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This drone photo taken on Feb. 17 shows a stripped down McCrary Park being prepared for a new synthetic turf field and other renovations. (Scott Pelkey / Randolph Hub)

Asheboro citizens have questions about social districts

ASHEBORO — Concerns about proposed social districts for downtown Asheboro came a month ahead of schedule for the City Council.

As the March 10 meeting was called to order, Mayor David Smith advised that some in the audience may have been expecting a discussion of social districts, which allow patrons to carry alcoholic beverages outside a place of business.

He said the item had been moved to the April meeting. But he welcomed those interested to speak during the public comment period.

Dustie Gregson, owner of The Table Farmhouse & Bakery on Church Street, stepped to the podium. “I’m not for or against,” she said. “I just want to make sure things are in place and there are resources to keep the streets safe.”

Of particular concern to her, Gregson said, is whether people with alcoholic drinks would try to enter her restaurant, which does not serve alcohol. “I don’t want to have to say ‘You can’t come in because we don’t serve alcohol.’”

Gregson went on to advise the council members to “just be really mindful and look at all scenarios, what could happen.”

Following Gregson was Emma Cheek, owner of The Exchange, an event center on Fayetteville Street that has a license to serve alcohol. 

“I’m not sure how (social districts) fall in line with liability insurance,” she said. “There’s an issue with the homeless in Bicentennial Park (at the rear of The Exchange) and this may make it worse.” She asked the board to consider those issues.

Mayor Pro Tem Walker Moffitt asked whether a customer taking a drink from an alcohol permitted establishment could carry it into a non-permitted business. City Attorney Jeff Sugg said, “That’s one thing we want to look at. Also, at drawing district lines and signage.”

Smith said that before making a decision on social districting, the council would “have to brainstorm every possible issue. You hate to have unintended consequences.”

Social districts will again be brought before the City Council at the April 7 meeting with a possible proposal by Rebekah McGee, director of Downtown Asheboro, Inc.

In regular business items on the agenda:

Positive sales tax report

Linda Brown, president of the Asheboro-Randolph Chamber of Commerce, gave a positive update on Randolph County’s taxable retail sales for 2020 and 2021. She said figures show that taxable sales increased in 2020 by 7.17 percent over the previous year and that the increase in 2021 was 21 percent over 2020.

“That’s a great recovery,” said Brown, who was unable to explain the increases in retail sales.

She did say, however, that approximately one-third of retail sales in the county come from businesses on Dixie Drive in Asheboro.

Figures show that 2017 showed an increase over 2016 of 8 percent while 2018’s increase was just 1.4 percent. The increase over the previous year again rose in 2019 to 7.78 percent, just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brown suggested that the rise in sales during 2020, when the pandemic was particularly serious, may have been due to federal relief money going to consumers. But she could not explain the sharp increase for 2021.

During 2021, she said, retail sales in Randolph County topped $1.65 billion, with the largest monthly sales, in April and December, reaching $152 million.

Water billing update, issues

The council discussed water billing operations after COVID-19 resulted in the closing to customers of the Water Department. 

Finance Director Deborah Reaves explained the methods for paying water bills, which include two ways of paying online on a customer portal, by telephone, by bank draft or at one of two kiosks.

“Nothing satisfies everyone,” Reaves said. “It’s not perfect, but we’re getting better at it. We’re focusing on good customer service and we’re continuing to learn.”

Moffitt took issue with the continued closure of the Water Department for customer payments. “I think we should have a Water Department that takes payments,” he said, basing that on feedback he receives from citizens. “I think we’re not sending the right message to citizens.”

Reaves responded by saying, “I’m considering our resources, which are limited.”

Moffitt agreed, “The resources are not adequate and that’s on us, not you. But I don’t think we’re headed in the right direction.”

ARPA, Sportsplex funding updates

The council also passed ordinances to amend the American Rescue Plan Act 2021 Fund and the Zoo City Sportsplex Fund. Reaves told the board that the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) contains “so many regulations … and hurdles” that it’s difficult to know how to navigate through the details, which have changed and could change again. She said her department will have to turn in a report in April and that report will say that funds haven’t been allocated.

“The ordinance takes back all allocations which are to be re-allocated,” Reaves said. “That’s a lot of money to have to give back” if the federal government were to determine the funds were allocated in the wrong way. The ARPA funds going to Asheboro are estimated at $8.3 million.

“It’s better to backpedal and move forward with more information,” she said, adding that the city has until 2024 to spend the ARPA funds.

— As for the Zoo City Sportsplex ARPA funds, Reaves recommended, and the board approved, removing the ARPA funds from the Sportplex budget while still using $500,000 from the Parks & Recreation Trust Fund and another $491,000 from private donations. Those funds will be used to build one soccer field.

Lake Lucas project update

The council authorized the application for a state grant/loan for the Lake Lucas Dam intake improvements project. 

Michael Rhoney, Water Resources director, said the project, estimated at $1.5 million, will take approximately 18 months to complete. Most of the city’s water is currently coming from Lake Reese.

The board also approved Rhoney’s request to purchase seven chemicals needed for the period from April 16, 2022, to April 15, 2023.

Airport property added to zoning district

The council agreed to a request by the City of Asheboro to apply Airport (A) zoning to city-owned Asheboro Regional Airport property within the city limits. The zoning ordinance was amended in 2019 to add a general Airport district in anticipation of the airport property being given that designation at a later date. 

Trevor Nuttall, Community Development director, said moving the 199 acres into the zoning district will formalize how land use at the airport is currently managed.

McCrary Park getting new scoreboard

Approved the purchase of a new scoreboard for McCrary Park for an estimated $23,000.

City Engineer Michael Leonard said the old scoreboard will likely be taken to another ballfield. He added that plans are to have the McCrary playing field ready for a May 26 opening day.