Committee to revise recommendations for 'friendlier' town
by Jay Lamm
LOUISBURG — Looking to improve the town’s image, the town council is working to refine ideas on how to improve downtown.
Last month, Mayor Karl Pernell established a committee of three, including himself, Councilman Fred Hight and Town Administrator Mark Warren.
The committee met with a representative from the N.C. Main Street Program recently and came up with a list of 14 recommendations to begin improving the look and friendliness of downtown.
“The items are not too extensive to go ahead and get working on them,” Pernell said, pushing for the recommendations to get an official vote of support by the council during the regular meeting Monday.
Councilwoman Mary Green Johnson had some questions and comments and wanted the list revisited before the approval.
Recommendations for improvement include parking lots and spaces, sidewalks, signs, lighting, speed limits, police patrols, awnings, trash receptacles and stores’ outdoor merchandise displays.
Pernell said other recommendations would come later.
Johnson addressed several individually, stating that improvements need to be on South Main Street and West River Road in reference to the downtown area; the lighting is adequate in downtown; 10 minutes to go into the Post Office is not realistic; and Louisburg police do a good job with relationships with merchants and residents downtown. To require additional time of only 15 officers is not reasonable, she said.
Johnson did not dismiss the intent of the recommendations, but said the approach needs to be more defined, with merchant input.
“I’d like to see us focus our time and energy to encourage people to live and buy in Louisburg,” she said.
Councilwoman Emma Ruth Stewart cautioned the council about intrusions into businesses.
“You can’t make somebody do something,” she said.
To get rid of the awnings that are eyesores, it will take cooperation, she said, as an example.
“We need to all work together on this,” Stewart said.
She said a recent trip to Rocky Mount showed that a downtown area can look really nice but can still not thrive.
“It looks great, but the stores are empty, empty, empty. You have to have people want to come to downtown,” she said. “I think we have a good start. I hope the businesses will want to join in.”
Pernell expected action.
“We have to make a move,” he said.
The council tabled the recommendations until July.
The council approved a $14.1 million budget, with no tax increase.
The town property tax rate remains at .535 with a 97 percent collection rate, Warren said.
The budget includes a 2.5 percent cost of living raise for town employees, he said. There are no new full-time positions added.
He said the challenge for the uncertain upcoming year — due to the economy and the decisions by the state Legislature — will be to control any new spending.
The town’s undesignated fund balance is $590,000; total reserves are at $932,000.
“The budget reflects the continuing impacts of the recession,” he said.
No one spoke about the budget during a public hearing. It was adopted unanimously.
The council approved an ordinance to condemn a house at 701 Kenmore Ave., where residents have placed chairs and pitched a tent on the roof.
The house has been damaged by fire, Town Administrator Tony King said.
The town has cited the owner, Sandra Hubbard, for failing to make repairs and bring the house up to building and housing codes.
“It is in terrible disrepair,” King said, adding that there have been thefts of power and water that have brought about criminal charges.
The accused, however, did not appear in court and can’t be found, King said.
The condemnation as an unsafe structure allows the town to order the house vacated until standards are in place, King said.
No one was at the home Tuesday to comment.
The council engaged May and Place to perform the July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013 audit at a cost of $23,500 plus $3,000 for each major federal and/or state program. This is for the audit fee.
The financial statement fee preparation was approved at $5,000.
The council’s next meeting at Louisburg town hall is July 15, 7:30 p.m.