Mount Airy officials will huddle for an annual two-day planning retreat later this week to discuss a wide variety of city government issues and set goals for the year.
Items to be addressed will range from normal, everyday needs such as street, sidewalk, water and sewer and other infrastructure components to a possible effort to once again seek All-America City status — which Mount Airy achieved in the 1990s — and much in between.
“There are a great number of topics,” Mayor David Rowe agreed Tuesday as he looked ahead to participating in the planning/work session for the first time, after being elected in November.
“My personal objective is to get a better perspective of what we (Mount Airy leaders) are responsible for,” Rowe added of the various roles city government plays in activities locally.
The planning session will be held in a conference room at a Mount Airy bank, an isolated setting away from telephone calls and other distractions which allows officials to hunker down and roll up their sleeves for some serious work.
In addition to the mayor, the discussions will include the board of commissioners, City Manager Barbara Jones, Finance Director Pam Stone, heads of municipal departments and David Long, a professor facilitator from Greensboro who has assisted at city retreats in recent years.
Also on the agenda will be an update on the municipality’s finances, a presentation on capital needs (building- and equipment-related) from department heads, a proposal for a sister city program, a discussion on the costs of special events to the municipality, personnel matters and more.
Main Street Program
One topic that will be aired early on during the planning meeting is an evaluation of the city’s Main Street Program scheduled for Thursday.
This will be a continuation of a discussion first held in November, when Commissioner Shirley Brinkley called for the immediate de-funding of the Main Street Program, which is part of a statewide effort.
Brinkley did so in response to the coordinator of the local program taking an active role in the 2015 municipal election by openly campaigning against her, two other incumbent commissioners who were re-elected and Rowe. This was rooted in their opposition to a redevelopment plan for the former Spencer’s industrial buildings now owned by the city government which included private property against owners’ will.
In November, Brinkley said it was time to put the local Main Street Program under the microscope, with a three-year, $45,000 funding commitment to that effort nearing expiration. That commitment was made to help fund the salary of the downtown coordinator and program activities during that time.
Brinkley was told in November that there would be difficulties in de-funding the Main Street Program in the midst of a fiscal year, so it was agreed to continue the discussion until the retreat.
Also to be discussed Thursday are all committees appointed by the city.
The mayor said this will be an attempt to answer the question of “do we have too many committees?” These number 21 at present.
Given his background in the construction industry, which has included building bridges for the N.C. Department of Transportation and other projects, Rowe is looking forward to discussions on Mount Airy’s street and related needs.
“There’s certainly a lot more to the town than the streets, but that is something I know a little bit about,” the mayor said.
The discussion will include an update Thursday on Powell Bill funding, money annually allocated by the state from gas tax revenues which the city uses for such needs as street resurfacing and sidewalks.
“I do not understand much about that,” Rowe admitted regarding the Powell Bill program.
In addition to the paving of city-owned streets, officials will talk about rehabilitation and new construction of sidewalks on Thursday.
They will continue in that vein on Friday when the agenda calls for delving into Mount Airy’s water and sewer system, including an ongoing need to replace aging lines, infrastructure grants and the extension of lines.
A discussion on upgrades for Market Street downtown, which has been the scene of several retail and other development efforts recently, also will occur on Friday.
That day’s retreat activities will culminate with the setting of goals, action plans and directives by the city council, with the help of the professional coordinator.
In past years, this has established the tone for later decisions on the property tax rate, including whether a cut is feasible.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.