A retired police officer and a former dentist-turned Realtor each embarked on a new role for the city of Mount Airy Friday — that of navigator.
Commissioners Jim Armbrister and Steve Yokeley weren’t dressed as Lewis and Clark, or Marco Polo, but they still set out to chart and explore a daunting course nonetheless — the municipal government’s major budget needs for the next 10 years.
In addition to their regular roles, Armbrister and Yokeley are serving on the new 10-Year Budget Planning Committee. The two-man group held its first meeting on Friday to help the city better plan for high-ticket expenditures — which as it turns out number more than first thought.
Everything from sidewalks to the furniture at City Hall was discussed Friday, on top of needs earlier identified such as the redevelopment of the former Spencer’s industrial property, an upgrade of Market Street and others.
“Sports teams have a plan, I think you need a personal plan, businesses should have a plan, and I don’t think municipal governments are any different,” Yokeley said Friday of the necessity for Mount Airy officials “to be proactive.”
This has not always been true of city government, which sometimes has found itself facing surprise expenses with little or no time to plan.
“I don’t like being reactionary,” Yokeley said of such occasions. “Sometimes the decisions are not the best.”
New priorities emerge
The formation of the 10-Year Budget Planning Committee was an offshoot of a workshop held by the full city council in November, during which four budget priorities for the foreseeable future were set.
Those include revitalizing the former Spencer’s Inc. industrial property now owned by the city government (which has a price tag of $4.5 million, plus $300,000 for pre-development costs); the Market Street facelift (up to $300,000); water and sewer system upgrades ($600,000 annually, or $6 million over 10 years); and a project at Reeves Community Center to increase parking and address flooding at its Cherry Street lot ($500,000).
Based on Friday’s discussion, the $600,000 set aside each year for water and sewer rehabilitation is not sufficient to allow the city to stay on top of the needs in that area, given that Mount Airy has many older lines. And it is falling behind in that area, including not being able to contract out certain improvements at times because not enough money is available.
But that could be just the tip of the iceberg, based on discussion at Friday’s meeting, which also was attended by City Manager Barbara Jones, Finance Director Pam Stone and others.
• Armbrister mentioned another project on the horizon, a plan in 2020 to improve the U.S. 601 business corridor from U.S. 52 toward Walmart which will be funded by the N.C. Department of Transportation, but require the city to spend about $1.25 million.
• Yokeley additionally cited vehicle, equipment and other capital needs among the various city departments totaling $19 million over the next five years, which he said must receive serious consideration.
“I don’t think a department head is going to ask for something if they don’t feel there is a need,” the city manager agreed.
• Money also is needed to bring salaries of city workers up to what their counterparts are paid elsewhere under a three-year plan, according to Friday’s discussion.
• Yokeley further mentioned the need to look after city sidewalks, which he suggested have been overlooked. “I don’t think we ever really talk about sidewalks.”
• Another expenditure cited Friday includes improvements to driveways and parking lots of city-owned facilities, including roads through Oakdale Cemetery, a cost of several hundred thousand dollars.
• Yokeley considers public buildings to be another overlooked area, including structural renovations and furnishings. “I just never hear it mentioned,” he said. “A lot of the furniture is really not in good condition.”
• Another need brought up by Armbrister involves ongoing maintenance of stream banks along greenways to prevent a recurrence of problems such as erosion, for which he recommends setting aside $50,000 annually.
• Converting lighting in city-owned parking lots and buildings to the LED format also was mentioned as a worthy expense, which would save money over time in electricity costs.
Paying for it all
Friday’s meeting was more of a brainstorming session to identify various needs, and was not really focused on how to fund all the items cited.
Though some of the expenses tied to the priorities are known, staff members including the city manager and finance director will be assembling cost figures for those now without price tags to present to the subcommittee at its next meeting.
This will enable officials to address “the funding part of it,” Jones said in reference to the list of expenditures.
Yokeley pointed out that citizens likely will have some suggestions about additional needs, “or what they don’t want.”
“It’s clear everything can’t be done at one time,” the city manager said of how priorities should be identified and a plan devised to fund those items.
She used the example of vehicles and other items sought by department heads in saying that everything on their lists can’t be provided. “If you don’t do that,” Jones said of making comprehensive requests, “you reach a point where everything is broken at one time.”
Yokeley said near the end of Friday’s meeting that he and Armbrister aren’t necessarily trying to make things better for the present crop of city officials, but those in years to come along with citizens.
“We’re planning for the future — the people who will be there then.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.