ROCKINGHAM — A new era of leadership on the City Council started Tuesday night with the swearing in of John Hutchinson as mayor.
Joined by several members of his family, including his wife and three children, Hutchinson took the oath administered by Town Clerk Sabrina McDonald — using a Bible previously owned by a former sheriff of Richmond County who was born in 1784, the same year Rockingham was founded.
“Y’all know I love this town and you know I love the town’s history and I believe in its future,” Hutchinson said.
In the crowd for the occasion were some of Hutchinson’s classmates, including Wayne Goodwin, former state representative and insurance commissioner; County Commissioner Andy Grooms; Ellerbe Town Commissioner Jeremy McKenzie; and Michael McRae, who also ran for the mayoral position.
Hutchinson won the race last month against McRae and then-mayor Steve Morris.
After a total of 25 years on the council and serving as mayor since 2013, Morris said his goodbyes at the November meeting.
Council members Gene Willard, Denise Sullivan and Anne Edwards were also sworn in following their reelections.
Sullivan was subsequently elected by the Council to serve as mayor pro tem for the next two years, becoming the first woman to hold that position, according to Hutchinson. She will serve that role until December of 2023.
The council also made the following reappointments:
- Sullivan as the city’s delegate to the Lumber River Council of Governments
- Willard as the alternate delegate to the LRCOG
- Councilman Bennett Deane as the city representative to the Richmond County Economic Development Corporation
- McDonald as city clerk
- Benny Sharpe as the city attorney
With Hutchinson’s seat on the council now vacant, the council approved for City Manager Monty Crump to accept applications from interested individuals to serve out the remainder of the term. The deadline to submit is Dec. 31.
Anne Edwards, Gene Willard and Denise Sullivan are adminstered their oaths of office by Rockingham City Clerk Sabrina McDonald.
Following a clean audit report at November’s meeting, the council on Tuesday approved a letter to be sent to the Local Government Commission to have the city removed from the LGC’s Unit Assistance List.
The city was placed on the list in 2020 after the Richmond County Board of Commissioners voted to change the method of sales tax distribution.
“In fact, the city’s financial position has remained strong, we don’t feel like we belong on that list … And we have a very good case, I believe, and our auditor believes,” Hutchinson said.
A draft of the letter included in the agenda packet states that, in response to the change, the city increased its property tax rate as well as residential and commercial sanitation rates.
“As a result of these changes along with responsible financial management…the City increased their total General Fund Balance by $956,341 or 20% for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2021,” the letter reads.
Although the change had a “significant impact” on all six municipalities, the letter continues, Rockingham “took immediate action in order to alleviate the impact” and “has remained in sound financial condition and had no other performance indicators of concern.”
Crump said the city has been able to replace part of the lost revenue.
At the request of Assistant City Manager John Massey, the council approved demolition ordinances for two dilapidated dwellings.
The first, located at 204 S. Brookwood Ave., hasn’t been occupied in the past 15 years, according to Massey.
“As you can see, it’s overgrown,” Massey said, showing photos of the property, listed as being owned by Eva Ray Ellerbe. “We’ve had complaints about it.
The second house, located at 302 Bush St., is a triplex with two units side by side and a basement apartment which has been used by transients and drawn complaints from neighbors, Massey said.
According to city documents, the property is owned by Lasalle B. Thomas and Mattie C. Thomas.
Massey said the city had been in communication with an interested party who had planned on repairing the property, but no effort was ever made.
The city has to go through a six-to-eight-month legal process, which includes attempting to contact property owners by certified mail and advertising in the print newspaper before a demolition ordinance is presented to the council. Proceedings on both properties started in July.
Massey previously told the RO that the cost to the city to demolish a home can range from $4,000-$15,000 depending on if it needs asbestos abatement or if the fire department can use it for training.
According to the ordinances, the cost of demolition constitutes a lien on the property.
Hutchinson said these properties were in an area of town that had been part of a presentation on run-down homes earlier in the year.
Although they weren’t on the agenda, the council approved two other actions requested by Crump.
The first was to grant Rockingham Police Chief George Gillenwater the authority to sign ABC permits and enter into mutual aid agreements with other agencies.
The second was to grant consent Bold Moves Dance Company owner Holly Littlefield Howe to have the city listed as the secondary lien holder in an effort to refinance her debt.
Crump said the city is currently listed in the secondary position, adding that she has paid more than half of the original $25,000 loan and that she will be reinvesting into the downtown area.
“Holly has done a wonderful job building and growing that dance studio downtown … and I’m excited that she’s going to expand that studio,” Hutchinson said prior to the approving vote.
Crump also acknowledged the work of the Public Works Department in decorating the city for Christmas.
“It takes a lot of effort, a lot of logistics, planning, getting the stuff out of the warehouse, repairing it, making sure the lights are in place … to turn them on on Thanksgiving,” Crump said.