ALEXANDER COUNTY, NC (January 23, 2019) – The year 2018 was a time of progress and success as local officials and staff worked hard to improve Alexander County for its citizens and businesses.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in the past year, and look forward to continued success in 2019,” said Dr. Jeff Peal, Chairman of the Alexander County Board of Commissioners. “We have worked hard on numerous projects and are planning for the future, with a focus on economic development and quality of life. Alexander County is a great place to call home for our citizens and businesses, and we will strive to make it even better.”
In January, Commissioners learned the results of the broadband feasibility study which was conducted by Open Broadband LLC. The study showed that there are significant internet service gaps, but the county has substantial infrastructure in terms of fiber optic cable, towers, and mountains. The study showed that fixed wireless would likely be the best option for the county in terms of cost and coverage. A pilot program was recommended to find an internet service provider that will work with the county to install fixed wireless internet service to provide coverage to underserved and unserved areas. The county has applied for a $50,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission to begin the pilot program; however, the grant has not yet been awarded.
A ribbon cutting and grand opening was held February 5th for the new Stony Point Branch Library, located at 431 Ruritan Park Road in Stony Point. The property was donated to Alexander County by the EnergyUnited Water Corporation. Local officials and citizens attended the event, and expressed their excitement about having a branch library in Stony Point.
Paragon Films, a stretch film manufacturer in Alexander County, announced an investment of $10 million and the creation of 14 new jobs in March. The company installed a new manufacturing line to increase production by about 30 percent to help the company keep up with demand on the east coast. In April, Commissioners approved a local Economic Development Incentive Grant for Paragon Films. The grant will reimburse up to 95 percent of property taxes paid on the new equipment for up to five years, an average of $50,000 per year.
Commissioners approved a construction bid in March for the renovation of the former Community One bank building to accommodate seven county departments (Register of Deeds, Tax Office, Planning and Inspections, Environmental Health, Parks and Recreation, Cooperative Extension, and Soil and Water). The bid was awarded to Hickory Construction Company, which submitted the low bid of $1,649,800. The total estimated cost of the project is $2,340,500, which includes construction, professional services, technology, and contingency funds. County departments are expected to begin moving into the new building in early 2019. The 20,000 sq. ft. building was purchased by the county in 2016 for $350,000.
The Appalachian Regional Commission awarded a $1,500,000 grant to Alexander County to be used for the construction of an extension of W.E. Baab Industrial Drive in the Alexander Industrial Park. The funds will construct approximately 0.47 miles of access road connecting NC Hwy. 90 to White Plains Road. The project will provide improved access for existing industries in the park, and access to at least five additional industrial sites which have no access.
Alexander County officials were notified in May that the government had received a CDBG-I grant (Community Development Block Grant for Infrastructure) in the amount of $894,750 from the State Water Infrastructure Authority for a wastewater project for Stony Point Elementary School. Alexander County committed $89,250 to the project, bringing the total to $984,000. The project includes 3,500 linear feet of sewer lines and installation of a new pump station, plus abandoning the school’s two existing septic systems. The project was made possible because of the Shurtape sewer project, which extended sewer service from Hiddenite to Shurtape Technologies in Stony Point.
In May, Commissioners learned the results of the ABC Store Feasibility Study conducted by Creative Economic Development Consulting. The study was done to determine if the county could financially support an ABC store outside of Taylorsville. Crystal Morphis, founder and CEO of the firm, said the report showed that Alexander County had a $515,511 retail leakage gap for alcohol; however, a five-mile radius of the Bethlehem community showed a $2,027,350 gap, which would exceed the sales of a typical store. She suggested moving forward with planning a store in Bethlehem. The county has reached out to other area ABC boards to determine if a partnership can occur.
Commissioners adopted the 2018-2019 county budget on June 4th, with a general fund budget of $41,200,000. There was no tax or fee increase, except for a 2.1 percent increase in water rates from the City of Hickory. Major projects included in the budget were renovation of the Community One bank building, a $5 million water project, and a $5 million sewer project.
The 2017 State of the County report was presented in June by the Alexander County Health Department. The leading causes of death in the county in 2016 were cancer, heart disease, and chronic lower respiratory diseases. The health department’s “community priorities” are healthy families, substance abuse, and mental health. Emerging issues include diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. The department received a $150,000 Community Health Grant from the Office of Rural Health to fund the existing primary care services for uninsured and low-income patients, and a $175,000 grant from the Duke Endowment to create a behavioral health program.
In June, Commissioners awarded a contract in the amount of $541,600 to Keith Benfield Contractors to construct a rail spur to Borealis Compounds in the Alexander Industrial Park. The rail spur project consists of the construction of 1,600 feet of industrial rail track and associated grading to serve the new Borealis plant. The project was funded through a variety of state and local funds, including: North Carolina Railroad Company, $225,000; North Carolina Department of Transportation, $175,000; Alexander Railroad Company, $50,000; Alexander County Government, $50,000; and Borealis Compounds, $41,600.
On August 6th, Commissioners adopted a resolution to accept a State Bond Loan from the North Carolina Clean Water Revolving Loan and Grant program in the amount of $5,181,300. The project will include more than 30,000 linear feet of sewer lines, the upgrade of two pump stations, and installation of one new pump station. This project provides much-needed sewer service in the Bethlehem area, which will also help make future housing projects a reality. Construction is expected to begin the summer of 2019.
Commissioners approved an agreement between the Western Piedmont Council of Governments and Alexander County Government to provide technical planning assistance for a “Bethlehem Community Plan” to be completed by September 30, 2019. With the help of the WPCOG, the Alexander County Department of Planning and Development will work with an advisory board comprised of Bethlehem residents and business owners to complete the plan. The contract will not exceed $25,332.
Visit North Carolina announced that visitors to and within Alexander County spent $20,840,000 in 2017, which is an increase of 4.72 percent from 2016. Alexander County’s percentage increase in visitor spending ranked 32nd out of 100 counties.
A stage groundbreaking and mural dedication was held September 28th at the new Alexander County Courthouse Park in downtown Taylorsville. Local officials and members of the Taylorsville Rotary Club were on hand for the stage groundbreaking, followed by a dedication of a new mural funded by local attorney Robert Campbell. Following the ceremonies, attendees enjoyed live music, food, and children’s activities.
Commissioners approved $2,250,000 for the construction of a new 50,000 sq. ft. speculative industrial (shell) building in the Alexander Industrial Park. The building will be located behind Craftmaster Plant #4 on NC Hwy. 90 East, and has the potential to be rail-served. The timeline for the building is completion by early 2020. Plans call for proceeds from the sale of the building to be reinvested in the construction of another shell building, and that cycle would continue. It was noted that a major component of the 2017 Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) was the need for shell buildings in the region.
Phil Icard, owner of Peoples Drug Store, was presented with a “Key to the County” on October 8 in recognition of the store’s 100th anniversary. The store hosted a community celebration on November 9th, with music, food, and prizes, including the grand prize giveaway of a 2018 Ford Focus.
In October, Alexander County Emergency Services established a Special Needs Registry to assist those with special needs during an emergency or disaster situation. Those with special needs are also encouraged to prepare an emergency kit, complete with medical supplies. To register, complete the registration online at www.alexandercountync.gov/specialneeds.
The Alexander County Christmas Parade Committee named Ben Hines as the Grand Marshal for the 72nd Annual Christmas Parade, which was held Saturday, December 1. Hines served Alexander County as the Register of Deeds since 1986, and concluded eight (8) consecutive terms this year. Prior to being elected as Register of Deeds, he retired from the United States Air Force with a rank of Chief Master Sergeant with 31 years of service to his country.
Dan Shabeldeen, President of Shabeldeen Engineering, presented an update on the Bethlehem sewer project to Commissioners at their December 3rd meeting. Plans submitted to the state totaled approximately $4.5 million, which will be funded primarily by zero-interest or low-interest loans through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund program. The engineer said the project has been designed for future development, including housing development projects, the widening of NC Hwy. 127, and business/industry growth.
Ben Hines, outgoing Register of Deeds, was recognized for his 32 years of service with a “Key to the County” by Commissioners at their December 3rd meeting. Outgoing Commissioners Milton Campbell and Josh Lail were also honored with a “Key to the County.” Newly-elected Commissioners Marty Pennell, Ronnie Reese, and Larry Yoder took the oath of office. Dr. Jeff Peal was elected as Commission Chairman with Ronnie Reese as Vice Chairman.
The Bethlehem Community Plan Advisory Committee held a public input meeting on December 18th. About 65 people attended the meeting to help provide input on needs and plans for the future of Bethlehem. A large portion of the meeting included conducting a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats). The input will be utilized as the advisory committee continues working on the plan.
“Our citizens and businesses will benefit from the efforts of county government as we continue current projects, and determine the vision for the future,” Dr. Peal stated. “We appreciate our partnerships with federal and state grant organizations because they allow us to make greater strides while using less taxpayer money. While 2018 was a great year for Alexander County, we believe 2019 will be a continuation of that success.”