$29 million budget adopted in Forest City
For the third consecutive year, the proposed property tax rate for residents of Forest City remains unchanged at $0.29 per $100 of property valuation after Town Council unanimously adopted the 2014-15 fiscal year budget Monday night.
Before approving the $29,460,553 budget, council agreed to transfer $13,000 in unspent funds in the Parks and Recreation Department's current budget to the 2014-15 budget to upgrade the bathrooms at Hardin Road Park.
The project was on a list of priority needs from the department.
On a suggestion by Council member Chris Lee, the board also approved replacing the smallest ball field fence at Crowe Park at an approximate cost of $18,000. The money will come from fund balance appropriations and was added to the 2014-15 budget.
The board also agreed to give town employees a 1.5 percent cost of living adjustment.
After a brief discussion, council decided to continue contracting the janitorial services for the town.
In another money matter, council unanimously voted to release $16,000 earmarked in the 2013-14 budget to the Forest City Little League.
Earlier in the year council agreed it would not release the money to Little League until audits were received from the 2012 and 2013 years.
Denise Melton, president of the Forest City Little League, appeared before the board and said there is nothing more Little League can do to find any records of the years in question.
"We can't do anything," Melton said. "We do not know where it is."
She was referring to financial records from previous years when the Town of Forest City was embezzled by the former Little League president.
After an investigation, the former president was arrested and later pled guilty to two counts of misdemeanor conversion. He was sentenced to pay restitution and received a suspended sentence with supervision.
Since that time council has been cautious about funding Little League without the audit reports.
Melton said Little League owes $11,000 to vendors and other expenses from the past years and with the money, they could get out of debt and be able to complete this season.
After a lengthly discussion, Town Council agreed to forego the request for an audit from the past two years and will release the $16,000 later this week.
However, an audit will be required next spring before the 2014-15 money will be released.
Melton told council members with the appropriation of the funds, Little League will be able to get out of debt and will be able to begin "standing on its own."
Councilman Shawn Moore said there has to be safeguards in place to make sure the same situation doesn't happen again that occurred with the embezzlement.
Council assured Melton they were not questioning her or the other Little League officers and board, but had to make sure the same thing didn't happen again.
Melton and Little League Treasurer Tammy Jones said no decisions are made without the consent of the Little League board and they have records of all the money spent in 2014.
"No checks have been written that are not signed off," Melton said. "Our goal was to have outstanding records and to have children play ball. We have accurate records."
Council member Dee Dee Bright questioned the way the money is appropriated to groups such as Little League.
"The Town of Forest City has been embezzled by football and Little League," Bright said. "Maybe we should change the way we do business."
But council members didn't change the way it appropriates funds to agencies, saying that matter is an issue all by itself.
Lee said by appropriating the $16,000 from this year's budget, the Little League will be able to get out of debt and they will be able to move forward.
He said by the time Little League needs the 2014-15 appropriation of $16,000, the 2014 audit will be completed and the board will decide on appropriations after the audit is received.
Earlier this year, council said Little League was approved for playing ball in the spring season and would make a decision later for fall ball.
Lee said no one else has come forward and Little League should be allowed to play fall ball.
No decision was made.
Also Monday night, the 2014 2A State Softball Champions, The East Rutherford High School Lady Cavaliers, were recognized for bringing home the state championship trophy. They each received copies of a proclamation unanimously approved by the board and signed by Mayor Dennis Tarlton.
There will be appropriate signs placed at both entrances to the Town of Forest City, identifying the 2014 2A Championship teams, just as there are for baseball and football teams.
Also Monday night, Council approved budget amendments;
° Table an agreement with Utility Service Group: Wireless Communications Management Agreement;
° Passed a resolution asking for support from the North Carolina Transportation Network regarding giving more attention to highway money and projects in the western part of North Carolina and to proceed with the U.S. 221 widening project from Rutherfordton to McDowell County.