01/15/07 — Mount Olive officials eye demands for town growth

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Mount Olive officials eye demands for town growth

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on January 15, 2007 1:54 PM

Mount Olive spent much of the past year preparing for its future growth -- breaking ground on its new wastewater treatment plant, watching Wal-Mart and its accompanying shopping center come together and beginning preparations on a long-range land use plan.

Now, Town Manager Charles Brown -- who took over in February for the retiring Ray McDonald -- is expecting all of those projects and more to come together in 2007.

"Mount Olive is kind of at an awkward stage," he said. "We're big enough we have a lot of needs in terms of infrastructure, but we're small enough we don't always have the resources we need. It's always sort of a juggling act."

One of the best examples of that, he continued, is the town's perpetual flooding problems, some of which he hopes have been corrected.

"Probably one of the biggest issues we faced in 2006, was we still struggled with some drainage problems. We still deal with the fact that whenever we get two to three inches of rain, the drainage system in Mount Olive, like the drainage systems in Goldsboro, Raleigh and pretty much everywhere, just can't keep up," Brown said. "We think, though, we have made some pretty good progress in alleviating those problems."

Another area of progress is the town's finances.

"(According to the audit report) all the town's books appear to be in good order. Our fund balance seems to be in good shape and is improving. I feel like the town is in pretty good shape at this time," he said.

But, Brown continued, the town is growing and it needs to be prepared to handle that growth.

The first step in preparing the way, he said, was starting work on the wastewater treatment plant in October. Completion is scheduled for May 2008, but with about 25 percent of the facility finished, he's hoping everything will be done within the next year.

"Work's moving very quickly. I'd say we're well ahead of schedule," he said, explaining that that's important because with the town currently operating at full capacity, future growth would have been impossible without the new plant.

Already, its promise has allowed Wal-Mart to come to town -- a project that also is nearing completion.

"Wal-Mart's well under way. They're making huge strides over there. I think they're still targeting an April opening date," Brown said.

But Wal-Mart isn't the only place Mount Olive is experiencing growth.

Mount Olive College and the Mount Olive Municipal Airport also have either completed or are about to start on their own expansions and a new commercial subdivision, Produce Park, is in the works along N.C. 55.

So, to manage such future projects, the town is preparing to begin work on its long-range land use plan within the next few months.

"We need to sort of direct growth in Mount Olive to areas we can serve with our infrastructure," he said.

He also noted the importance of working with Wayne County's planning department as it develops its own long-range utilities plan.

"We don't want to be an island," Brown said. "I really do want the town and the county to work together and everybody be on the same page as we move forward."

Because the new treatment plant will be double the capacity of its current one -- two million gallons up from one million -- Mount Olive will be able to offer service to not only southern Wayne County, but also northern Duplin County.

"The largest splash is going to be the completion of Wal-Mart," Brown said. "But to us, at least as important will be the completion of the wastewater treatment plant.

"That's going to have as big an impact as Wal-Mart in the long term."

Also in the works for the new year is a new non-profit Community Development Corp.

"We expect that to become very active within the next year and show some progress in trying to provide new income-driven housing for Mount Olive," Mayor Ruff Huggins said.

In addition, the opinions of town residents will have a place in the planning process as Brown and other town officials finish compiling the results of a citizen survey that was mailed out in October. They're planning on presenting those to the mayor and the board of commissioners in February.

"It's just so we can see exactly what we're doing right and if there's areas we need to improve, we can see that, too," Brown said. "No matter how good you think you are, there's always areas that need improvement and we know there are areas in Mount Olive that need improvement and we want to be able to address those.

"We've got some big things on tap for '07."

Huggins agreed.

"I thought last year was a really good year for the town in most respects. We feel pretty good about where we are and we're looking forward to even better things in 2007."