Leaders Bit More Optimistic for 2011
Moore County will face some of the usual suspects — growth and water — in the coming year as the area continues its efforts to rebound from the recession.
As was the case last year, difficult economic times will pose big challenges for the county and many local towns in the new year. The public schools and Sandhills Community College — engines for economic growth — are bracing for more state budget cuts.
On the water front, the county and several towns will continue efforts to develop more sources to keep pace with expected growth.
Business leaders are optimistic that the economy will continue to improve this year.
In this article, local leaders interviewed by The Pilot look ahead at some of the major issues they expect to face in the new year. Overall, Moore County leaders expect a gradual economic recovery, but it will be slow.
At a business retreat in November, the Moore County Board of Commissioners learned that the tourism industry is making a slow comeback after a couple of “flat” years. Other signs point to modest growth in real estate and home building.
Moore County Home Builders Association president Jarrett Deerwester summed up the county’s outlook best when he said: “This is a great place to live. People want to live here.”
FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital, the largest employer, continues to expand. It has more than 41,000 employees throughout its system, with three-fourths of those employees based in Moore County.
Tourism, the other big employer, has suffered in the recession, but Caleb Miles, president and CEO of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, reported a 9 percent recovery of the 22 percent loss in revenue between 2009 and 2010.
Partners in Progress director Ray Ogden described a surprising number of new businesses and expansions.
The county commissioners, meanwhile, will maintain their no-growth policy in reducing the size of county government through attrition rather than layoffs. The board is likely to cut spending and find places for tax cuts.
The other major issue on the county’s plate will be construction of the $27.2 million jail expansion-public safety complex in downtown Carthage. Site work has been under way for some time despite a lawsuit filed late last year by jail opponents.
A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 10 on a preliminary injunction to stop construction until the case can be heard.
Speaking of court, murder trials in more than one notorious case are in the works this year.
The first one goes to court as the New Year begins. Perry Ross Schiro — last of five suspects to face trial in the murder of 12-year-old Emily Haddock — is on the calendar Jan. 3. He has been indicted on charges of murder and for accessory after the fact to murder.
Others, including one who admitted actually firing the gun to kill the child during a home invasion, took deals and were sentenced according to plea arrangements last year.
Late this summer, Carthage will likely see television news trucks and media from all over for the trial of Robert Kenneth Stewart. He is charged with murder for allegedly gunning down a nurse and seven elderly residents at Pinelake nursing home in March 2009. He could face the death penalty if convicted.
Stewart’s jury will come from Stanly County, as a result of Senior Resident Superior Court Judge James Webb’s decision partially allowing a defense motion for change of venue based on pretrial publicity and a survey of possible Moore County jurors. Jury selection starts in July, and is expected to take two to three weeks.
The Moore County Board of Education and Sandhills Community College start the new year facing the prospects of more state budget cuts.
With an estimated $3.7 billion deficit looming over the state legislature, the system expects to lose between $3 million and $9 million in state funding for the 2011-2012 year.
The cuts come on top of a $7.3 million cut the system has received each year since 2008.
The N.C. Office of State Budget and Management has recommended that school systems across the state prepare budget scenarios for 5 and 10 percent cuts in state funding, which makes up 60 percent of the system’s budget.
Mike Griffin, chief finance officer for school system, said that the system has been working carefully to reduce costs and preserve teaching positions since the initial cuts in 2008.
“We’ve been making strategic decisions consistently about how to reduce costs,” he said. “We have tried to maintain a focus on teachers, a focus on the classroom.”
Since 2008, the system has eliminated 50 positions, 23 of which were layoffs. Griffin said the positions laid off were either teaching assistant positions or jobs from central office.
Griffin said he anticipates working closely with the Moore County Board of Commissioners to determine how much, if any, additional local funding can help bolster state funding cuts.
“They’ve been understanding with the cuts we’ve received from the state,” he said.
The system received $25.5 million for its current expense fund and an additional $700,000 for its capital outlay fund from the Moore County commissioners for the 2010-2011 school year.
On top of state budget cuts, the system will also lose federal funding when stimulus funds run out at the end of the school year.
Griffin says the loss of stimulus funds will not sting as badly in 2011, thanks to $2.4 million the system will receive through the jobs bill passed last August. However, the funding will only supplement the system for the 2011-2012 year.
Besides working to cut system costs, Superintendent Susan Purser anticipates meeting with various local groups to explain the direction the system is taking with its Growing to Greatness Pathways, which schools began implementing this year.
Sandhills Community College faces a double whammy in the financial squeeze — the unemployed turn first to community colleges for training and SCC must cope with additional costs associated with new buildings made possible through a 2007 referendum.
The college starts the new year with record enrollment. SCC saw the largest enrollment in its 46-year history with 4,500 students enrolled in college-credit classes in the fall 2010 semester. Even more residents will enroll in a Continuing Education course.
A year ago, the Southern Pines Town Council hoped to put the final touches on the town’s Comprehensive Long-Range Plan (CLRP), a document that outlines how the town will develop in the future.
In 2011, the town may see some of the CLRP’s goals come to fruition with two major commercial developments proposed for the Morganton Road Overlay District and a proposed mixed-use development on the corner of N.C. 22 and Airport Road.
Mayor Mike Haney said the CLRP should help facilitate the process for potential developers by clarifying what kinds of development that the town expects to see.
“I’m really excited for the town because I think the community and the elected officials have worked really hard to decide when and how they want the town to grow,” Haney said.
Commercial development projects for The Shoppes at Southern Pines and Southern Pines Village, which includes a Kohl’s department store, are already moving through the town permitting process and will seek more approvals from the council in 2011.
The council may also consider a multi-family and commercial development called Tyler’s Ridge at Sandhills on N.C. 22. On Jan. 20, the town Planning Board will continue a public hearing for a conditional use permit to allow a multi-family residential use for the project.
Haney said he believes 2011 will present more opportunities for development in Southern Pines.
“The economic outlook is brighter,” he said. “I think developers and businesses are more willing to commit to a new location and picking Southern Pines for those locations. It seems clear that there’s more confidence going forward, and we’re the beneficiaries of that.”
With the CLRP in place, the council also hopes to address discrepancies between the plan and the town’s unified development ordinance to make ordinances congruent with the goals of the plan.
The town also hopes to take initial steps to implement its newly adopted Bicycle Transportation Plan.
The Pinehurst Village Council likely will continue to wrestle with growth and development issues in 2011.
Two projects that the village is excited about are the new Reid Heart Center at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital and the new FirstHealth hospice facility on the old campground site on U.S. 15-501. The hospital will hold an open house Sunday, Jan. 9, for the 186,000-square-foot facility. The FirstHealth of the Carolinas Hospice House is a 16,000-square-foot, 11-bed acute care facility slated for completion this spring.
“We are excited about both projects,” Village Manager Andy Wilkison said.
Several major projects are looming as the new year begins, including The Village Chapel expansion and the construction of the townhome development, The Tradition of Old Town, that the developer has promised will begin construction in 2011.
Both projects survived very contentious public hearings in 2010.
Tied in with The Village Chapel expansion project is the ongoing dialogue over how that might affect the village’s National Historic Landmark status.
The National Park Service, which administers the Landmark program, and the Village Council have communicated on a regular basis since the expansion was brought to the attention of representatives of the National Park Service last year.
“We have had a good dialogue with them,” Wilkison said. “We are supposed to get a checklist from them as to what information they would like to have on public and private projects.”
Also along the lines of development, the Village Council has hired a consulting firm to review development ordinances and staff processes in an effort to streamline the process.
Wilkison said that review process would begin in late January.
The Village Council will also likely try to keep its options open when it comes to purchasing its own water system The village was unsuccessful last year in its efforts to purchase the water and sewer treatment facilities of a Wagram textile plant. The village will also work closely with the county to continue to make improvements to water and sewer systems in village, mostly in Old Town.
The council will likely continue to discuss development options for the New Core area that provides a development bridge from downtown and the residential areas.
Speaking of downtown, the business district could get a big shot in the arm in 2011 when the long-awaited renovation of the Razook’s Building is complete and building, now named Magnolia Place, reopens.
The coming year could bring some important changes in Aberdeen.
The town should begin work on two different plans — a pedestrian plan and greenways expansion plan — that will have a major impact on the quality of life for residents.
“Our intentions are having a draft in six months and having adoption in nine months,” said town Planning Director Kathy Liles of both plans.
The town should complete work on the $1.4 million expansion and renovation of the fire department in 2011. The expansion will add 4,100 square feet to the current facility on the side of the building bordering Peach Street.
The town will contribute $75,000 toward the project. A grant will cover $203,000, and the remainder will come from a loan in the form of federal government stimulus money.
Liles said there will be no interruption of services while the work is being done.
“We will move them (firefighters) into a temporary unit on site,” she said.
The Town Board could also finally craft ordinances to guide the development of downtown. Liles said the board has “settled on a direction” and should begin moving forward on completing the guidelines this year.
The town also hopes to select a final town logo and slogan that it will use to brand Aberdeen in hopes of enticing people to visit and shop in Aberdeen.
Carthage is growing, with a $1 million grant (at no cost to the town) spurring even more development in the Little River area.
The old Carthage Fabrics building is turning into a real job-hatchery as more and more businesses lease parts of the huge structure.
In Robbins, the restoration of the Village Theater will be a major issue. With its potential of 800 to 1,000 seats, Mayor Theron Bell and others hope to transform its stage into a “show” place that will draw visitors to the downtown “L” — all coordinated with the state Commerce Department’s Small Town Main Street program.
Senior writers Florence Gilkeson and Tom Embrey, staff writers Hannah Sharpe and John Chappell and managing editor David Sinclair contributed to this report.
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