BY DEBBIE PAGE
During its pre-agenda meeting on Monday afternoon, the Troutman Town Council discussed a variety of issues, including the appearance of NCDOT maintained roads, completion of the ESC Park baseball complex, and the town’s positive financial state despite the pandemic challenges.
The council also held a public hearing before approval of a $300,000 loan to purchase three lots on North Eastway for future Town Hall expansion.
Upcoming Thursday night issues include the presentation of the town’s proposed 2021-2022 budget and several annexation and rezoning requests.
EXIT 42 APPEARANCE ISSUES
Resident complaints about the Exit 42 gateway into Troutman have appeared on social media and in calls to town staff, prompting Town Manager Ron Wyatt to expend town money and resources to clean up the trash and perform grass maintenance, which is actually the responsibility of the N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT).
Council member Eddie Nau was upset that the NCDOT is ignoring its responsibilities in the area and necessitating that the town respond instead. Nau suggested that the town contact state representatives about NCDOT’s failure and send the department the bill for the town’s costs of doing NCDOT’s job at Exit 42 as well as on Murdock Road, Highway 21 through Troutman, and other state-maintained roads.
Nau described the Exit 42 area as looking like a “garbage dump” if the town does not step in to take on this state responsibility. “We’re not being treated fairly.”
Wyatt said NCDOT financial mismanagement issues and shortfalls are to blame in this as well as in the delay of many road projects.
Wyatt and Public Works Director Adam Lippard recently met with NCDOT on road shoulder grass maintenance issues in Troutman and offered to use town equipment to amend the problem and bill the state. NCDOT reps refused the offer.
Council member Paul Henkel said that taxpayers and residents were being punished for the “stupidity” and “unprofessionalism” of some NCDOT leaders. “Hopefully they learned their lesson, but we are still paying for their mistakes. I don’t see what the fairness of that is,” he said.
Henkel said that “for the sake of our town’s appearance, and for our citizens . . . we have to bite the bullet real hard” and spend some town funds to fix and enhance the areas in question. He agreed that the town should send a bill to NCDOT, though he does not expect repayment.
Mayor Teross Young suggested sending a letter to Sen. Vickie Sawyer about the town’s NCDOT concerns. “It’s a challenge for a lot of communities with the lack of NCDOT attention,” he said.
ESC PARK BASEBALL FIELDS
Parks and Recreation Director Emily Watson said the spring baseball season was a bit bumpy at times because of ongoing construction to finish the parking area and the incomplete dugout and concession stand and bathrooms, but most users were thankful to have the fields to use even as the complex and fencing continued to be completed, especially when school fields were unavailable.
Staffing changes and the end of the inter-local agreement with Iredell County for field maintenance also added challenges. Watson looks forward to construction being complete and to restructuring how baseball programs use the facility in the fall to smooth these growing pains.
“Any time you add a new amenity, there will be challenges. New level, new devil,” Watson commented. “The rec leagues were thankful to have a spring season.”
This fall, baseball leagues will be taking on some responsibilities, and different programs will be assigned specific days for field access, leaving some time open for residents to use them.
Council member George Harris pointed out the dire need for these fields, as demonstrated by the strong demand. Despite the long walk from parking due to construction, “people were glad to have them,” he said.
Wyatt pointed out that both the town and school system have usage policies for their fields, so they are not available to the general public during times leagues are scheduled to practice or play.
Henkel pointed out that the town stepped up to meet a growing need for ballfields, and though incomplete, they provided an opportunity for kids to play when other venues were closed. Henkel called the fields a godsend. “It wasn’t perfect, but it was darn good,” he said.
The parking lot grading is proceeding as weather allows, and curbing is going in, much of it hand cut. A concrete shortage is also causing issues, but completion of the 79-space lot is still expected for mid-June, if the the weather allows asphalt to be laid this week.
To meet ADA compliance, the restrooms and concession stand for the baseball complex will start with the new budget year, using a design-build method to complete the project, according to Wyatt.
Young suggested looking at additional angled gravel parking possibilities in the newly filled-in areas on the right side of the drive, using dirt removed from the parking lot project
Watson also discussed the need for additional shelter areas in the park near the baseball field as well as in other areas of the park. The pavilion is booked back-to-back most weekends, and shade is limited.
She suggested enlisting area Scouts to look at smaller shelter projects at appropriate areas as well as using other town spaces, such as the lot near the library, to put additional shelter areas since the town lacks a community or senior center for community or family gatherings.
“That’s something we need to think about as we maybe make an addendum to our master plan for that facility and also facilities going forward,” she said. “Something our community is asking for is rental space.”
Watson also mentioned that she recently discovered affordable wood grain prefab shelters that match the current look of the park and might provide cost-effective, attractive shelter solutions.
Finance Director Steve Shealy reported that Troutman is “in sound financial condition.”
“We came through a very difficult, trying year quite admirably,” he said.
May’s sales tax collection was up about $7,400 over the same month last year, with property tax collection up about $1,000. Water and sewer billing also rose nearly $20,000 over May of last year as usage cranked back up in schools and businesses as the pandemic eased.
Henkel praised the town’s financial success, noting that property tax collection so far this year is 107 percent ($3,176,016) over 2020-2021 budget expectation ($2,962,467) and collection of back property taxes from previous years (budgeted at $38,000) is actually 153 percent over the 2020-21 projection ($58,140).
“I’m tickled to death at that. It says a lot about the financial health of our community. This little community continues to amaze me, its resiliency as well,” Henkel said.
“It speaks well of the citizens,” added Shealy. “They take a lot of pride in the town as well.”
PUBLIC HEARING ON PROPERTY ACQUISITION
The council voted to move forward with property acquisition of three lots on North Eastway Drive. Shealy said that because the issuance of debt is under $500,000, Local Government Commission permission was not necessary.
Truist Bank is offering the town a 10-year, $300,000 loan at 2.58 percent interest.
♦ Uncertainty still exists about whether Troutman will hold town elections this year. The legislature has bills before it recommending that municipalities with districts wait because of late census data, which would affect Statesville and Mooresville but not Troutman, Harmony, or Love Valley.
Waiting until next year for all municipal elections would save the county money, according to Wyatt, and the area’s legislative team believes elections will be delayed. However, Town Attorney Gary Thomas said the election would have to occur unless legislation is passed to delay it for all towns.
♦ Nau thanked Shellum Cline for selecting Troutman as the setting for his latest video and for publicizing the town in such a positive light. He suggested honoring Cline at a future council meeting and perhaps booking him for a future Party in the Park.
♦ Wyatt praised Troutman Fire and Rescue personnel, who recently treated the Huntersville mayor’s wife when she broke her arm at Lake Norman State Park. The mayor praised the “wonderful service they provide our community and that is recognized by others who come to our community.”
♦ New part-time IT employee Michael Barker was introduced to council and was praised for already making progress in the evening’s broadcast.
THURSDAY NIGHT AGENDA
♦ Wyatt will present the town’s proposed 2021-2022 fiscal year budget to the council on Thursday night, followed by a public hearing and vote by the council.
♦ Public hearings on annexation of nearly 35 acres on Winecoff Street and 113 acres at 380 Westmoreland Road will be opened and then continued as both developers have asked to delay their requests to next month. The full hearing and public comment will occur in July.
Town Planner Jonathan Wells said though both projects are being fast-tracked, the developers want a one-month delay “to get it right rather than doing it now.”
♦ Walmart Fulfillment Services is asking for annexation of 3.68 aces at 336 Murdock Road.
♦ Dakota Lineberger is asking for rezoning of .63 acres on South Eastway Drive for an auto repair business. The property is located behind his current business.
♦ Recognition of citizens Billie Jo Powell and Sherri Saunders.
♦ Introduction of new Troutman Police Detective Cameron Jones.