Kennel hearing, budget unveiling on tap

By Tom Joyce -

Animals and city finances loom as the dominant topics for a Mount Airy Board of Commissioners meeting today.

The 7 p.m. meeting in the Municipal Building will include a public hearing on a proposal to allow indoor animal kennels in the downtown business district.

Also tonight, the proposed municipal budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year, which begins on July 1, is to be presented by City Manager Barbara Jones.

In addition, graduates of the most recent Citizens Police Academy are to be recognized during the meeting.

Kennel hearing

Citizen input is sought regarding a request by an entity known as the Grand Pup Resort Hotel & Spa, which is associated with the Bark and Meow pet store at 259 N. Main St., to open an indoor animal kennel at that location downtown. The facility proposed has been described as “a hotel for dogs” where no cages or animals will be left outside unsupervised.

The business is requesting that Mount Airy’s zoning ordinance be amended to permit such kennels in the B-1 (central business) zoning district, with special requirements.

This stems from a recent attempt by the business operators to launch the kennel, which drew the attention of city planning personnel who made the operators aware that kennels are not permitted under existing regulations.

Those facilities are now limited to M-1 (industrial) areas of town.

Approving the zoning request would make Mount Airy the only municipality in this area to permit animal kennels of any kind, indoor or outdoor, in their central business districts, according to information from the city planning department.

However, the Mount Airy Planning Board — an advisory group to the city council — has reviewed proposed amendments to zoning rules and recommended the pet operation’s request to the commissioners for consideration and approval.

Changes recommended by the planning board are aimed at ensuring downtown kennel operations do not disrupt other parties there, based on its members’ sentiments during a meeting in late April when the matter was considered.

Among these are minimum lot-size requirements of one acre to accommodate up to 10 animals, two acres when 11 to 20 animals are involved and three acres for facilities with 21 to 30 animals.

The lot requirements may be waived, however, if a kennel is constructed to entirely enclose all kennel facilities so as to adequately protect the animals from weather extremes and adjacent residences from noise, odor or other problems.

This is stated in a proposed resolution to amend the zoning ordinance the commissioners will consider tonight after the hearing, the passage of which would clear the way for kennel operations.

For indoor animal boarding within the central business district, it calls for kennel structures to have a buffer of at least 100 feet from residential-use properties, and a minimum 20-foot buffer from other property lines for storage/refuse.

The proposed resolution further says that animals boarded overnight in the downtown area shall not exceed 20 pets of any combination at one time.

City budget

Tonight’s release of Mount Airy’s proposed spending plan for 2016-2017 will include the city’s manager’s recommendation on the property tax rate, which now stands at 48 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

The 48-cent rate has been in place for this fiscal year as well as the previous, 2014-2015 spending period. Leaving that level intact rate for this year halted a trend in which city property taxes were slashed by a total of 10 cents over the previous five years and 15 cents since 2008, including a 4-cent reduction for 2014-2015.

At least one city commissioner has made her position clear on the property tax situation for the upcoming fiscal year, when recently commenting on a mounting list of expenses for city government.

“I don’t want city taxes to go up,” Commissioner Shirley Brinkley said during a May 6 meeting of the city Finance Committee she serves on with fellow city council member Steve Yokeley.

“I’ll fight tooth and nail for that,” Brinkley added.

This year’s budget, approved by the commissioners last June, totaled about $13.8 million in general fund appropriations, along with a $6.2 million water and sewer budget that is separate from other city government operations.

One highlight of last year’s budgetary action, which could be a factor for 2016-2017, was a 3-percent cost-of-living raise for full-time municipal personnel, representing a cost of $225,656 for the city payroll of 172 employees.

Compensation for those workers again became an issue during a city government planning retreat earlier this year, when results of a personnel study were revealed indicating that they are underpaid compared to those in other municipalities with similar populations.

A 12-percent increase in the present payroll level would be required to bring local employees up to average, the study showed.

Almost 60 percent of Mount Airy’s general fund budget goes toward personnel costs.

Last year, Brinkley was the only commissioner voting against the budget, because she was opposed to the raise it included.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

By Tom Joyce

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