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Village plans second ‘retreat’ after unusual year of COVID

By Jim Buice
For the Clemmons Courier

Little did the Clemmons Village Council know that its annual retreat earlier this year on March 12 would come just before the arrival of COVID-19.

Much has changed since the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc in many ways in Clemmons and everywhere else, so in Monday night’s village council meeting it was decided to plan a fall retreat — possibly before Thanksgiving.

Village Manager Scott Buffkin said he was contacted by one of the council members about the possibility of doing another retreat this year “since we’ve had such a change since our last retreat in the spring. It’s certainly a different world, and priorities may have changed, and this would be a time to discuss what we have been able to accomplish since that time and maybe what’s likely not to happen.”

Councilman Mike Rogers said, “I think we need to take stock of what we’ve accomplished so far this year in the environment we’re in, the COVID and what have you, the changes we’ve had to make on the fly, and then look at what we may want to do next year.”

Rogers said that this would be the perfect time to give staff a heads up on looking back and also forward “to kind of investigate some of our ideas so when we get to spring and we come to our spring retreat, we’ll have a pretty good focus on where we’re headed and where we need to go.”

Councilwoman Michelle Barson agreed, saying, “I like the idea, especially with the staff having time when things are a little bit calmer during the holiday season from their perspective to kind of work on some things. I think it makes a lot of sense to reconnect actually at this time of year anyway to take inventory of what’s been accomplished and what hasn’t been — probably in any year, let alone a year that’s been unique.”

The day-long retreat in the spring included surveys conducted among council members where they reviewed capital projects along with other financial matters and procedures. Building a new Village Hall facility, as a long-term project, received 67% support in a PowerPoint weighted survey-based voting system among the council and mayor.

The two other options — remodeling and expanding the current facility, and not doing anything and leaving the facility as is — each received 17% support.

Among other capital projects on the docket at the retreat, funding sidewalks was considered not important enough to impair other services and/or raises taxes with 59% support. Meanwhile, funding sidewalks was important enough to raise taxes if necessary (29%), important enough to lower other town service levels (12%) and important enough to dip below the minimum fund balance of $3 million (0%).

As far as the priority of sidewalk projects under development, Harper Road — Morgan Elementary to YMCA received 33% support as did U.S. 158/Tanglewood Connector. Harper Road – I-40 to Morgan Elementary received 26% support, and Idols Road — Middlebrook Drive to Tanglewood Road received 8% support.

On other topics, the development of the Blanket Bottom Growth Plan was considered to be 50% very important and 50% somewhat important, while 83% strongly agreed that Clemmons needs to revise its sign ordinance, and development and implementation of a nuisance ordinance was evenly split between being in favor of, opposed to, and not sure/no opinion.

Of course, this retreat came before the budget workshop for fiscal year 2020-21, which started in July, not knowing the ramifications of the coronavirus on the local economy at that time — with the biggest impact being on sales tax, which is the second largest source of the General Fund balance.

There is a three-month delay from the time when the tax is collected by the merchants until Clemmons sees it, so projections are more visible now. There has been additional spending, including addressing increasing stormwater needs and making much-needed improvements to the current Village Hall.

Setting a separate meeting/retreat date for the fall, perhaps before the regularly scheduled council meeting on Nov. 23 — the Monday before Thanksgiving — could provide a chance to reassess and reset.

“This could give us an opportunity to look at it two different ways — the way we’d like to go forward and the way we may have to go forward,” said Councilwoman Mary Cameron.

As a side note, perhaps providing somewhat of a financial boost, Buffkin said that Clemmons received its quarterly distribution from the ABC Board last week and that it was the “largest we have ever seen for this quarter of the year. Their net profits have gone up substantially.”

In other highlights from Monday night’s meeting, the council:

• Received an update on the Market Center Phase IB project from Buffkin, who said he had a conversation with a representative from the former Kmart property. He stated that the property owner, HRP, was open to continuing the dedication of the road with the following conditions: timetable for improvement, documentation that the funds are dedicated to the project, assurance that their driveway cuts will stay open with driveway permits issued by Clemmons, and that an agreement can be negotiated and considered by both parties once the other conditions have been documented.

Buffkin said that Kimley-Horn, which completed the original construction design, has provided a contract proposal, so “we’ve already got that ball rolling. Once we get the construction drawings and the engineer’s estimate, we can deliver a budget amendment to actually allocate the funds.”

• Called for a public hearing — Zoning Text Amendment to the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) to amend Chapter C, Article VII, Section 7 Stormwater Quantity Management — C-UDO-82.

Nasser Rahimzadeh, in his planner’s report, noted that the Planning Board met last week and recommended 8-0 for approval of the proposed text amendment, C-UDO-82. He added no citizen comments were received and explained in that meeting that the proposed text amendment will name the Zoning Board of Adjustment as the watershed review board. The ZBOA is a quasi-judicial board and responsible for reviewing variances.

• Received an update from Wes Kimbrell, stormwater engineer on Lasater Road being included with two other projects on Innisfail Lane and Innisfail Court — which are being evaluated as a whole for the Capital Improvement Program list, not just the one residence on 7510 Lasater Road — and detailing the impact of the stormwater and the runoff in that area.

• Heard in the marketing/communications report that the Fall Medicine Drop will be held Saturday, Nov. 7, from 9 a.m. to noon at the Public Works facility, and that anyone interested in participating in the Fall Cleanup can select a date between now and Nov. 30 to coordinate a dropoff of materials and road assignment to help keep Clemmons clean. All information can be found on the Clemmons website at clemmons.org/cleanup.

• Heard from Cameron, who said that the Friends of the Library is getting a copy from the plan that the Kernersville Public Library used for its brick pavers program for the new library in Clemmons.

• Approved a new policy concerning requests to the village for donations and sponsorships from outside organizations and agencies.