BLOWING ROCK — During a town council meeting on June 9, Blowing Rock Town Council members voted to approve the recommended FY 2020-2021 budget following a budget work session, which took place on June 4.
Between June 4 and June 9, funding amounts for two departments changed, which Town Manager Shane Fox discussed with council members at the top of the June 9 meeting, and one amendment was added to the budget regarding the allocated funds for hotel and motel occupancy tax rates, proposed by Council Member David Harwood.
“We’ve added a footnote … to clarify our audit change that took place this year with our gross versus net method within our hotel/motel occupancy tax,” Fox said. “We have that included on several pages (of the budget) where we are referencing that audit change to further clarify for the reader that we’re now under the gross method versus the net method of how to report our hotel/motel occupancy tax.”
Cemetery maintenance was added under the Street Department’s budget, which cost “less than” $6,000 during FY 2019-2020, according to Fox.
The Blowing Rock Police Department also saw a change in its allocated amounts due to a technical error that omitted the salary for the town’s new full-time dispatcher position, which is approximately a $48,000 change. The BRPD budget increased from nearly $493,000 to $530,000, which also includes a new police cruiser.
The adopted budget for the town is .52 percent less than the adopted FY 2019-2020 budget, which is equivalent to a $56,412 decrease in spending. The full proposed budget totals $10,856,163 for the town’s spending for FY 2020-2021.
The FY 2020-2021 tax revenue is expected to be up 2.3 percent. Property tax rates will not increase for this budget year, but Fox said that it will next year (during FY 2021-2022) due to the town’s debt service for the 2014 bond issuance.
Additionally, no rate changes were proposed for water and sewer services for FY 2020-2021.
Personnel expenditures, which include salaries, group insurance, retirement and other benefits, make up 46 percent of the total adopted budget. The budget includes “a new recurring cost” of a school resource officer position at the Blowing Rock School, which will cost approximately $68,465, according to Fox’s recommendation.
Operating expenses, which include costs other than personnel, capital outlay and debt services, are allotted 32 percent of the town’s budget, while capital outlay, which includes equipment that costs more than $5,000, is 3 percent.
The council voted unanimously to adopt the budget.
“The (Great) Depression in America, which my father always talked about … lasted from the ‘30s until, if you’re honest with yourself, we didn’t get out of it until World War II,” said Yount on June 4. “This one hit us in two months, and we’re just about in the same shape as they were then, when it took that long (to recover) before. The manager and the staff have done nothing short of miraculous to not let it hurt the face of this town anymore than it has.”
Fox responded, calling the recommended budget a “full staff” project and “as much as a team effort as there ever has been with the budget.”
The budget goes into effect on July 1.
Following the budget’s adoption, Blowing Rock Tourism Development Authority Executive Director Tracy Brown presented the town council with an update from the tourism industry, noting that about 679 jobs in Watauga County were lost due to COVID-19 in the hospitality industry alone.
“We pivoted our messaging to a local and supporting local businesses campaign,” Brown said, noting that the TDA stopped its marketing campaigns “early in the shutdowns,” saving the town about $150,000.
Brown also mentioned that, in FY 2020-2021, the Blowing Rock TDA will “continue to encourage our businesses to participate in the Count on Me N.C. program to promote and ensure safe practices and for guest confidence. Our media plan will continue to focus on our key, proven demographics that are mostly within the state.”
Brown said that the TDA’s Management Plan, which has been previously approved by the town council, is still in progress, and the TDA plans to contract a company for the study during FY 2020-2021.
A Valley Boulevard study update was provided to the Blowing Rock Town Council by Blowing Rock Planning Director Kevin Rothrock, who shared several recommendations for the road that the Planning Board agreed upon during its May meeting.
According to past Blowing Rocket reports, in January, an ad hoc group presented the council with a study regarding improvements that could be implemented along Valley Boulevard in Blowing Rock.
Recommendations, as presented in January, included narrowing the scope of the usable color palette, limiting the scope of building materials, reducing maximum building height, clarifying natural landscaping designs in the town’s land use code, limiting roof-mounted electric equipment and reducing front-facing setbacks. Requiring additional architecture elements with a potential point system to meet approval by the town was also suggested, according to past reports
Mayor Charlie Sellers tasked the Planning Board with presenting a timeline in August for improvements that can be made, along with studies that may need to be conducted, adding that “these changes need to be made soon.”
Rothrock also presented a proposed amendment to the conditional use permit for Foggy Rock Eatery and Pub.
“Burt Meyers is requesting a minor amendment to the CUP issued for Foggy Rock and wants to add an arcade to the basement. The arcade would have up to eight video games and two food tables. No food service would be available, but customers could take a to-go box down there, or it could be used as a waiting area,” said Rothrock.
Presently, Rothrock said, Foggy Rock’s CUP only allows the basement to be used as storage.
After some discussion, council member Yount made a motion to “table” the topic until a full presentation including capacity, alcohol, schedule and parking lot details can be presented.
One public comment was read during the regular Blowing Rock Town Council meeting on June 9, but none were submitted in regard to the budget.
Deborah McDough of Mountainaire Inn and Log Cabins, wrote to the town to thank the council, the Village of Blowing Rock Foundation and town staff for “looking after all of us during the COVID-19 shutdowns.”