In February, Mayor Dean Rhea told council members that when the new high school opened several years ago, a plan was developed to house a recreation program and other offices in the old high school building so it wouldn't deteriorate and become a local eyesore. The city and the county agreed to each provide $15,000 annually to keep the building operating until it could become self-sufficient. Additionally, the City Council agreed to provide another $6,000 annually to fund the summer youth program.
Rhea said while the plan to save the building has been an unqualified success, there is nothing in the facility related to the city, and the $15,000 annual subsidy could perhaps be better used on town-related matters. He then recommended that the city cease funding for the building but that it continue funding the summer program, and a motion to do so passed unanimously.
At the council's regular April meeting, a large delegation of parents and youngsters involved with the program made a lengthy, and at times emotional, appeal to council members to reconsider their decision so the recreation program could continue year-round.
During the discussion of the request, Rhea said he is concerned that utility bills consume approximately 50 percent of the recreation program's annual budget and said he and County Mayor Greg Marion have already discussed ways to possibly cut back on those expenses, including waiving the water and sewer bills and taking steps that will cut electricity consumption.
Rhea said he has also offered to take over administration of the program from the county, and Marion has tentatively agreed to that, but both desire to discuss the situation further.
Council members eventually agreed to reconsider the February decision and possibly take action at the council's May meeting.
In other matters, council members heard an update on a proposed sidewalk project and authorized consultant Gary Tysinger to advertise for bids on the walkway, which will extend from Rivers Street to the new high school.
Council members expressed frustration that the project has taken several years now and concern that due to increasing prices the project will no longer be affordable. Tysinger told council members that the town has so far spent only about $35,000 on the project for engineering fees that cannot be recovered, and the money will be gone whether or not the project is ever completed. He recommended the project be advertised and said he believes bids will be within the budgeted amount of $428,000, as several changes in the scope have been made to keep it within budget.
"We think it can be done for that amount, but we won't know until bids are in. At that point, if we can't get the project within the budget, we can stop it. But you will still lose the engineering fees," he said.
Council members then unanimously approved a motion to bid the project.
The council also approved a motion to accept an $8,000 contract for the town's annual audit.