10/02/12 — Pikeville crowd rejects plan for town hall

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Pikeville crowd rejects plan for town hall

By Dennis Hill
Published in News on October 2, 2012 1:46 PM

PIKEVILLE -- Residents of the town of Pikeville were invited Monday night to express their opinions on how the town board should proceed in deciding what to do about their town hall facility, which has been a mobile home on School Street for the past three years.

And they did.

About 40 people jammed the Community Center for the board's October meeting and almost half of them had something to say.

Most opposed buying property outside town, specifically the veterinary office across from Charles B. Aycock High School, saying the town does not need to borrow the money it would take to complete the project. It was estimated that the property would cost about $285,000, not including renovations, which some estimated at about $75,000. The office is located outside the town limits.

Critics pointed to the extensive renovations they said it would take to convert the building to government use. And they pointed to the traffic problems posed twice a day by the school's presence across the road.

Other options ranged from simply fixing the air conditioning at the existing office, along with some other minor improvements, to fixing the roof on the old building downtown, a choice that several construction experts have apparently advised against, to buying the town's soon-to-be vacated fire station and converting it. It would cost about $30,000 to fix the roof, $10,000 a year over eight years to buy the fire station.

More ideas involved buying a feed mill building in town and renovating it, which would cost about $400,000 in all, to using the community building itself as the new town hall. Even moving the mobile home downtown was discussed.

Monday's meeting drew a crowd after three members of the board -- Mayor Pro Tem Todd Anderson, Charles Hooks and Lyman Galloway met twice last week to discuss the issue that has had the town perplexed since the old building downtown was declared uninhabitable unless extensive repairs were made.

Mayor Johnny Weaver and board members Robert Hooks and Ward Kellum did not attend the meetings.

On Monday, Anderson, Charles Hooks and Galloway posed the idea of the veterinary office, saying the town has to look at its future. They also suggested possibly completely renovating the old town hall, which would cost an estimated $425,000, or renovating a feed mill building in the town at a cost of about $400,000.

"I'm looking down the road, I see growth in the the town of Pikeville," Charles Hooks said. Galloway said he, too, felt the town needed to look to its future when considering a town hall.

Although Weaver had questioned the legality of the three's meetings Saturday and Monday, the members said they meant no deception. Anderson said he had simply heard the issue gone round and round enough and believed the town needed to come to some resolution. The other members were advised of the meeting, he noted, but chose not to attend.

Taking advantage of the availability of the veterinary office, Anderson said, would make sense in the long run. The town would have a good building that could eventually be annexed that would cost no more over time that the other long-term options.

But most speakers disagreed, saying residents could not afford the higher taxes that would come with that option.

"There's a lot of people in this town who can't afford any more taxes," one man said.

Other speakers said the board should keep the town hall inside the town limits. The first time it was said, it drew "amens" from many in the audience.

Others offered up alternative suggestions, such as moving the mobile home to the site of the old town hall after the latter, or at least most of it, was torn down. No alternative earned a consensus, but it was the general opinion of those who spoke, as well as several board members, that the town does not need to be in a rush to make a decision. If the current town hall needs repairs, repair them, they said, but it's not a good time to be taking on big debt.

Several speakers said residents should consider the welfare of downtown in their thinking. Keeping the town hall downtown would help stabilize the district, they said. Others said the old building had outlived its usefulness, like any building, and should be demolished.

"We don't need to dump money into a hole," Daryl Johnson said.

"Sounds to me like you need to decide what that old town hall is worth," said speaker Mary Friedman.

Weaver said many of the town's residents live on fixed incomes and the board has to be careful in committing itself to a plan that had a high likelihood of forcing an eventual tax increase. Most speakers favored a plan that would not involve the expenditure of a large amount of money.

"It'd be awful to raise taxes on anybody for anything," said Yvonne Smith, another speaker.

But Weaver said it was time to do something about the situation.

"I want us to get focused on something and get going," he said. "It's time to address it now."

"Although Census figures show the average household income in Pikeville rising in the past decade, the cost of local government has risen even faster, Weaver said.

"Your income is not keeping pace with your expenses," he said. "We're not millionaires. We're in good shape to pay our bills, but to go beyond that ...."

When one speaker complained that several members had already made up their minds to buy the veterinary office, the members denied it and said that they had listened to the opinions that had been expressed. They simply want to do what is best for the town in the long run and not continue to waste money on ideas that were only bandage approaches, they said.

Anderson assured the people who were in attendance that the veterinary office proponents had listened.

"I hear you. I'll take it all into consideration," he said.

"We want to hear what you have to say," Charles Hooks said.

In other business, the board discussed an Internet cafe ordinance. Board member Ward Kellum said he would like to see a proposed ordinance tightened to increase the setback of such businesses to more than 100 feet and closed down before midnight. Discussion of the issue was tabled until more information is obtained.