Mount Airy officials have decided, in a split vote, that a recent $1 million allocation from the state Legislature will be used for infrastructure needs citywide and not the Spencer’s redevelopment project.
“You have plenty of other places around town that need attention,” Commissioner Jon Cawley said earlier this week of water-sewer improvements involving issues such as aging lines, versus work at the Spencer’s site downtown.
The Mount Airy Board of Commissioners subsequently supported a motion by Cawley to that effect in a 3-2 vote that has been a familiar result among decisions reached by the city council recently.
But this time, Commissioner Dean Brown joined Cawley and the board’s Jim Armbrister — who have been on the losing end of such votes — in supporting Cawley’s recommendation on the water-sewer infrastructure funding.
That vote occurred Monday during a budget discussion among city council and staff members in which spending priorities for the upcoming fiscal year were finalized.
Mount Airy officials had learned on June 7 of the availability of the $1 million, allocated to the city by the N.C. General Assembly in its latest budget.
Bryan Holloway, a former state legislator now working as a lobbyist to secure funding for the municipality, announced that the money must be used for local water-sewer infrastructure needs. Holloway indicated that the $1 million could be spent on any such projects within the city at the discretion of the commissioners.
Almost immediately, there were questions about whether the money should be used to address well-documented problems such as older lines failing around town, or designated for the Spencer’s project.
The city government bought the former textile-manufacturing complex in 2014 and has agreed to fund up to $4.5 million for infrastructure improvements to allow planned new uses there. These include a four-star hotel/banquet center, an upscale apartment complex and possibly a Barter Theatre expansion.
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 which officials have said also will require the city to take out a loan.
“The consideration will be to use the $1 million (from the state) … along with monies from our Golden Leaf grant in order to lessen or eliminate any borrowing,” City Manager Barbara Jones earlier announced regarding Phase I infrastructure work for the Spencer’s project.
Phase I will accommodate the 67-unit apartment complex, for which construction is expected to begin by Labor Day.
Citywide route chosen
However, the majority of the commissioners decided this week to use the $1 million in water-sewer infrastructure funding for general repairs and improvements “across the board” in the city.
“Let’s use this money across the town — that way everybody benefits from it,” Cawley said. “You have plenty of other places around town that need attention.”
At that point, Commissioner Shirley Brinkley, who advocated for the money being spent at the Spencer’s location, mentioned that residents of the Willow Street area there, including those occupying loft units, would benefit from this option.
The issue seemed to boil down to meeting water-sewer needs known to exist around town as opposed to an economic-development project that is yet to materialize. Cawley said agreements for it are not even finalized.
“That is a future project and it does not need to suck up any random money coming into the city,” Commissioner Armbrister said in relation to the Spencer’s effort.
As part of the discussion, Cawley questioned another aspect of the infrastructure work at Spencer’s, saying it is his understanding that the municipality will pay to construct a $600,000 parking lot for the apartment complex.
“And then he (the apartment developer) will own it,” Cawley said.
“Now I’ll be accused of threatening the project,” he added.
“So be it — I can live with that.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.