WENDELL — Starting in July, Wendell will stop filling vacant positions deemed “nonessential” by the town manager.
Wendell’s Board of Commissioners at their meeting Tuesday unanimously passed a motion to institute a “hiring freeze” during fiscal year 2013-2014. The freeze came at the request of Mayor Tim Hinnant, who said he was concerned about increasing the number of full-time employees while the budget is tight.
“If (an employee’s job) is something that needs to be done, we could take contractual employees,” Hinnant said. Current employees should benefit from raises before the town benefits from an expanded workforce, he added.
Four Wendell staff positions are already vacant: two in the police department and one each in planning and public works. Those will not be filled next year. If another Wendell staff position becomes open, the town manager will discuss with commissioners whether to fill it before moving forward.
The mayor, board of commissioners, and Town Manager Teresa Piner have not compiled a list to determine which positions are nonessential. Piner said she considered police officers essential, but will review other open positions on a case-by-case basis.
Wendell had a $423,000 revenue shortfall coming into budget season. To balance the budget without raising property taxes, commissioners directed town staff to delay replacing three old police cars, cut the town’s wayfinding sign program, and eliminate for current employees. The result: a proposed $5.1 million budget for next year, which is 4.5 percent less than the current year.
The budget prompted a response from two residents during a public hearing last week.
Paul White, a member of Wendell’s Economic Development Committee and president of Universal Chevrolet, asked commissioners to provide additional funding to the wayfinding signs. White’s committee leads the effort to place signs at key positions around Wendell to direct travelers toward downtown Wendell. If commissioners provided enough money to buy and install “just one sign,” White said he could raise enough money to buy and install additional signs.
“It’s badly needed,” White said.
Meanwhile, Carol Hinnant, the mayor’s sister-in-law and a former commissioner, asked the board to consider raising taxes or borrowing money instead of dipping into the town’s fund balance to make ends meet.
“A penny saved is not always a good thing,” she said.
“Town Hall is a perfect example. This building is inefficient and needs work,” she said. “If we go into our fund balance a whole lot, it damages our ability to be bonded.”
The public hearing closed without comment from commissioners. The board is expected to vote on the budget at its meeting on June 10.