Morganton city council workshop focuses on upcoming fiscal year [The News Herald, Morganton, N.C.]
(News Herald (Morganton, NC) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Feb. 03--MORGANTON -- The 2013-2014 fiscal year will be a year of both growth and reduction for Morganton if the city council takes into consideration the projects proposed at a Friday workshop.
The informal, day-long workshop at the Morganton Community House in downtown Morganton focused largely on improving utilities inside the city as well as on scaling back the services that Morganton currently offers in neighborhoods not within city limits.
With more than $10 million of proposals before the city, the workshop provided council members and the heads of the city departments a chance to openly discuss the year ahead without binding commitment or final cuts to projects on the table.
Mountain View Street water tower
The 1920s water tower on Mountain View Street has been a highlight at city council meetings for some time now.
At Friday's workshop, the city council discussed plans to demolish the structure and continue to use the site as the base of a future communications tower.
According to reports issued to the city council, the structure has become an eyesore in recent years with paint flaking and a layer of rust developing on its surface.
The city hired West Consultants to detail the costs of renovating or razing the current water tower.
According to the water resources company, the cost to abate the lead paint used on the water tower and repaint the structure is approximately $200,000, with an additional $100,000 investment every 15 years for a new coat of paint.
The cost of removing the tower entirely though, is expected to cost only $40,000.
"We've heard complaints all over town, 'Get rid of the eyesore,'" City Councilman John Cantrell said. "The neighborhood wants to get rid of everything there, but for the sake of the whole community, we need to keep a communication tower there."
Currently, the water tower hosts radio antennae for all of the city's essential services: public safety, electric, water, sewer and streets. But due to its optimal height and visibility, there are many potential players that are interested in the location as a site for their own devices.
This last factor was the driving force behind the move for the city council to consider the plan to erect a new communication tower to replace the Mountain View water tank.
The potential for private organizations to utilize a new communications tower could mean money for the city.
"Every other water tower that we have has one or more private carriers on it," City Manager Sally Sandy said. "(By removing the water tower) we'll only be displacing ourselves."
While it appeared the council was in agreement that a new communications tower seemed like the most probable fate for the site, authorities with West Consultants added that a lot of the project -- and the project's cost -- would ultimately depend on an environmental review and FCC relicensing for the a tower.
Down to the fiber
Morganton General Manager Bill Harkins presented the next steps in growing the city's telephone and internet customer base at Friday's meeting.
Harkins made an argument on behalf of installing fiber cable in future City of Morganton Public Antenna System (CoMPAS) projects.
Carroll Yount, senior sales manager at CommScope, and Ian Dancell, broadband applications engineer at CommScope, explained in layman's terms how the decline of cable television has only made CoMPAS's future more dependant on providing high speed Internet and telephone services to its Morganton customers.
After a recent agreement with BroadPlex, the city is in the process of tripling its broadband connection to the Internet from 310 Mbps to 1 Gbp while simultaneously saving approximately $4,715 per month in a move from its current contract with Sprint.
Harkins said Broadplex employees have assured him that the company's prices do fluctuate and that in all likelihood will come down in the future due to industry competition.
Harkins also presented a proposed project to upgrade the city's current headend design.
"We need bigger pipes coming into our headend facility," Harkins explained.
Harkins said that although the city's headend design from nine years ago was well ahead of its time, it is in need of upgrading in order to provide the bandwidth per node that the city's customers require.
"We currently feed four nodes per laser transmitter," Harkins' presentation read. "We need to upgrade the headend so that each node has its own transmitter."
Equipment for such an upgrade will cost an approximate $292,000 capital request.
Harkins told the council that the cost of the upgrade is easily outweighed by the benefits reaped.
"We'll be able offer a whole new range of services to our customers, ten times faster services than what we currently offer." Hawkins said
The capital request will not be on the agenda for the council's Monday's meeting.
"When we do our budget we'll look," Sandy said. "I don't think we have that prepared today, because we're just not that deep in the budget process."
The council also discussed plans for AT&T, CoMPAS's primary competitor, to supply Internet and telecommunication lines for the new Morganton Heights development off Fleming Drive.
According to Harkins and Yount, the private telecommunications company plans to use less reliable copper wire in the shopping center, schedule to be completed in the year 2015.
"They're probably looking to use fiber in more urban areas," Sandy commented, "where they think they'll get more bang for their buck."
Several others agreed, but lamented the fact that the copper wire would not provide the stability and future-proof network the city's fiber cables could have offered.
Sandy said that she felt that the benefits of the city's telecommunications services needed better marketing, especially among officials at Burke Development, Incorporated.
"It strikes me that we need to sit down and have a conversation with them and have a presentation so they know just what this really means," Sandy said.
Lee Anderson, director of development and design services for the city, presented a proposal to reduce the city's services to communities outside the city limits at Friday's workshop.
Anderson explained that those communities in the extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ) currently receive many services from the city without the benefit of paying city taxes.
"Out in that area we do zoning regulations, subdivision regulations, flood damage prevention and historic preservation," Anderson told the council. "Back in the '90s, the state had us also include watershed protection, storm water management and building inspections."
Anderson said that after 35 years in the jurisdictional business, the city of Morganton can no longer afford to support such a wide area not within its official limits.
The director dismissed proposals to annex the areas in the ETJ currently receiving city utilities.
Anderson explained that since 1970 Morganton has almost tripled in land size. This was largely encouraged by what Anderson called North Carolina's "progressive" annexation laws that allowed many cities in the state to annex neighboring communities without landowners' expressed approval.
But after the General Assembly passed the Annexation Reform Act of 2011, "if at least 60 percent of parcels oppose the annexation, the proposal is voided."
The new law makes involuntary annexation no longer an option and only complicates the process of voluntary annexation for the city.
"For all practical purposes, there will be no more involuntary annexations in the state of North Carolina under the current regime," city attorney Louis Vinay explained.
Under Anderson's proposal, the city would not have to be concerned about future annexations or the costs of maintaining areas in the ETJ.
"The city is not paid for ETJ management," Anderson said. "What we're going to propose to you is relinquishing that jurisdiction, or at least minimizing the area."
According to Anderson, building inspections have become the most difficult part of the maintenance process to accomplish, due to understaffing in the city's office.
When Vinay suggested that the city simply stop offering building inspections, Anderson replied it wouldn't be practical or financially wise.
"Building inspections are the only way the city makes money out there," said Anderson.
In October of last year, the Morganton Pilot Club approached the City of Morganton Main Street Department about the prospects of a fundraiser to renovate the Morganton Community House in downtown Morganton.
With plans set in motion to garner more than $1 million for the project, department head Sharon Jablonsky worked with city officials and commissioned Glazer Architecture of Asheville to inspect the current building and provide a detailed proposal of what could be done.
At Friday's workshop, Jablonsky explained the building would probably need to see more renovation before it could be remodeled.
"There's drainage that nobody knows where it's going and there's sewer that nobody knows were it's at," Jablonksy said.
Select city council members had recently toured the facilities at the community house and reported that the condition of the building's basement was less horrifying.
"We have a jewel here, but it's been tarnished. It looks like a scary move down there," Cantrell said. "This whole building probably needs to be rewired."
According to Glazer's current proposal for the structure, the architectural firm hopes to provide landscaping for the front law that would offer a pergola and space to host a 100-person reception.
The large reception hall in the building's southeast wing will be entirely remodeled to offer vaulted ceilings and chandeliers for a more ballroom-esque experience.
Interior restrooms will be consolidated and a bridal suite will be installed in the main body of the structure. The bridal suite will double as an office outside of wedding events, where city officials can meet with potential clients.
An elevator will provide access for community house guests to the newly renovated basement, where visitors will have access to two new conference rooms and a large storage facility.
The architecture firm and Main Street have until March to come up with a final plan for the city council to consider. After which, fundraising will commence.
Although construction isn't slated to being until January of 2014, council members at Friday's workshop were still concerned about the speed at which a crew would be able to complete the proposed improvements.
"If this thing starts, it's going to have to be on a fast track for the businesses you want to retain," Cantrell said.
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