‘State of Blowing Rock’
The event was organized by the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce.
The public heard comments on a variety of topics from Mayor J.B. Lawrence, Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Charles Hardin, BRAHM business director David Harwood, Police Chief Eric Brown, NCDOT district engineer Ivan Dishman and Blowing Rock Tourism Development Authority assistant director Amanda Lugenbell.
After an introduction by Hardin, Dishman spoke to the crowd about two road work projects in Blowing Rock. He said that the Main Street repaving project would continue beginning last Sunday evening and would take three or four nights to complete, weather permitting.
“We are trying to be sensitive to the businesses during the widening of highway 321,” Dishman said. “We are trying to maintain access to those businesses at all times.”
Dishman said that traffic on 321 will most likely be detoured through Main Street during the widening project’s next phase, one that will include heavy rock blasting below the Cliff Dweller’s Inn.
“The Cliff Dweller’s area is going to be challenging and difficult,” he said. “Rock and dynamite are unpredictable to a degree.”
Dishman was asked by a member of the audience about the possibility of traffic on 321 being detoured through downtown Blowing Rock on Main Street.
“The contractor is trying his best not to detour traffic through downtown,” Dishman said. “But the contract says there can be short duration detour times to close 321 and detour through Main Street.”
Dishman added that due to the moving of utilities along 321, the widening project may be slightly behind schedule, but that lag could be made up during the next phase of the project.
When asked about the new highway’s retaining walls, Dishman said, “Some of the walls will be as high as 30 feet tall, and some will not be seen from the highway at all. They are scattered throughout the project. Most of them will be concrete forms, painted to look like rock.”
Another question raised was what would happen if the project ran over budget.
“The project won’t stop,” Dishman said. “Sometimes, you have change orders or unforeseen things. But I have never seen a case where funds were not allocated to finish a project.”
Lawrence gave an update on the town’s finances, as well as recent and ongoing projects.
Lawrence used a Power Point presentation to shed light on many facets of the town’s budget that was adopted by the Blowing Rock Town Council on June 12, including:
• The budget totals $6,316,205.
• It includes operations, capital improvements and debt service requirements.
• The property tax rate remains at 28 cents per $100 for the seventh straight year (the lowest rate of any town or county in the region).
• No net change in water and sewer rates.
• All other fees remain unchanged.
According to the presentation, Blowing Rock’s general fund revenues comes from property taxes (61.97 percent), sales and services (7.69 percent), local sales tax (7.03 percent), occupancy tax (6.12 percent), state collected revenues (5.08 percent), ABC revenue (2.29 percent), transfers in (2.93 percent), fund balance appropriated (2.04 percent), Powell Bill funds (1.51 percent) and other sources (3.32 percent).
General expenditures for the town include the police department (20.12 percent), public works and street maintenance (19.95 percent), public grounds and buildings (15.46 percent), emergency services (9.45 percent), parks and recreation (8.57 percent), sanitation (7.15 percent), administration and finance (6.95 percent), central government (6.75 percent), planning and zoning (4.62 percent) and the governing body (0.94 percent).
Ninety-one percent of water and sewer fund revenues come from charges to the customers of those services. Water and sewer expenditures are for administration and billing (40.23 percent), plant operations (39.93 percent) and field operations (19.85 percent).
Lawrence said that the new Robbins Pool and Broyhill Park picnic shelter cost $16,500 and was completely covered by donations. Labor for the project was provided by the Watauga High School career and technical education carpentry class and Freeman Concrete Concepts. The shelter opened at the end of the summer.
Lawrence also gave the public updates on:
• Downtown Streetscape phase III.
• The new roof on town hall.
• The new roof on the American Legion Hall.
• Improvements to Davant Ball Field.
• The public parking deck at BRAHM that opened Oct. 1, 2011.
• The public parking deck that opened next to the American Legion Hall in June 2009.
• The Blowing, Boone and Appalachian State University water interconnect project that was completed in October 2011.
• The land exchange between the town and the National Park Service to acquire the Blowing Rock reservoir.
• Wastewater treatment plant improvements.
• Sewer line extensions.
• Water upgrades including new water lines along Wonderland Trail from Laurel Lane to Valley View Drive.
• The new Comprehensive Plan update survey.
• Ongoing work to improve cell phone coverage in the area.
• Emergency dispatch consolidation with Watauga County.
Of the land exchange with the National Park Service to acquire the town’s reservoir, Lawrence said, “We want to double our water capacity to 90 million gallons.
Lawrence also discussed a number of annexations the town made during the past year.
After a request for sewer service, the town annexed the Blowing Rock Conference Center, including 58.9 acres located off of Goforth Road.
After a request for water (but not sewer) service, the town annexed Blue Ridge Vistas, a 31-unit condominium building on 3.03 acres on U.S. 321 South (formerly the Valley View Motel).
At the request of Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, the town annexed two adjoining tracts equaling approximately 78 acres.
The site will be the home of a new 112-bed post-acute care facility to replace Blowing Rock Hospital.
Ground breaking on the new facility is set to begin in early 2013.
When questioned how the current site of Blowing Rock Hospital will be zoned once the hospital is torn down, Lawrence said that it will most likely be zoned residential because of the neighborhood surrounding it.
During the community question-and-answer portion of the meeting, several people in attendance questioned Blowing Rock Police Department Police Chief Eric Brown about the department’s traffic enforcement policies. Some were concerned that some of the BRPD officers were getting too “aggressive” with their traffic stops and that Blowing Rock was earning a reputation among visitors as a “speed trap.”
“In 2010, the number of our traffic accidents increased,” Brown said. “Over a 10-year period leading up to 2010, we averaged 114 traffic accidents per year. In 2010, that number increased to 119. We concentrated on enforcing our traffic enforcement in high visibility areas and we had 82 or 83 accidents in 2011, the lowest on record in our available computerized records. It was not our intent to upset people or cause angst, but it did help decrease the number of accidents.”
Brown added that he personally investigates any complaint that he receives regarding members of the department.
“Any time a complaint is brought to my attention, I take it very seriously,” Brown said. “I review all of the patrol car video tapes. I heard about one complaint where a subject was pulled over twice in a very short period of time, within 24 hours, I believe. I took the liberty of calling this individual. It turned out that the first time he was pulled over, it was by the Blowing Rock Police Department and the second time it was by the State Highway Patrol.”
“We had another issue from several years ago that generated an email that was going around. It was supposedly about a horrible account of dealing with our officers. I reviewed the tape and that was not the case. Both parties dealt politely with each other, but the driver did receive a citation. That happens, and sometimes people are not too happy about it,” he said.
One man in the audience compared the officers of the BRPD to “a bunch of little boys playing police.” Another mentioned that Blowing Rock was listed on the website http://www.speedtrap.com.
But a number of people in attendance spoke up on the department’s behalf. One man gave an account of where the Blowing Rock Police delivered needed medication to his house during a bad snowstorm. “Do you think the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police would ever do anything like that,” he asked.
When questioned about the number of police officers employed by the BRPD, Brown said, “We have 11 sworn full-time police officers in Blowing Rock. I don’t know how that compares to Boone or other areas. We have a seasonal population of about 5,000 and a full-time population of 1,200. But when the summer people leave for the winter, their summer homes and other property stay here and we still have to protect it.”
Lugenbell gave an update on tourism in the town.
“From January through September, we had more than 16,000 visitors to the visitor center at BRAHM,” she said.
“We tracked that there were 43 different stories on Blowing Rock in the media off of the mountain this year. And we were recently named Best Winter Village by Visa Black Card.”