By Stan Welch
A number of issues and matters were brought up at Tuesday night’s Williamston Town Council workshop, in advance of next week’s official meeting Monday.
Mayor Mack Durham worked through the coming meeting’s agenda, beginning with four ordinances due for final approval.
Town Attorney Lee Cole has made some minor adjustments to some of them, though they remain largely intact as first presented.
One question raised was whether the Council had any problem with opening bids for services or products exceeding ten thousand dollars in value in public.
The ordinance requires formal bids for items of that amount. Such bids are public information by law, but the issue of whether bids containing proprietary information should be disclosed was raised.
Attorney Cole opined that such information would be protected, a view that The Journal agreed with. The Journal, in fact, stated that including the bid amounts in the minutes of the meeting would satisfy the public disclosure requirement.
Mayor Durham announced the next phase of the Mineral Spring Park trail project is ready to be let for bids. He added that a pre-construction conference for the Minor St. sidewalk project is scheduled for Thursday.
During subsequent conversation about that project, the mayor expressed his surprise at learning the actual scope of the school board’s plan to make improvements at the Palmetto Middle School.
“I thought they were talking about remodeling and upgrading, but it appears they are going to completely replace the buildings by building one and then tearing one down, until the campus is realigned to face Minor Street”, the Mayor said. “Only the gym will be left intact.”
The discussion then moved to actions the town can take to encourage residential development.
Durham touted the ordinance that will establish a mechanism to incentivize economic development. “We will have to fund that program in the future, but at least this ordinance will establish a means to achieve that goal,” said Durham.
He also reported that the town has submitted an application for a CDBG grant for an additional sewer line, that would run up Academy Street, and cross the railroad tracks to Belton Drive. “I would like to see that line constructed because there is room for a number of houses in that area. Williamston has a much better chance to attract residential development than it does to attract some large industry. If business sees rooftops appearing everywhere, they will move in to serve those residents, and the town will grow accordingly.”
Councilman Rockey Burgess raised the question of upgrading and consolidating the electrical infrastructure in the Mineral Spring Park, beginning a conversation that quickly went sideways, as Mayor Durham tied it to the issue of the historic depot’s proposed renovation.
Durham stated bluntly that he saw no reason to continue pursuing the restoration project, stating that the one hundred thirty thousand dollars estimated for the project would be much better spent on improvements to the park, including the electrical system, irrigation, and sod placement.
He argued that the depot, while clearly of historic value, is too primitive in construction to be easily brought into compliance with building codes, or with the American Disabilities Act. “I just think we can get a lot more bang for the bucks if we spend that money in the park. That’s where the town’s heart is, not the depot. That’s not to say that down the road we can’t revisit the matter, but right now it just seems the lesser of several choices.”
Burgess agreed, saying that the hodge podge electrical service in the park is unsafe as it is currently configured. But he also pushed for the mayor’s approval of a volunteer effort to improve the depot. Burgess said that he felt some contractors in town might be willing to donate time and services to the project. He asked to be given access to the engineering plans that currently exist, and the mayor encouraged him to do whatever he could on a volunteer basis.
Returning to the agenda, Durham mentioned the possibility of purchasing an additional packer truck as well as residential trash cans designed to be handled mechanically. He estimated a cost of two hundred thousand dollars for the truck and the cans but mentioned that the town has built a reserve fund of approximately two million dollars in recent years. “It is not our role to enrich the government, so I think spending this amount to improve the garbage service to our citizens would be a proper use of the money.”
He also announced that on Saturday morning, opening day for the town’s baseball leagues, approximately three hundred players will assemble at the park at 8:30 a.m. and parade to the ball parks.
In an informal conversation before the meeting, among Mayor Durham and three of the four Council members (Councilman Tony Hagood was not present), Durham brought up the question of improving the training and skill sets of various town employees in order to keep more projects in house, instead of having to contract them out.
He mentioned that he had had conversations with officials at the Tri County Technical College about perhaps developing a specific course, or a municipal apprenticeship, designed to provide training in various skills that would be useful in public works, such as heavy equipment operation and reinforcing trenches and ditches for safety while construction and repairs are underway.
The discussion was for information only and took place before the workshop actually began.