Ward and Davis

Boone Town Manager John Ward, left, speaks during the Boone Town Council retreat on Feb. 4, as Boone Finance Director Amy Davis, right, takes notes.

BOONE — Boone Town Manager John Ward said on Feb. 4 that he expects a $1.08 million offer for the town’s Public Works Department building on East King Street to be presented to the town council later this month.

The $1.08 million is “full price,” according to Ward, which includes the 22,964-square-foot building and gated parking for town vehicles at 321 E. King St.

The town began listing the property for sale last year, along with town property at 1500 Blowing Rock Road, home to the Boone Police Department and Boone council chambers.

The town seeks to sell the two properties as it plans to relocate multiple town departments to a planned municipal complex located on the Bolick Property in east Boone, at the intersection of Bamboo Road and U.S. 421.

Ward previously said that the Public Works building received interest due in part to its location across the street from an approved hotel project.

According to the Watauga County Tax Office, the tax value of the Public Works property is $1.18 million, with $612,700 of that value being for the land and the rest for the building.

Ward also told the council during the retreat that he will present a site plan for the Bolick Property at a meeting in the near future.

Also at the retreat, Boone Public Works Director Rick Miller expressed concern about maintaining the same levels of service in his department with the same budget as previous years, noting that there’s some big projects that need attention in the near future.

One of the big-ticket items is the Hunting Hills Lane slope failure. Miller said he wasn’t sure of the cost at this time, but said that stabilizing 125 linear feet of the road will likely be an extensive and expensive repair.

Miller said his biggest priority right now is the need for a street sweeper, which he estimated at $300,000, or $600,000 for a hybrid model. Other vehicle needs included a leaf bag truck, paint machine dump truck and asphalt truck.

On the second day of the retreat, on Feb. 5, council members and staff discussed the possibility of scaling back the town’s residential leaf pickup service, noting that leaf matter can provide benefits for bees, birds and other ecosystems. Council Member Loretta Clawson added that removal of leaves from stormwater drains was needed, however.

Another item on the horizon is converting the town’s water meters to advance meter infrastructure, which would allow two-way communication over a fixed network and cut down on man hours needed to manually read meters.

Miller estimated the total cost to be $3.5 million to $4 million and asked for direction on how much of the project the council wants to tackle each year. Other upcoming expenditures include LED streetlight conversion, which Miller said is 35 percent done, plus three new signalized crosswalks in Boone.

“The infrastructure is getting older,” Miller said. “The longer we put it off, the more expensive it’ll be.”

Ward noted that property tax revaluations, which will next be done in 2022, could help fund some Public Works projects if tax revenues increase.

In his presentation, Boone’s Director of Cultural Resources Mark Freed said his budget requests will include $200,000 for a new public restroom facility at Daniel Boone Park, where “Horn in the West” is produced, in 2020-2021.

Another high-priority request by Freed was for a parking remedy at Daniel Boone Park. Freed said that people end up illegally parking there due to the use of the Horn in the West area for Appalachian State University parking and the Farmers Market on Saturday. Ward said that parking could be added in several parts of the area, including on the side of Horn in the West Drive.

Freed added that his department has gradually cleaned up the Rivers House on North Water Street including removal of moldy carpet, drapes and “two dumpsters of garbage.” Freed said the next step is to install an HVAC system.

The Rivers House, Freed said, could be a great place to expand the department’s offerings in the future, such as music lessons. Ward said that the Jones House is limited due to lack of space and a high volume of requests. Boone Mayor Rennie Brantz called the programs offered at the Jones House “a gem” and said that word is getting out.

Ward made note that the Northern Peaks Trail concept, which was approved by the N.C. General Assembly in 2019, could include the Rivers House and open the property up for state funding.

Other ideas presented by Freed include expanding the Doc Watson Day celebration to a downtown-wide event, expanding free wifi in downtown and increasing the number of trash cans.

A notification system for emergencies such as boil advisories, water main breaks and street paving will be something the town works on, as noted during the presentation by Boone Fire Chief Jimmy Isaacs.

As Isaacs and Ward explained, such a program in Boone would automatically send a message to people within a certain area of Boone through the cell towers. Currently, Blowing Rock has a notification program that calls and texts people who sign up for a service.

Council Member Sam Furgiuele said it would be worth it only if the town retains control over the notifications.

Improving heating at Boone Fire Station No. 1 in downtown Boone is one of the main areas of focus in 2020-2021, Isaacs said. Currently, Boone Fire Station No. 1 has a heat efficiency rate of 50-60 percent, compared to 90-plus percent at the other stations.

Boone Planning and Inspections Director Jane Shook noted during her presentation that her department is moving forward with a program to map open permits on its website. Shook noted that they wouldn’t include enforcement actions in the mapping.

On Feb. 5, the council discussed the establishment of a municipal service tax district or stormwater utility to raise funds needed for stormwater infrastructure improvements. Ward agreed to research the steps needed to start the process, and the council agreed to further discuss the matter at upcoming meetings this year.

Anna Oakes contributed reporting to this article.

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