Albemarle council approves ARPA funds for alleyway project but rejects using funds to replace radios

Published 3:23 pm Tuesday, November 29, 2022

The Albemarle City Council last week narrowly approved allocating money from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to help fully finance the proposed alleyway revitalization project.

Council specifically approved $250,000 from the first portion of money, which was originally going towards a study on the city’s parks, and an additional $100,000 from the second portion. The city received about $5.2 million from the federal government, which was delivered in two installments of $2.6 million.

The motion to approve funds for the alleyway project, which was made by Councilwoman Martha Hughes, passed 4-3.

A separate motion by Councilman Chris Whitley to utilize ARPA funds to replace outdated radios for police and fire, along with some other non-safety departments, failed by the same 4-3 margin.

The alleyway project 

Revitalizing the alleyway beside the old Davis Drug building on West Main Street, which the city first acquired from the county in 2019, has been a council priority for several years.

A Downtown Vitality Project Team, which consisted of several city department heads, was created to work with McAdams, a landscape architect firm in Charlotte hired to develop the alleyway design and create the bid specifications, which went out last year.

The alleyway will become a pedestrian plaza with seating (benches, tables and chairs) for outdoor dining and casual gathering along with overhead string lighting and decorative poles and significant green space, including planters that can be adjusted for the seasons. During a council meeting in June 2021, other amenities that were discussed included artificial turf with cornhole boards and a giant, brightly-colored mural on the side of one of the buildings.

Following the bid process, NJR Group, a construction company based in New London, was selected by the city, with a bid price of $837,595. NJR would fully complete the project, other than some electrical work that would be done by the city.

The $350,000 the council approved should fully fund the project, as the city already has about $547,000 in its current project budget, Ross Holshouser, director of public works, told Council.

The funding “will be enough to take the bid and have the entire project completed at one time,” aside from some electrical work, City Manager Michael Ferris told The Stanly News & Press in a follow-up interview.

The hope is the alleyway, once restored, could become a “pocket park within the downtown,” Ferris added.

Hughes has been one of the council members adamant about using the one-time only ARPA money to help finance large-scale projects within the city, such as revitalizing the alleyway, which would likely not get completed otherwise.

“We need to look at a bigger picture in how we’re going to spend that money, because this is a one-time deal, we’re not going to get this money again,” Hughes said during a previous meeting regarding ARPA spending.

Looking to fund radios

Other council members, including Whitley, have voiced support for using a portion of the ARPA money to replace Motorola radios within the fire and police departments, which would cost $1.4 million, as opposed to tapping into the General Fund over a five-year period, which would annually cost $309,000.

None of the current radios, which were purchased around 2013, will work as of Jan. 1, 2025. The issue of needing to replace the radios was first brought before Council last November.

The recommendation to allocate funds to replace the radios originally came from an ARPA strategic workforce group, consisting of council members and city staff, which has been meeting to discuss potential uses of the money.

“I would feel less pain doing it like this (with ARPA funds) and pulling the band aid off and getting it over with than I would paying on it over five years,” Whitley said during a previous meeting.

Following approval of the alleyway funding, Whitley offered his motion to pay for the radios with ARPA funding.

“We’ve been talking about these radios for a year and they keep going up in price,” he said.

His failed motion did not sit well with certain individuals.

“Every one of us has specific projects presented to the city that we want to see go through, but when we start picking and choosing our favorites instead of what’s in the best interest of the entire city, then we are going down the wrong route,” said Councilman Dexter Townsend, who supported Whitley’s motion.

Though he did not have a vote on the matter, Mayor Ronnie Michael made his position clear after Whitley’s motion failed: “I think you’re telling the police and fire department what you think of them by not approving their radios.”

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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