BY DEBBIE PAGE
The Troutman Town Council began its first meeting since the election by expressing appreciation for the “passion” of the town residents who voted and participated in recent public meetings about growth issues.
Re-elected council member Paul Henkel noted that people should speak up to express their views on the town’s direction, saying the next few years of choices about growth will be challenging for all.
Henkel also thanked Sally Williams for her service on the council, echoed by Mayor Teross Young, who also congratulated Felina Harris and Henkel for their election victories. Young also welcomed new member Jerry Oxsher, who was observing the meeting and will sworn in at the December meeting.
Williams, who said she will miss the camaraderie with council members, looks forward to new adventures. “God has another purpose for me,” she said.
Young also reminded citizens that growth was a positive thing after recently attending a conference with representatives of towns that were shrinking and struggling. He noted the council wants to hear citizens’ ideas about the growth they desire and come to agreement about the town’s direction.
Jen Bosser, president and CEO of the Iredell Economic Development Corporation, presented the first Iredell Business Pulse Survey to council members. Bosser hopes that this survey will be repeated annually with even more participation next year.
The results of the survey, which was conducted during throughout August, gives Iredell business, government, and community leaders a “pulse” on the local business community and climate and a view of the strengths, challenges, opportunities, and threats facing them.
Of the 121 survey responses, 9 percent were from Troutman, with the remainder from Statesville (40 percent), Mooresville (43 percent), and other county areas (8 percent).
Nearly half of the responses came from businesses with fewer than 10 employees. Another 28 percent were from businesses with fewer than 50 employees, and 23 percent from businesses with more than 50 employees. The workers were from across retail, service, professional, manufacturing, and other sectors.
Bosser also noted that about 95 percent of North Carolina businesses are small businesses.
Troutman businesses’ main concerns were about streets, water, sewer, septic, and communication, all related to the exploding growth and increased infrastructure needs.
The report revealed 17 percent population growth (27,000 people) in Iredell County in the past 10 years, with $409 million in existing capital investment, 1,080 new jobs, and the addition of 2.2 million square feet of industry space in the fiscal year 2020-21.
Sixty percent of county businesses anticipate growth in sales and employment, but supply chain issues, rising wages, and available skilled workforce to fill positions were major concerns. COVID-19 uncertainties and inflation are also impediments.
Other concerns were simplifying permit and zoning processes, reducing regulation, and improving highways, roads, and traffic flow. Talent attraction and retention, skills gaps, and rising healthcare and wage costs were other concerns.
Workforce challenges included competing federal and state benefits, hesitancy to return to work during the pandemic, childcare issues, and vaccine mandates, according to Bosser.
Operational concerns included supply chain problems, cyber security, retaining customers, and finding new markets. “They want distribution centers closer because of supply chain disruption,” added Bosser.
Eighty-eight percent were satisfied with the county’s quality of life and 77 percent with the overall business climate.
Local utilities received high marks, as did public safety services, including, police, fire, and EMS.
MANAGING GROWING PAINS
Council member Eddie Nau asked how the IEDC could help prod NCDOT to move ahead with highway improvements to relieve Troutman’s traffic woes.
Though her organization cannot persuade NCDOT to do anything, Bosser said the town can demand that new projects construct traffic mitigations suggested in required traffic impact analyses (TIA) to improve the traffic situation.
As an example, Bosser noted the Highway 21/Main Street does not have turn lanes, so requiring new projects along the corridor to build turn lanes would help improve traffic flow until NCDOT completes its planned projects.
Bosser also mentioned that large investment projects sometimes trigger NCDOT to move up the timeline on highway improvements.
Henkel noted that carefully considered smart growth is good for both business and the population if the town keeps in mind improving the community’s quality of life. “That’s the tightrope we have to walk — compromise without losing too much quality of life,” he said.
Bosser agreed, saying that some N.C. communities are losing tax base, resulting in skyrocketing taxes for remaining residents, and forcing hospitals to close. “We need to find a balance between the two. We have wonderful healthcare and schools and need to protect our quality of life.”
“We’re not trying to bring anything and everything in Iredell County.”
IEDC Director of Business Retention and Expansion Matthew Pierce noted that Troutman respondents gave its Parks and Recreation an 89 percent approval in the survey, indicative of their satisfaction with the town’s amenities and events.
DECRIMINALIZING TOWN ORDINANCES
Because of the recently enacted N.C. Senate Bill 300, towns and municipalities are required to decriminalize certain ordinances to civil penalties, according to Town Attorney Gary Thomas.
These ordinances include those regulating planning and zoning (except unsafe buildings), stream clearing, regulation and licensing of businesses, outdoor ads, solar collectors, cisterns and rain barrels, taxis, set back lines, cub cuts, and trees.
Thomas identified a long list of town ordinances that have misdemeanor criminal charges as a possible consequence, including those related to dogs, livestock, housing code, peddlers, noise, property nuisance, open burning, firearms, alcohol, substances or weapons in the parks and greenways, trash disposal, smoking, driveway construction, misuse of public property, traffic offenses, sewer use, and UDO violations.
Thomas distributed a list of specific ordinances for the council to study and suggested that it look at changes at the January meeting to comply with the statute.
Town Manager Ron Wyatt suggested also looking at rewriting the noise ordinance to make it more easily enforceable for the police department, asking Police Chief Josh Watson and Thomas to examine the ordinance to determine possible improvements.