In many ways, Elkin’s leaders were looking to change in the future during Monday’s monthly board of commissioners meeting, whether that be through potential commercial development or retirement announcements.
The early preparation for the 2018-19 budget process, which will begin in earnest in late winter, led to the introduction of a formal movement toward the possible construction of a shell industrial building Monday. Elkin commissioners unanimously agreed to introduce a partnership with Surry County officials, including a proposed matching $250,000 toward the $500,000 project.
Town Manager John Holcomb said Tuesday that in 2002, the town purchased land on PGW Drive with the hopes of seeing new industry come to town. In 2003, Elkin partnered with Surry County officials to have the site graded, he explained.
“In 2014, we put in sewer to the site,” he said. “What’s happening in economic development, it seemed like the bar’s always been raised. Used to if you had the land, you were in the game. Then they would way, well we want the site graded so they can get an idea of what the building might look like on it. Now, we are getting in the stages where companies are looking for vacant buildings or shell buildings, that are just roughed in and the start of a building that can be further constructed to meet the needs of the company coming in.”
Elkin is hoping that constructing a shell building will be the “if you build it, they will come” scenario for the town, boosting tax revenue as well as job openings for area residents.
Following a closed session for economic development purposes at the end of the meeting, Commissioner Jeff Eidson introduced a motion to “authorize Leslie [Schlender, town economic development director] to write a letter to the county requesting an equal partnership in putting forth money in order to create and solicit proposals for our shell building structure from developers, such ultimate development would be subject to conditions and requirements we would establish prior to entering any viable build. In order to do this, we would request an equal contribution of $250,000 with the county matching the town to further this proposal.”
“We’ve been discussing the shell building quite a while, probably three years or so,” Holcomb said. “We talked about it with the county last year, and we told them we would probably be coming back for the new budget year, which we’ll begin work on in February of next year. So the county is aware of it, and I think they’ve already had some preliminary discussion. We’re just seeing if they’re looking to put it in their budget, and we’re looking at the process of us putting it in ours.
“Last night really wasn’t a decision we are going to put it in our budget, but we are in the discovery phase of who our partners, like the county and developers, might be,” said Holcomb. “We’re also looking for a developer to come in and help invest in the shell building. This process can take some time, and I feel we’re kind of at the beginning part of it, although we’ve discussed the possibility for some time.”
He said the $250,000 funding for the town’s portion of the project would come from its fund balance, and the town also has $100,000 set aside in the budget for economic development which could be used if the board so chooses.
“We’ll see what kind of response we get back from Surry County,” Holcomb said, emphasizing that the timing has to be right for everyone involved in the project.
Meeting with the commissioners in closed session was Todd Tucker, president of the Surry County Economic Development Partnership.
Monday’s meeting began with recognition of one of its long-time police staff members, Lt. Mendy Peles, who is retiring at the end of December. The meeting also included the announcement by Holcomb that he will retire June 30, 2018.
Mayor Sam Bishop read a letter and resolution recognizing Peles’ years of service and gifting her badge and sidearm upon her retirement during the meeting.
“For the past 29 years, you have been a vital part of our law enforcement community, rising from a communications officer through the ranks to detective lieutenant Criminal Investigations Division,” Bishop said. “You served the town admirably as a patrol officer, communications supervisor, school resource officer and detective sergeant prior to your current position.”
He listed the numerous certifications and degrees she’d attained, and noted the organizations she’s been affiliated with including the Community Child Protection Team, Juvenile Crime Prevention Council, Surry County Meth Task Force, North Carolina DARE Officers Association and Safe Kids of Surry County.
“Your dedication as a member of the Elkin Police Department throughout your career truly helped to better our community and serves as an example of how employees do make a different in how great our town has become,” Bishop said.
Holcomb’s announcement came as he revealed he would be turning 62 in April of 2018, and he plans to retire at the end of June.
Since he took the role of town manager two year ago, Holcomb has been serving a dual role of both town manager and finance officer. “When I took on the dual role in September two years ago, I did that only as a temporary decision,” said Holcomb Tuesday of how the town will move forward to fill his position.
“I was wanting to do both jobs because I had the experience in both and saw it as an opportunity to save the town some money,” he said. “What we will do now is we’ll go back to the traditional organizational structure, and have a separate town manager and a separate finance officer.”
After Christmas, the process to reorganize roles in the town office and begin recruiting a new town manager will begin. “We already have job descriptions prepared,” Holcomb said. “Our target date is to have a new town manager in place by June 30. That gives us six months, and probably in actuality that new individual will be in place I’m hoping prior to June 30 and that will give me an opportunity to work with him or her and pass along my knowledge on some projects, and then we’ll go from there.”
He said the details will be ironed out over the next couple of months on how and when the position will be filled. “I will still be available to the town if they need me even in a part-time position, so we’re not going to try to make too many big transitions all at one time. I’ve got about 19 years of experience and it is difficult to replace that all of a sudden, but we’ll find a way through that so it’s not such a large transition.”
Holcomb also has been serving as finance officer for the Yadkin Valley Sewer Authority, but he said as of Dec. 31 his contract says he’ll devote his time to the town. “After I retire, I may return to the sewer authority and officer some assistance after June 30. They have some accounting help right now that comes in,” he said.
“I’m not completely retiring. I’ll do something, just not five days a week,” Holcomb said of how he’ll spend his time after June 30. “It is yet to be seen whether any of that time will be with the town or sewer authority, but I think that would be a good possibility.”
The town already is in the process of recruiting a new fire chief, with interim fire chief Don Mitchell announcing it is time to find a permanent replacement. “We have a job description ready to go, and I suspect it will go out in the next week or two,” Holcomb said Tuesday. “I’m trying to decide if it’s good to go out right before or right after Christmas.”
He said once the ad for the position is posted, a selection committee — made up of Holcomb, Mitchell, Commissioner Tommy Wheeler, who is the retired fire chief, and Elkin Police Chief Monroe Wagoner, who is a former firefighter — will interview candidates and make a decision on who to hire.
“It will be February or March, that gives us time to make a decision,” Holcomb said.
He said Mitchell, who had been in the role of assistant chief prior to his interim chief appointment, already appointed a new assistant chief in Kevin Wilson. “I think Don’s getting to the point after we make a selection for chief and [that person] comes in, that Don will probably retire,” Holcomb said.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.