Creative thinking puts town’s ARA money back into general fund

Published 1:28 pm Tuesday, March 28, 2023

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By Jim Buice

Enterprise Record

BERMUDA RUN – Nearly two years ago, Lee Rollins, the former town manager here, gave town council members an update on what he called “a once in a generation” financial bonanza coming to local communities through the American Rescue Plan Act.

That came during the midst of COVID-19 as part of the federal government’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan to facilitate the nation’s recovery from the economic impact incurred by the pandemic.

And during last Tuesday night’s meeting, Town Manager Andrew Meadwell gave an overview of accepting $863,351, and to use those funds to reimburse prior salary and benefits, pay for the Davie County Sheriff’s Community Officer contract, and other contract services – which are all allowable uses under ARPA rules.

The council gave unanimous approval, which will create a surplus in the general fund that can be used for other projects.

“It really provides an enormous amount of flexibility for the use of these dollars,” Meadwell said.

Mayor Rick Cross said that the town has held numerous discussions since the funds were announced to be available in 2021 on best uses, but wanted to get more information as changes evolved.

“Once we got greater clarity around how we could do this, it seemed like the best approach was to take the funds that we were going to spend anyway, and push that money over there,” Cross said. “And that would allow us to move that same amount of funds to preserve in our General Fund. Then that basically takes the clock away, and it does nothing about taking away the priorities that we continue to talk through. This is us – the staff and the council – continuing to be good stewards of our funds.”

Council member Mike Brannon added: “It’s almost an immediate influx of cash as a result of this decision, and we no longer have the timeline to work on.”

The ordinance establishes a budget including the following breakdown from March 3, 2021, through March 8, 2023: staff salaries and benefits: $488,521 (salaries) and $79,494 (benefits); community officer, $172,241; and consulting ($49,315) and contract labor ($73,781).

Road work ahead

Also in last Tuesday night’s meeting, Cross discussed road projects and a recent visit to the NCDOT Division 9 headquarters in Winston-Salem.

“Mr. Meadwell and I spent a couple of hours at our request, and we wanted to make sure that our priorities already on the list – the Baltimore Road interchange, NC 801/US 158 interchange, 801 North and South, and then the US 158 corridor at various points – as an opportunity to kind of revalidate those,” Cross said. “We talked about the widening effort on 801 North (adding a dedicated right-turn lane at the U.S. 158 intersection) and securing funding last year to do that.

“The good news is it’s going to happen in the next four to six weeks, but the challenging part is as it’s being done, there will be periods and times of disruption. But it’s going to be better on the other side.”

Meadwell said that Cross and Brannon are town representatives on the Winston-Salem Urban Area Metropolitan Transportation Advisory Committee.

Another point that Cross emphasized was the importance for the town to stay in sync and harmony with the county with projects involving roads.

“The point to all of this is that NCDOT projects move at a glacial speed,” he said. “We’re much stronger when we all work together. The dollars start at state level, then get stripped off when it comes down to regional level, then down to division level where the money gets stripped off. We want to make sure we’re at the table with a loud voice.”

Of course, transportation is a big part of the town’s Comprehensive Plan, and Jason Epley of Benchmark Planning was on hand for a public presentation of the most recent update.

Bermuda Run started the most recent process in February 2022 of setting goals and providing strategies for the character and identity of the town, economic development, land use, infrastructure and public services.

That was followed last spring by an online survey, where there were 585 participants, and then a public input meeting at the WinMock. The planning board then reviewed all the information and met with the council in a workshop to guide the development of a draft plan.

After recommending that plan to the council, the next step was to review it and make it available for public comment on the town’s website for the next 30 days.

The council then voted in last Tuesday night’s meeting to schedule a public hearing at its April 11 meeting to adopt the Comprehensive Plan, which was last updated in 2017.

• In his town manager comments, Meadwell gave an update on the Blue Heron Trail, saying despite more rain in recent weeks that the contractor is optimistic that the project may be completed in the next four to six weeks.

“We’ll see,” he said. “There’s still lot of work left to do after the actual construction activity and the trail opens up. There are so many amenities that we have all talked about – the benches, the signage, the cameras and those are the things that come after.

“If you’ve driven by, you probably have seen people already on the trail. There’s just a lot of excitement, and I couldn’t be pleased more. We’re ready to get this thing finished and get it opened up for good for everyone to start utilizing it.”