PILOT MOUNTAIN — Pilot Mountain faces challenges not only in attracting needed business and industry, but also in enhancing a quality of life built around small-town values, council candidates said during a forum Thursday night.
“This is a good place to live — we can make it better,” said Dwight Atkins, who is among six candidates vying for two available seats on the Pilot Mountain Board of Commissioners.
The gymnasium of Armfield Civic and Recreation Center hosted Thursday’s event featuring four of those hopefuls, including Atkins, Cordie Armstrong, Douglas Brannon and Scott Needham. The election outcome on Nov. 6 ensures that two new faces will be joining the board due to decisions by present members Carolyn Boyles and Andrew French to step down. Candidates Larry Wall and George Gray were unable to attend Thursday’s forum.
Citizens watched from the bleachers as each of the four who were there made their case for being elected.
Most were in agreement regarding budgetary and other issues facing the municipality, and that Pilot Mountain already is a nice, friendly town. However, they also are aware that the departure over the years of major textile industries such as Armtex have placed burdens on its finances and left the populace with higher taxes and water rates.
“We have a number of great assets in Pilot Mountain,” said Brannon, listing The Pilot Center of Surry Community College, the Pilot Mountain Pride farmers market and the nearby state park, along with the Armfield center.
Atkins mentioned the presence of a number of assets including a good water-sewer infrastructure and available industrial sites, but cited a need to “leverage those assets.” This could include such steps as having different groups involved with tourism to come together with a more-unified vision for community development, he said.
The candidate also said that the peaceful and beautiful town Pilot Mountain is now should provide a foundation for what it needs to become in the future.
“I think the people of our town are our greatest asset,” Armstrong said, explaining that being small doesn’t necessarily mean a community will be “warm and inviting.” But in terms of those qualities, she added, “we have got it going on.”
Needham took that a step further by stating that “our greatest asset is our young people…they are our future.”
Pilot Mountain has resources to educate those individuals from kindergarten to college, Needham continued. “But after college, our young people feel out of place,” due to lack of jobs. Needham also charged that the town’s younger residents often aren’t part of local civic organizations, though their talents and fresh ideas could add much.
He said new alliances are needed along with expanding existing ones among the town’s stakeholders.
Pilot Mountain Finances
The council candidates also offered ideas on ways that the municipality can operate on a solid financial ground with the departure of key industries and accompanying loss of taxes and water revenues. Offsetting the resulting shortfalls has strained the town’s general fund budget and reserves in recent years and put pressure on the remaining utility users.
Atkins said the impact of the downturn was “misjudged,” and “as a result, our rates are pretty high.”
Needham said Pilot Mountain has a great water system as a result of its desire to serve the now-defunct industries, but also a great debt.
“We’re stuck with that legacy,” Brannon agreed.
Atkins said said it requires that the town assess its present policies and approach future agreements with businesses carefully.
“What I have found is we’re not alone,” Armstrong said of similar dilemmas facing other communities that were once textile-heavy. She said one solution is better management of the town’s available revenues while seeking ways to bring in more.
“Every dollar counts,” Armstrong said in suggesting that Pilot Mountain manage its money the way families must and engage the entire community in working for improvements as members of a household do. “This town is no different than our personal families.”
“We have to attract more businesses to town,” Needham said, adding that a way to accomplish this is updating Pilot Mountain’s code of ordinances, which he believes is hurting its ability to grow.
Brannon concurred with that allegation, especially a need to rewrite zoning regulations for the downtown historic districts which he considers obstacles for business development. “Keep some of the ordinances that are good, but toss some of the ones that aren’t so good,” he said.
The outcome of the various measures should be lower property taxes and utility charges, candidates said.
One possibility for the town to grow, in Needham’s view, is to seek out businesses that are aligned with outdoor recreation, which has become a trend in this area particularly with the presence of facilities such as Pilot Mountain State Park.
Something Atkins does not want to see is a decline in the downtown area, especially with more development occurring along Key Street toward U.S. 52. “We don’t want to be seen as a town of fast-food restaurants and strip malls,” he said.
Quality Of Life
The candidates all seemed to believe that Pilot Mountain can become more viable economically while also enhancing its small-town charm.
Brannon expressed concern over the deteriorating condition of town water lines, and the need for sidewalk improvements. Both Needham and Atkins said that extending sidewalks to areas now lacking them should be a priority, especially in linking schools, and even a pedestrian walkway to the state park could be pursued.
In addition to more walkways, Brannon advocates bikeways and greenways in town — “anything to get the community more involved and more active.”
Armstrong said the development of a botanical garden could be a way to attract more visitors which also would conform to Pilot Mountain’s rural nature.
She added that more in-town transportation resources, such as taxi services, are needed to help residents in need.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.