Old Fort leaders talked about how the closing of the Ethan Allen plant and shift to warehousing would impact the town during Monday’s Board of Alderman meeting.

On Monday, Aldermen opened the floor to public comment on the projected budget for fiscal 2019-2020 year.

Kirstie Conner of the Old Fort Community Forum asked the board how the closing of the Ethan Allen Pine Valley Division plant, which officially ceased manufacturing last Thursday, would affect the budget.

“Manufacturing, as far as sales and use tax, anything that’s manufactured or made here, we can get the tax off of that,” said Mayor Rick Hensley. “Other than that, their water usage – of course, personnel won’t be using the restrooms that they normally do – they’re still going to keep their water online and still going to keep their lumber yard. They’re going to take the plant itself and turn it into a distribution center, so more or less, we’ll get them on the wheel tax. But, we’ll lose a large amount as far as sales and use tax.”

Hensley also took the opportunity to comment on the affected former employees and families, saying, “I can’t speak for everyone, but I can speak for myself. My heart goes out to those people. Ethan Allen was the only manufacturing plant in McDowell County that did not require a high school diploma or GED. Now, that being said, from their reports, not half but close to half, did not have a high school diploma or GED. These people have been there a long time. We’ve tried our very best as a town to help set up job fairs and get them the information that they need, so they can hopefully relocate to another job.”

The mayor also said McDowell Tech, the McDowell Economic Development Association and other economic and job groups are working on an effort to provide additional schooling for former Ethan Allen employees so they may seek other job opportunities.

Among other items discussed prior to adopting the budget was the business frontage façade grant, which would assist operating local businesses in revitalizing and renovating their exterior including signage, light fixtures and other repairs.

“There’s applications here for any company in town that wants to apply,” said Alderman Andrew Carlton. “I hope that people will take advantage of this and I hope that the planning board will be able to handle this in the way that I know they will and just make it really nice in town. The town’s needed it for a long time. It’s $3,000 for any business, up to five businesses to use.”

The total budget the aldermen are projecting for fiscal year July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020 is $1,346,700, a decrease of $6,500 from the previous year’s budget of $1,353,200. There is no property tax increase, remaining at 32 cents per $100 value.

The general fund for the Town of Old Fort includes $825,500 for government, police and public works expenses, an increase of $8,500 of last year’s projected $817,000; $28,500 for street expenditures, $1,500 less than last year’s $30,000; $331,200 in water fund expenditures and $161,000 in sewer fund expenditures, a decrease of $14,000 from last year’s $175,000. An itemized budget is available at each town meeting or can be requested at Town Hall.

The board subsequently voted to adopt the 2019-2020 budget.

During the meeting, the board also voted to write-off $435.72 in 2008 taxes and $3,039.06 in old water, sewer and Dumpster fees.

In other business:

• During public comments, David Blackwelder addressed the board with final results of this year’s Official NC Gold Festival. According to Blackwelder, the event pulled in 680 attendees, including vendors, helpers and those walking in and out of the museum and on the grounds. Twenty general vendors and eight food vendors were lined up for the festival. “I think, all and all, it was successful and I appreciate everyone who helped out with the festival,” said Blackwelder, who also said he shared his report with the County Commissioners. Hensley said the festival “is growing and growing every year”.

• Also during public comments, Hensley presented a Recognition Award to Route 70 Cruisers, an Old Fort organization of car enthusiasts which uses proceeds from bi-annual car shows and other promoted events for local charities, including Kiwanis-Foster Care, Meals That Heal Ministry, McDowell County Lunch Brunch and several more. Contributions to date from the group’s inception in 2009 are estimated at $56,788.84. For more information, visit the Route70cruisers Facebook page.

• Under old business, the board agreed to pass a resolution, requested by the Western North Carolina Railroad Committee among numerous municipalities, to support the committee’s attempt to re-establish regular passenger bus and rail service. Other included government entities in the resolution include Asheville, Morganton, Salisbury and Marion.

• The board once again stressed for local businesses to install water backflow preventers or face a $500 daily fine. According to Hensley, three businesses have not installed backflow preventers and accumulated “an astronomical amount of money” in fines. “If we have to, we will take legal action, but we’re looking for that certain dollar amount so legal fees will be no problem,” the mayor later said. “I suggest they pay their bill. If you do not pay, you will wish you did.”

• Under new business, the board agreed to continue with the same audit contractors – Loudermilk Church & Company, LLP – for the year end town audit.

• The Fourth of July parade starts at 4 p.m., with games held at the Mountain Gateway museum from noon to 2 p.m. and an ice cream and watermelon social from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Veterans, past and present, will be grand marshal. “I suggest and employ and ask and beg for all veterans in the area: please turn out,” said Hensley. “You are our pride and joy when it comes to our Fourth of July.”

• The town rodeo will take place July 3- 4, with a fireworks display taking place on the last day to celebrate Fourth of July.

• Old Fort’s summer carnival will take place Aug. 6-10. On the last two days, Aug. 9 and 10, a dunking booth will be held with the mayor and other volunteering public officials serving as dunkers. For those interested in volunteering, please contact Mayor Pro Tem Andrew Carlton at 668-4244.

There is no town meeting scheduled for July. The next Board of Alderman meeting is scheduled for Aug. 12 at 5:30 p.m. at Town Hall.

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