A month after Mount Airy contracted with a lobbyist to seek state funds on the city government’s behalf, the arrangement already has paid off with a $1 million allocation.
However, questions have been raised about the money that targets local water-sewer infrastructure needs, surrounding its intended use for the Spencer’s redevelopment project versus replacement of aging utility lines elsewhere in town.
The $1 million appropriation benefiting Mount Airy was announced by Bryan Holloway during a meeting of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners Thursday night. Holloway is a former Republican member of the N.C. House of Representatives serving District 91, which includes Stokes County, who resigned from that seat and subsequently launched Holloway Group Inc.
Mount Airy officials authorized a contract with the lobbying firm on May 3, calling for Holloway to seek state budgetary allocations and grants to benefit Mount Airy and be paid for his services at the rate of $1,000 per month.
The $1 million is included in the state budget package approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature, but vetoed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper in opposition to some of its provisions.
However, the budget is considered veto-proof due to the GOP’s heavy majority, with Holloway advising Thursday night that both bodies of the N.C. General Assembly would override Cooper’s veto. The Senate already has voted to do so and the House was expected to follow suit Tuesday.
“When the budget passes, it will be … coming your way,” Holloway said in response to a question by Commissioner Shirley Brinkley about how soon the municipality can expect to receive the $1 million.
The money is coming through the N.C. Division of Water Infrastructure, according to the lobbyist.
“You’ve got a lot of flexibility there,” Holloway said of its use. “There’s no restraints — no grant process.”
Mayor David Rowe praised efforts by the lobbyist toward securing the funding.
“It’s a good return on investment,” Rowe said of the agreement with Holloway.
Spencer’s redevelopment favored
While Mount Airy officials were happy about receiving the state dollars, their intended use has drawn scrutiny.
During a public forum portion of Thursday night’s meeting, Gene Clark, a former mayoral and commissioner candidate, asked City Manager Barbara Jones whether the $1 million will go toward infrastructure work at the Spencer’s redevelopment site or to improve other areas.
Older water and sewer lines in various parts of the city have been an ongoing concern for Mount Airy officials, and were described by one former commissioner as a “ticking time bomb.”
Jones has since replied to Clark’s query that the former Spencer’s industrial property — bought by the municipality in 2014 and being eyed for new uses including a four-star hotel and upscale apartments — is the preferred option.
“The board has not taken any official action on the money discussed,” Jones confirmed.
“However, as you are aware, we have agreed to fund up to $4 million to $4.5 million for infrastructure as part of the Spencer’s project,” the city manager added. “This infrastructure is being phased (in) since the apartment developer indicates that they plan to begin construction by Labor Day.”
Mount Airy previously was awarded a $722,500 grant by the Golden Leaf Foundation, in the spring of 2017, for infrastructure needs of the Spencer’s redevelopment.
“The consideration will be to use the $1 million mentioned (Thursday) night along with monies from our Golden Leaf grant in order to lessen or eliminate any borrowing for this phase,” Jones explained regarding the first phase of infrastructure work.
In a related matter, a public hearing that had been scheduled during Thursday night’s meeting was cancelled.
The purpose of the duly advertised hearing was to solicit citizen input concerning financing for various public improvements and infrastructure relating to Phase I of the Spencer’s Mill Redevelopment.
However, no actual details on that financing had been announced in reference to the hearing, which would have aided the public in making comments.
“Once the city has finalized our financial needs package for Phase 1 of the infrastructure, we will properly advertise and hold a public hearing at a later date,” Mayor Rowe said in a statement.
In other business Thursday night, the commissioners:
• Reappointed four members to the Mount Airy Library Board for new three-year terms, including Becky Keesler, Steve Scott, Marie Caesar and Jane Tesh.
Their terms expired on May 30 and they each were approved for new ones that will end on that date in 2021.
Kelly Merritt, the city’s representative on the Northwest Regional Library Board, also is nearing the end of her present term on June 30 and has expressed interest in being reappointed. The commissioners voted to recommend to the Surry County Board of Commissioners that Merritt be approved for a new six-year term expiring in June 2024.
• A new member was appointed to the city housing authority board to fill a recent vacancy. David Beal, whose term expires on Feb. 16, 2021, resigned from that group on May 31.
Sammy Gray Parker was tapped to serve the remainder of Beal’s term.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.