DOBSON — County officials are going to wait for more of the dust to settle on the Barter Theatre dealings before making a decision on funding assistance.
The Mount Airy Board of Commissioners earlier this month voted in favor of a reworked plan to bring both a 500-seat theater and a hotel to the downtown site of the former Spencer’s operation off Willow Street.
Unlike a previous plan from the spring — which would have put the bulk of funding ultimately on taxpayers — the new approach would have about seven out of every eight dollars coming from the private sector.
The plan passed unanimously by the city board would have about $51 million invested into the Spencer’s redevelopment, with only about $6 million coming from public investment.
It was noted at the meeting that the Surry County government was considering participating in funding the project.
City Commissioners Steve Yokeley and Shirley Brinkley attended Monday’s county meeting, but they didn’t get an answer from the county Board of Commissioners.
Doug Carter, a financial advisor who spoke to the county at its retreat in February, discussed the project with the commissioners.
“The city is essentially taking concrete steps to make this work,” said Carter. It will be working with DFI, the Development Finance Initiative, an arm of the UNC School of Government. “That’s a very affirmative plan.”
Durham County has worked with DFI on its improvement downtown, Carter said, and he has seen their work first-hand and believes DFI provides solid legitimacy to the Barter project.
“I think this approach is far and away better than the approach previously,” Carter said.
Explaining what happens next, he said that the city will be getting term sheets from the theater company and the hotel developers to nail down details of what will happen and what everyone’s responsibilities are. Then comes the development and signing of memorandums of understanding.
The county board has supported economic development all over the county, said board chair Eddie Harris. He said he for one would like to see more of the plans and numbers before proceeding.
Carter said the county wouldn’t have to vote on anything until the private sector investors have put their funding on the table. Then it becomes an inter-local agreement with the city on any potential county funding.
“Your final commitment would come at closing,” he said. “December-ish.”
In other financial news, tax adminstrator Penny Harrison came before the board with good news.
Harrison said final numbers for the fiscal year 2017-18 show that tax collections were the highest percentage in at least the past two decades.
She said the county plans its annual budget with the idea that only 97 percent of taxes will be collected and the rest will be delinquent. She has said in the past that about 95 percent pay willingly, then it takes sending late notices, advertising nonpayment and even garnishing wages to try to collect the rest.
This year that amount came to 98.76 percent. She said credits to the tax collector came to more than $28.46 million for the recently ended fiscal year. Another $1.57 million in credits were posted for prior fiscals years during 2017-18.
Harrison also brought up an offer made on a property which is about to enter into foreclosure.
She said the property is 154 Pine Drive. That goes in a development south of Fowler Road near Franklin Road.
The owner of record, Sarah Shelton, has paid her taxes since 2011, she said, and her address has changed a couple of times since then so Harrison doesn’t even know how to reach Shelton right now.
County attorney Ed Woltz pointed out that the residence at that address burned down in 2011 and the remains were later demolished as it represented a nuisance and public health hazard.
The amount owed on the tax books is only $606.79, but with no way to contact the owner and seven years of unpaid taxes, Harrison was seeking the board’s guidance on whether or not to proceed with the foreclosure.
She added that she has an interested party offering $2,500 for the parcel, which would be enough to cover the costs and attorney fees, but not the back taxes.
The board asked what the tax value of the land is, and Harrison said $9,900.
Commissioner Van Tucker said he didn’t think it would be doing right by the taxpayers to sell the property for only a quarter of its value without at least offering it up to other buyers.
Commissioner Larry Phillips asked if the land had been advertised for bids. Harrison said that until the property goes into foreclosure there is no advertising.
Tucker said he believed it would be the right thing to do to advertise it, so he agreed with foreclosure, and the rest of the board agreed.
Reach Jeff at 415-4692.