Council approves funds for traffic safety

Concerns with sewer study, mural ordinance
Aug. 07, 2014 @ 09:55 AM

The Rutherfordton Town Council approved a $500 increase in funds for the traffic safety improvements on North Main Street near St. Francis Episcopal Church during Wednesday's regular meeting.

Council members initially approved the town budgeting $7,500 for the safety improvements. Public Works Director Keith Ward informed the council in order to install two pushbutton activated pedestrian flashers at the nearby crosswalk, the sidewalk would need to be widened and brought up to compliance. The cost of the actual sidewalk maintenance will be provided through the town's Powell Bill funds.

In May, council members approved a request for multiple safety improvements near the church including the purchase and placement of two pushbutton activated pedestrian flashers, the lowering of the speed limit from 35 miles per hour to 25 miles per hour 300 feet north or the church, constructing a raised or elevated crosswalk by the church and narrowing a portion of the roadway to provide for a bike path.

Continuing with old business, the council discussed various concerns with the Joint Sewer Study with Brian Tripp of W.K. Dickson & Co. Tripp said one of the biggest questions received from Rutherfordton council members was whether the town should join its system with other towns.

"Looking at the rate analysis, standing alone as one town would show a higher increase in rates over a 20-year period for customers, versus with consolidation by combining with other towns," Tripp said. "The higher rates standing alone would be in order to maintain full cost of service and fund staffing and capital improvement projects. Consolidation makes financial sense."

However, the analysis discussed by Tripp was met with significant contention.

"I disagree, we have a system that is in a much more better financial state than it was five years ago," Council Member Stan Clements said. "I don't see how it would benefit the town and why we'd consolidate rather than control our own destiny."

Council members also heatedly discussed the town's few wastewater options that were included in the Joint Sewer Study.

"It doesn't seem like these options are cut and dry," Council Member Christy Bare said. "I like a lot of information so that I am able to make the best decision."

"I feel like we've gotten biased or skewed information with this study that has instructed you (Tripp) to lead us in a direction we wouldn't want to go," Clements added. "I think there are assumptions made in the study that are incorrect for Rutherfordton."

Tripp responded that the original basis of the study was to model about two scenarios for the town.

"We had to have a line in the sand of where to start and where to begin, but we can easily look at other scenarios too," he said.

Finishing old business, the council held a public hearing regarding a right-of-way closure on North Main Street near the St. Francis Parish House and subsequently approved a resolution to close the right-of-way.

In new business, Larry Gregg gave a presentation to the council on the STEP (Small Towns Economic Prosperity) program's implementation phase. After a hiatus that lasted several months, the town has begun to implement projects that were proposed by the STEP committees last December.

"The STEP process is at a point where it is moving forward in a positive way," Gregg said.

The NC STEP contract was received from the NC Department of Commerce, approved by the Rutherfordton Town Council on June 4 and signed on June 13, allowing the committees to begin using funds from the $100,000 grant as part of the STEP program's implementation phase. Under current parameters, the town has a maximum of 18 months from the May 1, 2014 contract date to complete its projects, despite the signing of the contract on June 13. This means the committees must complete their expenditures related to the implementation of the town's STEP projects by Oct. 31, 2015.

However, Gregg proposed a resolution for a contract between the Town of Rutherfordton and the NC Department of Commerce to essentially change the deadline to reflect 18 months from when the STEP contract was officially signed, not from May 1.

"What we were initially led to believe was that our STEP contract would become effective only once all parties approved and signed it," Gregg said.

There was a consensus to bring a formal resolution before the Rutherfordton Town Council in September.

Additional new business on Wednesday's agenda included a discussion of a proposal amending the town's Unified Development Ordinance to define the term "mural" separate from a sign and make murals a permitted sign type in the downtown commercial district. The council also discussed the alternative of amending the existing wall sign ordinance to increase the vertical percentage of wall signs for buildings in the downtown commercial district.

The council voted 2-2 with Mayor Jimmy Dancy casting the approving vote to refer both options to the Planning Board for recommendations. A public hearing will be held in September including those recommendations.

Council members also approved recommendations to board vacancies on the Historic Preservation Commission and Veteran Events Committee, as well as heard a presentation by Keven McCammon, site manager for Facebook's Forest City Data Center to extend free Wi-Fi to Rutherfordton for students who live in the Rutherford County Schools system.

"As part of the Rutherford County community we want to provide Wi-Fi for as many kids as we can," McCammon said. "Since launching the pilot program in Forest City, the numbers are climbing as far as people using the Internet. We are beginning to have conversations with other municipalities to move forward with this initiative."