Murphy City Council approves budget, non-partisan elections

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MURPHY, N.C. – At the Monday, June 4, meeting, the Murphy City Council unanimously approved and adopted the city budget for fiscal year 2018-19.

The council began the meeting by opening the floor for a public hearing on the proposed budget. Receiving no public comments regarding the budget, the council, later in the meeting, briefly discussed the proposed budget as prepared by City Manager Chad Simons.

“I’m very impressed in the job you did,” Mayor Rick Ramsey told Simons. “I think we all are. The detail, the openness that you applied to it has been expressed I think by everyone.”

“We did do our best to curtail as much spending as possible,” Simons answered.

Councilman Barry McClure also praised Simons’ efforts saying, “I think Chad has done a phenomenal job … I appreciate his conservativism on the spending and how each line item is written out and you can look at it.”

As for Simons, he took time to thank City Clerk P.J. Siler as well as all the city department heads for their assistance in preparing the budget.

The budget, which will take effect July 1, contains a total of $4,041,610 in expenditures with the same amount in estimated incoming revenues.

The general fund accounts for the majority of the budget at $2,108,355 and the utility fund amount is $1,571,130. Other amounts include $9,800 for the firemen’s relief fund, $56,000 for the Powell Bill fund, and $296,325 for the rural fire district fund.

Appropriations for the general fund break down as follows:

  • Administration – $494,545;
  • Police – $786,100;
  • Fire – $190,500;
  • Streets – $155,900;
  • Sanitation – $138,360;
  • Recreation – $23,000;
  • Library – $195,350;
  • Cemetery – $25,000; and
  • USDA Debt Service – $99,600.

As for the utility fund, appropriations are as follows:

  • Water Filter Plant – $461,075;
  • Utility Maintenance – $604,795; and
  • Wastewater Plant – $505,260.

The council also approved a town charter amendment to change town elections to non-partisan. At the April city council meeting, a resolution was passed to schedule a public hearing for the May meeting. Councilman McClure stated at the initial meeting, the Murphy City Council is one of only eight remaining partisan city councils out of 533 in the state of North Carolina. McClure also stated the majority of registered voters in the town of Murphy are non-partisan (415) as opposed to 392 registered Democrats and 389 registered Republicans.

At Monday’s meeting, Mayor Ramsey explained the amendment proposal had been publicly advertised for two weeks, upon City Attorney Ronald Cowan’s legal opinion, and opened the floor for discussion.

“I’m going to vote for this amendment for non-partisan because I feel like the state law … is archaic and needed to be changed years ago,” Councilman Frank Dickey stated, “and it discriminates against anybody that’s an independent registered voter … I feel like this is a good step maybe in the right direction to direct other elections.”

As a whole, the council seemed to agree with Dickey’s sentiments and approved the amendment unanimously.

Representatives from the Murphy Business Association were present to speak of the overall success of the Spring Festival, which took place in downtown Murphy last month, and also petition to the council to amend town ordinances to allow open-container alcohol consumption along sidewalks in front of restaurants and within the closed perimeter during such festivals.

Dickey protested that state law prohibits open-container consumption in parking lots and closed streets if those streets are state highways.

“We can pass all the laws you want. It won’t be legal,” Dickey said.

Larry Simons, an attorney speaking on behalf of the business association, cited the town of Belmont, North Carolina, as having a similar downtown festival, also along a state highway, in which open-container consumption coinciding with the festival has been legalized through a local ordinance.

To this, Dickey stated he disagreed with the legality of that town’s festival and also expressed concerns over parking and potential noise disturbances accompanying such future festivals in Murphy.

“As far as having open alcohol on the streets on a regular basis, I don’t think that’s good for Murphy,” Dickey said.

Ultimately, Mayor Ramsey accepted the information presented by the business association and stated he, the council, and the city attorney would review it, take it under advisement and reopen discussion over the issue at a future meeting.

The mayor also took time to congratulate the baseball team coached by Adam Fox and girls track team coached by Penny Johnson at Murphy High School. Each team recently won its respective state championship for its sport.

“So whatever they’re coaching, telling them, feeding them or whatever, there’s something going on good there at the school,” Ramsey stated.

Additionally, Ramsey thanked city and public works employees for their hard work during the recent flooding experienced across the region during the last week of May and first few days of June.

“Our public works team has been working around the clock since the flood,” Ramsey explained. “They’ve been working four hours on, four hours off.”

The mayor also added, as of the meeting, workers were still having to access the wastewater treatment plant by boat through the Hiwassee River because the road to the plant was still under water. Ramsey stated the city had difficulties with several automated lift stations within the town’s sewer system during the flood.

“Thank them please, when you see them. You don’t have to know them, but if it says ‘Public Works Town of Murphy’ on the side of the truck, it’s either stolen or they do work for the town of Murphy,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey also reminded the council and all others present for the meeting that the deadline for being added to the public commentary list for council meetings is noon on the day of the meeting and arrangements to speak in public commentary could be made with City Manager Chad Simons.

“That’s the way that anyone can make public comments to us. We encourage public comments. We need to hear what people are thinking,” Ramsey stressed.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

 

Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Commissioners’ budget talks lead to discussion over county trash sites

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MURPHY, N.C. – Cherokee County Board of Commissioners met Wednesday, May 30, for a budget work session to review and discuss the proposed budget for fiscal year 2018-19.

The budget, as recommended by County Manager Randy Wiggins, calls for a total of $44,212,558 with $38,083,967 designated for the general fund and $6,128,591 in special revenue funds.

On Wednesday, commissioners suggested further allotments to Wiggins to be added into the proposed budget. Commissioner Gary Westmoreland suggested adding $20,000 to purchase property across from the county senior center for a public-use dumpster site. This opened a discussion concerning the misuse of existing sites across the county.

Commissioner C.B. McKinnon suggested installing cameras at the Peachtree site and the Whitener Bend site in an effort to help enforce regulations at the sites and also to provide more 24-hour sites for county residents to use.

“I dare say nine of 10 times I’ve passed there (Peachtree site), there’s somebody there placing items … that’s not supposed to be there,” McKinnon said.

To this, Wiggins cautioned that opening more 24-hour sites across the county with no attendees and only security cameras to monitor activity could also encourage residents of surrounding counties to use the sites, which are supposed to be available only to Cherokee County residents. Wiggins specifically noted the Peachtree and Hiwassee Dam sites as two sites that are being misused heavily by residents from Clay County, North Carolina, and Polk County, Tennessee.

Referring to the Peachtree site, McKinnon asked, “How much garbage from Clay County is hitting the dumpsters that makes it worth inconveniencing the rest of the whole community in Cherokee County?”

Commissioner Cal Stiles stated that while he felt security cameras could help, monitoring of the footage would also be necessary to eliminate misuse at the sites. “Unless we have someone who has the time or we hire someone to actually view all this stuff to see … We really don’t know what’s going on there at two, three, four o’clock (in the morning),” Stiles said.

“I’ve never seen a group of people that fault a success so much,” McKinnon responded, referring to the existing 24-hour sites. “Usually when you have a success, you want to duplicate that success. I’ve never seen such a pushback from a success. ‘Oh, that was a success. Let’s not do another one.’ That is about a frustrating a thing that’s ever been.”

Wiggins clarified to McKinnon he was only sharing the complaints he had received concerning the sites. McKinnon suggested increasing the number of fines issued and also rotating attendants at sites.

“These are common sense things,” McKinnon added.

Additionally, Westmoreland suggested adding $80,000 to the budget for a new playground at Konahetta Park. Because the park is within the city limits of Murphy, McKinnon recommended meeting with the mayor and/or members of the city council about funding half of the cost for this.

“It’s time for the town of Murphy to step up in recreation and take the heat from the public like we take the heat from the public,” McKinnon stated.

Later, it was agreed that commissioners McKinnon and Westmoreland would meet at a future date with Mayor Rick Ramsey, of Murphy, about the town possibly funding half of a new playground at Konahetta Park.

The board also discussed the possibility of repairing the tennis and pickleball courts during the next fiscal year. According to Wiggins, the last time the courts had been resurfaced was over 20 years ago. He also stated several of the courts had received patching in August 2016, which cost the county approximately $27,000, and that the county has already received a quote in the amount of $114,825 to completely resurface the courts.

To this, McKinnon and Commissioner Roy Dickey agreed the town of Murphy should also assist with the financing of this potential project.

After Commissioner Stiles asked whether the needed repairs were a result of cosmetic issues or potential safety hazards, Wiggins stated further deterioration of the courts could pose safety hazards in the near future.

The board also discussed the budget line item for Tri-State Community College and addressed concerns over Cherokee County paying more than its fair share to the college than the counties of Clay and Graham.

The commissioners discussed the possibility of “holding the line” by not giving the college any additional funding than what the county has given in prior years.

“There’s got to be a point where you do hold your line and say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do,'” McKinnon stated and then asked rhetorically, “Are you going to step up and do a tax increase? Are you okay with the other counties not paying their share and going ahead and increasing the tax on your citizens because the other counties aren’t paying their share?”

After further discussion, the board agreed to review the Tri-County line item again at its next budget workshop to be held June 21 at 6:30 p.m. In addition to this meeting, the county budget is expected to be adopted at the June 28 regular meeting of the Board of Commissioners.

Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Council rezones property, Mack wins logo contest

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[Featured image: A prototype drawing of the winning logo in the Town of Murphy Logo Contest created by artist and local resident Justin Mack.]

MURPHY, N.C. – The Monday, May 7, Murphy City Council meeting saw the council rezone property on the Hiwassee River and announce the winner of the City Logo Contest.

A public hearing on the rezoning of four parcels located on the Hiwassee River between Petrie Street and U.S. Hwy. 64 kicked off the meeting. The rezoning proposal of the parcels, owned by Charlene M. Smith, Noland Smith, William H. McKeever, William H. Forsyth Jr., Marion Forsyth, would rezone the property from R-2 Residential to H-B Highway Business.

When asked by a citizen of the reasoning behind the rezoning and the potential tax implications, Councilman Frank Dickey provided an explanation, saying the move updates the zoning in the city.

“The property owners requested it. The natural growth since the four-lane came through has been in that area. It’s not conducive for R-2 Residential,” Dickey stated. “Taxes will probably be the same, and hopefully, they’ll triple … We reviewed it and recommended it and passed it on to the board for this public hearing.”

Of the rezoning, Mayor Rick Ramsey stated, “It gives the town of Murphy (an opportunity) for that property being productively used in a way that current zoning would not really afford us as a town.”

Later in the meeting, the council approved the rezoning with Councilman Noland Smith, being one of the property owners, recusing himself from the vote.

The council also held a public hearing on a proposed amendment to the town charter to consider non-partisan council elections.

Melody Johnson, a resident, spoke in favor of the proposed change stating she felt a non-partisan election would attract more voters. “I don’t want to vote for the party; I want to vote for the person,” Johnson said.

City Attorney Ronald Cowan explained the council could vote to approve the amendment at its next meeting after publicly advertising the proposed change. That approval would change the elections to non-partisan without the need of a referendum. However, Cowan added if 10 percent of the city’s registered voters petitioned to have the issue presented as a referendum in an upcoming election, the referendum would have to pass before any changes could be made to the current election format.

The six finalist designs in the Town of Murphy Logo Contest.

Ramsey announced the winner and the winning design of the recent Town of Murphy Logo Contest. The mayor told of the success of the contest and a participation celebration held Thursday, May 3, which featured attendees U.S. Congressman Mark Meadows and state Representative Kevin Corbin. According to Ramsey, there were 42 entries in the contest that were narrowed down to six finalists by city employees. From those six, residents had the opportunity to cast their vote and there were 572 total votes.

Turning the presentation over to Councilwomen Karen Watson and Gail Stansell, an enlarged copy of the winning design was unveiled from underneath a black cloth revealing a colorful sketch from Justin Mack to be the winner. The circular design features the words “Murphy North Carolina” at the top and “The City of Flowers” at the bottom of the logo along with “Est. 1851” flanking the center on the left and right of the logo, respectively. In the center inset, a mix of warm and cool colors portrays a sunset scene with the mountains to the west of the city in the background, a shadowy skyline view of downtown Murphy with the prominent courthouse dome in the middle ground, and a colorful array of flowers in the immediate foreground.

Artist Justin Mack stands beside his winning design for the Town of Murphy Logo Contest.

“It was a great competition and the art was very competitive. Congratulations, sir. You were up against the best,” Mayor Ramsey told Mack, who was in attendance for the unveiling.

Described as a “forever-more brand” of Murphy by Ramsey, the design will be adopted as the city’s official logo. In addition to the honor, Mack received a cash award of $100 for his winning design.

In other business, the council approved a $4,500 budget request from the Cherokee County Arts Council for the 2018-19 fiscal year.

The council announced a public hearing will take place Monday, June 4, at 5 p.m. during its regular meeting to address the proposed 2018-19 fiscal year budget. Following this, the budget is expected to be adopted at the meeting.

Councilwoman Barbara Hughes announced the city will have a Fourth of July parade this year. The route, according to Hughes, will start at the historic L & N Depot and will commence to Konahetta Park. Hughes stated the city is still in need of volunteers to help organize the event.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

City council receives request for funding of wellness center

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MURPHY, N.C. – A request for funding was made by the Hiwassee Valley Recreation Foundation to the Murphy City Council at the council’s Monday, April 2, meeting.

Representing the Foundation was Dr. Brian Mitchell and Ralph Robinson, director and operator of the Hiwassee Valley Pool and Wellness Center. Mitchell requested an annual financial subsidy in the amount of $45,000 from the city of Murphy to support operations at the wellness center.

According to Mitchell, operation costs for the wellness center is between $350,000 and $400,000 each year and the foundation has contributed over $150,000 since 2015 to support operations for the center.

Mitchell also said currently, the foundation’s fund balance stands at $35,000.

“(That amount) is likely to fund operations through the end of this fiscal year but not much further,” Mitchell stated. “Our board cannot to continue to raise funds for operations. It needs the support of the town of Murphy.”

Mayor Rick Ramsey questioned Robinson of membership numbers. Robinson told the council, “When we first took over the fitness center, which would have been the year 2015, our membership was running around 426 members.”

Since then, Robinson stated membership had spiked as high as 1,200 and now stands at around 1,000. Robinson also stated some members had told him that they had moved to the Murphy area because of the accessibility of the wellness center.

“Speaking for myself, it’s a great – it’s an awesome – asset,” Ramsey said.

“And having that kind of facility in rural Appalachia, where we are, is really a great asset for our area,” Robinson agreed.

Robinson stated additional programs and amenities are being added to the center or will be added in the near future. He also said the center’s goal for membership is 2,000. Robinson said the center is currently offering 40 percent off of one-year memberships in celebration of the reopening of the pool.

During the discussion, the mayor and council offered several advertising ideas for the wellness center, including utilizing a large exterior wall space on the center itself to hang an advertising banner to attract motorists on Valley River Avenue.

Mayor Ramsey suggested to Robinson a possible advertising campaign to attract out-of-town fitness enthusiasts visiting the area who might need a place to maintain daily exercise routines.

City Manager Chad Simons reminded the council that the city departments had been working on their budgets for the past three weeks. “We (the city) do have somewhat of a spending problem. I’m not afraid to say publicly, we have to bring in some of our spending,” Simons said. “It’s no secret.”

Ultimately, the council made no decision and told Mitchell and Robinson the council would consider the funding request.

A resolution was passed by the council to proceed with steps to make the city council non-partisan in elections in time for the November general election. Councilman Barry McClure explained the Murphy City Council is one of only eight remaining partisan city councils out of 533 in the state of North Carolina. McClure also stated the majority of registered voters in the town of Murphy are non-partisan (415) as opposed to 392 registered Democrats and 389 registered Republicans.

According to McClure, a non-partisan council would save the county a considerable amount of money by eliminating the need for a primary election. After the resolution passed, City Attorney Ronald Cowan explained the resolution schedules a public hearing at next month’s meeting for citizens to voice any concerns about or to contest the potential change.

Several representatives from the Murphy Business Association were on hand to request a downtown street closure to accommodate the upcoming Murphy Spring Festival to be held Saturday, May 5. The closure, which the council unanimously approved, will close a portion of Tennessee Street from Valley River Avenue to Depot Street to vehicles between the hours of 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. on the day of the festival.

A speed limit ordinance was also approved for a small portion of state Route 1556 (Martins Creek Road) from beginning of the city limits to the intersection with Hiwassee Street. The ordinance sets the speed limit at 25 mph.

A budget amendment to purchase a new police vehicle was approved. Simons explained the new purchase will not add a vehicle to the city police fleet but will instead replace a vehicle that was lost in a previous accident. According to Simons, the amendment is an $11,000 increase to the miscellaneous line item appropriation and a $21,300 increase to general fund balance appropriation.

Near the end of the meeting, Mayor Ramsey made a brief statement to the council concerning his first 100 days in office. “It’s been a real interesting experience for me,” the mayor stated. “I said at the beginning the glass is over half-full. It’s way more full than that. It really is. This is a great town and a great community … We have got such dedicated people that work for the town of Murphy, across the board. They care about our town.”

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

 

Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

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