Wendy Byerly Wood Civitas News Service
January 5, 2014
PILOT MOUNTAIN — Looking back over the happenings of 2013, town officials said the biggest event of the year for Pilot Mountain has been growth in its financial health.
“The biggest thing for this year has been our fund balance and getting our financial health where it should be,” said Town Manager Homer Dearmin Thursday.
“It has been a two-year process. We started out in June 2011 at 4.4 percent, or $73,533, in fund balance,” he said. “We have built that up as of Dec. 7, 2013, to $369,364, or about 25 percent. So that’s a pretty drastic change over two years, and it has taken everyone working together. We are proud of that.”
The increase in fund balance, or town savings, has come through holding the line on salaries, equipment and new items purchased, and pinching pennies wherever possible on those things that were required to be spent.
“For the last few years, our focus has been putting money in the bank and trying not to spend anything not essential,” Dearmin said. “And now we’re in a financial situation to start working on projects for improving the town.”
Street repair expected
Looking into the new year, Dearmin said the first big project coming up will be repairs to the drain, street and sidewalk on Depot Street just north of Main Street.
The street has been closed to traffic since September, the town manager reported.
“We had a couple of engineers come look at it in the fall, and they felt it could be fine or we could come in one morning and find a sinkhole with a car in the bottom of it, so we closed it,” explained Dearmin.
With three engineers providing financing options and estimates, the project is expected to cost between $150,000 and $225,000, according to Dearmin.
“A few years ago, a metal pipe was put in and it has rusted at the bottom so the water is not running through it, it is running under it,” Dearmin said of the cause of the problem.
He said the town commissioners will consider more closely the options and repair project at their January or February meeting.
Pilot Center work continues
Through the new year, the town will continue its work on the Pilot Center, Dearmin reported. “The things we are working on now are the front entrance. The ramp and stairway have been there since 1993 and are starting to rust.
“This year (2013) saw the completion of most of the building — the workshop space is done, new classrooms, signs and flags by the American Legion,” said the town manager.
Sports Solutions, a Pilot Mountain-based company, now is a tenant in the Pilot Center, along with Surry Community College and Pilot Mountain Pride.
“We have a great successful tenant who we want to continue working with, and we want to continue working with them to keep it a building the town can be proud of,” Dearmin said.
Another project the town will be facing in 2014 will be upkeep and repairs to some of the water and sewer line infrastructure.
“We’ve got some that are starting to show signs of deterioration and need for replacement, so we are looking for grants for that,” said Dearmin, noting that an ongoing project by Northwest Geoscience to map the town’s sewer lines will aid in documentation required for grant applications.
A new change for 2014 will be the town’s second even-year election since the board of commissioners decided to move municipal elections to even years to save taxpayer money. Prior to the change, the town had to help foot the bill between other Surry municipalities for holding an odd-year election, but now the state and federal governments foot the bill since the town elections are being held in conjunction with those elections.
This year two board seats, held by Commissioners Linda Needham and Gary Bell, and the mayoral seat held by Mayor Earl Sheppard will be up for election.
“I anticipate those folks will be making plans in the coming months on whether they will run or not,” said Dearmin. “That will be an exciting time in the town. I think all of us are looking forward to hearing their ideas and electing the folks who will take us through the next four years.”
Zoning ordinances to be revisited
“One of the things there’s been a lot of talking with the planning board and board of commissioners is looking at our zoning ordinance and evaluating is it doing what we want it to, is it too restrictive or too lenient,” said Dearmin.
“It is a fluid document, and we need to make sure it is meeting the needs of the community,” he said.
Informal feedback already has been received through area residents just making comments here and there, but Dearmin said once the review process begins, there will be more structured opportunities for residents to give input on the ordinances.
“It’s been discussed on and off for a few months, but the planning board has been more serious about it at the last couple of planning board meetings,” he said.
Landfarm developments in town’s sights
A proposed landfarm operation in Stokes County, just outside the Pilot Mountain town limits is another development town officials will be keeping an eye on, and voicing their opinion on in the coming months.
“We’ll be watching the proposals closely, and making sure we are representing the best interest of the citizens as we move into that,” Dearmin said.
The property in question on Grassy Knob Road is within the one-mile radius of the town that would be part of the extra-territorial jurisdiction for zoning ordinances for the town, but when the ETJ was created more than 10 years ago when Billy Pell was town manager, Stokes County officials would not permit the ETJ to cover the area in Stokes County.
“The folks I’ve talked to are by and large opposed to it,” Dearmin said of the landfarm, which would treat toxic soil through a process of bacteria that would consume the toxins until the soil was deemed safe. “We’ve still been gathering information and getting our ducks in a row. We are working in coordination with Surry County to coordinate a response to this issue.
“I expect the board to take action on a response possibly as early as the January meeting,” he said.
Equipment needs piling up
Another focus for the town as its finances are healthier is replacing vehicles and equipment with growing repair bills and maintenance issues.
“The last couple of years we’ve been trying to save money, and we are at the end of 10 years where we haven’t invested in town equipment and vehicles. We’re finding we are getting into a lot of repairs and equipment issues,” the town manager explained.
“We did purchase a new utility truck this year to replace an older vehicle that had met a lot of repairs, and shortly after that, we had two vehicles that required more repairs than what the vehicles were worth,” said Dearmin.
“So we need to find a way to replace those and put together a plan for maintaining and replacing those in future years while still being frugal.”