When the North Wilkesboro commissioners hired Ed Evans as interim manager in early March, he said he hoped to leave the town in better shape than he found it. As he leaves North Wilkesboro this week, Evans can take pride in knowing he did just that.
His course here was set about a month before he was hired when an auditor’s report revealed that North Wilkesboro’s undesignated fund balance (available cash) had dropped from $1.8 million on June 30, 2017, to $353,556 this past June 30.
The sharp drop in financial reserves resulted partly from spending decisions when commissioners thought they had millions of dollars to use as they pleased due to a $15 million upfront lease payment received two years ago for the town-owned hospital.
In April 2018, the commissioners learned that because of the way payments were structured under the lease agreement with Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, spending more than nearly $500,000 of the $15 million in a year would damage the town’s credit rating.
Why this wasn’t made clear to the town board much earlier is a big unanswered question, but it contributed to the situation that culminated in the commissioners unanimously agreeing to ask for Larry South’s resignation as town manager. In a retreat about a week after South resigned on Feb. 19, the commissioners aired their dissatisfaction with his lack of progress on key town projects, as well as his lack of communication.
Evans took the helm amidst this financial and organizational turbulence and did far more for the town than might be expected of an interim manager while commuting back and forth from his home in Boone.
One commissioner privately confessed to not realizing how much difference a town manager could make before Evans started here.
Indeed, having a smart, diplomatic and energetic town manager with broad knowledge makes a huge difference in a local government’s effectiveness and ultimately quality of life in a community.
After receiving the report showing an 80% drop in the undesignated fund balance and before Evans arrived, the commissioners called for reduced spending for the rest of fiscal 2018-19. Evans effectively carried this out.
Evans, who served as a U.S. Marine, instilled fiscal discipline in the 2019-20 North Wilkesboro budget. Unlike most North Wilkesboro, Wilkesboro, county and Wilkes school system budgets for many years, the new North Wilkesboro spending plan was balanced without using any of the town’s undesignated fund balance.
He oversaw significant accomplishments in just a few months, including gaining conditional approval of a 20-year, zero interest loan of $6.73 million from the state for building a raw water intake on the Yadkin River. A letter of intent announcing this funding was received this week.
Securing a more reliable water source than the current raw water intake on the small Reddies River reservoir would be a huge step forward.
Evans will hand the baton to Wilson Hooper, who officially starts as town manager July 29. Hooper, in his late 30s, has a strong background from working in the Charlotte city manager’s office for 12 years.
North Wilkesboro’s new and even younger town planner, Meredith Honeycutt Detsch, also starts work here on July 29. Evans boldly said Detsch, leaving a job as town planner in Summerville, S.C., was “the best candidate I ever interviewed for any position.”
With two of three incumbent commissioners up for re-election this year not running, North Wilkesboro is assured of at least two new faces on the board.
We look forward to seeing more positive changes in the town.