The Mount Airy Council of Commissioners earmarked nearly $ 300,000 for a list of downtown projects, in a 3-2 vote that reflected the concerns of some officials about making such a pledge in a context of funding uncertainties.
“Where does the money come from?” Tom Koch of the board asked Thursday afternoon as commissioners debated the allocation of $ 295,000 from a yet-to-be determined budget source for five of the six projects proposed for an estimated total cost of $ 592,000.
Plans call for the remainder – just over half of the total – to come from the Mount Airy Downtown Inc. group, which administers the funds generated by the municipal service district tax on landowners in the central business district. It is paid in addition to regular property taxes to cover common downtown improvements, a mechanism that has been in place for many years.
Projects currently under consideration, as outlined to Commissioners Thursday by Main Street Coordinator Lizzie Morrison of the Downtown Organization, include:
• An updated master plan to guide future investments in the central business district, both public and private, in a cost-effective manner. This includes identifying development opportunities; public parking solutions; an analysis of traffic flows and possible changes such as removing traffic lights along Main Street North and making it two-way rather than one-way; and burial of overhead power lines, among others.
The total cost of $ 75,000 of this must come from the municipality. The last master plan covering the city center was completed in 2004.
• A public washroom in the 400 block of North Main, to be installed in an area of a municipal parking lot between Brannock and Hiatt Furniture and Old North State Winery. Morrison said this would result in two unisex units. The only other public toilets are in an area further down the street, where there is a new mural in honor of the musical group The Easter Brothers.
The city government has also been asked to provide the full estimated cost of $ 100,000 for this project.
• Improvements to outdoor spaces focused on public art, including a large-scale mural by Andy Griffith on a wall at Brannock and Hiatt Furniture and other work in Melva’s Alley now containing a mural by late local singer Melva Houston. As part of Thursday’s action, the city will pay $ 50,000 for a total price tag of $ 85,000.
• A public driveway remediation and safety initiative, the key element of which involves a request for $ 50,000 from officials at Mount Airy to repave an alley on Oak Street and implement remediation solutions there. This part of the package, to which Mount Airy Downtown will contribute $ 6,000, also covers security cameras.
• New banners for Main and Market streets, a $ 26,000 item for which the downtown group will provide $ 6,000.
Based on the Morrison outage, Mount Airy Downtown agreed to cover the total expense of $ 150,000 to develop a “pocket park” on Willow Street near the Sparger Building on Spencer’s former property which is in view of the future. ‘hotel.
The Council discusses the timetable
In response to Commissioner Koch’s question about where the money was coming from, two possible sources emerged on Thursday afternoon:
“Either the ARP or the general fund,” said Commissioner Marie Wood, who introduced a motion to provide the city’s share of the nearly $ 600,000 cost of downtown projects.
In April, his fellow municipal officials appointed Wood to the board of directors of Mount Airy Downtown Inc. as an ex-officio non-voting member representing the municipal government and serving as a liaison between it and the central group. city.
Wood’s motion was seconded by fellow board members Steve Yokeley and new sworn in Joe Zalescik. Koch and Commissioner Jon Cawley spoke in dissent.
“ARP” refers to the American Rescue Plan Act, the federal economic stimulus measure approved earlier this year to help the country recover from the effects of COVID-19 – for which Mount Airy has been allocated about $ 3 million .
The general fund, also known as the city’s surplus or savings, has been the go-to source to draw on over the years for major spending and to balance the annual city budget.
But Koch said Mount Airy had other items he said were more urgent than downtown upgrades, including replacing old fire and garbage trucks and an HVAC upgrade at the community center in Reeves.
“We all have these needs,” he said of the potential alternative uses of the suggested sources.
Koch added that he was not in favor of using ARP money for “special interest” projects that were to fall, which also recently included a request for $ 300,000 for a renovation project for the historic Satterfield House.
“So I am against it,” he said of the plan presented by Morrison, who made it clear Thursday that she was not specifically seeking American Rescue Plan Act funds, although there are many projects under consideration. ” align “with its approved project. uses.
The exact rules regarding eligible ARP expenses are still being worked out, Acting City Manager Darren Lewis told commissioners on Thursday.
Given this uncertainty and other issues, Cawley called the vote on Wood’s motion “premature.”
He also expressed concerns about the $ 50,000 being asked for a single lane on Oak Street in the plan, in which four restaurants are returning, based on the discussion.
“Are we going to set a precedent? He said of the fact that there are other alleys in town where business owners could look for improvements.
Cawley made it clear that he was not against the proposal put forward by the Main Street coordinator himself.
“I really like what’s in there,” he said of the list of projects. “But I want to vote on it one by one.”
Koch also questioned the use of city funding to pay for new sanitation facilities. “It would be a first for Mount Airy,” he said of the fact that those for the existing rest area were being provided by municipal service district revenues.
The majority of commissioners were in favor of advancing downtown projects.
Commissioner Yokeley said the terminology for Thursday’s approval should be reassessed to emphasize that an “investment” is involved.
“There is a big difference in the investment rather than the expense,” said Yokeley, who believes the projects will produce huge rewards in the future that far exceed the initial costs.
Yokeley said he supports using the money from the fund balance, but “if we can take it out of the ARP money that would be great.”