Outlook 2009: Part 2: Towns to Tighten Belts, Focus on Long-Range Plans
Long-range planning tops the priority list for several of the county's towns during the coming year.
Some are also preparing for significant belt-tightening as a result of the recession now gripping the country. That will mean a likely reduction in revenues. Towns will have to be more creative in finding ways to continue providing the same level of services without raising property taxes.
These observations come from local leaders interviewed by The Pilot over the past two weeks for this second installment of a two-part series that looks ahead at some of the major issues they expect to face in the new year. The first installment on Friday focused on Moore County and its public schools, law enforcement, health care and general economy.
The Pilot talked with county, municipal, education, business, economic and health-care officials, asking what they foresee for 2009.
Southern Pines and Pinehurst are both moving forward on the long-range planning front this year. Southern Pines enacted a development moratorium with a very limited scope last year and then hired a consultant and appointed a committee to develop a comprehensive long-range plan.
Also on the front burner for the county's largest town are plans for building a new reservoir, which could start later this year pending state approval. That would provide some protection for the town in the event of another severe drought like the one that struck in 2003.
The village of Pinehurst, which went through a very intense effort to create a comprehensive long-range plan in 2003, has begun the process of updating that plan. Village leaders are also hoping that the controversial involuntary annexation of Pinewild Country Club will finally be completed. It has been delayed by lawsuits. Pending appeals by opponents could be resolved later this year.
Whispering Pines, which also enacted a building moratorium last year, is well on the way to completing a new land development ordinance in the growing village.
In northern Moore County, Robbins begins the new year searching for a new town manager. Brant Sikes, the town's first-ever manager, announced last month that he is resigning to take a job with the county.
The town also hopes to continue progress on a number of NC STEP initiatives that began in earnest last year.
One of the biggest tasks facing Southern Pines in 2009 is developing its comprehensive long-range plan.
The planning process has been under way for months. The town hired a consulting firm to write the plan and appointed a committee to help guide it. But the effort has only scratched the surface so far.
"This fall has really only been laying the groundwork," Mayor Mike Haney said.
The committee meets again this month, when it will start getting into the meat of this planning process.
"I feel like they're where they want to be," Haney said. "The real judgments of how they are doing will become more evident in the spring."
The town is also in the middle of planning a reservoir. A permit from the state is still needed.
"It seems to be moving along, inch by inch," Haney said. "I'm optimistic and excited about what it means for our residents."
It's a long and complicated process, but it's unlikely that the state will withhold approval.
"Construction very well could start this year," Mayor Pro Tem Chris Smithson said.
The town's moratorium on subdivisions north of Midland Road and west of U.S. 1 ends in May.
"We're halfway through," Haney said.
But it's unclear whether any developers or any developments are waiting on the building ban to lift.
Construction is under way on the town's new environmentally friendly police station next to the Fire Department on Pennsylvania Avenue.
The council has also been looking into building a new Town Hall. It razed the old municipal building and police station next to the Downtown Park. The council has been meeting in either the Douglass Center or the Public Works building.
With the economy in such bad shape, Haney said the town must be careful about its spending. That might mean delaying construction of the Town Hall.
"Right now the figures are still holding pretty well," he said. "This fiscal year, we should be OK. But we're going to have to operate in a cautious manner."
With the N.C. 2 roundabout project finally out of the way, the village of Pinehurst is expected to turn its attention to other important issues this year, such as the comprehensive planning process and the Pinewild annexation.
Coping with the tough economic times will also pose a challenge for the village.
The planning process is under way on updating the comprehensive long-range plan with the appointment of a review committee over the summer. The council also retained Connecticut-based consultant Planimetric, which assisted with the 2003 plan.
Public workshops are being held later this month to give residents an opportunity to offer input. The planning process should be completed in late 2009 or early 2010, according to Village Manager Andy Wilkison.
The village had hoped to complete the annexation of Pinewild Country Club by last June 30, but ongoing lawsuits have delayed it. Appeals of rulings against residents fighting the involuntary annexation in state and federal courts are pending.
Wilkison said the battle could be over by the end of the year.
"We could be through the litigation process in late 2009," he said. "It's all dependent on the courts."
Water continues to be a hot-button issue for Pinehurst residents.
"We're always looking for a great supply to diversify our sources of supply," Wilkison said.
With recession gripping the country, Wilkison said, the village is looking for ways to reduce expenditures. While the village has overcome recessions before, he said, this one is a "different animal" -- one that is deeper and is going to last longer.
"At our five-year planning meeting, we anticipated the next two fiscal years would be very tight," he said. "We have to at least look at cutting some more."
Another issue facing the village this year is a proposed plan to restore the Village Green. The council is expected to vote this month on the creation of a commission to oversee a privately funded Village Green project.
The town of Aberdeen will be taking a cautious approach to spending over the course of the next year in light of the economy, according to Town Manager Bill Zell.
"We're in a wait-and-see mode," he said. "As of right now, revenues are ahead of last year."
Despite that fact, which he said could change, Zell said the town's department heads have made budget reductions to head off any potential shortfalls.
"It's just to keep an eye on things," he said.
The town will also take a more conservative approach to any capital expenditures or hirings, acting only if it is absolutely necessary.
In terms of hot-button issues for the coming year, annexation appears to be at the top of the list.
"That is going to be the major project for next year," he said.
While the areas to be annexed haven't been identified yet, a resolution for intent will be forthcoming in February, followed by the customary public hearings. June 30 is the target date, but that is not set in stone.
Despite the belt-tightening, Zell said, the goal for Aberdeen is to concentrate on its operations and providing services for its residents.
"That's the main emphasis," he said.
Whispering Pines is expected to have another busy year.
The transition to a village manager form of government was completed with Steve DeBolt's hiring last summer, and the village is moving ahead on several key issues.
One of the biggest items on the list is completion of the new land development ordinance, which DeBolt said is "on track" to be finished before the expiration of a building moratorium in April. The council, various village committees, and residents have been working through the tedious drafting process for the past couple of months. The second draft is expected sometime in February.
The village is also working toward the implementation of a soil erosion program.
The state has delegated regulatory authority to the village, and more is expected on this issue in March. A new lake management plan and septic inspection program are expected to be implemented as well.
Other plans call for the construction of a new maintenance building, three dam projects, and a number of repair projects going out to bid.
Robbins starts the new year reeling from the sudden departure of its first town manager.
Brant Sikes won the trust and respect of a changing Town Board while running the water plant. During his short tenure as manager, he has been realistic in assessing the town's overall situation. Like the rest of the county, Robbins is facing difficult financial prospects.
The two bright lights on the town's horizon have been its wealth of natural resources and its selection as a pilot test site for the N.C. Rural Center's Small Town Economic Prosperity experiment: NC STEP. Robbins has, many say, a three-year head start at a job many small towns across the nation now face.
As for resources, Robbins has plenty of a commodity Moore County needs -- water. Robbins has been working with the county on a plan to share that water.
As for Sikes, he is leaving for a higher-paying job with the county as supervisor of the wastewater treatment plant. He plans to spend the first three weeks of the new year helping the town prepare for his departure. He said he will continue to be an advocate for Robbins in his new job with the county.
As Sikes leaves, the town is looking for ways to keep its struggling license plate business going at Town Hall. Robbins hoped titles, plate renewals and other vehicle requirements would bring more people to town. The recession has meant fewer car sales and fewer title transfers to record. Having the N.C. License Plate Agency in town has been a convenience for northern Moore County residents.
The long-term outlook for the county seat is good.
Little River's new owners are bringing a European touch to their resort and plan to make it the home base of their expanding American golf-centered recreation business. With the expansion of Fort Bragg as a result of BRAC, Carthage hopes some of the newcomers will find the town an attractive place to live.
At the same time, small businesses in the downtown area of the county seat are hurting. Some say it's been hard to make the rent, even though commercial rents in Carthage are lower than in the Sandhills region.
Carthage has also fielded a number of petitions for involuntary annexation over the past year as the town continues to grow.
Taylortown faces a new year with old problems still haunting a split community.
The Town Council reinstated Ulysses Simpson Grant Barrett Jr. as mayor last September, after spending most of 2008 with Jesse Fuller as mayor. Barrett was found not guilty of a number of misdemeanors last March.
Controversy still divides the council on many issues, and finding common ground if not reconciliation is a daunting task facing the council this year.
Crime is another issue facing the town.
Taylortown's cash cow is its shopping center, Olmsted Village. Perched on the edge of Pinehurst, Olmsted attracted upscale specialty shops, restaurants, a 100-suite-only Hilton hotel, medical and other professional services, and a Lowes supermarket along with other businesses.
The company has letters of intent signed with a number of big-name retail chains -- the holdup is fear of crime and worry about police protection from a small municipality that can barely afford its two full-time officers. A recent daylight bank robbery did little to allay those concerns.
Taylortown residents complain that Olmsted ignores the town, even to the point of leaving the name entirely out of its advertising and nowhere to be found on its Web site.
Staff writers John Chappell, John Krahnert and Matthew Moriarty, and Managing Editor David Sinclair contributed to this report.
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