TOWN COUNCIL: New Auditing Firm Selected, Sales Tax Distribution Deal With County Modified

TOWN COUNCIL: New Auditing Firm Selected, Sales Tax Distribution Deal With County Modified
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By David Rogers. April 13, 2017. BLOWING ROCK, NC — With little more fanfare than a “nay” vote by Commissioner Ray Pickett, the Blowing Rock Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 Tuesday night to end a 20+ year relationship with accounting firm Combs, Tennant & Carpenter, P.C., in favor of a lower bid by Misty Watson, CPA, P.A., to perform auditing services for the Town of Blowing Rock.  The new contract is for three years.

Blowing Rock News coverage of Blowing Rock Town Government is made possible by a sponsorship from Blowing Rock Medical Park

Town Manager Ed Evans opened the old business portion of Tuesday evening’s lightly attended Council meeting by apologizing to the Commissioners and to Ms. Watson for remarks that he made during the March regular meeting of the Board of Commissioners. During the March meeting he expressed concern about Watson’s firm because he thought it had been late in finishing the audit for the Town of Beech Mountain where he previously served as Town Manager.

I apologize, Misty.

“The first thing I need to do,” Evans said, “is come to the Council and to the public and to Misty (Watson) and admit that I made a mistake. I told Council that Misty was late on an audit, which I believed (at the time) to be accurate.  When the LGC (Local Government Commission) extended the deadline for the audits to be turned in, I did not know that it applied to the entire state and not just to the counties that were affected by flooding (in Eastern North Carolina). So while in my mind I was thinking that the audit that Watson’s firm turned in was late, that was in fact incorrect.”

Sweeting and Matheson listen to Evans’ apology.

Looking squarely at Watson, Evans stated, “I apologize, Misty.”  Turning back to the Commissioners he concluded, “So I don’t want that mistake to (have any bearing) on any decision that you make tonight.”

Afterwards, the Commissioners wasted little time in accepting Watson’s $18,400 bid, which was $4,600 per year less than the Combs, Tennant, & Carpenter bid of $23,000.

Commissioner Sue Sweeting moved to accept Watson’s bid. After it was seconded by Doug Matheson, Commissioner Jim Steele noted, “The only comment that I would make is that over the years we have gone out for public bid, to get competitive bids and we (received) them. Personally, I concur that we should take the lowest bid. I think that would be in the best interest for our town.”

Matheson added, “I agree with what was just said, but I would also like to acknowledge that we have had a good working relationship with Combs, Tennant & Carpenter. But there is a big difference in money over the next three years (between the two bids) and we have to be good stewards of that.”

A lot of county fire departments lost revenue.

New Business

Under New Business, John Welch, Chair of the Watauga County Board of Commissioners asked for a resolution from his Blowing Rock counterparts aimed at keeping the ad valorem sales tax distribution in Watauga County rather than the previous per capita method, but to increase from 60% to 70% the amount that Blowing Rock gives back to the county. According to statement made by Welch, a primary reason for the request to increase the County’s share appeared to be motivated by more properly funding all fire districts in the county.

“A lot of the county fire departments lost out revenue,” Welch reported. “..In the last few years, some towns have changed their property tax rates. In doing so, that has changed the equation. So (if we are to retain the ad valorem distribution structure) we are here seeking instead of 60% be returned to the county, we are asking for 70%. And the reason for that is really not even to hold us harmless. If we remain at 60% of the current rate, the county stands to lose a good amount of money each year. So we not asking to hold us harmless, but just to equalize the adjusted tax rate.”

Jon Jacobs of Blue Ridge Energy

The Town Council passed the resolution unanimously, without discussion.

In other New Business, the Commissioners:

  • EV Charging Station– Unanimously approved funding slightly more than $2100 to supplement grant funding (from Duke Energy) received by Blue Ridge Energy to install a 2-port electric vehicle (EV) charging station on the lower level of the Wallingford parking deck.
    • Editor’s Note: In speaking with the Blue Ridge Energy representative, Jon Jacobs, after the vote, we asked [1] what studies had been conducted to determine that the charging station was meeting unmet demand, especially in light of other charging stations in Blowing Rock, and [2] how this proposed charging station integrated with or complemented the other installed stations?  He reported that of all North Carolina counties, Watauga has the highest per capita ownership of electric vehicles so is a prime candidate for enhanced infrastructure to support the growing number of electric vehicles.  He further noted that some or all the other charging stations in Blowing Rock are equipped only to serve Tesla vehicles, while the proposed 2-port charging station for the Wallingford site will support multiple types of EVs.
    • The charging station to be installed by Blue Ridge Energy can eventually become a potential source of fee revenue to the town for offering the service.
  • Surplus Property Policy Change — Unanimously approved policy changes for disposal of surplus property that streamline the process.  This new regulation gives the Town Manager discretion in the disposal of property with a fair market value of less than $30,000 if it is no longer necessary for the conduct of public business and if sound property management principles and financial considerations indicate that the interests of the Town would best served by the property’s disposal. LINK TO TEXT:
  • Surplus Property — Given adoption of the new regulation governing the disposal of surplus property, authorized the disposal of surplus property currently deemed disposable.
  • Radar Comparison Signs — Applauded Police Chief Tony Jones’ efforts to research radar signs that compare a driver’s speed with the posted speed limit.  Jones seemed to favor a product of Evolis, which has a large customer base and has been favorably reviewed by law enforcement peers.  Important to Jones was the fact that it costs less than half as much as the All Traffic-produced alternative, even though the latter has some convenience features.
Jim Steele, right, comments on the speed comparisons and radar signs.

For the Consent Agenda, there were three items unanimously approved by Commissioners with the single vote:

  • Resolution by the Town of Blowing Rock to oppose North Carolina House Bill 64 (requires all municipal elections to be held in even-numbered years) and North Carolina Senate Bill 94 (requires all currently non-partisan elections to be conducted as partisan races).
    • Editor’s Note: While we understand the unanimous mindset of the Commissioners in opposing HB64 and SB94, Blowing Rock News does not agree that the passage of such a resolution belongs in a Consent Agenda.  Many members of the public, both in the audience and those not in attendance, are unaware of the legislation and the serious arguments both for and against. The Consent Agenda was introduced to meetings of the Blowing Rock Town Council meetings in 2014 by then Town Manager Scott Fogleman as a way of streamlining decisions on mostly trivial, routine matters, such as approving the sale of surplus equipment and setting in motion voluntary annexation requests.  The fact that both Commissioner Sweeting and Mayor Lawrence made strong statements against the proposed legislation during the discussion period after the motion was made and seconded to approve the Consent Agenda only serves to underline our suggestion that this item should have been a separate agenda item under New Business.
  • Sale of surplus equipment — two trucks
  • Approve a request for voluntary annexation of a property at 194 Heather Ridge to advance in the annexation process

Town Manager Ed Evans added a Manager’s Report to the Agenda that provides the town manager with an opportunity to offer observations and notes to the Commissioners and the public. At Tuesday’s meeting, he noted:

  • Town employees John Wesley Burwell, Trathen Grant Greene, Douglas Hill Lee, Jr., and Marshall James Townsend have earned special certifications awarded by the State of North Carolina Water Pollution Control System Operators Certification Commission
  • That the Town had received its last payment from FEMA in the amount of $102,738 for the road damage due to flooding in FY2013-14
  • That (net of fees), certain items of surplus equipment had been sold on, including a street sweeper for $4,483.48, a pool weasel for $233.10, and monitor heaters for $354.28.
  • That the gravel yard site on Cone Rd. hand been cleaned up and cleared.
  • That Farmer’s Market is now scheduled again after it had earlier been reported to the Town by the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce that it would not occur.

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