Last week the Surry County Board of Commissioners were asked to give its approval to matching funds for grants designed to spur economic growth in Pilot Mountain. The board approved three buildings to receive a total of no more than $3,100 but the exact matching amount was not provided to the commissioners at last Monday’s meeting.
The Downtown Reinvestment Incentive Grant program is described as an initiative that aims to encourage the redevelopment of downtown Pilot Mountain by offering cash grants to owners who make renovation or improvements to buildings. County manager Chris Knopf explained, “Its purpose was to encourage and promote commercial growth and renovation of existing buildings in Pilot Mountain’s downtown commercial district.”
He reminded the board that this was connected to a consensus agreement made in September 2018 by the members of the board of commissioners at that time.
Back in 2018 Knopf said Pilot Mountain Mayor Evan Cockerham and Town Manager Michael Boaz presented a downtown development plan. “The idea was that from an economic development perspective, they requested the county to match a percentage of the cash grants provide,” Knopf explained.
He informed that Pilot Mountain recently followed up and has three buildings downtown which have met the provisions for the grant program, and the county needed to decide if it was going to honor a commitment made by a consensus agreement.
For approved projects, the grants are determined based on the difference between pre-construction and post-construction property taxes on a sliding scale that decreases the grant over five years. The county and Town of Pilot Mountain each agreed to a percentage match based on difference between the valuations multiplied by their own tax rate.
Knopf said that three properties were approved, two of which are owned by Black Dog Holdings LLC. Renovations at their first location, 101 West Main Street, took the tax value of that property from $66,930 to $108,300.
Just down the street from their building at 131 West Main Street had a beginning tax value of $32,280 and following construction that value was $111,730.
Pilot Mountain Main Street Coordinator Jenny Kindy said the work at 131 West Main was nearly a complete renovation of the former Nichols Plumbing “to make it work for retail.” A new façade and the addition of a rear entryway will help the space be more functional.
Black Dog Holdings LLC also replaced HVAC systems at both locations as well as improvements to roofs, flooring, wiring, plumbing, duct work, basement waterproofing, and parking lot grading. When added together the additional tax value of the two buildings is now more than $113,000 higher.
Similarly, at 127 West Main Street, a building owned by Pilot Mountain commissioner Scott Needham, the tax value changed from $64,210 to $104,180 after improvements that included a nearly new second floor. Renovations included a new second floor primary entrance, new windows, new roof, and the addition of full a bath, kitchen, and laundry.
One of the points of the Pilot Mountain downtown plan is to draw more residents to living in mixed used buildings which combine main level shopping with upper-level living, and to provide more entertainment downtown as well.
“We’ve had a lot of investment, both public and private, in downtown Pilot Mountain,” Kindy explained. In her report to N.C. Main Street and the department of commerce for fiscal year 2022-2023, she reported there was almost a quarter million dollars in public investment and another $1.58 million in private investment in Pilot Mountain.
Kindy said it may be hard to see for those who don’t have it all in front of them but when people see the complete picture, “There is big stuff happening in Pilot Mountain.”
As the original plan was devised some years ago, Knopf advised that the actual amounts owed by the county would be lower than the projections the commissioners saw on paper last Monday evening because the current tax rate is lower than that which was used for valuation.
Furthermore, as Commissioners Mark Marion and Bill Goins were not on the Surry board at that time, Knopf said the board had the option to reconsider its position in its entirety. There was no appetite by the current board to revisit the decision of the 2018 board.
“So, we agreed to do this some time ago and we’re just fulfilling a promise already made?” Commissioner Van Tucker asked rhetorically to refresh the collective memory. He noted that with property improvements and renovations, higher property values tag along for the ride which benefits the whole county.
“Five years ago, we were trying to revitalize some of our worn-out buildings, and the idea was to get some matching funds for these municipalities. I see it reflected that property tax values go way up and so you captivate some revenue for a long time to come on those renewed properties,” Tucker said and added the county was committed to fulfilling its obligation.
He also pointed out that he considers fellow Pilot Mountain business owner Scott Needham a friend of his. As he has in the past, Tucker sought to ensure that there was no hint of impropriety as he explained, “If this was going to help my office, and this board were granting it, we’d have a conflict. In this case it’s not our conflict to worry about,” he said and confirmed that with a query to county attorney Ed Woltz.
Woltz said that the burden as to whether there was any conflict of interest with Needham receiving grant funding while also being a town commissioner does not rest with the county. “It’s an issue for the town to deal with and not the county. I’m not sure if the town has dealt with it, but I will look into it.”
Tucker also said he was not sure Needham was on the Pilot Mountain board at the time of the original proposal or consensus, which is correct: Needham was elected in November 2018.
Chairman Eddie Harris said clearing issues like a potential conflict of interest by Woltz is a benefit to the board and the public. “We like to run everything above board here — as squeaky clean as we possibly can.”
As the board probed to confirm consensus for approval of the grant match, Commissioner Larry Johnson said he agreed with himself from 2018, “I’m fine with it five years ago, and I’m fine with it now.”