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Spring Hope approves sidewalk expansion

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Spring Hope commissioners on Monday night approved new rules for the town’s planning board and approved a local match for a state grant that will expand sidewalks in designated “strategic, high traffic areas.”

The board also heard a draft audit report that praised the town’s financial status and gave the commissioners some reassurance they could afford to add debt to pay for the sidewalks.

By a unanimous vote with no discussion, the town board passed three procedural motions necessary to amend the zoning ordinance to adopt rules for the planning board composition and procedures, codifying rules on the appointment and terms of planning board members first approved informally in November and adding sections that govern how the planning board will operate. The additional sections cover meetings, quorum and voting, planning board officers and advisory committees.

The reconstituted planning board reviewed the proposed amendments at its first meeting last month and voted to recommend their approval by commissioners.

The amended sections replace the original town ordinance establishing the planning board. The board still consists of nine members, with two from the extraterritorial jurisdiction appointed by the county, plus two alternates, who all serve three-year staggered terms with a limit of two successive terms.

In its other major business, commissioners accepted funding of $635,692 from the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement program and agreed to commit a town match of $158,923 to expand sidewalks in four areas of town and repair them in a fifth area.

“The proposed project for our community would construct sidewalks in strategic, high-traffic areas that will improve the quality of life for our citizens,” Town Manager Jae Kim said in his project request.

He said the town will pay its share of the 80-20 percent grant through a low-interest, long-term loan. The total project, for which the Local Government Commission must first approve the town’s loan, is $794,615.

The grant will repair the sidewalk on Hopkins Avenue between the elementary school and U.S. 64 Alternate It will also construct 2,300 linear feet of sidewalk along McLean Street from Walnut Street to the school; 500 feet of sidewalk along U.S. 64 Alternate and curb and guttering between Hopkins Street and N.C. 581; 860 feet of sidewalk along N.C. 581 from McLean Street to U.S. 64-Alternate.; and 1,300 feet of sidewalk along Louisburg Road from Ridgeway Apartments on Branch Street to U.S. 64 Alternate.

Commissioner Drew Griffin asked if the town could afford to add the debt for its local match.

Auditor Scott May, waiting to give his report later, said it could.

“The town has been frugal with regards to what has been done,” he said. “You’re in good financial shape at this point in time.”

“It’s a great opportunity,” engineer Kevin Varnell said before the board voted unanimously to proceed. “Sometimes it costs a little money to get some money.”

Once financing has been arranged and bids approved, construction will take eight to 10 months, Varnell said.

In his audit report, May said the town’s finances were in great shape.

“This year you’ve done a lot better than the previous year,” he said. “You can be very proud of what you’re doing.”

He said Spring Hope has a good fund balance, debt level and cash flow for towns its size, and he said the water and sewer fund was doing better this year than last year.

The audit, still in draft form and awaiting approval by the Local Government Commission, showed the town had revenues of $1,314,744 and spent only $1,287,954. With some additional funds from outside sources, the town increased its fund balance by $78,740 to a fiscal year-end total of $1,080,821.

While the water and sewer fund showed a $44,982 operating loss, May said that was due to depreciation rather than cash flow and said, “The system is old and you do have a lot of repairs.”

He said the town’s debt of $660,000 was “very stable” for the town’s size.

“You’ve got a small debt load and available cash to service the debt,” he added. He said the town’s tax collection rate was 96.8 percent.

New Spring Hope Area Chamber of Commerce president Allen Barbee told commissioners that renovations had been finished and the chamber was expecting to take possession of the old Southside Pharmacy location on Ash Street to become the new N.C. License Plate Agency.

The chamber will operate the agency, hiring one full-time and two part-time employees. The state will provide the training and equipment.

“We’re on target to open by March 1 unless we run into some kinks,” he said.

He said commissioners should give great credit for the new agency to outgoing chamber President Janice Mills “for being so perseverant for going after this. We could not have done it without her.”

He also announced, and Kim confirmed, that part of the old PNC Bank building on Branch Street was rented to Millennia Patient Services, LLC, and is now being renovated to become a call center for the company.