By Adrianne Cleven, Chatham News + Record Correspondent
Issues of accessibility and flexibility embodied the Pittsboro Town Board of Commissioners meeting Monday, as the group discussed proposed bike paths across town, received an update on Pittsboro’s better-than-expected municipal sales tax revenue and reviewed updates to rules that would allow more flexibility in planning board meetings.
The town’s governing board also formally swore in new town clerk Cassie Bullock, heard news of a proposed time capsule and discussed changes to Pittsboro’s classic holiday celebrations in light of COVID-19.
Early in the meeting — held virtually over the video platform Zoom — the board voted unanimously to approve the town’s 2020 Bicycle and Pedestrian plan, pending a few minor changes that Commissioner Michael Fiocco brought to the board’s attention. Commissioners Kyle Shipp and Fiocco both emphasized the importance of a Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee as suggested by the report.
“We would really do well to get a very dedicated group of folks to (its) advisory committee,” Fiocco said.
The 174-page report, made possible by a 2018 matching grant from the N.C. Dept. of Transportation, offers suggestions to make Pittsboro friendlier to cyclists and pedestrians. Pittsboro town staff, a steering committee and consultants worked to help create the plan, which suggests “creating safe, connected, and comfortable places for bicycling and walking.”
There’s no bike pedestrian advisory committee yet, but the commissioners recommended one be formed.
In financial news, newly appointed town manager Chris Kennedy relayed that the revenues from Pittsboro’s municipal sales tax in the 2019-2020 fiscal year exceeded projections by 30%. “We had July’s numbers in; we just got those in today. And we were up $29,000 just for July alone,” he added.
“These revenues are projected conservatively year to year and were thought to be greatly threatened once COVID-19 struck and businesses were shuttered,” Kennedy later said in an email. “Nonetheless, the revenues for (FY 2019-2020) showed positive growth in our local economy.”
Still it’s not all good news: The town’s utilities franchise fees “are down $6,000,” Kennedy said.
“So that’s not great, but overall the net effect of our economy and all those revenues are going really well,” he said. “… Everyone was obviously conservative and a little more anxious about how COVID-19 would affect some of these things, and we’re still seeing some effects of it. But hopefully our numbers stay strong.”
While Kennedy keeps an eye on day-to-day economic indicators, Mayor Jim Nass suggested a way for the town to look far into the future: by creating a time capsule characterizing the community’s tumultuous past few months. The suggestion came to Nass by way of an eighth-grade student at Horton Middle School.
“(He) told me that there were an awful lot of things going on this year with COVID, and school changing, and not being able to do the same things that we’ve done before, and some of the things that are going on in the country that he watches on the news,” Nass said. “And he wondered if it might be something we’d be interested in … if we’d put together a time capsule and we buried it; putting things in there that highlighted this strange year within the town of Pittsboro.”
“I wrote him back and I said I thought it was a very fine idea,” Nass added.
Commissioner Fiocco delivered several updates from the Main Street Pittsboro program, a nonprofit designed to create “economic development within the context of historic preservation.”
“The welcome center is complete and ready for occupancy, and we hope to open in the fall,” Fiocco said. “Honestly, we’d like to do it in October if possible, but we’re all playing a lot of things by ear by what’s possible.”
And if you’ve been pining for cold weather, cookies and eggnog after a rough few months of economic uncertainty and quarantine, rest assured that Pittsboro’s leadership is looking ahead to the holidays, too.
Main Street Pittsboro, according to Fiocco, is collaborating with the Pittsboro Business Association on the town’s annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony, even amid uncertainty caused by COVID-19. A local farmer has already agreed to donate a tree for this year’s celebration that Fiocco said will measure 16 to 20 feet tall.
“The town and the PBA and Main Street are kind of working together to see if we can get the parade, the tree lighting and these things to occur; knowing that, odds are, it won’t be the traditional way that we’ve done it before, but finding creative ways to still make it a very valuable experience,” Fiocco said.
Pittsboro’s yearly traditions — for instance, the annual Christmas parade, typically held on the second Sunday in December — might not look the same as in years past because of the virus. Still, Kennedy thinks adapting local traditions could still foster a sense of community amidst an unpredictable season.
“The holiday season is such a homey time,” Kennedy said. “You think about being a child; you think about being with family; you think about shopping; these are all these things that can bring people to our downtown. So I think if we can find some way to bring some normalcy to it … I think this year is going to test our creativity, and we’ll see how it goes.”
The board also discussed a change to allow for more flexibility in choosing the dates and times of the board meetings every year in December, but took no action.
“We were really trying to just provide some flexibility to the board,” Kennedy said. “There was some really, I’ll call it, stringent language within (the ordinance) that specified the meetings had to be at town hall and they had to be at 7:30 and they had to be on the second and fourth Monday. It would be my recommendation to the board to allow each sitting board and the people that directly elected you to alert you as the time goes on: What’s the best for our board of commissioners? When they should meet? Where they should meet?”
The board meets again on Sept. 28.
Chapelboro.com has partnered with the Chatham News + Record in order to bring more Chatham-focused stories to our audience.
The Chatham News + Record is Chatham County’s source for local news and journalism. The Chatham News, established in 1924, and the Chatham Record, founded in 1878, have come together to better serve the Chatham community as the Chatham News + Record. Covering news, business, sports and more, the News + Record is working to strengthen community ties through compelling coverage of life in Chatham County.