Dobson targets infrastructure improvements in coming year

David BroylesStaff Reporter

January 3, 2013

DOBSON — The theme to the town of Dobson’s upcoming challenges and goals in the new year is improvement. One major project will be a proposed town park as well as updating parts of the town’s aging infrastructure.

“In my opinion, one of the biggest challenges we will face as a town is infrastructure improvements,” said Dobson Town Manager Josh Smith. “In addition to our ongoing projects replacing portions of our water system we also face issues with upgrading our water treatment plant.”

Smith explained that many water lines throughout Dobson were installed in 1968 and have not been upgraded since. He said over the past two years several sections of water line have been upgraded but many areas are continuing with the help of numerous patches. Taking into account the cost of treating water as mandated by federal law, water leaks have taken on even greater importance to towns nationwide as they seek to stretch budget dollars.

He said the town is working with the firm of Anderson and Associates of Greensboro to plan the upgrades to the water plant.

“This will be one of our major priorities this year,” said Smith. “Some of our lines will probably have to totally be replaced. I’ve seen some lines that were just a series of repair clamps every few feet. We’ll have to deal with this situation on multiple levels. Costs really are up when you consider dealing with fractures in water lines. There’s the labor involved, moving ground that is often paved and replacing all this after the repairs.”

Smith said the town is financially in good shape and solvent and will seek help from a variety of state and groups like the Appalachian Regional Commission to get funding to address the needed repairs.

He said federally mandated changes to water treatment have caused the town to pursue a $1.5 million project to upgrade Dobson’s sludge handling capabilities. Other proposed changes will include multiple upgrades to the town clean water reservoir and water pumps at the plant.

“There will be a lot of long-term costs; but these are necessities,” added Smith. He commended the town’s board of commissioners for making what he said were hard decisions so the town could address water and sewer issues. He said an example of one tough decision commissioners had to make was declaring a moratorium on water and sewer extensions outside the town limits until the systems are improved.

Smith said the town wants to ensure residents continue to received “good, safe, clean drinking water without service interruptions.”

He said Dobson, by virtue of being the county seat, automatically draws a variety of traffic to it during the day. He said the commissioners want to capitalize on this by providing additional recreational opportunities for residents and as incentive for others to visit the town later.

“We have also been very fortunate to have lots of new business construction,” summarized Smith. “What we have to work on is the image of Dobson having a lot to offer during the day but rolling up the sidewalks early. We need to keep people past 5 p.m. and even have them come back on the weekends.”

Smith said the first town Christmas tree lighting ceremony this year was received warmly and pointed to the record attendance at the annual Christmas parade as proof of the town’s potential. A centerpiece of this is the ongoing planning project for a downtown park.

This park could be a centerpiece for hosting cultural events such as concerts as well as regular use by citizens and visitors for picnics and a family-friendly place to frequent for no special reason.

“The town doesn’t want to duplicate what is happening elsewhere. We want it to be unique,” said Smith. “Fisher River Park for instance has it’s own unique character and opportunities. We want to build a small municipal park that is walkable and is low maintenance. Our residents could easily get to this park and use it.”

Smith said the town is considering giving the town park features such as a splash pad and water activity area. He said several public hearings have been held to get citizens involved in the project and the responses have been overwhelming for a park in town with the trend leaning toward an open-space, green facility.

The commissioners have retained an engineering firm and a grant has been submitted to seek funding for the project. Additional funding will be from private donations and Smith said the town has set aside some money for the park without raising taxes. He said he hopes for word on the grant to arrive by the end of this month.

“We are thinking of the park in the long term,” said Smith. “This would be something we can take care of five years from now without burdening the town.” He said two parcels of land are currently being considered for the park. He said one parcel of land is a little-used parking lot and the other parcel contains a vacant house in a strictly commercial area that is also not being used.

The town is also looking at the feasibility of expanding some services to citizens, such as brush pick-up.

“We really want to figure out how to bring a brush pick-up service in town about,” said Smith. “Lots of our residents are forced to burn leaves and brush which is inconvenient and can cause air quality issues.” He said the board is considering issues such as contracting out the service, frequency of brush pickup as well as the most cost efficient way to provide the service.

“Another thing the board is open to is working on a strategic plan for the town,” commented Smith. “The plan would help us focus on expanding services and long term improvements. A lot needs to be discussed so we plan for our future and are not caught off guard. It is a work in progress. Once we get everything together for this plan looking ahead five to ten years then it will go before the board for approval.”

Smith predicted parts of this plan will include bolstering tourism as well as improving the annual Christmas parade and the annual Dobson Spring Folly which they hope to expand to a two-day event.

“We want to provide reasons to get people into town. We really want citizen involvement in many ways to increase,” said Smith. “I was shocked how few citizens took advantage of our food drive where donating canned goods gave them a dollar discount (up to five dollars) on their water bill. Our goal was 2,000 pounds of food and we extended the drive to get closer to this.”

He said the board really wants people to get involved with the community and help other people.

“We all need to strive to make a difference in other peoples’ lives,” said Smith. “Something as simple as helping someone load their groceries or a smile is all that it takes. That’s why government is here. We here to make life better for the citizens we serve. We want Dobson to be known as a friendly, inviting community.”

Smith said the town is working on a newsletter to inform citizens in a more personal way of activities in the town. He said he would like to see improvements to the town hall lobby to better serve as a visitor and welcome center. He hopes this project will be accomplished by a joint effort between the town and chamber of commerce.

Reach David Broyles at dbroyles@heartlandpublications.com or 719-1952.