More than $1 million in capital improvement projects were presented by department heads Friday at the annual Elkin Board of Commissioners’ board retreat, but the town manager said all may not make it into the final budget when it is adopted.
The presentation included projects coming up over the next five years, with the highlights being needs for the 2016-17 fiscal year.
Robert Fuller, director of public works, said one project which is needed is work on the town hall parking lot, the area which immediately surrounds the building. He said the cost estimate, which is a little high to include cushion, is $33,000 to remove the asphalt and resurface around the building.
Other requests for the public works department included $10,000 for a salt shed; a dump truck at a cost of $60,000, which also was requested last year but removed from the budget; $10,000 for a SCADA server upgrade; $50,000 to complete the meter replacement project which will mean all meter reading will be done by remotely as the employee drives by the meters. Improvements needed at the water treatment plant include a $6,000 rewash valve and $18,000 filter valve, said Fuller.
For future needs, the West Elkin Water Tank replacement, which will total $1.2 million to $1.3 million, is requested for 2018 and 2019 fiscal years, splitting the cost between the two years.
In the finance department, John Holcomb, town manager, said that department’s need is a new application server to run the accounting software. The cost would be $12,000, and another one would be needed in 2021.
Another project discussed by Planning Director George Crater was the planned extension at the Elkin Airport, which would add 1,000 feet of runway. He said he also would like to see the town qualify for funding for eight additional hangars, because the 10 which were originally built have been full since they were constructed.
The town has received grant money toward the project, with 10 percent being required from the town. On the spreadsheet presented, the cost of the three airport projects listed was $166,667 each.
The largest list of projects for the next five years came from the fire department with capital improvements including a ladder truck and a new fire station.
Down the road, purchases listed included a storage building, land purchase for a future station if the current site is not usable, fire station construction, a gear washer and dryer, breathing air system, respirator fit testing system, fire engine and ladder truck.
More immediately, requests for 2016-17 total $175,000 in purchases. Fire Chief Mike Morton went over the department’s needs with the commissioners, with those being respiratory protection, protective ensembles, portable radios, station furniture, thermal imaging cameras and utility vehicle.
Morton said the firefighters must have air packs to breathe and those being used are aging and it is increasingly difficult to find parts. The cost of new air packs would be $15,000, and Morton has applied for a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant which would cover the cost with the exception of a five-percent match required from the town.
“We would like to move into a replacement cycle to get new sets of turnout gear every five years,” said Morton of the personal protective equipment (PPE) worn by the firefighters. The department has no way to clean its gear at this time, so when gear is sent off to be cleaned firefighters don’t have a backup set to use.
Turnout gear ages out of use every 10 years, he explained, so getting on a five-year cycle would ensure each firefighter has two sets of gear with one of those not being more than five years old.
The cost for 10 sets of gear is $45,000.
With 21 members on the roster, the fire department has just 10 newer radios and then only two of the six older radios still work, Morton said of the department’s needs for new portable radios.
“The radios we have can only talk to other fire departments. We can’t talk to the police or EMS. We want radios compatible with both,” he said, adding 24 radios would put one in each seat on the fire apparatus. The annual cost to get to 24 is $39,000 each year for almost five budget years.
“Again we are putting in for a FEMA grant,” Morton said of hoping for outside funds to assist in the cost.
Another need is bedroom furniture for the fire station, with plans to move from having three beds, to getting four bunk beds allowing for more people to stay the night as well as lockers where they can store their personal belongings while on duty.
“When we have volunteers visit, such as when the snow occurred, they have nowhere to put their stuff or places to sleep, someone always ends up on the couch,” Morton said.
In the 2015-16 fiscal year, the town funded new dayroom furniture and turnout gear lockers, he said.
He estimated the cost for the four bunk beds and 10 personal lockers to be $14,000.
Thermal imaging cameras assist firefighters in finding hot spots and detecting heat sources through walls and other obstacles. Morton said the department has just one camera now and it’s more than 10 years old. In addition to replacing it, the chief said he would like to have one on each engine and the ladder truck so each crew on a scene would have access to one. The cost is $12,000 each camera, with one per year being requested for the next three years.
The final request from the fire department is $50,000 for a utility vehicle to replace the Ford Expedition, which has more than 165,000 miles, was purchased used and is having mechanical problems, said Morton.
The vehicle would be used by firefighters to attend training in other parts of the county or out of the area when it’s not available closer by, as well as to move equipment. He said the Expedition isn’t operable at this time.
When asked by commissioners about reimbursing mileage to firefighters who use their own transportation to get to training, Morton said no system for doing that was set up. Holcomb said he could work something out, but the chief said the department would still need a utility vehicle.
The police department had no capital requests for the upcoming fiscal year, but Chief Monroe Wagoner requested the commissioners continue with the replacement of three patrol cars every other year, which means the next purchase would be in the 2017-18 fiscal year for $88,000.
In the parks and recreation department, several projects were presented, including the annual $20,000 which will be used to purchase new treadmills, elliptical trainers and additional free weights, said Adam McComb, recreation and parks director.
The biggest request for recreation and parks for the coming year is the need for a new gymnasium floor at the Elkin Recreation Center, a cost of $85,000.
The original gym floor, which was new in 1988 or ’89, has cracks and needs replacing, said McComb, who presented a new option for the flooring, a type of “floating” floor which would float on top of the existing floor.
“The Tarkett floor looks like wood and we can get it already lined,” he said as commissioners passed around a sample square of the flooring.
Another need is lighting in the gym, which McComb said is at 10 foot candle brightness now. If it was replaced with LED lighting at 40 foot candle brightness, it also would save the town $2,300 per year in energy savings.
He said other projects include a roll down screen to divide the basketball courts for more privacy when people want to rent the gym for parties and other events as well as a need to replace backboards. Those projects would cost about $20,000.
The recreation and parks needs also included a trail gator for emergency transports on the trails at an estimated cost of $21,000. McComb and Wagoner said John Shelton, Surry County emergency services director, said once the town gets a price he would go to the county commissioners to discuss sharing the cost of the purchase.
The final capital improvement project was a need to replace the culvert at the park, which was recently given a temporary fix. McComb said a “turn-key job” would cost $15,000.
In total, requests for the 2016-17 fiscal year equal $1,047,001, but Holcomb said he’ll be meeting with the individual department heads and some of those requests won’t make it to the board during the budget process. More of those projects may be cut further as the budget is finalized, he said.
The commissioners asked if they can’t start putting money back each year to plan ahead for large capital needs, like the ladder truck or fire engine that will be needed in a few years. Holcomb said that can be budgeted, but Commissioner Cicely McCulloch said when work is done on the budget by the end they need all that funding without room for extra.
“Then we need to raise taxes,” said Commissioner Dr. Skip Whitman, so the town has money left for projects. “You can’t just do it because you want to. These are got to’s.”
Whitman and Commissioner Terry Kennedy got into a debate over Whitman’s comment about raising taxes, with Kennedy saying, “I’m just concerned seriously about people who live in modesty.”
“If we don’t do things to attract younger people then the younger people are going to leave, we’ll die out and this will be a ghost town,” said Whitman, who said going 12 years without bringing in more revenue is “making our job a lot harder.”
“I don’t see another way,” said Whitman. “If we are banking on tourism to change from a mill town to something better.”
Both Whitman and Kennedy in the end said they may disagree, but that they respected each other’s opinions.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.