Troutman Council working to keep fairgrounds in current location
BY DEBBIE PAGE
The Troutman Town Council on Monday afternoon decided to moved forward with a proposal to partner with Iredell County to keep and improve the fairgrounds at its current location. Council members also discussed a sex-offender ordinance to be considered at its regular meeting on Thursday night.
Members also voted unanimously to increase Town Manager Justin Longino’s salary and to approve a conflict of interest policy to secure awarded law enforcement grant money.
The council also approved sending letters and making immediate calls to Iredell County’s state legislature representatives to oppose two bills that present unfunded mandates and erode municipalities’ authority.
Several Troutman and county officials recently met to discuss the future of the Iredell County Fairground just outside of Troutman’s town limits. Commissioner Jeff McNeely, County Manager Beth Jones, Register of Deeds Ron Wyatt, Troutman Parks and Recreation Coordinator Emily Watson, council members Paul Henkel and Sally Williams, and Longino were among the attendees.
The county has considered acquiring land, which is adjacent to other county facilities, on Bristol Road just outside of Statesville to build a new fairground facility. However, Troutman officials advocated for the fairground to stay where it is.
“It’s an asset to Troutman, brings in business, and puts us on the map. We would like to see it enhanced to where it is not only thought of as once-a-year facility,” said Henkel, who would like to see an educational center and other recreational amenities added so that folks utilize the facility 365 days a year.
Henkel said that McNeely suggested the council pass a resolution supporting the idea of the fairgrounds remaining where they are and a partnership to enhance the facilities so that people are attracted to the area and “feel comfortable and safe using them.”
Wyatt noted that several buildings need to be demolished or brought up to modern code. He also advocated that the town use the fairgrounds for events that are quickly outgrowing ESC Park and developing the park for more traditional uses, such as athletic fields.
Though the Kiwanis have done a fine job managing the facility, Wyatt said that when events come to town, they sometimes leave a mess for the town to pick up.
However, Wyatt also noted that the fairgroungs does increase local sales tax revenues through increased patronage of businesses during events, particularly the national horse auction that occurs twice a year there.
Wyatt also suggested that a partnership with the county could be beneficial to the town and county in other ways. Working with the county to build a larger amphitheater at the fairgrounds rather than a smaller one at ESC Park and creating an educational center could open the facility up to many new events.
The county is not asking for a specific commitment, financial or otherwise, from the town at this time but rather a show of intent of interest in partnering with the county, said Wyatt. In return, Troutman would get more control of the facility and access for its large events.
“It’s really high time that the county take responsibility for their facility and make something the whole county can be proud of, especially with us being an immediate next door neighbor.”
Wyatt also stated that building at the Bristol Road site would be starting from scratch and is not centrally located area. He felt Mooresville and South Iredell residents would not support a facility that far away.
Since the county just purchased the Barium Springs YMCA location for its first recreation center and is planning to purchase adjacent lands that would border the fairgrounds, Wyatt said it makes even more sense to leave the fairground site in Troutman since this would allow for future fairground expansion.
Henkel added, “I don’t think any of us wants to feel the consequences of losing it to another part of the county. We want to keep it here. I think it's in our best interests. If it’s handled right, it can only be made a better facility” and “a more year-round event center.”
Bryant noted that the county’s growth is south of Statesville and relocating it would not benefit the majority of county residents.
The council asked Longino to draft a resolution to be sent to County Commission Chairman James Mallory. Members plan to review and consider the proposed resolution at the June council meeting.
Council members also discussed a sex-offender ordinance up for consideration at the council meeting on Thursday night.
In an interview after the meeting, Longino said the ordinance was created after someone called to complain about a possible sex offender being in a part of the park that was legally far enough away from kids but still within the park facility.
Though the threat was not credible, the responding deputy asked, out of curiosity, if the town had a policy that entirely banned sex offenders from the park, which, upon investigation, it did not.
The Iredell County Sheriff’s Office then asked the town to adopt an ordinance to enhance its enforcement abilities.
Wyatt told council members that the county, Mooresville and Statesville have all adopted a similar ordinance for schools, libraries, recreational facilities, or other areas where children might frequent. Adopting the ordinance would help Troutman be consistent with surrounding areas.
The new ordinance would ban any state or federal registered sex offender from entering or using any town owned or operated park, greenway trail, or recreation facility. Violations would incur a $500 fine and incarceration for up to 30 days.
The exceptions to this policy would be attending an official open town meeting or polling place (if qualified to vote) in a town recreation area, but the registered offender would have to leave immediately after the meeting or voting business concluded.
LONGINO SALARY BUMP
After a 45-minute closed session discussion of Longino’s performance as town manager, the council (Williams absent) voted unanimously to give him a 15 percent merit and “market” salary increase, retroactive to March 1, and a 3 percent cost of living increase that begins on July 1.
Longino’s current salary is $80,514. With the 15 percent increase, his salary rises to $90,591.
LETTERS OF OPPOSITION
The council also voted unanimously to oppose a bill (HB 645/SB 534) before the legislature this week that would take away municipalities’ rights to regulate outdoor advertising. The bill would allow billboards to be placed in areas where current zoning does not allow them.
Taxpayers would also have to foot the bill when billboards must be removed because of roadbuilding or infrastructure projects.
The N.C. League of Municipalities (NCLM) urged its members to contact their legislators to oppose this bill, which would “undermine the local visions of local residents that are so important to community character and local economies.”
Henkel decried this “unwarranted” erosion of local municipalities’ rights to let their locally elected representatives enact their own sign regulations and create their desired appearance for their communities.
Another bill (HB 278) up for consideration would mandate that municipalities provide and fund a new retirement benefit for firefighters called a “separation allowance.” This bill has no state funding and would force local taxpayers to underwrite the entire cost of this benefit.
The NCLM opposes this legislation unless a state funding source is added to the legislation, adding that “this legislation is no different than proposals they have rejected that add costs to the state retirement system.”
This separation allowance is in addition to retirement benefits firefighters already receive. Local governments already have the authority to add this benefit for their firefighters if they desire.
The NCLM estimates the new benefit would initially cost cities and towns across the state $9 million, with costs increasing each year. Municipalities are already being required to pay an estimated $300 million contribution rate increase this year to the Local Government Employees Retirement system, to which firefighters already belong, to keep it solvent.
Henkel also voiced opposition to this legislation, saying that since towns already have the option to add this benefit, “we don’t need to be dictated to by Raleigh.” He noted this legislation also was “possible erosion of municipalities rights to determine benefits for their employees.”
“Municipalities have enough on them now that we don’t need any more unfunded mandates,” he said.
Henkel also noted that the House voted a similar bill down that had the state, rather than municipalities, funding this firefighter separation allowance.
The council asked Longino to immediately call local legislators to voice opposition to the two bills, followed up by formal letters, since the bills were up for discussion this week. Longino also urged each council member to personally contact the legislators since the NCLM said their voices “help shape legislation.”
CONFLICT OF INTEREST POLICY
The council has already passed a Code of Ethics that covers appropriate and ethical staff and official behavior, but a federal grant recently awarded to the Troutman Police Department requires a separate “Conflict of Interest” policy. If the council does not add this policy by June 30, the department will lose the grant money.
After a brief discussion, the council passed the proposed policy unanimously.
UPCOMING THURSDAY NIGHT
At its regular meeting Thursday night, the council will:
► Honor Citizens of the Year Chuck Gallyon and Karen Neilson and Organization of the Year Troutman Chair Company.
► Honor Police Chief Matthew Selves' service to Troutman as he leaves for a new position with the NC League of Municipalities.
► Introduce new part-time police officers Bryant Early and Kevin Sherard
► Consider the sex-offender ordinance and three capital project fund ordinances.
► Hear standing reports from the J.Hoyt Hayes Memorial Library and Troutman Parks and Recreation.
► Hold a closed session to consult with the Town Attorney.