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Economic development project on slate for county meeting
Burke County Commissioners

Economic development project on slate for county meeting

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Burke County commissioners are expected to decide Tuesday on economic development incentives for a company that is planning an expansion in Morganton.

The meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the commissioners board room, located at 110 N. Green St., Morganton. 

Alan Wood, president and CEO of Burke Development Inc., only used the economic development project name, Project Glides, to present the project to commissioners during its pre-agenda meeting last week. However, the Morganton address of the location presented, 115 Wamsutta Mill Road, is for the furniture company Ekornes.

Ekornes announced in early November of its plans to expand.

The county is applying for a $500,000 building reuse grant from the N.C. Department of Commerce, which would require a local grant match of 5%, which would come from the county and city of Morganton. Each would provide $12,500 as their part of the grant match, Wood said. The county says the company will create at least 80 jobs with the 100,000-square-foot expansion.

As part of the item, commissioners also will consider a local grant equivalent to 50% of the taxes paid on the new taxable investment of an estimated $10 million for five years beginning with the 2023-24 budget year. Based on the investment, the county’s portion would be $34,750 a year for the five years, or $173,750 in total, according to county information. The city’s portion would be $28,500 a year, or $142,500 in total, the information says.

Burke County owns the building at 115 Wamsutta Mill Road and commissioners will decide during the whether to sell the property to Ekornes.

Wood said they arrived at an asking price of $1,724,311, which they came to by averaging two brokers’ opinions.

Sheriff's request

Burke County Sheriff Steve Whisenant also has renewed his request for a lieutenant at the jail. He made the request previous to the commissioners approving the 2020-21 fiscal budget.

Whisenant said during the commissioners pre-agenda meeting last week that the jail has two lieutenants currently. He said the new position would assist with warrants and state transport, security coverage when inmates are taken to the hospital or state and provide training at the jail. The position also would be do about 20 hours of paperwork a week that is needed.

The cost of the position including salary and benefits would be $67,500 a year, which does not include the cost of uniform of $2,118, patrol car of $44,055, or gun of $395, information from the county says.

Burke County Manager Bryan Steen is recommending commissioners not approve the request.

The board voted 3-2 to leave the item on the agenda, with Commissioners Vice Chairman Scott Mulwee and Johnnie Carswell voting against it.

Also last week during a special meeting, commissioners approved, in a 4-1 vote, a one-time bonus for county employees as well as a cost-of-living raise. Commissioner Maynard Taylor voted against the measure.

During the meeting, Burke County Manager Bryan Steen said when the board approved the 2020-21 fiscal budget in June, they decided to be cautious out of an abundance of care about the sales tax and property tax collection forecast from the state.

The state went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic and unemployment skyrocketed as county officials were preparing the 2020-21 budget.

Steen said after six months into the budget, property and vehicles taxes revenue are ahead of where the county was at the same time during the previous budget year.

Finance Director Margaret Pierce said the state cautioned sales tax revenue could be down by as much as 25%. Not only has the county not seen a decline in sales tax revenue but sales tax revenue is up 14% this year.

Steen said because of the cautious approach to the budget, they held off on giving county employees a cost-of-living increase but they included the money for a 1% increase. He proposed giving a 1.5% COLA increase to employees, which would mean an additional $75,000.

Steen also requested a 1% bonus to employees for the work they’ve done throughout the pandemic, including for staff such as EMS, sheriff’s officers, DSS and health department employees.

Commissioners also approved $200,000 to buy a new ambulance. Steen said it could take up to six months from the time one is ordered until they receive it.

In other business, commissioners also voted to reclassify the engineer/general services director position to general services director and to reclassify the associate engineer position to the assistant general services director.

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