Q & APublished 11:00am Friday, September 28, 2012
GATESVILLE – Dan Bazemore asked, and the Commissioners answered.
During last week’s meeting, Bazemore, a resident of the Eure community, used the Citizens’ Comments period to pose several questions to the board. While it not mandated that the commissioners address those questions, they chose to do so in response to most of Bazemore’s inquiries.
His first question dealt with the current status of an effort by the county to save the historic courthouse. He wanted to know if the county’s citizens, through a voter referendum, would be allowed to decide whether or not to proceed with spending taxpayer dollars on the restoration effort and had there been any movement on deciding what purpose the courthouse would serve following that restoration.
“Before you can get into having a referendum, you’ve got to find out how much money needs to be expended,” County Manager Toby Chappell responded. “We need first to have Clearscapes (the architectural firm under contract by the county) finish their assessment. You can’t ask the citizens to support a referendum for a blank number of dollars. You need to fill in that blank and to get there we have to allow Clearscapes finish their assessment. They’ve been (here) on the ground, but I haven’t yet seen any numbers.”
“I would agree to that, but most operations come up with an approximated figure. Things change as you go through the process,” Bazemore said.
“It’s not a valid exercise to use an approximated number,” Chappell stated. “No one in this room knows what that number is. To do a referendum or prepare for a referendum, we could be off by a million dollars in a five million dollar project. The more logical process is to have Clearscapes finish their assessment, get a hard number and then begin your referendum process.”
“I heard you use a number from $1.5 million up to $5 million. It gives me a feeling that we’re doing things a little bit at the time to keep from having that voter referendum in November,” Bazemore noted.
“I can tell you up front right now that a voter referendum will not be held in November,” promised Commission Chairman Graham Twine.
“According to the intelligence I’ve received, if you had worked on this quicker there could have been a referendum in November,” Bazemore quipped.
“The source of your intelligence on this is wrong,” Chappell said.
“(Even if we had a number), we need to have legislative approval to hold a referendum and they (General Assembly) isn’t in session (to give us that approval). They won’t be back in session until January,” Twine stressed.
“So, the bottom line is we are still planning to have a voter referendum (in the future),” Bazemore stated.
Bazemore also asked for an update on the county wastewater project, located on the US 158 corridor from Cotton Gin Road to Eason’s Crossroads.
“Phase one is finishing up. There still needs to be tests performed by our engineers and the state before we can turn it on,” Chappell said.
Bazemore inquired about the possibility of the county switching over to natural gas in an effort to save on the high price of fuel oil.
“I’ve done quite a bit of research on this,” said Commissioner John Hora. “I’ve talked to Dr. (Barry) Williams (Gates County Schools Superintendent). I’ve talked to Lauren Hill with Piedmont Natural Gas. The calculations I have to our school system is based on last two years of usage by taking all the invoices for all energy uses at all of our schools and calculated that back to natural gas. That would save Gates County $35,000 in fuel costs. It would cost approximately $193,000 to $207,000 for us to get the natural gas line installed. With us saving $35,000, it doesn’t generate enough revenue for the natural gas company.”
Hora continued, “The problem here is unless we are willing to share in that capital cost, this will not happen. If I’m the gas company, I’m not going to invest nearly a quarter million dollars to generate a much smaller amount in sales. The real issue is that the county will spend $100,000 a year, regardless if it’s fuel oil or whatever. Why not spend that money to get some capital infrastructure and get the natural gas savings. There is some risk involved, but the biggest risk is doing nothing. It also enhances our probability of success when it comes to attracting new business.”
Commission Vice Chairman Henry Jordan answered Bazemore’s question about the status of rezoning in the county.
“We’ve issued a moratorium on the fees to request rezoning, to expire Nov. 30,” Jordan remarked. “Anyone in the county who feels their property is incorrectly zoned has the opportunity to request rezoning and the Planning Board will take a look at that. We want to make sure our zoning ordinance will allow those who want to place a manufactured home in a suited area.
“The Planning Board is moving forward on this and other issues,” Jordan added. “We plan to address the moratorium and the status of that at our next meeting. We’re trying to correct this zoning ordinance and make it what it should be.”
“For those that wanted to fill out a form for rezoning, it mentioned the CAMA Land Use plan,” Bazemore noted.
“We have to be sensitive to land use, waterways; we need to have their (CAMA) mandated requirements met,” Jordan responded. “We have to comply, but I don’t feel what we’re doing with this moratorium on rezoning goes against that because we’re in line with the CAMA Land Use Plan. The growth we’re seeing is following that plan.”
“When this first came out eight or 10 years ago we were told to fill out the paperwork and your land would be zoned the way you wanted it to be. Some 80 some people were promised that, but the commissioners said they couldn’t honor that. Were we lied to,” Bazemore asked.
“That was eight to ten years ago, when this board was different. We’ve been trying for the past four years to correct some of those issues. We’re trying to make adjustments,” Twine answered.
“For those requesting rezoning, I need to clarify that it isn’t an automatic approval,” Jordan said. “We’ll take a look at each case to see if it’s conducive for a mixture of manufactured homes verses stick built. If it is conducive, if it meets the CAMA Land Use Plan, then certainly we will rezone that area. However, the core of the town centers of Sunbury, Eure, Gates, Corapeake and Hobbsville, we have asked that not be rezoned RMH-1 (for manufactured homes) to maintain somewhat of a core community area. Anything outside of that one-half mile of a core area is fair game to be rezoned if it is conducive for that area. If a mobile home is there, a mobile home can always be placed there.”
Bazemore said he wanted to be clear on the issue of community involvement in helping to decide the purpose of the restored courthouse.
“We have advertised for community members to serve on a committee that will explore the use options for the courthouse,” Jordan said. “We have had some response. At our next meeting we plan to set up our first meeting date for that committee. We’re planning to invite some people from the state preservation agency to attend our meetings. They will help us get organized and moving forward.”
“The goal of the courthouse committee is to answer two questions….how will we pay for these renovations and what should the function of the courthouse be. The function will determine if there is profitability,” added Chappell.
Bazemore thanked the board for their willingness to answer his questions in a timely manner.