TOMORROW’S BLOWING ROCK: Let’s Get It Done

TOMORROW’S BLOWING ROCK: Let’s Get It Done
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By David Rogers. October 16, 2014. BLOWING ROCK, NC – Almost since Day 1 – the day I moved to Blowing Rock almost 14 years ago – I have heard home and business owner complaints about periodic spells of yellow and brown water coming out of residential faucets; inadequate storm water management (even before U.S. 321 construction began); streets cracking; the edges of curbs and gutters broken, even on Main Street; sidewalks bowed to breaking (even on Main St.); and things falling apart in some of our recreation facilities. One Town Commissioner even chuckled to Blowing Rock News a couple of years ago that there were streets in some neighborhoods with potholes that would swallow up an entire car!

Of course the Commissioner was exaggerating just a bit, but North Carolina’s “prettiest small town” needs a facelift.  In short, it is wailing for infrastructure remedies.  If you can throw in a few extra things along the way to make Blowing Rock even more beautiful — a better place to live and work and even more tourist-friendly — she’d appreciate it all the more.

ASC_5282Time for Change

Let’s face it: over time, things decay. Sometimes they fall apart with wear and tear.  We have infrastructure projects in this town that have been neglected for far too long, the proverbial can kicked down the road because we couldn’t find the money to pay for the can to be picked up, sat upright, polished up, and refilled with the elixir of community love.

On November 4th, thanks to the leadership of our current Board of Commissioners, Mayor and Town staff, Blowing Rock voters have an opportunity to truly make a difference in the town environment and how it operates for the benefit of resident, business owner and visitor alike.  Blowing Rock News encourages a “Yes” vote on all four Community Improvement Bonds: Transportation ($9 million); Parks ($1 million); Water ($2 million); and Sewer ($1 million).

Assume Responsible Debt

Taking on debt is never something to be taken lightly. It is an urgent, even precious responsibility and it should never be assumed without a plan for paying the money back, with interest.  And of course it goes without saying that debt financing should only be assumed on the least expensive terms possible.  That, of course, is a moving target because the interest rates of today are not what they were a decade ago and probably not what they will be in another decade.

Blowing Rock is not a Third World country.

Some of North Carolina’s most successful business men and women make Blowing Rock their seasonal or permanent home. We have a country club with a well-manicured golf course. We have expansive mountain “bungalows” a Vanderbilt or a Rockefeller would be proud of, sitting behind one-of-a-kind gorge views. We have quaint-to-opulent mountain cabins.

In Samaritan’s Purse, we have a charitable organization with a truly global footprint in our midst. We have a wonderful cultural asset in Blowing Rock Art & History Museum.  We have two iconic, world-renowned mountain resorts in Chetola and Westglow.

Blowing Rock is not a Third World country.

We have an elementary school that is among North Carolina’s most frequently named, “Honor School of Excellence.” In Ensemble Stage, we have a professional theatre company that gets better and better with each passing year, whether with knee-slapper comedies, heart-stopping suspense thrillers, or tear-jerking dramas — and they are enjoyed by audiences hailing from near and far. We have a rich and deep history – and an historical society that is truly passionate about preserving that history and weaving its elements into the very fabric of our community.

ASC_5266We have all of this and more. No, Blowing Rock is NOT a Third World country.

We have so many people that care about the idyllic climes that we inhabit and the people here, it is ironic that we have so long neglected to truly  take care of the Town’s physical infrastructure.   I don’t mean putting Band-Aids on things, like spot-paving, “sealing” streets, patching a third clamp to a corroding water line, or sandbagging the banks of a long proven inadequate drainage ditch, but really fixing things when they fall into disrepair.

Health

In such a Town as I have described, it is embarrassing that ANYONE living within the town limits should have brown or yellow tap water unless the source of the problem comes from the resident or business owner’s own property.  The High Country’s Wine to Water non-profit is known globally for its efforts around the world – in Third World countries – to bring clean water to village and rural inhabitants who have never had the privilege. Is that what sections of Blowing Rock have become?

Within our Town limits are the headwaters of at least three major North Carolina rivers. Just because mountain water has to be captured in municipal storage tanks should not be a reason for compromising the quality of water distributed to homes and businesses.  No one in our Town should have second thoughts about the water they drink or use, especially when we receive annual reports from the water treatment plant suggesting that the quality of water put into the distribution system is among the highest quality levels in the state.

ASC_5226Safety

Blowing Rock is not a Third World country.

We should not have roadside ditches that, when snow-covered (or even at night), break axles and endanger people because drivers cannot see where the pavement ends and the ditch begins.

We should not have streets that, year after year, remain hazardous to drivers and their passengers as the sides of the roadway crumble or the middle of the road breaks apart as water gets into the roadbed and expands further with each cold winter.

Let’s get it done.

We should not have basketball courts in Memorial Park where a ball meets the court surface and caroms off at a 45-degree angle because of cracks seemingly as big as the Grand Canyon. Even more egregious, we should not have basketball courts where enthusiastic kids or adults step in a crack and sprain or break an ankle.  Town Commissioners spent a lot of time debating the public safety aspects of the Mountainleaf development’s design in recent months.  What about our collective consciousness of public safety in our already existing facilities?

ASC_5269Even though they occur only once or twice a year (usually), we should not have homes and businesses threatened by floodwaters because of inadequate steps to manage storm water drainage. For heaven’s sake, most of town is at or near the top of the Eastern Continental Divide and gravity takes water down hill.

Cost of Money

Blowing Rock is not a Third World country.

This is absolutely the best time to go to the capital markets serving municipalities like ours and borrow the necessary capital resources to address our infrastructure issues before they worsen even further.  Interest rates – the price of money – are very likely as low as they will ever be in the foreseeable future. Most economists say they have bottomed and are heading upward, perhaps even in the near future as the economy strengthens and money gains velocity.  We haven’t seen inflation so much in consumer goods, but the upward pressure on prices is fomenting just below the surface and sure to manifest itself in the near future.  When that happens, higher interest rates are inevitable.

Interest rates are the price of money.

Blowing Rock has an opportunity to lock in the cost of the capital resources needed to complete these infrastructure repairs and improvements at low prices – now.  Blowing Rock Town Manager Scott Fogleman told the Town Council Tuesday night that given Blowing Rock’s strong rating, a general obligation bond of $13 million could probably be issued at about a 3.5% interest rate.  Quick, back-of-the-envelope calculations: If we borrowed all of the $13 million right away, that’s about $455,000 per year to service the debt.  If we wait until interest rates tick higher, say to 6%, then that annual interest rate expense would be approximately $780,000. The difference alone represents big increases in several homes’ property valuations.

Just like you’d like to buy or refinance your house when interest rates are low, it makes sense for a municipality to borrow money at low interest rates, too — to take care of infrastructure that will keep it attractive, competitive and prospering well into the future.

ASC_5291Financing

Nobody likes to pay higher taxes.  For many years, Blowing Rock has kept ad valorem property taxes among the lowest not just in the High Country, but in the state.  On the one hand, that is something to be proud of. On the other hand, it is not much to beat your chest with pride about — if it is a tax rate that doesn’t pay for taking care of things.  It’s kind of like giving your daughter $2.00 for lunch money at school, but lunch costs $4.00.  So instead of a healthy meal, she fills her stomach to get through the day with a carbonated soft drink and a candy bar.  Looked at a little differently: if you buy a nice new automobile for, say, $50,000, and then don’t have the money to change the oil, you’ll be forking over so many bigger bucks for an engine repair you’ll wish that you gave up a few six packs and pizza to get the oil changed.

The real problem is only getting worse.

Instead of the Town fixing things, in a lot of cases it has been applying Band-Aids because that is all the money we’ve had.  In humans, there is usually a healing process going on under the Band-Aids.  When it comes to rotting sewer and water pipes, the real problem underneath the temporary fix is only getting worse.

The Town bumped up the tax rate from 28 cents to 31 cents within the past year. That helped with some current budget shortfalls largely because of property revaluations, but will not provide sufficient revenue increases to fund our current budget AND repay any debt assumed. Being conservative in his estimates, Mr. Fogleman projects that if we are to issue the proposed community improvement bonds at an interest rate closer to 5.5%, then there will be a need for a 10 cent increase in property taxes, to 41 cents, over the next 10 years.  Let’s look at that as a worse case scenario. Even at 41 cents, Blowing Rock’s property tax rate would be as low or lower than Boone’s, a full dime lower than Seven Devils, and a whopping 30+ cents lower than Beech Mountain.

Options?

Costs and consequences. Cause and effect. So what are the costs if voters decide not to support the Community Improvement Bond referendum?

Through good management, the most urgent infrastructure issues are likely to at least get Band-Aids.  Without adequate capital resources, the can will keep getting kicked down the road.  Deepening roadside ditches will continue to break axles. Kids will injure themselves when they step in larger basketball court cracks – or just quit playing altogether.  We’ve already heard of homeowners wanting to move because of the yellow and brown water issues, but they are finding their homes hard to sell when prospective buyers learn about the infrastructure problems.

Blowing Rock is not a Third World country, nor is it an inner city neighborhood in Chicago, Los Angeles or Detroit, crumbling with poverty or rife with gang warfare.  Blowing Rock is so much better than that. The VERY BEST solution is for all Blowing Rock voters to buff up their community pride, open their pocketbooks and wallets just a smidgen, and pass all four of these community improvement bonds.  All of us – and our neighbors and guests – deserve the best.

Please, vote “YES” on the bond referendums.

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1 Comment

  1. Jim Thompson

    Outstanding editorial, David. Even for us conservatives, this makes so much sense because things have been deferred for far too long. Thank-you for a spectacularly cogent argument.

    Reply

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