Just the Facts

County approves $2.35 million for SCC projects

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Dan Finnerty

Within the course of an uncharacteristically short, one hour and 45-minute Macon County Commissioner meeting Tuesday, Feb. 13, the board efficiently accomplished agenda business. While there were a few topics discussed, the majority of the meeting was spent hearing about the pressing need to move forward on two Southwestern Community College (SCC) projects.

Don Tomas, president of SCC, provided information on two capital projects. A proposed additional science classroom at the Cecil L. Groves Center previously received $1.1 million in funding through one of the state budget allocations for capital improvements.” The other SCC project pertains to the Public Safety and Training Center (PSTC), located on Industrial Park Loop in Franklin. Tomas introduced Curtis Dowdle, dean of the PSTC, who talked about the fire training facility, also referred to as the “burn building.”

Dowdle advised commissioners that the effort to get a new fire training building began eight years ago, and that ongoing deterioration now prohibits live fire training to continue within it. He added that approval has been received to move the building out of the flood plain it is currently located in, near the rock quarry. Also, “not having that facility would be detrimental to not only the program, but also to the firefighters we serve in Macon County,” said Dowdle.

CURTIS DOWDLE spoke to commissioners of the need for a new “burn building” for fire training. That discussion has been ongoing for more than eight years, he said.

Having a usable training facility permits firefighters to count qualification points toward Insurance Services Office (ISO) ratings, which ultimately also contributes to insurance rates. Dowdle continued, “If we don’t have that [fire training] facility here, it’s going to increase our citizens’ and businesses’ insurance as well.” 

In total, 11 departments have to complete 18 hours of facility training for each employee. Most have regularly utilized the burn building opportunities to establish the points toward their ISO ratings. Dowdle went on to emphasize not wanting various law enforcement, firefighting, and other public safety employees to travel outside Macon County to receive required training. 

Commissioner John Shearl commented, “There’s no doubt these men and women need a facility to train in and it’s all about saving lives and saving properties; that’s the goal with emergency services.”

The total cost for the project is expected to be near $4 million, considering contingency fees and other associated requirements. County Manager Derek Roland pointed out that only $3.1 million was allocated for this fiscal year’s Construction in Progress (CIP) budget. Tomas then noted that costs have increased – with a $1.4 million bond received back in 2016 deducted from the total projected cost, the remaining obligation is Macon County’s responsibility.

For the science classroom project at the Cecil L. Groves Center, Tomas relayed expected total cost to be $1.5 million. Together, both projects would require $2.35 million in funding from the county. Roland recommended commissioners approve current figures offered by Tomas and to update the CIP for the fiscal year 2025 budget. The board voted and approved moving forward, 5-0.

Other business

Another agenda item scheduled for discussion was a resolution sponsored by Commissioner Paul Higdon requesting that proposed North Carolina Rate Bureau-driven homeowners’ insurance rate hikes be reconsidered. However, it was revealed early in the meeting that the North Carolina insurance commissioner rejected the proposed 42% average insurance rate increase for homeowners, on Feb. 12. Consequently, commissioners agreed the need for a resolution no longer existed.

Discussion also took place on Macon County Public Library facility improvements. Project Manager Jack Morgan advised commissioners that after contacting two engineers and an architect, he had not yet received any useful input on how to proceed with addressing flaws that have developed around the entry area of the library.

Morgan requested commissioners approve a three-phased approach to address existing issues: discovery and documentation, design and construction of contract documents, and overall construction. His request to commissioners was for the initial phase be approved in order to ascertain what exactly needs to be done for adequate repairs with a not-to-exceed bid fee of $7,450.

Considering total associated fees, County Finance Officer Lori Carpenter then advised the board that two actions were requested – “approve a resolution exempting the project from being required to conduct request for qualification; and approve a budget amendment for $9,450 from the Contingency Fund, which currently has $204,000.” The amendment would move the project forward and will include costs for testing processes. Commissioners approved the request.

DENNIS CONLEY relayed the need for an additional $50,000 for improvements to the Macon County Fairgrounds.

Dennis Conley, co-chairman of the Macon County Fair Association (MCFA), presented commissioners information on a grant awarded by North Carolina for $250,000 for infrastructure and general improvements of the fairgrounds. Conley made a point to “publicly thank State Senator Kevin Corbin for his hard work in achieving this grant.” He added, “While we improved a major portion of our goals, we are still in need of assistance to continue these improvements.”

Conley then asked for the commissioners to consider a $50,000 allocation to the MCFA when they discuss next year’s budget. Closing out the meeting, Macon County Tax Administrator Abby Braswell requested commissioner approval for public advertisement of the current 2023 delinquent property taxes, which was granted.

COMMISSIONERS voted to move forward with repairs to the county library facility.

The next County Commissioners meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 12, at 6 p.m.