City accepts $170,000 in grants; adopts downtown building appearance program
By Allen Turner, The News Reporter
The Whiteville City Council Tuesday night accepted nearly $170,000 in grants related to first responders and public safety, approved financing plans for a new automated-readings water meter system and a fire truck and formally adopted a policy under which the city will make matching grants up to $2,000 for downtown business owners to improve the appearance of their storefronts.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) awarded the fire department $120,000 through FEMA’s Assistance to Firefighting Grant program which will be used to upgrade the department’s 18 self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) units. The grant requires a five percent local match of $6,000. The department’s existing SCBA units are nearing the end of their projected lifespan.
Duke Energy’s John Elliott was on hand to present a check for $49,600 awarded as a Duke Foundation grant for first responder items. Unlike the FEMA grant, no local match was required. Elliott, being aware of issues encountered by the city during Hurricanes Matthew and Florence, had encouraged the city to apply. Emergency Management Director Hal Lowder, working with Fire Chief David Yergeau and former Police Chief Jeffrey Rosier, identified communications equipment, rescue equipment and other accessories to include in the grant application.
Council unanimously approved financing packages for two high-dollar items based on competitive bidding from the banks involved.
BB&T will finance the new $600,000 Flex Net automated water meter reading system for four years at an interest rate of 2.04 percent. When the new system is installed, hopefully by the first of next year, manual meter readings will be eliminated. Instead, readings will instead be done via telemetry. Such a system not only improves accuracy of readings but also provides immediate notification of a water customer has a major leak. City Manager Darren Currie said it will take 2-3 months for the vendor to replace the 2,000 existing meters with the new ones.
First Bank will finance a new $650,000 fire truck over a 15-year period at an interest rate of 2.15 percent. Fire Chief David Yergeau said it will take 9-12 months for the truck to be built. Work has not begun because the truck could not be ordered until the financing package had been approved by council.
Council unanimously and enthusiastically approved the Building Improvement Grant Program, which will provide assistance and economic incentives to downtown property owners to renovate storefronts in the downtown municipal service district. Funding was included in the current budget. The maximum amount per property and the grant program is a matching one requiring a 50 percent cash match from the grant recipient. Grantees must provide a cash match equal to or greater than the grant award.
Although only $7,500 is budgeted for the program, council members indicated they will be willing to do a budget amendment to increase the scope if it proves to be as popular as hoped. An objective is to encourage economic development by improving the appearance of the downtown areas and increasing property owners’ understanding of the importance of economic success.
In other business, Council:
Agreed to a request from Mary Alice Stanley that the city assume responsibility for flags and the flagpole at Vineland Station. Stanley encouraged the city to consider lighting the flagpole at night.
Amended the city’s parking schedule, or regulations, along Columbus and Webster Streets. The changes address parking congestion in and around the police and fire departments and reduce the number of parked vehicles at the corner of Webster and Madison Streets to improve the line of vision of drivers entering that intersection.
Changed the city’s classification plan to move a meter reader position to a stormwater maintenance position.
Cancelled the regular Oct. 8 city council meeting because it is in conflict with Yom Kippur, a Jewish holiday. Council members agreed that, should an urgent need to transact business arise before the Oct. 22 meeting, a special meeting can be called.