Council members discuss options for Town Hall expansion
Town Council addresses Town Hall expansion, fee changes, funding requests
BY DEBBIE PAGE
During Monday afternoon’s special meeting, the Troutman Town Council considered preliminary plans for a Town Hall expansion, addressed fee concerns, and heard an update on the town's work-order system. Councl members also approved a part-time Code Enforcement position contract and a Public Works department purchase.
TOWN HALL EXPANSION
Council members continued their discussion of plans to expand Town Hall to alleviate the crowded conditions in the facility, which houses the town staff as well as the police department. Employees are currently doubling up in offices and hold meetings in the kitchen area because of space limitations.
Officials looked at two options submitted by Fuller Architecture of Mocksville. Option A, at a cost of about $893,000 plus about $230,000 in “soft” costs, would add about 4,700 square feet, including a new council chamber, lobby area, council conference room, kitchenette, two bathrooms, and storage. It would convert the current council chamber into six offices and storage.
This option would result in 15 offices for the current 13 employees, leaving little room for growth. No area would be added for the police department, which would take over some areas currently used by other employees in the back of Town Hall.
Option B, at a cost of $1.7 million, would add 6,720 square feet. In addition to the additions in Option A, it would add 2,000 square feet for a new police facility behind the proposed new council chamber area.
The police department area includes a reception area and lobby, three offices, and two storage areas, and additional archival storage for town staff. This option adds 18 offices and provides more area for expected future growth.
Town Manager Justin Longino anticipated the building time frame would be two years after council approval, including one year of planning, bidding, and securing contractors and another of actual construction.
Council member Jimmy Troutman asked about the feasibility of adding a second story, which the architects felt was not a good option, according to Longino. Troutman also questioned funding for the project, adding that he did not want to see taxes raised to fund the project.
Longino said some funds had been included in this year’s budget for future expansion, and they could add more this coming fiscal year. He also explained that the council could fund the expansion without raising taxes by taking out a loan and spreadin the cost over a period of years.
When Council member Judy Jablonski asked about how to gain citizen support for the expansion, Longino cited increased employee efficiency and effectiveness and more room to have meetings as benefits.
Council member Sally Williams advocated for option B because of the town’s growth. Council member Paul Bryant agreed, citing the increasing “rooftops and industry popping up in Troutman. To do anything less than B would be a mistake,” he said.
But Bryant said the town may have to wait to save more money before starting the project.
Council member Paul Henkel felt like the drawings and rough estimates were not enough information for the council to make a decision. He asked that the architects revise and supplement the proposals with more information on both options.
Council will continue discussing the possible expansion in the coming months.
FEE SCHEDULE CHANGES FOR PAVILION
Parks and Recreation Coordinator Emily Watson asked the council to consider lowering fees for renting the ESC Park pavilion. She and town staff have received negative feedback on the current fees, which are $20 per hour for the full area and $10 for half the area with a two-hour minimum for town residents, The fees is doubled for non-residents.
Statesville charges $10 per hour for a full pavilion with a two-hour minimum. Watson and the staff recommended the change to stay competitive with surrounding parks during the upcoming busy summer rental season.
Williams was initially against reducing fees to $10 and $5. “We need the money to put back into the park. The Statesville parks are complete -- ours is not,” she said.
Watson reiterated the negative feedback on high prices from the community, saying that they could lose potential renters to another park. “We are getting positive feedback on the rental experience, but remember, our park is not complete. When renting at Martin Luther King Park, they get their own barbecue pit and picnic area.”
“People are also walking through their events here. We have good interest in renting, but the price is an issue,” said Watson.
Henkel understood the fee reduction but resisted eliminating the two-hour minimum. “Who has a party for only one hour?” he asked.
Bryant agreed, saying collecting $5 and processing forms for half the pavilion was not worth the employee time to process it.
After discussion, council members unanimously passed the reduced rates with the two-hour minimum.
Watson also announced that another picnic table had been donated so that both sides of the pavilion had four each. A rental schedule is also now posted in a glass case to regulate pavilion use for renters and non-renters.
Watson also announced she will be doing a third town phone system call at the end of this week to remind residents to vote daily for the $20,000 prize that could be awarded to ESC Park (Vote at https://www.meetmeatthepark.org.)
PARTF GRANT MATCHING FUNDS
Town Planner Erika Martin is finalizing a Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) grant application but needed council approval of a 50 percent fund match for the $400,000 request, which would go toward phase two of ESC Park.
Phase two includes an interactive children’s fountain, a walking track around the soccer field, an amphitheater, and additional parking. A 2010 $500,000 PARTF grant helped with the initial park construction.
The town’s 2035 Parks and Recreation Master Plan commits the town to developing “innovative recreational facilities that are accessible and provide unique experiences for all ages, interests, and abilities.”
This grant, if awarded and then accepted by the Town Council, would obligate the town to contributing $200,000 to the project, which would have to be completed within three years. The town would not find out if they got the grant until the fall, followed by a period of paper work and planning.
Martin said the $200,000 match could be spread out over 2 1/2 fiscal years. Mayor Teross Young also pointed out “there’s no downside to this. We can just let the grant go if we change our minds.”
The council unanimously approved committing to the matching funds to move the PARTF grant application forward.
PUBLIC WORKS REQUESTS
Public Works recently sold a broken 1994 backhoe for $10,000. Public Works Supervisor Adam Lippard requested that council approve using the funds to get a third 52-inch lawnmower since staff are now using personal mowers when they get behind.
Lippard said adding the third mower could cut their time mowing nearly in half. Looking toward the next fiscal year budget, Lippard also said that he will soon need another full-time person in the department with the additional Richardson greenway sections and the South Iredell High Greenway that are currently being built.
The town currently contracts some mowing because of a manpower shortage. The goal would be to reduce contracted mowing with the additional person, said Lippard.
Seven employees were working in the Public Works Department when Lippard came in 2008, but there are only five now. “We have cut jobs but greatly increased the workload. We have survived so far with increased efficiency, but we are reaching a point where we will need additional full-time help,” he said.
Lippard hopes to focus one employee on groundskeeping and the rest on water and sewer issues and state-mandated work. He assured council members that he would have sufficient work to keep a new grounds person busy all winter.
Henkel said he could justify the mower’s $7,500 cost if the department takes over all the mowing and does not contract out at all except in emergency situations. Longino added that ending the mowing contract would also help fund a new position.
CODE ENFORCEMENT CHANGES
The town’s code enforcement officer recently resigned, leaving Martin, Longino, and the town’s intern to cover his duties. Longino recommended contracting the work out to a Centralina Council of Government (CCOG) staff member since the previous officer who lived in the area found it difficult to enforce rules with his neighbors.
The CCOG officer would work an eight-hour day on Tuesday and a half day on Friday, according to Martin. The town budgeted $18,000 for position this year, but the CCOG annual contract would be just over $15,000.
The initial CCOG contract is $3,822 for two months to finish out this fiscal year. The higher costs reflect more time initially to learn the community, said Martin.
Bryant questioned whether they should first look for a local qualified person to earn this “good salary,” but Jablonski said few were interested during earlier interviews and this two-month CCOG contract would be a good trial of their services.
Agreeing an outsider would be better, Troutman added, “This is not a fun job.”
Williams felt that if they used a local person, “we may run into same problem again.”
Henkel pointed out that a code enforcement officer not only makes the property owners angry but also their friends and family. “We’re not going to get someone in town to really push in the job. It’s human nature -- we don’t want people to be mad at us. Someone with no ties to the area can be tough and not treat people unequally because they know them.”
“To get job done, we need to go outside of county. We need to get someone to stick and stay to be consistent with treatment. We need more accolades than complaints about appearance of the town,” concluded Henkel.
Martin said that council could monitor the officer’s effectiveness through the 311 work-order system.
After extended discussion, the council voted unanimously to accept the CCOG contract and then consider a contract extension through the next fiscal year in June.
311 WORK-ORDER SYSTEM REVIEW
In March, the town began a trial of the 311 work-order system through which citizens and town staff can report problems that the town needs to address, such as road issues, clogged storm drains, broken park equipment, or overgrown yards.
Longino said that 219 issues had been reported as of Monday morning. Though the citizens’ portal launched in early April, Longino said only two have used it since the town just started advertising (through Facebook, newsletter, media) the service to townspeople. The link (troutman.mobile311.com) is also not yet up on the website but will be soon.
Council members requested that Longino continue tracking usage so that when they enter budget conversations, they can make sure the town is getting the efficiency and service they are paying for. The system costs the town $3,780 per year.
Lippard said that he and the Public Works staff, who resolve the majority of the reported issues, love it. “It’s really efficient. I plug something in, the guys log on and take care of it. I was concerned that some of the guys might not grasp it, but it’s really user friendly, and they caught right on.”
Mayor Young liked that the system provides another option to hear citizens’ voices. “We can be more efficient if we utilize the system and solve problems more quickly,” he said.
Longino estimated Public Works generated 60 percent of work orders, with Parks and Recreation and Code Enforcement (police and code enforcement officer) with 20 percent each.
Henkel said they have to depend on the town manager and supervisors to report on the system’s usefulness since they are in the best position to assess how it works for them and whether it serves the town’s citizens.
EASTWAY DRIVE SEWER UPDATE
At the April 13 council meeting, Troutman asked that a decades-long sewer issue at the end of Eastway Drive, which is bordered by Cedar, Plum and Field Streets, be investigated and permanently repaired.
This area still has terra cotta sewer pipes installed in the 1930s, which have been invaded by roots and are breaking with age.
Lippard reported that N.C. Rural Water is coming to do camera work on Tuesday to determine the scope of the problems, which he expects to be extensive.
Troutman believes the system needs replacement, and Lippard agreed this area was definitely the worst section in town. Jablonski asked Lippard to determine what the costs might be after the evaluation, which Lippard believes will be substantial.