Blowing Rock 2021 Winter Retreat Report

February 13, 2021

Dear Blowing Rock Homeowners,

The future of Blowing Rock is important to all who live in Blowing Rock whether you live in Blowing Rock full-time, part-time throughout the year or during the season, we all have a stake in the future and should have a voice. Homeowners are the foundation of our economy.

Keeping our finger on the pulse of Blowing Rock is a 12 month commitment on our part as we acknowledge that the Town operates on a 12 month basis.

Our Town Council conducted a three-day retreat to discuss and set priorities for the year. Our Town Manager and staff led and conducted a well organized discussion of the challenges facing Blowing Rock.

The only thing missing was a vehicle for the public to share their priorities with or ask questions of the Town Council. We hope to work with the Mayor and Town Manager to figure out a process for the public to share their concerns and priorities with the Town Council for inclusion in future retreats.

The Town Council ranked the 16 priorities listed below. We are highlighting 3 priorities that were included and 1 that was not. Additional posts will follow on specific topics.

Water & Sewer System – W&S topped the list with 4 of the 16 items. Major expenditures will be required over the next few years including $4M for replacement of Main Street water and sewer lines that we not included in the prior bond issue. The need should not be a surprise to the informed taxpayer. In recognition of the impending need, we added W&S to our 2019 Advocacy Plan to encourage the Town to address the long-term needs of upgrading our W&S system. The Town Manager, Mayor and Town Council recognized the need to address the improvements and discussed these difficult decisions. The bond issue funded $3M of improvements, but the needs are substantial and should not be kicked down the road any longer. We support the commitment to catch up on deferred improvements with a commitment to properly maintain the system in the future. Funding for the improvements will be provided by stepped rate increases in the short-term, annual COLA type increases in the future and lowering the minimum. Customer demographics are similar to our tax base – 80% residential and 20% commercial. The rate study showed that our W&S rates are below other comparable communities.

Downtown Tax District
The Town Manager introduced the opportunity to provide additional funding for operating expenses and infrastructure expenditures unique to downtown. Downtown Tax Districts are common in most communities to address their unique needs. Downtown property owners usually embrace the tax district to fund needed improvements and expenses. The tax base for Town Center and Central Business Districts is $89.6M, producing $350K of property taxes or 7.6% of all property taxes. We believe that the incremental costs of serving the needs of our tourists well exceeds the property tax revenue generated from downtown property owners and TDA funding. Consumers, not business or lodging owners, pay occupancy and sales taxes. Sales taxes are allocated by the state to the county based on sales in that county and to municipalities based two methods and inter-local agreements. Sales taxes and are used by local municipalities to fund general expenses. Blowing Rock nets sales tax revenue of $697K or about 8% of the $8.7M operating budget. We encourage the Town to balance the cost and revenue of providing services to support the downtown tourism businesses and property owners. Additional funding from a downtown special district tax would help balance the funding for business & tourism related expenses and capital expenditures.

Ambulance Services
Chief Graham shared information about our Blowing Rock Fire & Rescue services and the lack of transport ambulance services that should be provided on a 24/7 hour basis to Blowing Rock. The Civic Association engaged Joe Lord to prepare an independent report that was shared with the Mayor, Town Council, Town Manager, Chief Graham and the County Commission to make sure an updated set of facts were available. The report can be reviewed on our website. The Town Council has committed challenge the County to provide equal transport ambulance services to Blowing Rock and all other areas in the County outside of Boone. We will continue our support and advocacy to challenge the County Commission to provide Blowing Rock with 24/7 services as they do for Boone.

Conditional Use Permit – Not Included
The Town Council discussed Conditional Use Permits (CUP) at length. Use of CUP have been a source of much criticism and division. We have advocated to eliminated CUP because it excludes the voices of taxpayers, does not allow Council members to discuss a project with taxpayers and requires an arcane quasi-judicial process. In a small historic village like Blowing Rock, new developments impact all who live in, invest in and love our historical village. The trend throughout the state is to eliminate CUP in favor of Conditional Zoning Permits that do not require a quasi-judicial hearing and allow citizens to voice their views with our elected officials and our elected officials to consider those views.

The Town Council discussed and set the following 16 priorities:

1 Main Street Water and Sewer Replacement
2 Blowing Rock Ambulance
3 Crosswalks – Main Street
4 PRVs and Vaults
5 Water and Sewer Plant Updates
6 PARTF Project – Park Project
7 Police Department Retention
8 ST Rentals
9 Parking
10 North Main Sidewalk
11 Downtown Municipal Taxing District
12 Stormwater Ordinance/Changes
13 AMR/AMI Replacement
14 Sustainability (Solar/Electric Vehicles)
15 Cemetery Expansion
16 Main Street Conduit

Posted in News.