that is significant and that was part of the discussion on the CIP. I hope we don’t go into debt.”
A schedule for when each project will be completed over the five-year plan has not been determined, except for a few projects the town has already committed to completing like the sidewalk projects and the Stallings Municipal Park completion.
“All this plan is we just juggled numbers around and gave it back to staff,” Weber said. “I think we made good progress on that. I’m hoping that we had some agreements, particularly in sidewalks and resurfacing of roads.”
Council members also voted not to discuss changing voting districts at Monday’s meeting, despite the ongoing conversations amongst some in council that districts are unfairly drawn.
According to Paxton, there is a 129 percent difference between the largest and the smallest districts, and more balance is needed.
Districts currently have the following populations: District 1, 1,963 residents; District 2, 1,283 residents; District 3, 2,414 residents; District 4, 2,433 residents; District 5, 2,932 residents; District 6, 2,940 residents. Districts 1, 2, 3 and 6 are up for election this year.
After discussing potential new district lines provided by town staff, Weber made a motion to uphold a rule which restricts council from discussing the proposed changes for six months. The motion passed 4-2 with council members Wyatt Dunn and Paul Frost opposing.
“I think it’s very unfortunate that they expressed they were worried that people would think they were trying to control who gets elected,” Paxton said about one reason the majority gave in voting to delay discusisons. “I was very disappointed in that, but I knew it was likely to happen.”
Council members who voted to postpone discussions also raised concerns about the changes coming too close to an election.
“The issue for me is the timing because this is a big deal,” Council member Shawna Steele said. “I think we should take all year and just get an action plan together and go that way. That way there is ample time to notify the public, board of elections and anyone who wants to get their opinion weighed.”
However, council members like Frost believe the changes in the voting districts is something Stallings needs in order to make the voting process more balanced and fair for their citizens.
“It just doesn’t make sense. If we are talking about true democracy, which is based on fairness and a level playing field, then voting districts should be similar in size,” he said in an interview with Union County Weekly earlier this month.
After the six-month waiting period passes, council members will restart discussions on possible changes. Currently the staff has redrawn the districts, which evens out the population but eliminates Frost’s seat.
Because all residents of Stallings vote for all six district representatives, the town is not required to redraw the district lines, but the Stallings town charter does require all council members to represent balanced districts, according to Paxton.
The next town council meeting for Stallings will be March 11 at 7 p.m. at Stallings Town Hall, 315 Stallings Road.