A purchase of property to provide more space for city public works operations was approved Thursday night by the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners in a 3-2 vote.
While the majority of commissioners considered the acquisition of the 2.31-acre parcel adjoining the Public Works Department on East Pine Street to be a worthwhile and much-needed transaction, concerns were expressed about the price involved.
The land, which recently was donated to First Baptist Church of Mount Airy, is being acquired for $50,000. But the action taken by the commissioners Thursday night allocated a total of $55,000 to also cover miscellaneous expenses including a survey and an environmental study.
“It was offered to us before, for way more money,” Mayor David Rowe said of the now-vacant property behind the buildings housing Brenda’s Kountry Kitchen, Suntan Magic and a day-care operation.
Its tax value is $79,700 and when put on the market several years ago the land was listed at more than $200,000, according to city government documents.
It was sought because the Public Works Department basically has become landlocked at the East Pine site it’s occupied since the late 1970s. Meanwhile, increased demand for sanitation, street-maintenance and other services has put a strain on the department, including a lack of space for vehicle storage.
The cramped situation also has hampered maneuverability of large vehicles and become a safety concern.
Commissioner Shirley Brinkley, one of the board members voting for the property acquisition, said the need for more space was widely mentioned by city public works personnel during a recent tour of various municipal departments by the council.
And now the land owned by the church “has fallen into our lap,” Brinkley said.
Cawley, Armbrister oppose
However, not all board members were on board with the idea that the acquisition represents a good deal for the city.
“It’s too much money,” said Commissioner Jon Cawley, who voted against the purchase, complaining about the cost of “$20,000 an acre — that’s high-dollar land.”
Aside from the expense of the property in question, Cawley also tied the discussion to an earlier issue addressed by the board Thursday night concerning an erosion problem facing a home on Inman Circle. The main solution offered by city officials in that case was to try to seek grant funding for drainage improvements.
“This trend is bothersome, that we take care of ourselves and we don’t take care of citizens,” Cawley complained. “Why don’t we look for a grant for this high-dollar property, and if we can’t find one say ‘no’” to its acquisition.
“If this land had not become available, what were we going to do — were we going to do anything?”
Commissioner Jim Armbrister, who also opposed the purchase, suggested that the city government should explore using property it already owns for the additional space needed and thus save the $55,000. A recent report showed the municipality owns more than 900 acres in various locations.
One drawback with that, according to Thursday’s discussion, would include having public works operating in a separate location from where vehicles are housed and maintenance occurs for vehicles also used by other municipal departments.
Armbrister questioned why everything must be located at the East Pine Street site, although Public Works Director Jeff Boyles indicated that not doing so would be impractical from a logistical standpoint.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.