Yes, we can turn lemons into lemonade

Published 10:14 am Thursday, May 11, 2017

By Justin Freeman

The Town of Ahoskie has remained relatively unchanged throughout my lifetime. Would you agree with that statement? I imagine most of you are nodding in agreement. In a world where change is a constant, Ahoskie seems devoid of change at times, almost gruelingly so. I think one could make a pretty compelling case after all.

Main Street is a shell of its former glory. Plywood boards in windows are more common than thriving businesses. We see successful enterprises fleeing this district for a more high-traffic location. Those older than myself distinctly remember Main Street as a walking community with grocery stores, hardware merchants, clothing outlets, and more. For several decades now, this part of town has looked more “ghost-town” than “boom-town.”

“I wish there were somewhere to eat that didn’t ask me if I’d like fries with my meal.” Have you ever mumbled those words or something similar? I suspect many of you reading have done so indeed. It is often a frustrating feeling that Ahoskie’s dining options have little variety and hardly anywhere that offers a nice sit-down dining experience.

I could go on rattling off more of the same issues that have plagued Ahoskie for decades, seemingly unresolved and unaddressed. Ahoskie hasn’t changed in quite some time. We are the same community that we have always been and we likely will continue our changeless ways into the future. Right?

Not so fast, my friend! I think this condemning diagnosis of our town can be a bit problematic and I’d encourage you to look for the positive change in your community. Do you think that the people of Ahoskie can’t turn their lemons into lemonade? If so, look no further than the Ahoskie Creek Recreational Complex. In 1999, Hurricane Floyd devastated our region and dozens of homes were lost in our town. FEMA condemned the land that now hosts our recreational complex and the people of Ahoskie rallied with ideas to turn this 74 acre tract of wasteland and devastation into a home for children’s activities and community togetherness. This park now plays home to three multi-use baseball and softball fields, several soccer fields, a fitness trail, a disc golf course, volleyball courts, basketball courts, dog park, a newly arriving splash park, and an amphitheater for community festivities such as the annual Heritage Day festival. What a brilliant change with an overwhelmingly positive impact.

Do you remember what the old Ahoskie High School used to look like? It was a dilapidated building with a roof collapsing in on itself on one of Ahoskie’s busiest roads. However, through grant funding and the work of investors, this building was restored to provide affordable housing for our senior community. This building now maintains an excellent façade and an even more important service to our town’s citizens. It is the type of revitalization we need to harness and repeat in order to create the change we hope to see in Ahoskie.

Do you feel safe in Ahoskie? I’d argue that you should. The Town of Ahoskie has made significant investments in fire and police over the past seven years by building new stations for each department, upgrading the fleet of vehicles, and attempting to fully staff each department for the needs of our small town with fair wages. Our men and women that make up these emergency management units truly do an admirable and courageous job providing a safe place for each of us to live, work, and visit.

The Town of Ahoskie government has also bolstered infrastructure with a state of the art wastewater treatment plant and continuous upgrades to our town water distribution system. These investments ensure that our town will be well looked after for decades more in the future. They keep our water system safe and free of toxic materials such as those that afflicted and continue to overwhelm the city of Flint, Michigan. The Town’s dedicated employees monitor these situations closely for the safety of each citizen.

Over the past year, many of our streets have undergone major improvements and repaving efforts. As always, there are areas that will need to continue to be addressed. However, the Town of Ahoskie is dedicated to building its infrastructure to meet the needs of this community today, tomorrow, and many years into the future.

Similarly, the Town of Ahoskie has poured resources into economic development by working with a firm to represent Ahoskie to large retailers looking to expand. To date, the study has not persuaded a sit-down eatery or a chain hotel to expand into Ahoskie. However, it has helped draw a Walmart Supercenter in an expanded location, Walgreens, Murphy Oil, O’Reilly Auto Parts, Hardees, and major renovations at Burger King and Wendy’s to name a few. In full honesty, many of these businesses were not at the top of the wish list for many citizens, but they are evidence that we are trying and succeeding in many areas to draw new business into Ahoskie.

The projects that I’ve outlined are costly, but more importantly, they are investments. They are dollars spent today for continued service and benefit moving forward. Similar to the cost of a young adult’s college education, the expense is outweighed by the long-term benefits. Your local government has invested mightily in the infrastructure of this town to ensure its success moving forward.

The Town of Ahoskie is now at a bit of a pivot point in its governance. While these projects are wonderful and needed, they are also expensive. And while we wish we could write a check for the full amount of these projects, the reality is that they must be financed over a number of years. So, the Town will need to “tighten its belt” and remain dedicated to paying off these loans promptly and aggressively. You may have read in previous editions that Ahoskie has faced a shrinking “fund balance,” which is the town’s version of a “savings account.” The projects we have taken on have been expensive, and at times shockingly so. We have mined into our fund balance to offset the cost of some of these expenses and must remain dedicated to replenishing this account to a more acceptable threshold.

Ahoskie is proud to announce that it has hired a captain for the ship who is more than capable of navigating these murky waters. Kerry McDuffie has been hired by the Ahoskie Town Council to serve in the role of Town Manager. Mr. McDuffie joins us from his most recent role as the City Manager of Southport, North Carolina, where he has been since 2013. Prior to Southport, Mr. McDuffie has stints in Fremont, St. Pauls, Tobaccoville, and Troy, North Carolina. He brings a strong financial background and holds a Master of Public Administration degree from Appalachian State University.

The Council had an opportunity to meet and interview candidates who were from as close as Ahoskie or as far as Maine. Kerry McDuffie truly separated himself from the field with his knowledge, experience, and fit with our community. Kerry knows rural North Carolina’s people as he was raised on his family’s farm many miles outside of Fayetteville. He has a great blend of positivity and dedication to building lasting relationships. Add in his financial reputation and Mr. McDuffie is a triple threat. The Ahoskie Town Council is thrilled to welcome Kerry and his wife, Faith to our community as he begins his tenure with us June 19th, 2017. We look forward to Kerry’s leadership and the positive change that he might bring to our ever-changing town.


Justin Freeman is currently serving his first term on the Ahoskie Town Council.