The North Wilkesboro Board of Commissioners narrowed a list of 20 priorities down to 13 for fiscal year 2020-21 during a daylong retreat at the Morganton Community House in Morganton Friday.

The priorities, not ranked in any way, are:

• working with the Wilkes Economic Development Corp., Wilkes Chamber of Commerce and Downtown North Wilkesboro Partnership to ensure that businesses and entrepreneurs are aware of resources available for local industry;

• maintaining strong relationships with the Wilkes EDC, Chamber of Commerce, Town of Wilkesboro, County of Wilkes, High Country Council of Governments and N.C. Department of Commerce;

• partnering with the private sector to develop the Block 46 (former American Drew furniture factory property) and other areas surrounding downtown;

• continuing efforts with property owners to revitalize downtown buildings;

• utilizing efficient and effective maintenance methods to improve public spaces within downtown;

• implementing a housing study developed in 2012 throughout town;

• enforcing minimum housing standards adopted in 2006 in all residential neighborhoods;

• continue cooperation with North Wilkesboro Housing Authority. The authority’s board is appointed by the commissioners and provides affordable housing to income-eligible families;

• continuing to replace substandard or failing water lines, sewer lines and supporting facilities. The aging sewer lines under Euclid Avenue and related manholes were discussed by the board in September;

• building and enhancing Yadkin River Greenway connectors and accessing to regional parks, greenways and open space areas;

• utilizing a policy-based system in governing and managing major business requirements of the town;

• performing customer service equitable to all, with strong accountability and stewardship of community assets;

• maintaining a diverse and high performing town employee base.

Commissioner Michael Parsons said, “I like the fact that we’ve narrowed down to some very doable priorities.” Commissioners Angela Day and Debbie Ferguson agreed, indicating excitement about focusing on those 13 goals.

Each commissioner and Mayor Robert Johnson listed their top 20 priorities during the board’s Feb. 27 work session. The last three priorities to be eliminated from the top 13 during the retreat Friday were:

• work with businesses and the Wilkes EDC to forecast facility “buildout” and alternatives for facility growth or relocation;

• support a minimum housing program in areas of town containing deteriorated and dilapidated dwellings;

• develop capital improvement plan (CIP) for water and sewer system development.

Town Manager Wilson Hooper said it might be possible to include water and sewer capital improvement projects in the 2020-21 budget after two years of lean budgets featuring little to no such work. In September, the board delayed addressing aging sewer lines under Euclid Avenue and related manholes until this spring due to concerns about town finances.

In January, the town board received a positive audit report on town finances from Gibson & Company. The board learned that the town’s unassigned fund balance increased about nine-fold due to efforts to reduce spending over the past two years.

“Based on the preliminary data, if our (water) consumption and therefore our revenue stays the same, and we don’t (adjust) our rates, and we do every project on the CIP wish list, we can make it to 2025,” said Hooper.

“That’s the best-case scenario. Clearly, we’ll have to make some decisions and there’ll be some tradeoffs there.”

Town budget workshops are scheduled March 31 and April 2. One of the deliberations is whether to hire a full-time town attorney.

Other projects

The completion of the mural project at the Yadkin Valley Marketplace has an estimated “all-in” budget of $15,000, with the town’s contribution uncertain at this point, said Hooper. The town is partnering with the Wilkes Art Gallery to complete the mural.

The town’s façade grant program has nearly depleted its $15,000 budget this year, with $3,100 left. “There’s clearly demand there, so we could bump that up and expand the reach of the program if there’s an appetite for that,” said Hooper.

Downtown streetscape work, in addition to projects completed at Sixth and Main and Ninth and Main streets, isn’t in the CIP. Hooper said the board could evaluate this and include more of this work in the 2020-21 budget.

“We knew the CIP was going to be a big issue. In my opinion, none of these others are budget-busters. There’s no million-dollar investments here. And none of these are ‘keep the lights on’ top priorities.”

Ferguson asked about the status of the plan for building new facilities for the police and fire departments on town-owned land near Second Street. The plan was tabled last year after the project’s estimated cost escalated to about $9 million. “Do we go back to the drawing board, or do we adjust the last plan? We really don’t have a clear path.”

Mayor Robert Johnson replied, “We should keep the fire department where it is (on Ninth Street). Then build a fire substation on Boston Avenue. I really think we need two different stations. I don’t think we need a new police station. It needs to be in a central location of the town.”

The current police station is in the old town hall building on Main Street. There has been discussion about utilizing the town-owned former women’s detention center on Boston Avenue.

Perry James and Bob Scott, municipal operations consultants with the N.C. League of Municipalities, facilitated the retreat.

James told the board, “I think your desire today was the ‘three Ps,’ as I call them: plan, prioritize and preview the budgetary implications, and I think you did well on these. It’s encouraging to hear how many important things can be done with reasonable funding.”

He later concluded, “Y’all come across as an extremely well-managed and thoughtful town board with a great staff. There’s a real positive view of the future.”

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