By David Rogers. March 12, 2019. BLOWING ROCK, NC — With a relatively light agenda and little in the way of controversy, the Blowing Rock Board of Commissioners dispatched Tuesday’s Town Council business fairly quickly.
COVER IMAGE: Mayor Charlie Sellers reads a letter he received from a group of “activist” first graders at Blowing Rock School, reporting to him that they are tripping over cracks in the sidewalks around the school and on Morris Street and Sunset Street. They asked that he write back and explain how he was going to get the sidewalks fixed. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
Of decisions made, perhaps the most pressing was approval for awarding the purchase of a septic tank truck that will save the Town some $170,000 over its projected 10-year life — and they saved more than $80,000 from the budget in the process.
Currently, the Town contracts with Honeywell Pumping (at a cost of $70,000 per year) to haul “sludge” from the municipal wastewater plant to Lenoir. The sludge is approximately 98% water and 2% solids. Last year, Mayor Charlie Sellers, in concert with interim Public Works Director Matt Blackburn, suggested to the commissioners that it is silly to be spending that much money to haul what is basically water to Caldwell County. Instead, he said, they should consider buying a centrifuge to separate the water from the sludge so that only the solids would have to be transported.
It was a good idea that the commissioners embraced, but Blackburn later discovered that no one was equipped to take just the solids. So he went back to the drawing board and came up with a different solution: the Town buying its own septic tank truck. Instead of the more than $200,000 cost of the centrifuge equipment, the tank truck costs only a little more than $144,024, meaning that the Town could reduce the size of its bank loan. Blackburn and Finance Director Nicole Norman estimate that over the 10-year projected life of the truck, the Town would save approximately $170,000. The commissioners unanimously approved the low bid for the purchase, with Lely Tank & Waste Solutions, a company based in Wilson, NC.
Before getting to business items, the Town Council members and a crowded Town Hall chambers room heard a presentation by George Santucci, President of regional non-profit New River Conservancy. Santucci provided a lot of information about the work of the organization to stop erosion of the New River’s banks (usually as the waterway meanders through farmlands or may be rerouted through development). Of particular interest is an area of the Middle Fork of the New Rivers that borders the municipal wastewater plant in Blowing Rock. Santucci was looking for the Town to approve a letter of intent that supports the New River Conservancy’s efforts to restore the natural course of the river by the wastewater plant and stop the erosion.
In one of the more entertaining exchanges of the evening, Commissioner Virginia Powell asked Santucci if this requested letter of support would prevent the Town from building a new wastewater plant at the site. Fellow Commissioner Albert Yount looked at the erosion eating away at the banks of the river next to the current plant and quipped, “It looks to me like if we don’t support this now, we’re going to HAVE to build a new plant, anyway!”
After Town Attorney Allen Mosley stated that the proposed letter did nothing to hold the Town to anything, the Commissioners voted unanimously to approve.
The Town Council wandered into the weeds of policy-making only once. Commissioner Sue Sweeting proposed that the Town Council form an ad hoc committee of commissioners and some selected community members to come up with ideas, if not a plan for how the properties along along Valley Blvd. can be developed. While the Commissioners eventually agreed to let Sweeting take the lead in forming the committee that will include two other commissioners beside herself, there was at least an effort by Interim Town Manager Jim Freeman and Mayor Charlie Sellers to suggest it would be appropriate to involve the Planning Board and Blowing Rock Appearance Advisory Commission, the Town’s volunteer advisory boards, as well as other potential constituent interests, such as the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce.
Commissioner Doug Matheson insightfully pointed out that the the Town Comprehensive Plan, last updated in 2014, has generally been updated every five years. “This seems like good timing for us to update the Comprehensive Plan, perhaps with a particular focus on the specific areas we are most concerned with, such as Valley Blvd. and Sunset Drive,” he said.
The Commissioners’ instructions to Sweeting was to select the members of the ad hoc committee and what their objectives would be, and bring it back to Council for approval.
EDITOR’S NOTE: We will have an editorial on the Commissioners decision about this issue in the near future.
The Commissioners also approved the selection of Martin Starnes & Associates, CPAs, P.A., as the Town’s new auditing firm. Martin Starnes is an award-winning auditing firm based in Hickory that performs annual audits for more than 80 governmental units in North Carolina, including 22 counties and 37 municipalities. The cost to the Town will be $23,500 in each of FY2019 and FY2020, and $24,175 in FY2021. The Commissioners unanimously voted to hire Martin Starnes & Associates.
The Consent Agenda was passed unanimously, containing no controversial issues or decisions. The items included property tax refunds and relief where mistakes were documented and a resolution recommended by the League of Municipalities opposing an additional state-mandated firefighter or first responders benefit, the costs of which would be borne by the municipalities, with no funding coming from the state. The Consent Agenda also included approval of a new contract for AppleCart, with a new route that covers outer areas within the Town limits, including Green Park Inn, Holiday Inn Express, and Tanger Shoppes on the Parkway, among other stops.
EDITOR’S NOTE: While the AppleCart agreement is non-controversial, we feel it would have been more appropriate to formally introduce the dramatic (and we feel improved) changes to the route more publicly, to those attending the Town Council meeting rather than include it in the Consent Agenda.
The Town Council went into closed session at approximately 7:40 pm to discuss a prospective property acquisition, with no action planned when they came back into open session.