The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

Local News

February 26, 2014

County will hire broadband consultant

Dennis: ‘Stop giving our water away’

Wednesday, February 26, 2014 — Economic development dominated the Stanly County Board of Commissioners’ annual strategic planning retreat Friday.

Bolstering broadband, a high-capacity transmission for Internet services, throughout the county was among the most important components for economic development. In its second and final action of the day, the board unanimously approved funding a consultant to help identify how to bring broadband here.

Stanly County is one of 18 counties across the state that is not benefiting from the efforts of Microelectronics Center of North Carolina (MCNC) to bring high-speed broadband capabilities for economic development.

“I don’t know how we got left off,” Lindsey Dunevant, commission vice chairman, said.

In 1980, the General Assembly approved funding for MCNC to help promote technology-based economic development across the state.

Over the last five years, MCNC has expanded the reach of its services to non-profit and university hospitals, public safety and libraries. Through two Broadband Technology Opportunities grants and other private investments, MCNC is investing more than $140 million in a network infrastructure to meet increased demands.

“If we don’t get on board with this, we’ll ensure that we’re going backward,” Dunevant said.

Paul Stratos, director of Stanly County Economic Development Commission, suggested that county leaders keep spending money toward development in an effort to remain competitive in pursuing new industry and expansion.

Commissioners said they are prepared to spend money from the county’s fund balance to address economic development, since the consensus remains that the county cannot thrive on its residential tax base and limited commercialization.

In addition to broadband, the board identified the need to continue to enhance the county’s water and sewer capabilities. A contract is in the works for the county to buy Oakboro’s wastewater treatment plant while also expanding existing water lines.

Talks to extend sewer capacity to the Badin business park slowed when commissioners decided to request that property owner Alcoa share in the expense.

“We need to invest our money in areas where we have absolute control,” Commission Chairman Tony Dennis said.  

Economist Michael Wolf started the retreat session by forecasting slow economic growth of about 2 percent.

“We don’t see growth coming back until 2015,” Wolf said.

Manufacturing, new jobs and wages remain stagnant, too, he added.

His projections prompted commissioners to express frustration about Stanly County frequently becoming shortchanged in terms of growth when the county serves as a catalyst for others.

“We’ve got to stop giving our water away,” Dennis said.

“I can sit in the dark, but I’m going to need a drink of water within 48 hours,” he added, referring the value of water in terms of development.

Stanly County sells water to Union and Cabarrus counties where there has been significant growth.

“It’s (water) our gold mine. Why don’t we mine it?” Dennis said.

Dunevant agreed.

“We’ve got to find out how to hang on to the assets that we have,” Dunevant said.

Commissioner Josh Morton said it is not fair that economically-robust counties prefer that Stanly remain a bedroom community.

“We cannot survive on a residential tax base,” Morton said.

“We need to stop playing patsy to metro counties.”

In the only other action of the day, the board voted to put a sales tax referendum on the November ballot. A proposed 1/4 percent sales tax increase could be used to fund the county’s emergency medical system and schools.

(Miss the sales tax story? See the Feb. 23 print edition of The Stanly News & Press.)

To submit story ideas, contact Ritchie Starnes at (704) 982-2121 ext. 28 or email ritchie@stanlynewspress. com.

 

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