At their respective town council meetings last Monday, both Elkin and Jonesville voted unanimously to dissolve the Northwest Piedmont Council of Governments.
According to Elkin Commissioner Gill Ripley, Elkin's representative to the Northwest Piedmont COG, the decision to end the town's affiliation with the NPCOG was made so that Elkin – and all other members of the NPCOG, including Jonesville – could merge with a neighboring council of governments and compete with larger cities and counties for state and federal funds.
During Jonesville’s town council meeting, Jonesville Commissioner Wayne Moore expressed a sentiment similar to Ripley’s belief.
“The thinking is that the larger group will have more political power,” said Moore.
For a COG to accomplish its basic purpose, said Ripley, the region it represents must be a viable competitor among other state entities.
“A council of governments is essentially a body that handles money appropriated by different state and federal agencies for specific interests within government,” said Ripley, citing fund distribution and grant writing for local Meals on Wheels programs as one example of a service a COG provides to a community.
Ripley also said, in his experience as town representative on a council of governments, the NPCOG has administered funds for regional transportation studies, energy audits and American Reinvestment and Recovery Act programs.
Elkin and Jonesville joined 16 other municipalities and counties comprising the 27-member NPCOG in their vote to dissolve the current body.
Ripley said that the proposed plan is to merge the NPCOG with the Piedmont Triad Council of Governments to form the Piedmont Triad Regional Council – a super-COG composed of 73 towns, cities and counties spanning nearly all of the western and central Piedmont of North Carolina, excluding metropolitan Charlotte.
Ripley said that motion to increase the COG in size has historical precedent and makes sense geographically and politically as the Piedmont competes with rapidly growing parts of the state around Charlotte and the Research Triangle.
“At one time 20 or 30 years ago, we had a 12-county COG. That COG split between Greensboro and the counties to the east and Winston-Salem and the counties to the west and north,” said Ripley. “What the two six-county COGs found out is that they're competing against Raleigh/Durham and larger areas. The new COG will combine those two six-county COGs.”
Ripley explained to fellow Elkin commissioners that while forming a new, larger COG appeared to give the region an advantage, it was a difficult vote among NPCOG members.
Also hesitant, at first, was the Jonesville Town Council.
“I was not in favor of it initially,” said Jonesville Town Manager Scott Buffkin. Buffkin feared the larger municipalities and counties would have more votes, leaving smaller communities without “much say-so.”
Ripley said that many representatives of smaller, less-populated municipalities and counties were at first concerned that their voices would not be heard within a larger council.
“Recommending the vote for the dissolution of the Northwest Piedmont COG was something that was not done very lightly at all,” said Ripley. “There were numerous meetings on the subject. At first, everyone was skeptical that their interests would be served by doing this, but we voted unanimously at the last meeting to follow through on the request to dissolve the COG.”
Before asking the town council to dissolve the NPCOG, Ripley told Elkin officials that he believed the group had developed an egalitarian proposal to represent the interests of smaller areas within the new PTRC.
“When the talks of the merger began, our COG made it clear we wanted equal representation that didn't favor the larger cities. We asked for one vote for each municipality and each county,” said Ripley.
Jonesville Town Council also believes the proposal to represent the interests of the smaller areas to be acceptable.
“Now, each community and each town has a vote,” said Buffkin.
Under the proposed PTRC, Surry County would receive a total of five votes – one each for Elkin, Mt. Airy, Dobson and Pilot Mountain and one for the entire county.
Yadkin County would also receive five votes – a vote apiece for Jonesville, Yadkinville, Boonville and East Bend and a separate vote for the county.
While Elkin and Jonesville voted to dissolve the NPCOG and join the PTRC last Monday, Ripley said that, as of the beginning of this week, no official word has been issued as to whether or not all of the remaining municipalities have voted on the matter.
The Mount Airy News recently reported the board of commissioners voted 3-1 (with one member absent) in support of Mount Airy's membership in the PTRC.
Surry County also voted unanimously this week to dissolve the NPCOG and join the PTRC.
“As of last Tuesday, the merger was not complete, and I haven't yet seen a notice of the merger from the COG,” said Ripley on Monday, March 21.
Among the proposed PTRC members yet to vote are three influential entities.
“We should know sometime within the next week if new the COG is approved by Winston-Salem, Forsyth County and Greensboro,” said Ripley.
Ripley will be serving another term to Elkin’s council of governments. At last week’s town council meeting, he was voted representative to the PTRC.
Moore was voted representative for the Town of Jonesville.
At the Surry County Board of Commissioners meeting Monday night, Board Chairman Paul Johnson was appointed by the board to serve as the COG representative. Johnson also served on the previous board.