City OKs $50K for financial adviser

By Tom Joyce -

After approving an agreement for a Barter theatre expansion in Mount Airy, the next official act by city officials was allocating $50,000 for a financial adviser to assist with the Spencer’s redevelopment that includes the theater.

All this occurred during a Thursday afternoon meeting of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners, which was highlighted by a 3-2 vote to develop the $13.5 million, 500-seat theater on the city-owned Spencer’s property downtown. This capped weeks of debate on the financial feasibility of the Barter project in Mount Airy, which will be funded by the city government.

With that bit of business out of the way after a discussion and comment period lasting about 90 minutes before a standing-room-only crowd of interested citizens, the city council took a break during which almost all audience members dispersed.

When reconvening, the next item on the board’s agenda was to consider funding for the financial adviser.

The idea of securing such services had originated during its previous meeting on Feb. 15, when the commissioners voted 3-2 to authorize the hiring of an independent adviser to evaluate all funding projections involved. Commissioners Jim Armbrister and Jon Cawley voted against that move, the same two board members who dissented in Thursday’s vote on the Barter agreement.

City Manager Barbara Jones told the board Thursday afternoon that additional action was needed in the wake of the Feb. 15 decision to actually set aside funding for what the board had approved so she could approach firms about providing the services sought.

“We really need to move quickly to get a financial adviser,” Jones added, “to know what we’re doing with debt and those type things.” Construction must begin by the end of June on the Spencer’s redevelopment in order to qualify for tax credits that are vital to the project.

City officials also have discussed long-term bond funding to pay for the effort and an alternative plan offered through Surrey Bank and Trust involving a USDA community facilities loan.

The commissioners responded by voting unanimously Thursday to approve a project ordinance appropriating the $50,000 for the financial adviser, under the category of economic and physical development.

Officials have said that redeveloping the former Spencer’s property that the city government bought in 2014 involves a complicated process with many funding considerations.

Commissioner Steve Yokeley, a staunch supporter of the Barter theater expansion, had pointed out in the days leading up to Thursday’s actions that efforts will be under way to explore various options aimed at avoiding a property tax hike for citizens.

“Even if we approve the Barter…we still have a lot to do,” Yokeley had advised. “After approval, we have two years to work on funding that will minimize or eliminate any property tax burden.”

By Tom Joyce

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

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