Commissioners approve 2019-2020 county budget

After holding the required public hearing, the McDowell County Commissioners adopted Monday the $45.5 million budget for fiscal year 2019-2020.

The plan calls for the county property tax rate of 58.75 cents per $100 valuation to stay the same as from last year’s.

At the end of May, County Manager Ashley Wooten formally presented the commissioners with the 2019-2020 budget during a special meeting. State law requires that recommended budgets be presented to the local governments in North Carolina and that the recommendation must be balanced. Counties like McDowell operate on a fiscal year that begins on July 1 and ends on June 30.

The 2019-2020 budget of $45,442,843 represents an increase of $2,807,098 or 6.58% from the current budget of $42,635,745. It contains more county money for water and sewer projects, economic development and public education.

As part of the legal requirement, the commissioners held a public hearing about the 2019-2020 budget during the regular June meeting, which was held Monday. After hearing no comments from the public, the hearing was closed and the budget was unanimously adopted.

In other business, the commissioners heard a report from Superintendent Nora Coffey with Lake James State Park. She talked about the improvements taking place at the park, including the imminent construction of a new visitor’s center and upgrades to the picnic area and campgrounds.

Visitation has steadily risen at the Catawba River area since 2013 (from 96,529 visitors in 2013 to 113,694 visitors in 2017). The Catawba Walk-in Campground continues to be most popular campground in the entire park. It stays booked nearly every weekend from April through October and stays busy on weekends year-round and during the week in the summer, according to Coffey.

Hidden Cove Boat Access continues to be extremely busy spring through fall, filling beyond capacity nearly every weekend in the summer. The old swim beach has been available for group rentals for about five seasons now and continues to increase in popularity. It is available by reservation only by contacting the park office, at least two weeks in advance. The beach is closed to the public when it is not reserved.

A new sign for the park will be made by Turtle Laboratories.

Judge Bob Hunter also gave the board an update about the Friends of Lake James State Park, of which he is the vice chairman. This private organization assists the state park with fund-raising and programs that are not covered by state money. Hunter and Coffey asked the commissioners to consider including the state park in the annual budget as one of the many local agencies that receive county funding. He asked they consider $5,000 a year to help the state park. The commissioners did not vote on this request but will consider it in the future.

The commissioners did approve a request from Andrew Carlton, mayor pro tem for the town of Old Fort.

For several years, the county has provided funding to the McDowell Economic Development Association to support the city of Marion’s façade program. The town of Old Fort recently started a Main Street program and would like to start a similar program there. This program provides grants to local business owners so they improve the look of their buildings. The grant money can be used for a new sign, a fresh coat of paint on the building or an improved awning.

Old Fort asked the county to support their façade program in the coming budget year with a $2,000 appropriation.

“It’s a great thing to help the town and these small businesses,” said Carlton to the commissioners. “This is the first step in a Main Street program for Old Fort.”

“The city program has helped to rejuvenate the downtown area,” said Wooten in a memo to the board. “Old Fort has the same hopes for their program.”

After hearing from Carlton, the commissioners approved the $2,000 request for Old Fort’s new façade program.

On Monday, county officials announced that the Charters of Freedom display will be dedicated on Friday, June 21 at 10 a.m. on the recently reconfigured courthouse lawn. The representatives of the Foundation Forward will officially present the replicas of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to the county. There will be a ceremony with the presentation of the colors and the singing of the National Anthem.

“This is for McDowell County citizens,” said Commissioner Lynn Greene. “We need to educate our young people on what this country was founded on and where we came from.”

In other business, the McDowell County Commissioners:

• Approved the lease agreement with radio station WBRM. This allowed the station to place its new FM transmitter on the county-owned communications tower at Grant’s Mountain. The monthly lease amount is set at $200.

• Approved the annexation of county property leading from N.C. 226 South to the site of the new Holiday Inn Express. The developer asked for this county property to be annexed into the city of Marion so that the road to the new hotel can be maintained by the city upon completion. The new hotel is slated to open during the second week of October. The site off N.C. 226 South has room for other new businesses like restaurants and convenience stores.

• Approved the sale of firearms that are no longer needed by the Sheriff’s Office. County officials said the sale of these firearms would net approximately $2,500.

• Approved a series of budget amendments and tax matters.

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