Early voting begins Thursday in Surry
Mount Airy officials are considering a list of projects proposed for funding from the municipality’s share of federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money, which totals $2.9 million.
He is primarily wanted for major building and equipment needs in a list compiled by City Manager Stan Farmer, containing 18 items in total.
The $3.2 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding designated for Mount Airy was included in a $350 billion financial relief package approved last year for all 50 states at the state and local levels in as a relief measure in response to COVID-19.
In addition to the $2.9 million earmarked for city government projects, ARPA funding requests were sought earlier this year from local nonprofits to support various efforts.
This has led to 16 different groups submitting claims for a total of $2.4 million, meaning tough decisions are being made by Mount Airy officials.
The biggest expense on the city government’s to-do list is $400,000 for the indoor pool HVAC/air system at the Reeves Community Center, new pickleball and multipurpose courts at Riverside Park (200 $000), building repairs ($89,000), and bridge repairs on the Emily B. Taylor section of the Granite City Greenway ($100,000). It was completed about 20 years ago.
“It’s been a need,” Farmer said of the bridge repairs at a recent budget planning retreat where potential uses of federal funding were discussed.
A big ticket item, $470,000, targets City Hall, where building repairs are being considered as well as waterproofing and marking of parking lots.
Farmer revealed Wednesday that this did not include a proposal made last fall to improve the communication capabilities of council chambers, where city commissioners meet.
It included possible high-tech additions such as multiple projectors, large wall-mounted and drop-down display screens, new microphones with built-in speakers, digital mixing equipment, ceiling speakers, new camera equipment , video-audio transmitters/receivers and more.
The expense has been estimated at well over $100,000, which officials say could be paid for with federal funding, as the upgrades would allow the public to better monitor the progress of meetings from their homes during a pandemic. .
But Farmer said Wednesday that he and Deputy City Manager Darren Lewis have reviewed the proposal “and do not recommend this costly scope of work.”
Instead, Lewis has launched a video enhancement project involving an installation that will take place soon in the current budget year, according to the city manager.
“We don’t recommend audio enhancements now,” Farmer added. “Our survey found that if the audience speaks into a microphone provided in the bedroom, audiences listening at home etc. can hear the proceedings very well.”
Other city projects
Also on the list to consider are building repairs and the replacement of a street sweeper at the city’s public works building ($392,000), as well as building repairs for the library, police station and the Mount Airy Fire Department, additionally proposed for new radios (a total of $612,000).
Fire Chief Zane Poindexter said the radios would update models currently in use, allowing for better communications between department personnel.
The Surry Arts Council, meanwhile, is offered $265,000 in building repairs/improvements to toilets in its building and additional toilets for a nearby amphitheatre.
“Those bathrooms are embarrassing there,” Farmer said of the Surry Arts Council building.
“We probably need two sets of bathrooms,” Mayor Ron Niland said of the proposed ones, as people attending concerts at the amphitheater now have to use the municipal building and library facilities at proximity, which are inadequate for mass gatherings.
Commissioner Tom Koch questioned the Surry Arts Council’s funding proposal, pointing out that it had received significant building-related sums from the town in recent years, in addition to an annual allocation of $87,500 to support its general operations.
“I applaud Tanya, she’s amazing,” Koch said of the council’s chief executive, Tanya Jones. “But we have to look at the big picture,” which could include reviewing the $87,500 credit, he added.
Farmer responded that the expenses proposed on the list reflect the fact that the municipality owns the structures concerned.
Koch also questioned another item included, $210,000 in sight for the repaving/striping of the downtown Franklin Street public parking lot.
The North Ward Commissioner has suggested that parking needs should be funded by a special municipal service district tax levied on downtown properties to provide facilities that benefit everyone, including the land, rather than a city funding.
Another $50,000 is proposed for downtown signage to better guide visitors, although local travel/tourism revenue may be the best source for these items, based on discussions at the meeting.
Farmer is also proposing that $125,000 be set aside for fire suppression grants to support sprinkler and related needs where upper floors of downtown buildings are fitted out for housing, a proposal launched earlier.
Reviewing available federal funding and considering requests from nonprofits, Lewis, the city’s deputy manager, said more studies need to be done before final decisions are made.
“We will have to prioritize certain needs.”
According to the discussion, there is still plenty of time for this, as the rules state that ARPA money must be spent by December 2026.