The North Wilkesboro commissioners are considering making changes to town code that would allow Samaritan’s Purse to build a training facility off White Pine Street that would provide free overnight lodging to the company’s apprentices and interns.

The commissioners called for a virtual public hearing on the matter for Feb. 25 at 5:30 p.m. Following a 24-hour period for public comments, the board might take action on Feb. 26, also via Zoom.

Town code currently allows for the operation of hotels and motels in many zoning districts but not light industrial, which includes the Boone-based evangelical Christian humanitarian aid organization‘s expanding campus off N.C. 268 East.

Samaritan’s Purse applied on Dec. 9 for the town to include a “lodge” text amendment that defines a lodge as “a building containing more than four individual rooms for the purpose of providing overnight lodging facilities to private entities without compensation, with or without meals, and which has common facilities for reservations and cleaning services, combined utilities and on-site management and reception services.”

Brian Rossi, a project manager with Charlotte-based EMH&T, said Thursday during the board’s work session on Zoom that the potential training center would be a two-story building with a partial third story in the back. It would contain 29 units for Samaritan’s Purse employees or guests.

Ron Wilcox, Samaritan’s Purse chief operating officer, added that the facility would provide temporary housing for about 20 to 25 apprentices per quarter.

Commissioner Debbie Ferguson asked Wilcox if company representatives would attend the public hearing to answer questions from the public, and he said they would. Commissioner Andrew Palmer thanked Wilcox for the company’s presence in the town.

Heavy truck ordinance

The board also called for a public hearing on Feb. 25 concerning the potential prohibition of heavy truck traffic down Finley Avenue and into the heart of the town’s residential neighborhoods.

The update to Chapter 11 of town code would prohibit tractor trailers or other heavy trucks (Class 6 or above) from using certain town streets without a permit.

Town Manager Wilson Hooper indicated that the N.C. Department of Transportation recently told town officials they can install 30-by-30-inch “No Trucks” signs at the intersection of N.C. 18 North and Finley Avenue and near other grid junctions near Hinshaw, Elizabeth, Franklin and D streets.

Hooper said that heavy trucks are using these streets as cut-throughs and are impinging on residents’ quiet enjoyment of their homes. The trucks have also been observed running stop signs and exceeding posted speed limits, he said.

Fines collected from enforcement of the proposed ordinance would be sent, by law, to Wilkes County public schools. A violation of the ordinance would be considered a misdemeanor and subject to a $50 fine.

COVID-19 policy

The board also approved COVID-19-related updates to the town’s personnel policy to encourage town employees to be vaccinated against the virus.

The amendments take effect March 1 and make only employees who take the vaccine eligible for unlimited sick leave and other pandemic-related benefits, unless a bona fide medical or religious exemption applies.

The amended policy also states that an employee remains eligible as long as he or she makes a good-faith effect to get vaccinated if a vaccine shortage exists.

“If an employee has symptoms or has been in close contact with a positive case we can still enforce sending them home and take leave time,” said Hooper. “We can also take disciplinary action if they still come to work.”

Town audit

Craig Hopkins, audit manager with Winston-Salem-based Gibson & Co., presented the town’s audit for the 2019-20 fiscal year.

“It is our clean opinion that all the Is were dotted and the Ts were crossed,” said Hopkins.

Hopkins said the town’s total assets in the general fund were $54.2 million. The town’s unassigned fund balance stood at $4.38 million, which is 72.1% of the town’s general fund expenditures, “quite above the state minimum of 8%, so that’s very positive for the town.”

The town’s total general fund revenue was $7.02 million and expenditures were $6.07 million, leading to an increase of fund balance to $5.86 million. “It was a very good year for the general fund this year,” noted Hopkins.

Water-sewer revenue was $2.90 million and expenses were $2.72 million, leading to an increase in the water-sewer fund balance to $19.08 million.

Hopkins said that Connie Bauguess, the town’s director of finance, was “very diligent and proactive and very helpful. It was a pleasure working with Wilson as well.”

Bauguess thanked the board “for putting off some projects they really wanted to do, but it helped build our fund balance back to a healthy status.”

N.C. 268 East annexation

The board heard more about a speculative satellite annexation request made by the owner of parcel 1400482, 33.3 acres of undeveloped land behind Liberty Grove Baptist Church at the intersection of N.C. 268 East and River Road/Liberty Grove Church Road.

In a Dec. 30 letter to the town, Ron Anderson of Jacksonville, Fla., said he wants to sell the property to investors who would “aggressively market to potential buyers looking for an area to build townhomes, condominiums or houses.”

Anderson said he was born and raised in Wilkes County. “My family and I have owned property in Wilkes for many years. We would like to see the area where we grew up, grow and prosper.”

Anderson said there is a real need for such housing, according to a recent housing study, and requested that the parcel be zoned R20 (rural residential) to allow such development.

Jim Logan, a Realtor representing Anderson, said that if the annexation was approved there would be a restrictive covenant saying there wouldn’t be a mobile home park built on the parcel.

Hooper said that he and interim town attorney Daniel Johnson would research the possibility of a provisional annexation and report back to the board. Hooper said the property could potentially accommodate over 200 townhomes.

“At full build-out there could be significant new tax revenue, but again, we’re going in blind not knowing what full build-out would look like,” said Hooper. “It’s really tough to estimate the cost of providing services, especially police services.”

Palmer said the project “just seems like too much risk without having a plan,” and other commissioners agreed with his assessment.

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