February 16, 2022 — It is my honor to serve as your Chairman of the Alexander County Board of Commissioners in 2022. This is a position that I take very seriously and I will always do what is best for the citizens of Alexander County.
In this “Chairman’s Chat,” I’d like to take a few moments to reflect on the accomplishments from the year 2021. Although the pandemic continued to cause illness and economic uncertainty, our great county and its people made great strides.
In January, the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) held two ribbon cuttings to welcome businesses to Alexander County. Small business is the backbone of America, and we’ve seen a lot of business activity in our county with more than 10 ribbon cuttings in 2021.
In February, commissioners approved a proposal with Open Broadband LLC to provide wireless broadband service to areas of the county that need it the most. The county invested almost $200,000 in this project, and Open Broadband matched that investment. Also, the Stony Point Elementary School wastewater project was completed, which was made possible after the county extended sewer service to Shurtape Technologies. The project, which provided sewer to the school and some homes along the way, cost $741,863 but the county only had to pay $78,243 as we were able to secure an infrastructure grant that saved taxpayer dollars.
In March, the Bethlehem sewer project was completed. This project included the installation of 23,415 linear feet of sewer lines along Rink Dam Road, Heritage Farm Road, Shiloh Church Road, and others, as well as two pump station upgrades. This infrastructure is necessary for the future growth that is coming to Bethlehem. Also, the EDC worked with the NC Department of Commerce to secure a $40,000 grant for Piedmont Composites & Tooling to help repair the company’s aging roof.
In April, the Golden LEAF Foundation awarded two grants that benefited Alexander County, including a $193,776 grant to the county to extend sewer infrastructure in the Alexander Industrial Park to support the expansion of Industrial Timber. The second grant of $460,000 was awarded to CVCC for equipment and software to support expanded training here in Alexander County. We also announced plans for future improvements at the Wittenburg Access Area in Bethlehem. Duke Energy will add a swim beach, bathrooms, and a picnic area, while the county is creating a one-mile hiking trail and parking area.
In May, the county sold 25 acres of land in the Alexander Industrial Park to Paragon Films for $600,000, which will allow this amazing industry to expand and add warehouse space. Seven of our local volunteer fire departments received grants from the Office of the State Fire Marshal totaling $114,154. We appreciate our volunteer firefighters for all they do to keep us safe. The county also hosted the Alexander County 24 Hour race, which attracted runners from all across the country and one runner from Canada.
In June, commissioners adopted the 2021-2022 budget with no property tax or fire tax increases. We also approved the addition of a splash pad, playground, and picnic shelter at the new Alexander County Courthouse Park, about which many people are excited. We are planning a park dedication and grand opening on May 15, so we encourage you to attend. We work hard to create a realistic budget that maximizes taxpayer dollars while moving our County forward and creating opportunities for our citizens. Also, commissioners approved a request from Royale Comfort Seating to rezone 10.45 acres on Alspaugh Dam Road which allows the company to construct a 37,500 square foot manufacturing and storage facility on the property.
July was a tragic month here in Alexander County as we lost a fine man — Dr. Jeffrey Peal — in an automobile accident. Jeff was an exceptional commissioner, educator, husband, father, and grandfather. My thoughts and prayers are still with his wife, Renee, and the rest of the family. Jeff will never be forgotten.
In August, commissioners approved a resolution to accept the American Rescue Plan Act funds in the amount of $7,283,353. We know there are many citizens who are in need of a reliable, quality water source, so we are planning to use these funds to expand the county water system. We understand that some people believe the money could be used otherwise, but ARPA funds have stringent reporting/monitoring requirements. By using this money for water, we plan to use General Fund dollars to address employee bonuses and other areas of need.
In September, Commissioners honored Dr. Peal’s family with a “Key to the County” and a framed resolution honoring his service to the community. To provide continuity, commissioners appointed Kent Herman to complete Jeff’s term through 2024. Also, Alexander County joined the North Carolina Opioid Litigation Settlement agreement, which is expected to bring approximately $850 million to the state over an 18-year period to support efforts to address this terrible epidemic that has hurt so many individuals and their families. In addition, the EDC was one of 30 recipients of a $25,000 Duke Energy Hometown Revitalization Grant to help small businesses adapt to the challenges caused by the pandemic. The EDC awarded grants of $2,250 to 11 local businesses which were very well received.
In October, we learned of additional broadband service opportunities through Charter Communications. The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) grant program is designed to expand broadband into rural areas across the country. In Alexander County, Charter was awarded 2,032 addresses, which is a lot of households that will have the opportunity to connect to quality internet service in the coming months and years. Charter is also working with the county on additional grant opportunities. The public’s demand for Open Broadband service continues to rise as new towers come online. Also, commissioners presented a “Key to the County” to long-time Commissioner Ryan Mayberry for his 12 years of service on the Board.
In November, improvements got underway at the Wittenburg Access Area. The boat ramp area should be open by the end of February 2022, but other areas will be closed for most of 2022 while construction continues on this exciting project. Also, work on two water line projects is mostly complete, with more than 82,000 linear feet of water lines in the ground. If you live along the roads that now have county water service, please remember the discounted tap fee which is a savings of more than $600.
And finally, in December, we were able to host one of our most popular events – the Alexander County Christmas Parade. After having to cancel so many events, it was so nice to ride in the parade and see such a great crowd of smiling faces. Also, commissioners heard a favorable report from Martin Starnes & Associates CPAs, which conducted the county audit. It was encouraging to hear that our available fund balance increased by $6,017,075, for a total of $19,195,572. This is evidence that we have been very vigilant and strive to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. Also, commissioners sold 164 acres of land to Carolina Land & Lakes for the operation of a wood-pellet manufacturing facility as part of its bio-energy initiative to develop alternatives to fossil fuels.
As you can see, 2021 was a very busy year and 2022 is looking bright. As your Chairman and your Commissioners, we are honored to serve our citizens, and always strive to do what is best and what is right.