The Hemingway Town Council welcomed one new and two returning council members July 21, at a called meeting set to give the newly-elected members their oaths of office, a preview of the town’s 2020-21 budget, and approval of a face covering resolution for those living and working in the town limits.
Sworn in for their four-year terms were incumbent George Sutton, who has served for more than 30 years; Pam Matthews, who previously served on council; and newcomer Veronica Elliott.
Following the Tuesday night meeting, Mayor John Michael Collins said “We look forward to working with our new council members. Councilwoman Matthews brings experience ..., Councilwoman Elliott brings fresh ideas and enthusiasm, and Councilman Sutton brings his 30-plus years of experience.”
Remaining Council members are Jimmy Chinnes, Keith Baxley, and Solomon Lewis.
During the brief meeting council members received a first draft of a proposed budget. Administrator Joe Lee told council members the budget is not yet balanced as he is awaiting more revenue figures to come in. The town’s fiscal year begins Sept. 1.
Lee also said the town’s finances are ok right now, but that revenue from shopping and businesses is down from this time last year. “It’s tight,” he said, adding he’s not yet certain of the impact to the town of the current economic slowdown due to the new coronavirus.
The proposed budget does not include employee raises. It does include a 2 mil tax increase for citizens as well as a 3 percent hike in garbage disposal fees.
The town’s contractor for garbage removal, Waste Management, he said, is raising their rates by three percent.
Council members unanimously agreed to a resolution “strongly recommending” that citizens, visitors and business owners wear face coverings when in public and when having face-to-face interactions.
“Please wear masks,” Collins said. “Respect those around you. If it makes the person at the checkout line or gas station feel better, then put it on.”
“We will be giving away masks,” he said, though the details of that are not worked out yet. Collins said to check the town’s website and Facebook pages for details, when they are announced.
The resolution is in effect now regarding a “public health emergency, in response to the public safety threat of the novel coronavirus, COVID19.” The nation has been under a state of emergency since the President declared it on March 13, the resolution said.
Cases of the virus are growing rapidly in the county, the resolution said, and it is necessary to “protect, preserve and promote the general health, safety and welfare and the peace and order of the community...” The complete resolution is posted on the town’s Facebook page.
Chinnes said 300 antimicrobial face masks, made by Hemingway Apparel, are being donated to assist the town with the resolution.
“They are being so kind about it,” Chinnes said, adding that the same masks are being sold to FEMA through a government contract. Chinnes said he will have some available at his store, Hemingway Carpet, and he hopes they will be available at town hall, along with being in other Hemingway businesses for their shoppers and employees.
The resolution does not make wearing face coverings mandatory, though he said he’d prefer they did. Businesses can require patrons and customers to wear masks, though, Collins said. A mandatory face covering resolution would not be enforceable, Collins added.