Outlook for 2012: Water, Growth Among Top Priorities
Moore County will continue to grapple with some of the usual suspects — growth and water — in the coming year.
As was the case last year, declining revenues will pose big challenges for the county and many local towns in the new year as they try to provide more services. The public schools and Sandhills Community College — both engines for economic growth — are bracing for more state budget cuts.
The county hopes that discussions with several towns to develop more sources to keep pace with expected growth will come to fruition in the coming 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.
Resolution of water issues, completion of the public safety-detention center and development of the Heart of North Carolina MegaPark occupy the county’s broad agenda for 2012.
County Manager Cary McSwain said county leaders are looking for ways to meet water needs as far ahead as 2050.
“We hope to have all the water negotiating alternatives and all the cost factors related to those alternatives worked out by early spring,” McSwain said.
Those alternatives cover short-term projects up to 20 years and long-term projects up to 2050.
McSwain expects major progress on development of the MegaPark, straddling the Moore and Montgomery county lines. The county is working closely with Partners in Progress, the economic development nonprofit serving the county, municipalities and existing businesses. This partnership is developing a strategy for development of the industrial park.
“It will bring jobs to the county, but there is still a lot of work to be done out there,” he said.
The first major task is provision for water and sewer services, along with other infrastructure needs, at the MegaPark.
It is likely that the first company will move into the park as early as spring 2013. McSwain said the unidentified business already has an option on a site in the park.
He also said that county leaders and Partners in Progress have already met with N.C. Department of Commerce officials, “so we will be partnering with the state.”
The other good news is completion of the public safety complex, which should be ready for occupancy later this year. In addition to providing a larger detention area, the building will become home to the Sheriff’s Office and all emergency and public safety agencies, leaving space in the Courts Facility and the Currie Building for use by other county departments.
The Moore County school system begins 2012 with anticipation of the arrival of a new leader and hopes for a better financial outlook.
In February, Aaron Spence, chief high school officer of the Houston Independent School District, will take over as superintendent, replacing Susan Purser, who retired at the end of 2011.
Kathy Farren, chairwoman of the Moore County Board of Education, said the board is confident that Spence will take the system to the next level using the Growing to Greatness accountability model.
“When he gets here, I feel he is going to hit the ground running,” she said. “We all know we’ve got some places where we need to fill in gaps and address needs, but I think he is the guy to do it.”
The school system is also gearing up for another tight budget season, though Farren said the board has a better idea of what to expect from the N.C. General Assembly this year since it approved a biennial budget last year.
In September, Mike Griffin, the system’s chief finance officer and interim superintendent, reported that the system had received an additional $2 million from the state, but the money was distributed to help the system accommodate an additional $1.7 million in discretionary spending cuts for the 2012-2013 year.
Griffin said the system will have to cut $5.4 million next year, instead of the $3.7 million the system originally anticipated.
The system also expects to begin the next school year with five additional days in its traditional calendar between Aug. 25 and June 10, though legislators have hinted that the 185-day mandate may be delayed until the 2013-2014 year.
Farren said the system is prepared if the decision is reversed. In November, the board approved two versions of next year’s calendar for both traditional and year-round programs, one featuring a 185-day schedule and one featuring a 180-day schedule.
Despite a tighter budget and calendar, the system anticipates the implementation of new programs next year, including the new common core curriculum, which will assess N.C. students on a national standard in end-of-grade testing.
The system will also host STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), a program funded by a $2 million grant from the Mebane Foundation. The program will help train teachers to improve student achievement in science and math by providing intensive computer technology instructional strategies.
Sandhills Community College President John Dempsey intends to look on the bright side in 2012, despite the fact that SCC begins the new year with 10 percent less faculty than it had two years ago.
The college has been under an internal hiring freeze and has been eliminating positions through attrition since 2009.
“It’s difficult to do the same job with 10 percent fewer people,” Dempsey said. “So we have some challenges ahead, but the morale of the faculty and staff is at a very high level.”
Dempsey anticipates the opening of new facilities on campus and offering new programs.
This spring, the college expects to dedicate Logan Hall, a 35,000-square-foot facility that will house the college’s English and humanities department, as well as the mathematics department, the developmental studies program and the Kelley Tutoring Center.
SCC will also soon offer an opthalmic program, which will help train students to work at Carolina Eye Associates in Southern Pines.
In Southern Pines, the main topics of conversation this year will be the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) revision, the town budget for fiscal 2012-2013, and a potential U.S. 1 bypass through Horse Country.
The yearlong UDO revision process kicks off Jan. 17-19, when the first of four three-day forums will be conducted by Planning Works, a Leawood, Kan.-based consulting company hired by the town to facilitate the process.
“Southern Pines striking at this point is the best time to do it,” said Bruce Peshoff, a partner at Planning Works. “The UDO needs to protect existing investments and encourage new investment.”
The UDO, which has been tweaked numerous times since its inception in 1989, controls all design and land-use regulations for the town.
The revision will streamline and update the existing code in addition to ensuring its compliance with, and ability to implement the goals of, the Compre-hensive Long-Range Plan (CLRP) adopted by the town in 2010.
The contract also calls for Planning Works to study West Southern Pines and downtown Southern Pines, and perhaps draft regulating plans for those neighborhoods.
“Downtown is very important to all of Southern Pines, even though everyone who lives here doesn’t utilize it,” council member Chris Smithson said. “Downtown is vital to our economy, which benefits everyone, so we need to take care of that treasure.”
The budget planning process begins soon, with initial recommendations going before the Southern Pines Town Council at its annual spring retreat in April.
Last year, a stagnant tax base raised concerns about raising the property tax rate or potential cuts in services and personnel this year if the situation does not improve.
In addition, permit fees are down, cost index numbers are rising, and investment income is nearly nonexistent.
“If the trend continues, we’re going to have to cut services or raise taxes,” council member Mike Fields said last year. “We don’t want to start dipping into our fund balance in order to balance our budget.”
A potential U.S. 1 bypass through Horse Country galvanized residents of Southern Pines and other parts of Moore County like no other issue last year.
The N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) insists there is no line on a map through Horse Country now, but that line has always been drawn through the Walthour-Moss Foundation in the past.
For this aºnd many other reasons, it will be interesting to see how the Moore County Transportation Plan shakes out this year.
The village of Pinehurst will take a good, hard look at strengthening its core in the coming year. Village officials plan to concentrate on doing everything possible to help the downtown center thrive.
Village Manager Andy Wilkison said he expects the Village Council to continue its efforts to strengthen business downtown and make the village center a more business- and family-friendly place. Part of that will be considering enhancements to the sand parking lot and parts of the Village Green, as well as streetscaping and other parking improvements to downtown.
Those likely improvements will also require the Village Council to continue to work closely with the National Park Service, since the Village Green is part of the Pinehurst Historic District, which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2006.
The Park Service oversees the landmark program and has indicated to the village on several occasions that too many changes to the area could result in the village losing its designation. The council has said it doesn’t want to do anything to harm the landmark status, but that it will do everything possible to improve downtown.
Another aspect of improving downtown will be finding a tenant for the currently vacant historic post office building.
“We want to find something that will be a complementary use to the business center, and something that will draw people to downtown,” Wilkison said of the prospective tenant for the post office, which has been vacant since closing in mid-August.
Before year’s end, Wilkison said the council will likely begin serious preparation for the U.S. Opens in 2014.
“It not that far out,” Wilkison said. “I really see that heating up sometime in the last half of 2012.”
Fresh off the heels of completing an expansion of the town’s fire station late last year, Aberdeen will turn its attention to upgrading its police facilities in 2012.
“Right now we are busting at the seams,” Town Manager Bill Zell said of the current police station.
Zell said the Town Board will take a hard look at whether or not to expand the current facility at 804 N. Sandhills Blvd. or to find another location. In either situation, Zell said the board will likely have to consider buying land.
One issue that likely will re-emerge in 2012 is the town’s newly created Unified Development Ordinance. Completed and adopted last year, Zell said the document will need some tweaking now that it is more than just a piece of paper.
“Now that we are working with it, we are seeing some areas that will need to be addressed,” he said.
The town will also take a look at improving water and sewer services on several different fronts. Zell said the town will look at updating its automated meter reading system as well as upgrading some strategic sewer lines within the town.
Aberdeen will also look at improving amenities through work to develop the park at Ray’s Mills Pond, and creating and implementing of bicycle and pedestrian plans.
Carthage and Robbins will begin the new year thinking about water.
Some years ago, the county seat invested in a modern processing plant that today runs at just a third of its capacity of 1 million gallons a day. Its design allows that capacity to be doubled should the need arise in the future.
“Our plant would run even better if we used it more,” Town Manager Carol Sparks said.
Carthage can also draw up to 1 million gallons a day from Nicks Creek near the older of its two reservoirs. Several years ago, Southern Pines and Carthage connected their two systems there, anticipating that interconnection could serve either town as needed.
Not far away, Moore County water lines on McCaskill Road come right up to Carthage lines on N.C. 22, making feasible another interconnection — this time between town and county.
“Our 12-inch water line on (N.C.) 22 is face-to-face with theirs on McCaskill,” Sparks said. “The county could buy water from Carthage. Interconnec-tion is the whole key to water in Moore County.”
The county commissioners have been looking at water needs for some time. A past study advised drawing water from the Deep River that could be processed and stored in Robbins and then serve both the northern end of the county and Sandhills areas such as Seven Lakes, where population growth means an increasing demand for water.
In 2012, Moore County is expected to come back to Robbins with new ideas for a joint water enterprise that would make that town’s abundant water resources and large reservoir part of a water district serving the northwest section of the county.
Robbins has contracted for a preliminary engineering report examining the feasibility of new wells or a line to Randolph County that would feed new microprocessing systems supplying Robbins only. The town currently buys water from Montgomery County. Its outdated treatment plant was shut down years ago, and it is considered impractical to restore.
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