A proposed two-year state budget with $18 million to help bring the North Wilkesboro Speedway back to life and millions more for other work in Wilkes County was made public Monday evening.
Senate and House approval of the budget bill is expected this week, resulting in it being sent to Gov. Roy Cooper for approval or a veto.
This latest budget version resulted from negotiations between Senate and House representatives. It also resulted from two months of negotiations between the Democratic governor and Republicans Phi Berger and Tim Moore, Senate president pro tem and House speaker respectively.
The Associated Press reported that Cooper suggested that he could sign the plan into law, even though it omits an expansion of Medicaid eligibility and certain other things he wanted. Berger said he would consider Medicaid expansion in the negotiations, but Moore said House Republicans wouldn’t support it.
A new budget was supposed to be in place when the new fiscal year began July 1. The plan being considered now includes an average 5% pay raise for teachers and state employees over the next two years, income tax cuts and increases in education spending. It omits a policy provision requiring that teachers post lesson plans online.
North Wilkesboro Speedway
Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, a Republican from North Wilkesboro, said the latest draft has $18 million for the North Wilkesboro Speedway and mentions that this would fund extension of water and sewer lines to the dilapidated speedway “and other COVID-related infrastructure” work there. Elmore said examples include work on bathrooms and lighting on the speedway property.
Like earlier budget proposals this year, it funds work for the North Wilkesboro Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Rockingham Speedway and other motorsports venues in the state with portions of $5.7 billion tabbed for North Carolina under the federal government’s COVID-19-related American Rescue Plan (ARP).
Elmore said plans call for Wilkes County government to receive and oversee use of the $18 million. He said the Office of State Budget and Management will work with county officials to help make sure ARP guidelines for the funds are followed.
He said Wilkes County officials will also coordinate with Concord-based Speedway Motorsports Inc. (SMI), owner of the North Wilkesboro Speedway, on use of ARP funds there.
Elmore said an SMI business plan includes use of ARP funds from the state on the North Wilkesboro Speedway. The plans haven’t been made public and Elmore hasn’t seen them, but he said earlier that the company’s vision include using all of its motorsports properties year-round for a variety of events.
Wilkes County government officials say they’re also still learning how county government can spend nearly $14 million in ARP funds awarded directly to the county.
Elmore said county government is coordinating with Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro officials on extending water and sewer lines to the speedway, which used wells and a septic system when it was open to the public.
He said discussions indicate the sewer line would come from North Wilkesboro and the water line from Wilkesboro. A North Wilkesboro sewer line now terminates on Speedway Road, near the Breeze Hill Road intersection. A Wilkesboro water line ends near the Northwest Visitor’s Center along U.S. 421.
Work to help revive the speedway has already started. In August, over 150 Wilkes volunteer fire department members cleared brush and sprayed herbicide on the speedway property. Terri Parsons of Purlear and Ronald Queen of North Wilkesboro, with connections to the speedway and racing, worked with SMI on this effort.
“I can’t emphasize enough how proud I am of my community to work for something we need,” said Queen, referring to bringing back the speedway. He said dilapidated wooden structures on the property were recently removed.
The North Wilkesboro Speedway last hosted a NASCAR Cup Series race on Sept. 29, 1996. It sat dormant for over a decade before being revived for short track touring division races in 2010 and 2011.
Speculation is growing, largely on social media, about how the speedway might be used. Possibilities mentioned include NASCAR truck racing, SRX Racing, music concerts and more.
Also for Wilkes
Elmore said the latest budget plan awaiting also includes:
• $5.5 million for new construction, renovations and repairs at Wilkes Community College
• $5 million for providing larger gym facilities at Wilkes Central High School. Elmore cited instances of attendance exceeding capacity at the school’s current main gym exceeding
• $2.5 million for work on athletic facilities at the other three traditional high schools in Wilkes, including new stadium bleachers and tennis facilities
• $3 million for establishing the main portion (about 1,800 acres) of Rendezvous Mountain State Educational Forest in Purlear as a state park but under management of staff at Stone Mountain State Park. It would be transferred from the N.C. Department of Agriculture to state parks. The $3 million would be used to pave the gravel road to the top of Rendezvous, build trails for hiking and mountain biking, establish tent and RV hookup camping facilities and other work. Elmore said the nearby disconnected Little Fork tract of Rendezvous (about 1,500 acres) would remain a state forest and be managed by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission as game land
• $500,000 for upgrading and repairing shoulders of N.C. 268 in the West End Elkin area of Wilkes and Surry counties
• $500,000 to the North Wilkesboro for debt service on a new water tower along River Road/Liberty Grove Road. It was built to improve water pressure needed for a JELD-WEN expansion and elsewhere in that area. The town originally was budgeted these funds but didn’t receive them when this earlier state budget wasn’t approved
• $400,000 to the Wilkesboro for 25% of the cost of a bridge for Woodfield Way over Cub Creek to replace a culvert washed out by floodwaters in late October. The town is receiving state disaster relief funds for 75% of the cost of the bridge. Town Manager Ken Noland said in June that it could be completed next spring
• $350,000 to the Town of Wilkesboro for bathrooms on the site of the town-owned “rock building” in the town’s Community Commons
• $50,000 to North Wilkesboro for painting a new mural over the existing mural at the town’s Yadkin Valley Marketplace along the CBD Loop
• $500,000 to Wilkes Recovery Revolution for its R3 Recovery Center at West Park, North Wilkesboro
• $100,000 for the Blue Ridge Opportunity Commission.
The House budget plan had $6 million for building new and renovating existing facilities at Mount Pleasant Elementary School. This included demolishing and replacing a classroom building constructed in the 1950s. Elmore said that despite the importance of the project, it no longer is in the budget.