PILOT MOUNTAIN — While the Pilot Mountain has crossed the bridge and overcome some major obstacles during 2012, including financial recovery, the new year also presents challenges of its own as well as some big projects that will aid the town.
“Two of the biggest challenges for the previous year have been financial recovery and the completion of the Pilot Center,” said Town Manager Homer Dearmin in reflecting on 2012.
When Dearmin started his job as town manager in October of 2011, the town had a fund balance of just 4.4 percent of its general fund, well below the required 8 percent minimum that a municipality must keep on hand.
“With furlough days and major cost-cutting measures, we’ve got it up to 9.74 percent in just a year,” Dearmin reported Friday. “It took effort by all of our employees and board members. It was impressive to see all of our employees understand the severity of the situation and pull together to get us out of that.”
Dearmin said the town isn’t out of the woodwork until the fund balance is much higher, at least in the 30 percent range.
The completion of the Pilot Center and the selling of space in the building Dearmin considers the town’s second major highlight of 2012.
“It has been in the town’s possession for three years, and all the space is now being utilized and it is bringing in revenue for the town,” he said.
The Pilot Center of Surry Community College now includes offices, classroom space, catering space and industrial technology training space, which Dearmin said, “will give Surry Community College the opportunity to bring new projects to town and is a key to the town’s recovery and economic vitality.
“We are extremely proud of that,” he added.
“We sold about half of the building to return it to the county and town’s tax scrolls, which will mean revenue for the town and the county, and it allows a local business to expand its business,” Dearmin said of the deal made with Sports Solutions Inc. “We should close the deal in January 2013.”
Other projects from 2012 that Dearmin looks forward to seeing progress as the community moves into the new year include the Tourism Development Authority’s development of a visitors center in Town Hall.
“We hope it will enhance tourism dollars and give visitors a place to go for information not just for tourism, but for relocation and business opportunities,” he said.
The visitors center is being created in the former town commissioners’ meeting room on the main level of Town Hall. Volunteers with TDA as well as Donnie and Melanie Diamont, Emily and Mimi Antonecchia and Diane Blakemore have put in countless hours turning a room that was being used for storage into a spotlight for the town.
The walls now have stucco in a light green shade, and the windows have been trimmed in burnt wood sills. Caudle Electric donated the labor to put in nice lighting that accents the walls where exhibits, art work and other displays will be on show, Dearmin said.
“We hope to have it fully up and running by the first cruise-in in May (2013),” he said. And the TDA is talking about staffing it part-time.
Brochures will be available as well as information on Very Surry and the Yadkin Valley Heritage area. Items like pins, gift cards and posters also will be available for purchase.
“It’s been real great to watch the room be transformed from a storage room to a volunteer labor project making it happen,” said Dearmin.
Another highlight of 2012 was the continued growth of the Hot Nights, Hot Cars Cruise-ins hosted by the Mount Pilot Now group.
“When you look at TDA, Mount Pilot Now, the Board of Commissioners, the planning board, the Pilot Mountain Civic Club, all of our volunteer committees and groups are what have made Pilot Mountain a success in the past and they are what’s driving the town,” Dearmin said. “Everybody’s working together and that’s what’s making this thing work.”
Challenges in 2013
Dearmin said the town’s No. 1 priority going into 2013 continues to be “getting its financial standing in balance.”
“Ultimately, our fund balance needs to be in the 30 to 40 percent range,” he said. “We need to keep spending under control and generate enough revenue to continue to grow. That’s the most important directive I’ve been given by the board.
“At the same time, we have the challenge of upgrading old vehicles and equipment.”
Dearmin noted that it’s been 10 years since the town has bought any new police vehicles until the one it purchased in the 2011-12 fiscal year and close to that long since any new public works vehicles were purchased. “They are high mileage, and the money we are spending on maintenance on those is futile. So we need to come up with a way to switch those out,” he said. “Those are big capital items, and we have to maintain control of the expenses.”
Yet another challenge facing the town as Dearmin sees it is economic development.
“We need opportunities for jobs and for people to not have to drive to Winston-Salem or Mount Airy or Greensboro,” the town manager said. “We need to make sure we are doing everything we can to make the town look as attractive as we can.”
To help with the recruitment of new businesses as well as the expansion of existing businesses, Dearmin said, “We’re working very closely with Todd Tucker and Leann Stokes at Surry County Economic Development Partnership as well as the county board of commissioners and the county manager. Those relationships are key to our future.
“I think they really have the best interest of Pilot Mountain as well as Elkin, Dobson, Mount Airy and the county at heart,” he said. “I don’t think you could ask for a stronger team.”
As far as vacant Pilot Mountain buildings, Dearmin said the largest available space is the old Armtex building on the Old U.S. 52 Bypass, which as a new owner looking for new occupants. He said the new owner plans to demolish portions of the building which are no longer usable space. Dearmin said there also are several buildings in the downtown area available for retail or office space.
While changing the election schedule for the town’s board of commissioners to even year elections will save the town close to $25,000 in 10 years, it also has its challenges in the first few years, explained Dearmin.
“In three out of four years, we will have the potential for turnover,” he said, explaining that in early 2011 Sam Rule left the board due to relocation, forcing the naming of a new commissioner. Then, in 2012 two commissioners decided not to run for reelection, which meant two new board members now have been seated. And in 2014, another election will again provide the potential for change on the board of commissioners.
But while that much change in such a short period of time can be difficult, Dearmin said the amount of money being saved by moving the elections to even years “is a good chunk of change.”
2013’s Big Projects
“Another thing we are excited about is the replacement of the Pilot-Westfield Road bridge over Old U.S. 52 Bypass,” said Dearmin. This will take place during the summer of 2013.
This bridge replacement will address both safety concerns with the bridge that carries multiple school buses on a daily basis as well as the walkability of the town.
The town also got word from the North Carolina Department of Transportation last week that the N.C. 268 bridge over U.S. 52 is scheduled to be replaced in 2014.
“Both will have sidewalks for pedestrian access and will give us the opportunity to plan more sidewalks and make the town more walkable for students and pedestrians,” Dearmin said.
“2013 will see us adopt a pedestrian plan for the foreseeable future, and both bridge replacements will go a long way to making that plan workable,” he said.
Also, the crosswalk and signals for the Main and Key streets intersection should move forward in early 2013.
The project was originally approved with the receipt of grant money some time ago. Dearmin explained that between the time the original design for the project was completed and the funding came through, the federal government changed its ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements so the project was not in compliance and had to be redesigned.
Dearmin also looks forward to the completion of the visitors center project in the new year.
“We’ve had a lot of good things happen this past year, and I’m looking forward to another good year,” Dearmin said.