City to vote on costly phone system


First Posted: 4/1/2009

Mount Airys commissioners are being urged by the city manager to pursue plans for a new telephone system for the municipal government, a possible $470,500 expense, because now is the absolute best time.
The board of commissioners will consider the fate of the proposed project during a meeting that begins today at 7 p.m. at City Hall. Among other scheduled items, officials also will consider extending a deadline for the development of a city skate park to give organizers more time to raise funds for the facility.

Telephone System
Council members specifically will be asked tonight to approve a resolution of approval to proceed with arrangements for a cable/network upgrade and telecommunications system replacement project. That would involve seeking bids from companies to supply the various components needed for the effort as well as financing proposals, which would cover both telephone and Internet connectivity.
A communications consultant told Mount Airy officials during a March 5 meeting that the city governments present telephone system is about 15 years old and in danger of a complete shutdown if a remedy isnt pursued.
At the same time, Mount Airy is facing one of its tightest budgets in years for the next fiscal year that begins on July 1. The commissioners have expressed a reluctance to take on any major equipment and other expenditures or additional debt, and have gone on record as not being in support of a property tax increase this year.
The consultant, Tom Weimin, told city officials that while the bad economy is causing a financial squeeze, it also represents an opportunity to possibly obtain goods and services more cheaply than normal. He estimated the price range for the communications project at $360,000 to $470,000.
In a memo to the board regarding the issue, City Manager Don Brookshire suggests a phased approach to paying for the equipment through financing or lease-to-own arrangements in which the budget impact would be spread out over multiple years.
This time represents an opportunity for the city of Mount Airy to maximize the benefits that are received from a project through unprecedented savings, both in the purchase price and the cost of borrowing, Brookshires memo to the commissioners states.
I suggest that in spite of concerns that there might be about incurring debt, Brookshire added, now is the absolute best time to prepare this city for the future.
In March, the consultant said a new communications system would save the local government about $1,700 per month or $20,400 annually because of improvements in efficiency. When taking into account the first five years of operation for the new system, 25 percent of its cost during that time would be funded by cost reductions for telecom services, according to Weimins analysis.
If the commissioners decide tonight to proceed with arrangements for the project, this will not be a commitment to fund the upgrade and replacement. The action simply would allow specifications to be prepared and advertising for bids, thereby enabling its actual cost to be determined.
After that, the board will have opportunities to halt the effort before there is an actual obligation of funds, according to Brookshire.

Skate Park Project
Also tonight, the commissioners are expected to amend an April 2008 contract with Skate Mount Airy Inc. which will give the non-profit organization another year to complete its plans for a skateboarding plaza at Riverside Park.
Originally, Skate Mount Airy had hoped to be ready to start work on the facility by now, using money from fundraising activities and community donations, but the economy is being blamed for hindering those efforts. No money from city government will be used for the construction, although the skate park will be on public property and maintained by the municipality once its built.
So far, the group has raised about $45,000 toward a $100,000 goal.
Certainly the economic conditions that have affected the entire nation have played a role in the inability of the group to meet their goal, according to Brookshire. Citing the commitment of Skate Mount Airy to see the project through to completion, I see no problem with approving the request for extension, the city manager added.
Skate Mount Airy wants to develop a facility at Riverside Park that would allow local youths a place to skateboard away from churches, banks and other property around town where problems have resulted from the practice.
A series of special skate days and other fundraisers were held during 2008 to benefit the project and the group plans to continue those efforts this year.

Water Proposal
In other business tonight, the city commissioners will consider a proposal for engineering services related to plans for connecting the water systems of Mount Airy, Pilot Mountain and King. This connection would allow the transfer of bulk water among the three municipalities.
A $110,000 grant for the engineering phase of the effort has been awarded to the city by the Golden LEAF Foundation. It is a non-profit corporation based in Rocky Mount which is partnering with local governments and other entities to channel funds into North Carolina from a major settlement with cigarette manufacturers.
Adams-Heath Engineering Inc. of Galax, Va., has submitted a proposal for performing the services needed to make the interconnected water systems a reality, which the commissioners will consider tonight. These would include a preliminary engineering report, environmental assessment, aerial base mapping, preliminary design and the obtaining of needed regulatory approvals.
The completion of the engineering phase would leave Mount Airy in a position to begin construction when funds become available, according to the city manager.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected] or at 719-1924.

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