It is my honor to serve as your Chairman of the Alexander County Board of Commissioners in 2020. As many of you know, I am not running for reelection this year, but rest assured that I plan to work diligently for the duration of my term. It’s hard to believe that I’ve been fortunate enough to be elected for three consecutive terms – that’s 12 years – and I’ve always strived to do what is best for this great county. Looking back, Alexander County has come a long way since 2008, and I’m proud to have played a role in our county’s success.
Speaking of looking back, I’d like to do a brief “Year in Review” for 2019 and highlight some of the many great things that happened last year.
In January, the Alexander County Board of Commissioners kicked off our 2019 industry tours in conjunction with the Economic Development Corporation. Throughout the year, we visited Craftmaster Furniture, Paladin Industries, Custom Educational Furnishings, International Materials Group, and Schneider Mills. These tours proved to be both entertaining and educational as we enjoyed meeting our local industry representatives while learning more about their needs.
In February, Commissioners approved two 40-year lease agreements with Duke Energy for Dusty Ridge Park and Wittenburg Access Area. This will provide enhanced recreational opportunities for our citizens and visitors as the county will work with Duke and the NC Wildlife Resources Commission to expand offerings at these two lakefront parks. At Dusty Ridge, we’re considering a mountain bike trail, a disc golf course, soccer fields, as well as additional trails, restrooms, picnic shelters, and parking. At Wittenburg Access, proposed amenities include picnic areas, trails, a swim beach, restrooms, and additional parking. We’re excited to see these enhancements become reality.
In March, Commissioners approved a Historic Preservation Ordinance for Alexander County. We have appointed a Historic Preservation Commission with the initial goals of applying for grants to restore historic structures, research, preservation, and exhibition of the county’s historical assets. Once the commission has been active for one year, the county can apply to become a Certified Local Government (CLG). Then, we can receive technical assistance and training from the State Historic Preservation Office (HPO), participate in the National Register nomination process, and are eligible to receive small matching grants for preservation activities. Alexander County has a rich history, and we want to preserve it.
In May, the Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution to consolidate the county’s Department of Social Services, Department of Public Health, and Senior Center into a Consolidated Human Services Agency. Commissioners now serve as the Consolidated Human Services Board, which we believe helps provide oversight and decision-making abilities for these important elements of county government. We appointed Leeanne Whisnant as Consolidated Human Services Director. With more than 40 counties having consolidated human services, we are confident in this change and look forward to providing improved services to our citizens.
Also in May, the move-in process was completed at the new Alexander County Services Center in downtown Taylorsville. Everyone with whom I’ve spoken agrees that the new centrally-located facility is an excellent “one-stop shop” for conducting county business. The building accommodates 10 county departments and divisions, including Tax Office, Register of Deeds, Parks & Recreation, Planning & Development, Building Inspections, Cooperative Extension, Soil & Water, Environmental Health, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and Procurement & Compliance. Not only has the new building helped our citizens and clients, but I believe it’s already making a difference in the development of the downtown area.
Borealis Compounds, located in the Alexander Industrial Park, held a grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony in May. We are so excited that this Austrian-based company, which has more than 6,000 employees worldwide, chose Alexander County for their state-of-the-art manufacturing facility. I would like to thank the Alexander County EDC, Alexander Railroad Company, current and former Commissioners, and the numerous state agencies that worked so diligently to make this project happen here.
In July, Commissioners awarded a bid for a water line extension project to Buckeye Bridge LLC in the amount of $4,699,248. We also contracted with Buckeye Bridge to replace water lines in the Wittenburg Springs subdivision, which has experienced numerous water main breaks and leaks over the years. They are scheduled to complete this rehabilitation project by the end of January, then they will start on the water line extension project with which we hope to serve 295 homes on portions of 12 roads. The project is being funded with zero-interest and low-interest loans from the North Carolina Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. We are proud to be able to provide a reliable, quality water source for citizens on these roads.
I would like to commend Alexander County Building Inspections for the major improvements that have occurred within this department. Approximately 95 percent of building inspections processes are now paperless, with each inspector carrying a tablet computer. Once an inspection is complete, the report is then emailed to the contractor. Plus, inspections are now done on the same day or the next day when they are requested, which is a significant improvement. Being a building contractor myself, these positive changes in technology and customer service will help us start to see an increase in commercial and residential construction in Alexander County. Kudos to Bill Rogers and his staff for a job well done.
I know that many of our citizens have visited Rocky Face Park, which we believe is one of the best county parks in the region and state. Our visitation and participation numbers continue to climb, putting Alexander County on the map for hikers, climbers, and outdoor enthusiasts. We have more than 6,000 people who are participating in the Vertical Mile Challenge Club! The park has approximately six miles of hiking trails with some beautiful views, a one-third-mile paved walking track, 60 rock-climbing routes, an adventure playground with slide and zipline, a primitive campground, a multipurpose building, a picnic shelter, restrooms, and more. If you haven’t visited, take some time and enjoy the great outdoors at Rocky Face Park.
Commissioners approved the Bethlehem Community Plan in September. This much-needed plan has recommendations in the areas of transportation, resources and services, natural and cultural resources, economic development and tourism, and land use and growth management. We knew there was a real need to develop a plan for the future of Bethlehem with the upcoming widening of NC Hwy. 127, housing projects, and commercial development. This plan will serve as a guide for this growing community for the next 20 to 30 years. Based on community input, this plan will help Commissioners make decisions that will encourage orderly growth and economic development. The future is looking very bright for the Bethlehem Community.
We know that broadband Internet service is no longer a luxury, but is a necessity these days. In late November, Open Broadband LLC performed its first installation of fixed-wireless Internet service in Alexander County, which was a significant milestone as the project kicked off. There are approximately 1,000 people on the company’s waiting list, and they’re developing a game plan to roll out Internet service as soon as possible to those on the waiting list. We’re hopeful this project goes well because we’d like to expand it to help provide Internet service to all areas of the county. If you don’t have Internet service or if you have inadequate service, be sure to sign up for Open Broadband’s waiting list at www.openbb.net/alexanderco.
In December, the county received a favorable audit report for fiscal year 2019 from our auditing firm. The three largest areas of spending include: public safety (30 percent), human services (25 percent), and education (18 percent). Our fund balance increased by $743,757, which brings the county’s fund balance percentage to 31.7 percent of total General Fund expenditures and transfers, for a total available fund balance of $12,586,859. The auditor stated that our fund balance is right on track for counties with a population of 25,000 to 50,000 residents. It’s exciting that we have been able to accomplish so much, yet still be able to increase our fund balance.
Alexander County applied for and received a $90,000 grant in December from the N.C. Rural Infrastructure Authority in the Building Reuse Program’s Existing Business Building Category. We’re excited to be a part of our industries’ success here in Alexander County. This grant money was awarded to support an expansion project being undertaken by Paragon Films, a stretch-film manufacturer located in the Alexander Industrial Park. Paragon will expand its facility by 50,000 square feet and create 11 new full-time jobs while investing approximately $15 million in the project for construction and equipment. Paragon Films continues to be a premiere corporate partner here in Alexander County.
Alexander County Commissioners also awarded a bid for the Bethlehem sewer project in December to Two Brothers Utilities, Inc. of Shelby in the amount of $5,149,557.63. The project includes 23,415 linear feet of sewer lines and the upgrade of the Heritage Village and Wittenburg Springs pump stations. As I mentioned earlier, it is paramount that we plan for the growth that is coming to Bethlehem, and this sewer project is a major component of our plans. Hopefully, work will begin on the project by March.
The county recently contracted with McGill Associates to conduct a water pressure zone study in Bethlehem. This is another step that is necessary as we look ahead to the NC Hwy. 127 widening project and the development that will follow. The study will help us determine areas that will need additional water volume and pressure.
On the other side of the county, we’re hoping to get final approval from the state to begin construction on the Stony Point Elementary School wastewater project. Currently, we’re waiting on three easements and are hoping to bid the project by the end of February. In May 2018, the county was awarded a CDBG-I (Community Development Block Grant for Infrastructure) grant in the amount of $894,750 from the State Water Infrastructure Authority. The county committed $89,250 towards this project, bringing the project total to $984,000. The project includes a new pump station and 3,500 feet of sewer line, which will replace the septic systems currently in place. Alexander County is proud to be able to provide sewer service to Stony Point Elementary School.
Commissioners and county staff are also working with McGill Associates on finalizing plans for the Alexander County Courthouse Park, located in downtown Taylorsville. Plans call for a performance stage, a splash pad, walkways, benches, tables, trees, and more. If things go according to plans, we hope to apply for a North Carolina PARTF Grant (Parks and Recreation Trust Fund) in the spring to help defray nearly $500,000 of the expenses to local taxpayers. While proper planning and applying for grants will extend the development period a little, we will have a much better park that will serve our people for generations. With the recent additions to downtown Taylorsville, we can expect to see additional growth in the coming months and years.
As you can see, the year 2019 was a fast-paced year full of advancements and progress as Commissioners and staff continue to seek what is best for Alexander County and our citizens. The year 2020 is looking very bright, as much of our hard work is coming to fruition, in addition to the new projects that we will be working on. Again, it is my honor to serve as Commission Chairman, and I look forward to serving you this year.
Alexander County Board of Commissioners