Smithfield is immediately committing $20,000 to Smith-Collins Park.
The Town Council made the decision at its meeting last week. Instead of seeking a county-open space grant, the money will come from extra dollars in the Parks and Recreation Department budget.
Concession sales, grants and an advertising contract with Pepsi have generated more money than expected this year. And last Tuesday, Parks and Recreation Director Tim Johnson asked the council for permission to use those extra dollars to replace five scoreboards – four at Community Park and one at the Citivan Youth Baseball Field.
Instead, Councilman Travis Scott asked Johnson to use the money to improve Smith-Collins Park, and the rest of the council agreed. At a budget meeting last month, Councilman Marlon Lee showed his fellow councilmen photos of poor conditions at the park, including rundown restrooms and only one set of bleachers for the baseball field.
“I’ve visited the park, and it’s embarrassing, and I feel like they deserve better,” Scott said.
The town will form a committee of citizens, councilmen and staff to figure how to spend the $20,000 at Smith-Collins.
As for the scoreboards, the council will seek a county grant to replace those.
Johnson said the scoreboards are working but not well and constantly need to have bulbs replaced.
The council will soon invite residents to a meeting about Smithfield’s electric rates.
This decision came after East Smithfield resident Glenda Jordan complained to the council last week. She showed the council her neighbor’s electricity bills, which are as high as $600 some months, even though his 1,200-square-foot house is newly-renovated.
Jordan said it’s not fair that the council transfers money from the electric department into the general fund. If those transfers stopped and the town didn’t cut spending, it would have to raise the property tax. “I don’t have a problem with that,” Jordan said, “because I think every resident of Smithfield should pay to the expenses of operating Smithfield.”
Jordan asked people in the audience to raise their hands if they lived in East Smithfield, and 10 to 15 did so. She then asked homeowners in the group if they would rather pay higher property taxes and lower electricity rates, and a handful said yes.
Jordan added that the county’s senior citizens get a break on their property taxes, so ending the transfers would benefit them if the council had to raise the tax rate.
West Smithfield residents buy their electricity from Duke Progress Energy, which offers a cheaper rate. “The people in East Smithfield, it’s creating a hardship on some of the people,” Jordan said. “I don’t think it’s fair for a selective community to have to pick up the expenses of a town when everbody has that responsibility.”
The council didn’t respond to Jordan after she spoke, but at the end of the meeting, Councilman Lee brought the topic back up. Scott later suggested having a meeting with citizens upset about their power bills. He also wants the utilities department to compare Smithfield’s rates to Duke’s for both residential and commercial customers.
The council asked the town manager to explore a suitable date for the meeting.
The next stage of the process – seeking grant dollars based on the survey results – has stalled because of changes at the state level, but RADA is trying to find new options. So far, it’s found another grant and given five nonprofits in the area about $12,000.At the last budget meeting