By David Rogers December 10, 2018. BLOWING ROCK, NC — Whether or not to spend $1.5 million is always a tough decision, especially when it may not result in immediate visible gains.
Blowing Rock’s Board of Commissioners faces relatively light December agenda Tuesday night, but three items up for consideration may prove rich fodder for discussion.
- Sunset Drive — The Town of Blowing Rock must decide — pronto — whether or not to budget $1.5 million to include utility conduits for power, phone and cable services in the Sunset Drive improvement plans. The $1.5 million is the estimate from town engineering contractor, McGill & Associates, including $50,000 for the project design and construction plans. The agenda item follows a letter dated December 1st from Town Engineer Doug Chapman, P.E., of McGill to Mayor Charlie Sellers and former Town Manager Ed Evans in which Chapman seeks clarification as to whether or not the utility conduits are to be added to the Sunset Drive improvement project. Several citizens, Chapman contends, are discussing the future transition from overhead to underground utilities along Sunset Dr. Based on a 2015 study by McGill, undergrounding utilities along Sunset will cost approximately $6.5 million. Spending the $1.5 million while Sunset Drive is already being “torn up” for the planned improvements makes sense if the money can be budgeted, but the Commissioners and Town staff must decide if those funds can be found and if that is where the budgeting priorities are given present resources.
- Speakers from the Floor — At the February 13, 2018 Town Council meeting, the Commissioners voted to move the Speakers from the Floor segment of Council meetings to nearer the top of the agenda for public comment on non-agenda items. During discussion at the November meeting, Commissioner Sue Sweeting was the primary proponent of allowing speakers from the floor to also address any and all agenda items, too. Mayor Sellers and Commissioner Jim Steele pointed out, along with then Town Manager Ed Evans, that such a policy would mean all agenda items effectively became public hearings, if adopted. The Board instructed Evans and individual Commissioners to do additional research on best practices adopted by other municipalities, including queries with the UNC School of Government. The presumption is that the agenda item’s appearance in December means that some of that research has been conducted. Review discussion from our November report:
- January Council Retreat — The Commissioners holding what amounts to a de facto closed session in Asheville (or any other out-of-town location) to discuss various many different topics has been a source of controversy in recent years as decisions have been made outside of public earshot. While many if not most of the decisions have been relatively minor in nature, at least some have been significant. For several years now, Blowing Rock News has advocated and continues to favor having that “retreat” at a nearby or in-town venue that is accessible to citizens, as well as media. In 2018, the Council continued with their remote retreat in Asheville, but at least agreed to defer any decisions until the regularly scheduled February meeting. Interim Town Manager Jim Freeman points out that the historically scheduled retreats from Sunday through Tuesday of Martin Luther King weekend conflicts with an authorized Town holiday and is asking the Commissioners to  choose a different, non-conflicting date; and/or  to provide Manager/staff with direction for arranging either an in-town or out-of-town location. Previous related articles and editorials:
The Consent Agenda includes approving two dates for special events, the High Country Half Marathon (August 24) and to allow Blowing Rock to be the start of the 2019 Mountains to the Coast bicycle tour (September 28-October 5). The Consent Agenda also includes a Budget Amendment Ordinance and an amendment related to the audit contract with Misty Watson, CPA, to include heretofore missing information from the ABC Store.