DAY THREE: Picking up the pieces @ Blowing Rock Town Council retreat

DAY THREE: Picking up the pieces @ Blowing Rock Town Council retreat
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By David Rogers. January 18, 2017. ASHEVILLE, NC — It was a day, quite literally, for miscellany as far as the Blowing Rock Town Council Retreat was concerned. A potpourri of agenda items for the projected half day and the Mayor and Commissioners breezed through everything on the agenda.

Well, almost. They did leave off discussion of a Tactical Plan due to time constraints.

TRAFFIC ENFORCEMENT

  • Town Manager Ed Evans presented an analytical report prepared by Police Chief Tony Jones
  • Key findings:
    • The Police Department is writing record number of speeding citations, primarily on Valley Blvd.
    • Historical data, number of speeding citations
      • 2007 — 194
      • 2008 — 437
      • 2009– 445
      • 2010 — 408
      • 2011 — 473
      • 2012 — 174
      • 2013 — road construction
      • 2014 — road construction
      • 2015 — road construction
      • 2016 — road construction
      • 2017 — 787 +66% over highest previous year, 2011
    • Including written warnings, the number of citations was 1,021 in 2017
    • Out of state drivers accounted for 24% of speeding citations
    • Florida, Georgia and South Carolina represent 62% of the out of state driver citations
    • Florida alone accounts for 30% of out of state driver citations
    • Blowing Rock drivers represent less than one percent (1%) of drivers receiving citations
    • Overall geographic distribution of speeding citations
      • 51% — Non-adjoining North Carolina counties represent
      • 24% — Out of state
      • 14% — Adjoining counties (Wilkes, Ashe, Caldwell, Avery)
      • 10% — Watauga County
      • <1% — from Blowing Rock
      • <1% — from foreign country
    • 58% of speeding citations on Valley Blvd were male, 42% female
    • Racial breakdown of Valley Blvd speeding citations
      • 82% — White
      • 7% — Black
      • 4% — Latino
      • 7% — Other
    • Average age of drivers cited for speeding on Valley Blvd. was 36.4 years of age
    • Average speed of drivers cited for speeding on Valley Blvd. was 51.7 mph
    • The report gave various statistics for speeds captured and recorded on Green Hill Rd., North Main St., Sunset Dr., and South Main St., all showing average speeds below the posted speed limit

SPEED WARNING SIGNS

  • The Council members opened discussion talking about warning sign alternatives to try to get drivers to reduce speed on Valley Blvd.
  • Conversation about need for signs before Green Park Inn.
  • Charlie Sellers suggested a sign with blue lights, noting an experience where people slowed down when blue lights were flashing
  • Suggestion of putting driverless police cars
  • Commissioner Albert Yount: “Troopers will tell you that most violators up to 90 mph are female.  Above that are men.
  • Commissioner Sue Sweeting: “We don’t want our officers to get lax about writing tickets because we want people to know that we are serious about speeding.”
  • Commissioner Doug Matheson: “From an Emergency Services standpoint, we actually thought that the number of wrecks would be increased, but so far that has not been the case.”

PARKING

  • No. of Parking Citations Written
    • 2015 — 253
    • 2016 — 182
    • 2017 — 332
  • Nature of Parking Violations
    • 46% — Overtime
    • 21% — Wrong direction
    • 21% — No parking zone
    • 8% — Parked in street or sidewalk
    • 2% — Parked in two spaces
    • 1% — Other

PUBLIC WORKS

  • Public Works and Utilities Stockpile Yard
    • Major cleanup of the area is nearly complete, including hauling away old building, debris, waste and leaves
    • Plans to build a small storage building are on hold due to space constraints
  • Striping of white lines on road edges
    • Approximately 50% complete
    • Suggestion to thicken line on remaining 50% and mix in glass beads to provide greater reflectivity. These steps will require an upgrade to the existing equipment

DUCKS & SWANS

  • In response to citizen inquiries, Town staff have evaluated the prospect of the Town providing housing and food for the resident ducks and swans (presumably in the Broyhill Lake area).  Town staff recommends against this because it would likely result in attracting more fowl and other animals, increasing maintenance requirements, and increase safety risks to park visitor. It was noted that when swans have a mate they become very territorial and are known to attack people.  It was further noted that the Town rents out various park facilities for weddings, and it would not be a good idea to have swans attacking wedding guests of the Town.

EMPLOYEE EDUCATION

  • General discussion centered around whether or not a high school diploma or GED equivalent should be required to work for the Town.
  • The conversation pointed to not making it a requirement for entry level jobs, but that if an employee wanted to get promoted into a supervisory position, it should be required. For those individuals wanting to advance their education, there was general sentiment that the Town should encourage it and even perhaps help with cost.
  • Commissioner Jim Steele: “I think it is important that the employee have skin in the game. We shouldn’t pay for the whole cost or even the majority of costs.”

PICKLEBALL

  • Given the increasing demand for facilities to play pickleball, issue was raised about the Town upgrading facilities to accommodate the demand.
  • Consensus seemed to indicate a willingness to provide facilities, but to incorporate into a resurfaced tennis court and one basketball court when those repairs are made.

EXTENDING WiFi

  • The discussion mostly centered around the inadequate WiFi at or in the Community Library, the issue raised by Commissioner Virginia Powell, who wondered whether Town broadband could be extended next door from Town Hall
  • It was explained that the Community Library building is not owned by the town and that the ground on which it stands is subject to a 99-year lease from the Town.
  • It was further explained that conducting Library business the old way (with Dewey Decimal system and no computers) is the way the Blowing Rock Community Club wants to keep the operation of the library.

ENTRUSTING POLICE WITH KEYS TO SCHOOL AND RESIDENTS’ HOMES

  • Town Manager Ed Evans pointed out that an historical practice has been for certain individuals to use the school gymnasium for basketball at night and that they have been coming to the Police Department to pick up keys.  He suggested that this is an ill-advised practice given the liability.  “They may come pick up the keys, but forget to bring them back. Our officers shouldn’t be chasing them to retrieve the keys.”
  • Commissioners suggested that the school should have a lockbox with combination on the outside of the gym and provide the combination to approved individuals. There was general agreement that the Police Dept. should not be in the middle of the agreement to use the gym.
  • Similarly, it was pointed out that the Police Department has nearly 100 keys or more that residents have given them to check on their houses from time to time.
    • “While driving by a house and maybe even getting out to walk around it may be part of a policeman’s duties, they should not be going inside a house.”
    • “Performing such a service really puts the police in competition with people who do that for a living.”
    • “If people paying for a service to check on their houses suddenly find out the police will do it for free, then guess what’s going to happen?”
    • “Times have changed.”
  • Evans said that he had already instructed the Police Chief not to accept any more keys and to prepare to return the others.

REQUEST FOR MEETING SPACE

  • Commissioner Sue Sweeting is looking for meeting space to resume her pre-Town Council meeting get-togethers to discuss various issues.  The Community Library room she was renting before the recent election costs her $100 each time and she doesn’t feel that she can use campaign money post-election, “So it will have to come out of my own pocket.”
  • Town Manager Ed Evans explained that conducting such a meeting in the Council chambers, the small conference room in Town Hall, or the lobby of Town Hall would be problematic because other staffers are using those spaces to set up for the regular Town Hall meeting.
  • It was suggested that she try holding her meetings in the break room at Town Hall to see if that would be sufficient.

VOLUNTEER BOARD APPOINTMENTS

  • After further consideration, Commissioner Sweeting suggested that rather than all individual Council members interview all of the candidates, they should instead hold interview-type workshops over two days. Any candidate can come in to talk with them and any Commissioner can participate in the interviews.
  • Commissioner Jim Steele stated that he would prefer to speak with the candidates he doesn’t already know on a one-on-one basis.

VIRGINIA TECH CONCEPTUAL PLAN

  • March 1st deadline for applying for grant money.
  • BRAAC has committed $3,000 for engineering plans

GLEN BURNEY TRAIL

  • The bridge on the trail and various spots on the trail have been washed out.
  • Town Manager Ed Evans explained that the Town cannot receive Emergency Management funds and make improvements. “We have to put it back the way it was, we can’t make it better.”
  • Evans: “That really isn’t what we want to do. We want to get it raised up so that it won’t wash out again and we need to get it anchored.”
  • Evans: “Even if we put it back the way it was, I tell you with 100% certainty that (Emergency Management) will help us with it (cost reimbursement), because their guidelines say they don’t do footbridges.”

SHUTTLE SERVICE

  • Consideration for arranging town shuttle service from various points in Town.
  • Concern about the two buses the town owns
  • Mayor Charlie Sellers: “Golf carts have a big insurance liability.”
  • Commissioner Albert Yount: “Some people have told me that those buses we bought (from First Baptist Church) are not aesthetically pleasing.”
  • Commissioner Virginia Powell: “The children love the buses.”
  • “Who’s going to drive the buses?”
  • Mayor Charlie Sellers (smiling): “I won’t ride in them if Virginia’s driving!”

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