A new county property revaluation, decisions regarding Wilkes County’s water source, downtown improvements and other public facility projects are among topics expected to be in the headlines in 2019.

Property revaluation

Wilkes Tax Administrator Alex Hamilton said new values from the latest revaluation, which began in 2018, will be mailed to Wilkes County property owners in early March.

Although it’s still subject to adjustment before new values are mailed, the revaluation resulted in a countywide value (county tax base) of $5.72 billion.

Increases or decreases in values are closely tied to how well different types of property have been selling and purchase prices.

He said lots in mountain subdivisions established during the real estate boom just before a recession began about 10 years ago generally will see some of the biggest decreases, while the opposite is true for many moderately priced houses.

In general, values of commercial properties are increasing. Hamilton said lack of consistency in sales prices of the largest homes created challenges for county appraisers.

The new revaluation is the first since 2013, which resulted in a countywide property value of $5.49 billion—about 4 percent less than the value ($5.72 billion) resulting from the 2018 revaluation.

The revaluation scheduled in 2017 was delayed due to lack of property sales needed to determine new values and little change in values.

The $5.49 billion valuation was 2.3 percent less than the total from the 2007 revaluation, which was $5.62 billion. A revaluation planned in 2009 was also delayed because of lack of sales.

The tax base primarily is real property, but also includes the value of business personal property, utilities and motor vehicles. Real property includes land, houses and other structures.

State law requires counties to reappraise all real property once every eight years but allows reappraisal once every four years. County officials at one point had a goal of revaluating property every four years.

Property owners can file an informal appeal of new values using a form included with new value notices they receive.

If the property owner isn’t satisfied, the next step is to file a formal appeal with the Wilkes County Board of Equalization & Review. An appeal from there goes to the N.C. Property Tax Commission, then to the N.C. Court of Appeals and N.C. Supreme Court.

The 2019-20 county budget, to be approved in May, will incorporate the new values. Keith Elmore, new chairman of the Wilkes County commissioners, said the board’s goal with a new revaluation typically is to set a revenue neutral tax rate to avoid increasing people’s taxes and this year should be no exception. Based on expectations for the new revaluation’s results, that would mean lowering the tax rate—currently at 67 cents per $100 of property valuation.

Decision on water source

The Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro governing bodies are expected to make decisions early in 2019 impacting future water supplies in Wilkes County.

Each governing body is moving toward alternatives to the long-discussed W. Kerr Scott Reservoir raw water intake project.

After the North Wilkesboro board hears a preliminary engineering report from Kimley-Horn on Jan. 8, the North Wilkesboro commissioners and Wilkesboro Council members will hold a joint meeting that same night.

They are expected to decide then whether to pursue the Kerr Scott intake project because of a deadline set by state officials for deciding whether to accept a $30 million, 30-year, interest free loan for the Kerr Scott intake project and related water lines. State officials have said the loan can only be used for the proposed Kerr Scott intake and related water lines.

North Wilkesboro Town Manager Larry South said in an interview last week, “I don’t know what those folks (at Kimley-Horn) will tell us, but my gut tells me that both towns will probably use alternative plans,” said South.

Wilkesboro Town Manager Ken Noland confirmed as much in an interview last week. “I do think that, from the (Wilkesboro) Town Council’s perspective, Wilkesboro won’t be part of a new intake being built at the reservoir. But, I don’t know what (the Kimley-Horn) report will say about how we can potentially work together in some other ways.

“Any way we can work together is going to save the citizens money in the long run. It would be nice, if early this year, we got this thing behind us, because it’s been a long road.”

New landfill cell

With the current and fourth Wilkes County Landfill cell in Roaring River expected to reach capacity in the spring of 2020, construction of a new landfill cell on adjoining county-owned property is scheduled to start in 2019 and take several months to complete. The estimated cost is $2.25 million.

Cost of partial closure of the current and first three cells is expected to cost about $2 million. Closure of a landfill cell occurs in phases, including capping with a synthetic liner, planting native vegetation over that and then monitoring.

WTA finances

Elmore said addressing the Wilkes Transportation Authority’s financial problems will remain a high priority for the county commissioners in 2019. In particular, he said, this includes hiring a new WTA director and installing a new WTA board to replace the commissioners as the agency’s board. Elmore said there also are plans to participate in a study of a potential regional public transit that could include Wilkes.

The commissioners, acting as the WTA board, agreed to hire a Raleigh certified public accountant to conduct a forensic audit of WTA as a result of questionable financial practices being identified in earlier reviews.

“Shell” spec building

The Wilkes Economic Development Corp. (EDC) board has discussed possibly constructing a “shell” building that would be used to help recruit companies to Wilkes or to assist companies already here that want to expand.

EDC board discussions have focused on the EDC partnering with local government and even the private sector to fund such an undertaking. An EDC board real estate committee is expected to make recommendations in 2019.

The EDC receives annual funding from the governments of Wilkes County, Wilkesboro, North Wilkesboro and Ronda, as well as private funding.

Elmore said he would support having county government partner with the EDC on funding the construction of a “shell” building.

Wilkes County Airport

Elmore said he also supports extending the Wilkes County Airport runway so it can accommodate larger aircraft and expects commissioners to discuss this in 2019. The commissioners discussed extending the runway in 2018, partly so Samaritan’s Purse could use it for its larger aircraft. Samaritan’s Purse already is the Wilkes Airport’s largest user.

Also in 2018, the commissioners authorized the design of plans for a new terminal and 10-bay T-hangar with taxi-lanes at the Wilkes Airport. Construction of these additions hasn’t been authorized yet.

County facilities

Elmore said more of a county-owned building on Curtis Bridge Road in Wilkesboro will be renovated in 2019 for Wilkes Department of Social Services protective services staff, who already occupy part of the building. The Wilkes Sheriff’s Office formerly occupied the building.

Elmore said he supports consideration of building new facilities on county-owned property in the vicinity of the Wilkes County Courthouse to address broader county government facility needs. He said he expects discussion of this among the commissioners in 2019.

Economic development efforts in Wilkes should include a strong emphasis on technology-related enterprises, said Elmore.

New veterans service officer

With longtime Wilkes Veterans Service Officer Ralph Broyhill recently announcing his retirement, the Wilkes County commissioners will be charged with filling that position.

At WCC

Construction of the new culinary arts building at Wilkes Community College is underway and is expected to be completed in the fall of 2019.

Dr. Jeff Cox, WCC president, said year two implementation of WCC’s strategic plan will occur in 2019. Cox said there will be continued focus on improving economic mobility of residents of the college’s service area—Wilkes, Ashe and Alleghany counties.

Also in North Wilkesboro

Boone-based Samaritan’s Purse has announced that it will expand on N.C. 268 East with a three-story office building and training facility in 2019.

“We’re excited about the continued growth at Samaritan’s Purse. Preliminary plans on the new office and training facility have already been drawn, and they’re hoping for a spring start on construction,” said Town Manager Larry South.

South said he expects construction of an elevated water storage tank at the town-owned Wilkes Industrial Park in 2019 due to recent expansion of the nearby Jeld-Wen facility, which manufactures windows and doors. He said the water tank will “help the hydraulics of our water system on that northeastern end of town, including water pressure.” South said this will also benefit Samaritan’s Purse on N.C. 268 East.

He said the tank will also enable Jeld-Wen and other businesses to install sprinkler systems for fire protection. “We’ve pursued the tank idea two or three times but haven’t been able to fund it yet,” said South, adding that assistance is expected from the Wilkes Economic Development Corp.

South said a North Wilkesboro sewer line extension project along N.C. 115 to U.S. 421, under contract with an engineering company and USDA Rural Development for about four years, should go out for bids in 2019. “It’s a very important economic development project to get that sewer line out to that interchange under 421.”

He said design work for widening three miles of N.C. 115 (from U.S. 421 to Second Street) will occur in 2019, with right of way acquisitions for the $36.6 million project starting in 2020. “That’s an exciting project involving a gateway to the town with increased safety and beautification,” he said.

South said design work will start soon for installing mast arm poles for stoplights at the intersection of Sixth and Main streets, leading to construction later in 2019. He said a proposed contract is on the agenda for streetscape improvements to Main, Ninth and 10th streets and downtown parking lots and alleyways.

South said the town’s new public safety facility planned on Second Street to house the police and fire departments has been a “priority project at every retreat since I’ve been here. We’ll continue to pursue funding that.” A 20,000- to 25,000-square-foot building costing $5 to $6 million is planned on 19.5 acres owned by the town along Second Street.

He said he expects a presentation in February from the Development Finance Initiative program of the UNC School of Government on redevelopment potential of the former Elks Lodge facility and the old town water treatment plant. “It should help us continue to market those facilities because they’re determining the best use of both properties,” said South.

The position of planning director, left vacant by the recent departure of Sam Hinnant for a similar position in High Point, should be filled in 2019. The vacancy has been advertised and the town is being assisted by the High Country Council of Governments with planning and zoning until it is filled.

South said a pedestrian bridge across D Street to connect the portion of the Yadkin River Greenway near CVS Pharmacy with the 13th Street portion of the greenway “will hopefully be a 2019 project.” He said it’s being funded by the N.C. Department of Transportation. A new greenway section from Memorial Park to the Yadkin River bridge between the Wilkesboros will be completed in 2019.

South said North Wilkesboro’s new marketing logo and slogan, “Living starts here!” will be introduced “in a more noticeable way” in the spring. He also said the town is under contract with a company to develop a new town website that should be unveiled in 2019.

He said the town will continue to pursue new middle and upper income housing in 2019.

North Wilkesboro officials will continue seeking bids for the sale of two town-owned buildings - at 910/908 Main Street and 912 Main Street. “I think those will move forward into private hands who can redevelop them in 2019. We’ve shown those buildings a ton, and we get frustrated when we can’t turn them loose, but we’ll be making progress soon hopefully.”

Widening of N.C. 268 East from North Wilkesboro to the Airport Road intersection will continue in 2019. Completion is scheduled in the spring of 2020.

Also in Wilkesboro

The Wilkesboro Town Council is expected to take legal action regarding the so-called “Taco Bell” sink holes near U.S. 421 and Winkler Mill Road in 2019.

Noland said town officials hope to begin multi-phase renovations to the Corporation Street area in connection with plans for a Wilkes Habitat for Humanity project with 20 houses. “We’re expecting to hold a community meeting to show the public what we want to do…. It’ll be a whole new neighborhood there with a new look.”

He said the town’s wastewater treatment plant’s new clarifier should be put into service in March or April. “Then we’ll turn right around and be looking at the next project there. As Tyson continues to grow and increase usage of our water and sewer, we’ve got to keep the sewer plant up to date.”

Noland said improvements to the town-owned Rock Building on North Bridge Street is the next project in Wilkesboro’s downtown revitalization. The building is adjacent to the Carolina West Wireless Community Commons. It will have public restrooms and be an open gateway between the Carolina West Wireless Community Commons and the Wilkes Heritage Museum’s front lawn (Heritage Square).

“We also want to grow our programming at the Commons” and increase its use for private functions. Wi-Fi should be available in that area shortly after the new year begins, he added.

Noland cited an early 2019 goal of securing council approval of building a new Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) store on town-owned land next to the new town water tank off Old Browns Ford Road and U.S. 421. “We’d like to get it built in 2019,” he said. The town ABC Board has approved the project.

He said planning is underway for an inclusive playground and fishing access site at Cub Creek Park, with part of the funding in place. He said additional funding from donors is being sought. “We really want to make it something good for all of Wilkes County, not just Wilkesboro.” It includes handicapped accessible playground equipment, a ramp to make Cub Creek accessible for fishing (including two parking spaces and sidewalk access), and six handicapped-accessible water fountains.

Noland said planning for phase two of downtown revitalization will start in 2019. “All of Main Street gets fixed up, the greenway will be extended in some fashion to Cub Creek (Park), power lines will get moved or go underground—but those things will take years to plan and execute.” He said Duke Energy will offset two-thirds to three-fourths of the cost. Expanded downtown parking will also be part of phase two.

Wilkesboro officials dubbed 2019 “The Year of the Tribute,” with the town’s outdoor concerts series on the Wilkes Communications Pavilion featuring six tribute-type shows from May through October. These will be tributes to Billy Joel, Chicago, Toto, Journey, the Beatles, the Motown sound and the Eagles.

Rights of way acquisition for the superstreet project on about 2.5 miles of U.S. 421 in western Wilkesboro will continue in 2019, with construction scheduled to start in 2020.

Noland noted that completion of the $7.2 million Wilkesboro’s Browns Ford Loop water line project has been held up by a directional bore drill bit being encased in rock for months where a 16-inch waterline is supposed to be installed beneath Moravian Creek, near U.S. 421 and downstream from N.C. 268 West. He said the situation is “a nightmare right now.”

Noland added, “We’ve requested a six-month extension into June to get this thing done, and one way or another we’ve got to make that deadline. It’s the second extension we’ve asked for.”

Noland said the town wants to get a 500,000-gallon water tank, installed in January at New Browns Ford Road and U.S. 421 as part of the Browns Ford Loop project, into service soon. He said town officials also want to move ahead with painting the tank to promote Wilkesboro. “I’m excited about branding the tank with some sort of local advertising scheme.”

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