Burlington city council ups interim manager’s spending hikes to $3.6 million

Special allocation for road paving increase doubled, to $1.2 million

A projected surplus of about $4 million has sent Burlington’s leaders scrambling to spend this spare cash on deferred maintenance needs ranging from street paving to security upgrades for the city’s computer network.

Burlington’s city council agreed to dole out more than $3.6 million of the expected surplus on Tuesday in order to expedite these institutional home improvement projects ahead of the city’s next annual budget.

The council signed off on most of these mid-year allocations at the behest of the city’s interim manager David Cheek, who suggested the outlays based on recent consultations with a staff-level budget committee. Cheek, who had served as Mebane’s city manager before his interim appointment in Burlington, assured the council that it would do well to get ahead of these maintenance needs while it has the money to do so.

“The reason for expediting these purchases,” he added during a regularly-scheduled council meeting on Tuesday, “is that the budget committee and the finance department have run some projections of this year’s financial profile [that show] revenues are coming in real strong and we have a lot of vacancies that are reducing our spending.”

Cheek went on to present the council with an inventory of maintenance-related items that he said would cost the city a combined sum of $3,041,152. Among the pricier recommendations were $900,000 to replace lights and light poles in Burlington’s City Park, $600,000 to resurface city-owned streets, $462,922 to make “immediate” improvements that a consultant has proposed at the Maynard Aquatic Center, and $210,000 to replace firewalls on the city’s computer network.

Cheek, who used the Zoom telecommunication platform to present this list from his home in Mebane, zeroed in on a couple of items that he considered particularly urgent for Burlington to address. He steered the council, for instance, to an unstable boiler in the city’s public works building. He also mentioned a generator in another facility that one of his subordinates had described as “the oldest electrical system he’d ever seen.”

Cheek also encouraged the council to pay particular attention to the deterioration of Burlington’s streets. He went on to bemoan the $900,000 a year that the city has generally allocated to repair and resurface its roads.

“Nine hundred thousand is low for a city the size of Burlington,” he added. “We’ve got to get that number up to about $3 million.”

Although Cheek’s proposed inventory called for just $600,000 in additional street paving, the council proved far more receptive to the interim manager’s calls to beef up its annual quota.

Harold Owen, the city’s mayor pro tem, even recalled that, in 2006, it took a bond referendum to bring Burlington’s neglected roads back up to snuff.

Picking up on Owen’s hint, mayor Jim Butler encouraged the council to double Cheek’s proposed outlay for street paving.

“It’s pay now or pay later with this resurfacing,” he added. “They’ve requested six hundred [thousand]; let’s add six hundred to it.”

The rest of the council approved this suggestion, bringing the total cost of the spending package to $3,641,152. The council went on to give its unanimous nod to this outlay.

Read the newspaper’s editorial page opinion on the decision to spend $3.6 million of $4 million surplus: https://alamancenews.com/another-spending-frenzy-in-burlington/