Greenway vote on tap tonight

By Tom Joyce -

The Mount Airy Board of Commissioners is scheduled to take action tonight regarding another expansion of the city’s greenway system, but that will occur against the wishes of at least one board member.

“I’ll tell you right up front, I’m not voting for that,” was the word Wednesday afternoon from Commissioner Shirley Brinkley, who has cited cost and other concerns regarding the greenway extension planned in the next few years.

The agenda for the board’s meeting today at 7 p.m. includes a vote on a proposed agreement with The Resource Institute Inc. It is a non-profit organization based in Winston-Salem which assists local governments and community groups in North Carolina with projects to protect natural and human resources while promoting economic development.

That organization previously has sought grants on behalf of Mount Airy to develop its greenway network, most recently a connector linking the Emily B. Taylor and Ararat River greenways that are used by walkers, bicyclists and runners.

Tonight’s action involves a proposal to extend that network northward toward Jones Intermediate School and White Sulphur Springs, which would make its total mileage about 10 miles compared to the present length of just under seven miles.

In addition to the expansion of the greenway, the proposed project includes restoring about 10,000 linear feet of stream banks along the Ararat River, similar to what has been done with previous greenway work.

The cost of the plan has been put at $5.7 million, and the city commissioners voted in April to commit municipal funds toward the project — which also will involve The Resource Institute seeking grants.

Updated information provided by City Manager Barbara Jones in connection with tonight’s consideration of the agreement shows that the municipality’s financial commitment toward the overall cost is $430,000.

That includes an annual allocation of $100,000 beginning this year, with $30,000 due within 30 days of the execution of the contract with The Resource Institute.

The greenway expansion generally is supported among city officials, who discussed the project Tuesday during a special work session on upcoming city expenditures and its financial condition in being able to fund various priorities.

It is thought that the extended trail system will draw more visitors to town and increase sales tax, lodging and other revenues as a result.

“I think the greenway is a good investment for the community,” the city manager said Tuesday. “I think it is a very positive thing.”

However, the supporters do not include Commissioner Brinkley.

“The greenway, I’m very concerned about,” she said during Tuesday’s meeting. Brinkley previously questioned whether walkers or runners in particular really would benefit by the extra distance and added Tuesday that while it draws visitors to the city “the majority of our taxpayers do not use the walking trail.”

With the commissioners’ discussion Tuesday largely centered on how it will fund the greenway and other major projects, Brinkley suggested that the trail expansion is not a critical need at this time and should be delayed.

Brinkley also is concerned about the extra work the enlarged greenway will pose to city personnel, although Tuesday’s discussion indicated that mowing tasks could be privatized as Mount Airy does with other sites.

“I’m going to vote ‘no’ on this,” she reiterated Wednesday afternoon.

The city manager agreed during Tuesday’s work session that the greenway expansion could be delayed, but the grant funding eyed for the project might not be available at that point.

Commissioner Steve Yokeley said Tuesday that Mount Airy stands to get back much more than it puts in for the greenway expansion.

“I think we would be stupid not to spend $430,000 to get a $5 million project,” Yokeley said.

Other Business

Also during tonight’s meeting, among other items, city officials are scheduled to:

• Host a ceremony, as previously reported, for the presentation of the state’s Order of the Long Leaf Pine award to David Beal, a former commissioner.

• Consider a sale of city-owned property to local businessman Gene Rees.

• Hold a public hearing on amendments to Mount Airy’s zoning ordinance relating to flood insurance rate map updates.

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

By Tom Joyce

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