Wilson budget passes 5-2 with council raises

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Two Wilson councilmen opposed to a 37 percent increase to the body’s stipend voted against the adoption of the proposed budget for fiscal year 2017-18. The $234.8 million budget passed Thursday night with a vote of 5-2.

“I hated to vote against a perfectly good budget that met every council goal other than the pay increase,” said Councilman Tom Fyle. “It was a principle thing.”

Fyle and Councilman James Johnson previously expressed their opposition to the raise, which was pitched by Councilman Donald Evans in January to account for inflation since the last increase was approved in 2000. The action — which takes the mayor’s annual salary with travel stipend to $25,698 and each councilman’s salary with travel to $10,728 a year — was supported by Dail Turner, the only resident to speak during the public hearing before the budget adoption.

“If you compare Wilson to any other city in eastern North Carolina, with the exception of maybe Greenville, we’re heads above anyone else and that is primarily because of you [the city council],” he said. “When your salary is compared to Rocky Mount and Goldsboro, even with this increase, you’re the best bargain I’ve ever seen, so I strongly encourage you to adopt the increase you’ve proposed.”

Johnson said after the meeting that Turner was the only resident he’s heard from who expressed support for the dramatic increase.

“I’ve heard others say if it is incrementally put in over a few years, we deserve it,” Johnson said. “But as far as getting right in one year, I’ve not heard one other person in support of that.”

Wilson Youth Council

Every summer, student leaders in the Wilson Youth Council speak to the council about the service and leadership organization for area high schoolers.

“The Wilson Youth Council is a dynamic, civic-minded group of about 125 teens that volunteers in the community to develop our leadership skills, practice decision making and to learn how to work as a team,” said Zachary Winstead, the chair of the group for the coming school year. “The group’s main focus is volunteering, service and leadership.”

Theresa Mathis, a human relations specialist for the city, serves as the adviser for the group, but activities and programs are planned and executed by the teens. Lily Abells, chair of the group’s anti-bullying program, highlighted a Unity Day they helped organize at area middle schools.

“Students were encouraged to wear orange and create paper chains with words of encouragement,” Abells said. “The paper chains stretched down the halls and reached one end of the school to the other. It was a simple project, but showed the power of linking together to making a difference.”

Council members completed nearly 6,500 hours last year at more than 30 community projects. Mayor Bruce Rose commended the members on their hard work.

“This is the future of Wilson right here,” Evans said. “I thank and applaud you for what you’re doing to make Wilson a better place.”

Other action

While there were several public hearings on the 7 p.m. agenda, no residents took the chance to speak up. As such, a 4 percent electric rate decrease, economic incentive packages for United Tobacco Co. and Le Bleu Corp. as well as zoning requests for 310 Tarboro St. E. and 6776 Ward Blvd. were approved without discussion.

Officials also added a resolution to the agenda, which expressed the city’s position on several bills in the General Assembly. According to the resolution, the city opposes House Bill 581 that would restrict municipal regulation of billboards and House Bill 340 that would help firefighters retire with less financial stress.

“N.C. law does not allow public employee unions, leaving compensation of most local employees to be determined by local employers,” the resolution states. “For the General Assembly to mandate separation allowances or other special compensation for any class of employees usurps local authority, causes morale problems with all other employees and encourages de-facto ‘union’ type organizations.”

The resolution also expresses support for the Safe Infrastructure & Low Property Tax Act, which would enable municipalities to locally controlled sales tax option for infrastructure and economic development funds.

There was no discussion about the resolution to the General Assembly.

bhandgraaf@wilsontimes.com | 265-7821