A steering committee comprised of said support organizations was formed to serve in an advisory capacity to the city manager’s office and city council for items of interest, as Zickefoose explained.
And 2018 saw the County and City continuing to work together to reduce costs by sharing services. Zickefoose said the City is now contracting with the County to provide information technology services.
“This has immediate savings for computer and software needs,” he said, “but it also lays the groundwork for future improvements to telecommunications and security applications.”
Infrastructure and growth are also on Zickefoose’s radar.
“The County and City plan on expanding the water purchase agreement to include areas of West Lincoln,” he said. “We’re also reviewing other operations that could benefit from additional shared services. From a growth perspective, it is easy to see the changes that have occurred in the central business district. The City initiated a business incentive grant program to promote small-business opportunities. In 2018, we saw vacant buildings turn into productive retail spaces.”
He continued that notable new local businesses include the Sound Factory, Guitar Wishes, the Meating Place, Alki Outfitters, Finfolks, GoodWood Pizza, Untapped Territory and Crafted: a Southern Speakeasy. Other planned projects for downtown Lincolnton include townhomes, condominiums, upper-storey lofts and a micro-brewery.
“The City is also experiencing growth outside of the central business district,” said Zickefoose. “Palisades Apartments, a 208-unit upscale living community, opened in the fall of 2018. In addition, Lincolnton is now home to such national chains as Chic-Fil-A, PetSmart and Jersey Mike Subs. Dollar General opened a second location. Other projects under way include a Japan Restaurant, Captain D’s, Church’s Fried Chicken, Aspen Grill, Starbucks, Aspen Dentistry and a Zip Car Wash.
“Lincolnton also focused on improving recreational opportunities for the community,” he added. “First Federal Park and the Devin Rhyne Splash Pad opened in 2018. A river launch and fishing deck project at Betty Ross Park will open in the spring. Renovations were done to the basketball and tennis courts, and two courts were added for pickle ball. Plans are also under way for the addition of two NFL-approved flag football fields.”
He also cited the recent Apple Drop on Lincolnton’s Court Square. This New Year’s Eve activity is planned to be an annual event.
“The City continued to identify ways to reduce costs and make improvements to services to the citizens,” he continued. “The use of automated garbage trucks is a prime example. One employee can now do what used to take three to do. A fleet-management leasing program with Enterprise is providing cost-efficient vehicles. The result is newer functioning vehicles without the high maintenance cost that is seen with aged ones. Vehicles will be rotated on a five-year schedule, with a significant equity return. The result: no upfront capital costs, lower operational costs and increased vehicle equity.
“GPS capability was installed on all City vehicles, allowing us to modify service routes and to develop zones for operational assignments, thus reducing overlaps and duplications,” he added. “A Mobile-311 work order program gives us the ability to have drivers that travel the garbage routes identify and create real-time work orders for things such as bulk items, leaves, water leaks and more. Remote telemetry monitoring of pump stations was implemented, providing real-time operational data and analysis. Traditional water meters do not capture 100 percent of the water used. Therefore, a smart meter pilot program is currently under way for utility billing. These meters are remotely read and are much more sensitive than conventional meters and will accurately record water use. The meters also provide immediate warnings for leak detection, thus allowing timely notification to customers. A waterline extension was added for the first block of Water Street that can support fire sprinkler systems for businesses in that area to tap into.”
Challenges for 2019
Zickefoose also talked about the challenges ahead this year.
They include the recruitment of water customers. Textiles are no longer the major user of water in Lincolnton as they were some 20 years ago.
“In fact,” said Zickefoose, “since 2016, 32 percent of water/sewer revenue was lost due to textile closings. Recruiting high-volume customers is a priority. This is another reason that the relationship with the County is so important, including the purchase of water.”
Maintaining a prosperous downtown is also important, he added.
“We cannot become complacent with the current success,” he said. “Instead, we need to continue to work to fill empty buildings and upper floors by maintaining incentive programs and active recruitment strategies. The Lincoln Economic Development Association works closely with the City’s planning department to identify and recruit businesses.”
Then there’s employee retention.
“The job market for skilled positions is highly competitive,” he said. “The City is blessed with excellent employees that provide excellent services. In order to maintain those levels of service, it is critical that our employees are fairly compensated. Thus, the City is now having salary studies done annually on a rotating basis for a third of the positions. This creates a more manageable budget need versus doing a complete study every three years.”
And Zickefoose cited the general fund revenue.
“The City’s property tax rate has remained at .56 per $100 of valuation since the year 2000,” he said. “Tax values for the City have decreased 2.9 percent since 2014. And 2019 is a reassessment year for the City and County. We’re hopeful that growth and market values will offset those decreases.”
Plans are under way to renovate the acquired former Eckerd’s drugstore for a new police headquarters. Zickefoose said the 11,000-square-foot structure will house all functions for the Lincolnton Police Department for years to come. The plan is to bid out the work in early spring.
Another goal, he said, is determining an affordable solution for recycling services. Unlike surrounding cities, Lincolnton does not charge customers a recycling fee. But the recycling market has changed significantly. Prior to this new year, the City was spending more than $150,000 to provide this service. This amounts to $712 per ton, compared to $72 per ton for regular garbage, as Zickefoose informed. The previous recycler abruptly ended service to non-Mecklenburg customers in July, prompting Lincolnton to seek alternatives. A plan will be presented to the city council for consideration next month.
The river launch and fishing deck project this spring at Ross Park has a total cost of $212,000, paid for by a state grant and LTDA donation. The second phase of park expansions––the football fields–– will have its $325,000 cost paid by state grants. And the parking lot at City Park will be expanded and paved.
“We will continue with the $300,000 Brownsfield Grant to identify potential business sites within the city limits,” said Zickefoose. “And we’ll continue with the smart meter project by purchasing and installing new meters. The total project cost is $1.25 million.”
Plus, the City will update 15-year-old utility billing/general ledger/payroll software. Security cameras will be installed downtown and on the rail trail. Infrastructural improvements are planned for water/sewer lines, sidewalks and the electrical system. System maintenance will be performed to water and sewer plant equipment needing money. An audit will be performed of water and sewer account billings versus actual connections.
And amongst items continuing, said Zickefoose, will be the restructuring of public works to maximize efficiency and improve customer services; working with the County to identify other areas for shared services; and continuing to work with the steering committee to develop a central business district strategic plan.
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