Commissioners decline Wi-Fi grant

By Alia Boyd -

The Pilot Mountain Board of Commissioners held a special meeting July 28 to address a Wi-Fi grant, water meter replacement project contracts, and to enter a closed session to review town manager applications.

The board of commissioners voted unanimously to table discussion centered around a grant that would assist the town in providing free Wi-Fi to the downtown area.

“I know of two commissioners here that have reservations about this, when I heard that I went online, looking, doing some research on the pros and cons of municipal Wi-Fi and I think the big question isn’t so much it would be better spent one place or something, because the money is there,” Dwight Atkins, mayor, said. “I think the question is, is this something that we want at this time? Should we research it further?”

“I personally would like for us to table this. This seems like something that should maybe be taken up as a part of our downtown associates application, where in that program we’ll have consultants that will tell us more of the nuances of having Wi-Fi downtown,” Atkins added.

Gary Bell, commissioner, raised the question of having to “block questionable usage,” citing such things as vulgar material.

“I just know that we’ve had it before and it’s worked out fine and it was free,” Linda Needham, commissioner, said in regards to Wi-Fi.

Needham continued, explaining that a local businessman had Wi-Fi and allowed individuals in the downtown area to use the Wi-Fi for free.

Michael Boaz, interim town manager, explained that if the board did decide to move forward with the grant, the town would be obligated to provide a 30 percent match, which would put the dollar amount in the neighborhood of $10,000.

Kimberly Quinn, commissioner, voiced concerns over the amount that the town would have to provide for the local match.

“If we know by research that this is a real factor that’s going to tend to bring coffee shops, if it really is a factor in bringing that type of business, then it will be one small thing that’s transformative for our downtown,” Atkins said of the cost of the grant verses the potential benefit.

Quinn and Bell brought up the question of how vital free Wi-Fi really is for the downtown area, citing the fact that the majority of people have data plans for their smart phones. Bell later added that the money spent on the grant could be used to fix such things as sidewalks.

“It would be great if we could have it, but I think we have other priorities that are more important,” Bell said.

Town Commissioner candidate Even J. Cockerham published a letter to the editor in the July 28 edition of The Mount Airy News proclaiming his objection to the grant.

Cockerham’s letter said in part, “I pledge that I will oppose misguided initiative like this one…”

In an unrelated matter, the board of commissioners in June authorized a water meter replacement project, which allowed Boaz to enter into negations for a contract for the project.

The board of commissioners voted unanimously to authorize Boaz to sign the contracts which came as a result of the negotiations.

“They match the budget,” Boaz said of the contracts.

At the June meeting, the board made amendments to the capital projects ordinance in order to fund the project.

A public hearing is scheduled for Aug. 8 in regards to the funding of the project.

Boaz said that funding proposals for the project should be received by August 1 from various banks.

In addition, Boaz explained that the Local Government Commission requires the town to submit the 2015-2016 fiscal year audit before submitting the application for the project. Boaz said that the audit is being “fast tracked” and should be completed in August.

“In staff’s opinion the commission wouldn’t approve the application unless they saw the results of the town’s audit and showed that financial standing in the water and sewer fund is improving, which it is,” Boaz said.

As for the timeline of the water meter replacement project, Boaz said that the application materials for the project have to be submitted in September and that approval will “hopefully” come sometime in October and is contingent on financial approval by the Local Government Commission.

“If the LGC doesn’t approve the financing, we can cancel the contract with a penalty,” Boaz said.

Following discussion about the Wi-Fi grant and water meter replacement project, the commissioners entered a closed session to review the applications received for the town manager position.

By Alia Boyd

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