Rocky Mount Town Council voted at its June 3 meeting to amend Rocky Mount’s inoperable vehicle ordinance. Town Manager James Ervin said the council’s public safety committee explored the current ordinance and found deficiencies.
“Chief among them is there isn’t a limit, so folks can have as many [inoperable vehicles] as they need to with no standard for its screening,” he continued.
The amended ordinance will limit the number of inoperable vehicles to one and further defines “screened from view” to mean that inoperable vehicles must be covered with a fitted vehicle cover, as designed for that purpose.
“This gives code enforcement staff more ammunition,” Ervin explained. “If a car is duly tagged and inspected, but wrecked – it’s still inoperable.”
The ordinance will not take effect until July 1. All council members voted in favor. Notices will be sent to residents in their water bills and letters will be mailed to owners of inoperable vehicles who have been previously flagged for possible violations.
Town residents Roger Hodges and Abbie Pinckard, who have led the push to revise the town code, said they are pleased with the amendments save one exception: the code remains complaint-based and they would like to see it become compliant-based.
Complaint-based means the town will flag violations based on resident complaints. Compliant-based extends general enforcement to anyone found not in compliance, regardless of whether the vehicle owner has had a resident complaint lodged against him or her.
In other town business, town council held a public hearing on the transfer of up to 6 acres of the former Cox Farm property on Weaver Street to Davis Heating & Air. Davis will build a new headquarters on the property with an investment of $400,000 in the facility, plus relocate 25 jobs and create an additional 10.
Assistant Town Manager Matt Hankins said that in exchange for Davis’s job creation and facility investment, the town will also construct a joint storm water management pond to be shared between several pad sites.
The pond can handle everything on the Eastern side of the Cox Farm site, he continued, adding that he hopes to secure Virginia Department of Transportation grants for trails and a street.
No one spoke at the public hearing. All town council members voted in favor of the transfer.
Town Council also heard from Ben Pinckard, who spoke in favor of moving town elections to November as a way to increase turnout and save election-day costs. Elections are currently held in May.
“I think it’s time to move the elections to November so that it will be more representative of all citizens of Rocky Mount. You’ll have a greater voter turnout,” Pinckard said. “If you have a bigger block of people to vote, it is more representative of our town.”
Ervin explained that the state encourages moving local elections to November to the point that it has ceased paying localities’ May elections costs. Council members said May elections currently cost the town approximately $5,000. The next election is scheduled for May 2020.
Mayor Steve Angle said that he understands the reasoning behind the move given the reduced cost and higher turnout. “But the downside is that if we roll the town elections in with federal and state elections, the focus moves away from the town and what’s going on within the town limits and it gets pushed down to a secondary level,” he continued.
Council member Mark Newbill said that the turnout 20 years ago was around 40% of the potential electorate. He understands that it’s now around 19%.
“As we see signs coming out with this coming [county] election, that would consolidate it,” Newbill added. “You’d see flowers in May – you wouldn’t see election signs. I understand the focus is on the town but it would save the town money and increase turnout at the polls.”
Council member Jon Snead said he believes turnout may be as low as 12%. Council member Bobby Moyer said he agrees with Pinckard that it would be better to move elections to November.
The council agreed to table the issue for now and examine the state board of elections’ data on voter turnout before making a decision. Any change requires an amendment to the town charter.
At the meeting, town council also approved an outdoor concert for downtown Rocky Mount. Hankins approached council with a proposal to use the Farmers’ Market area for an outdoor Harvester Performance Center concert on Oct. 5 hosting 3,000 ticket-holders.
All council members except Moyer agreed to the proposal. He said is opposed to the event because alcohol will be sold and consumed.
Hankins said that while the Harvester has promising relationships with Ferrum College, private landowners and county venues, he wants to stay true to the concert venue’s mission “to create economic development in Rocky Mount.” Hankins is CEO of the Harvester.
The event would start in mid-afternoon and end around 10 p.m. It would not require a road closure other than West Church Street from Randolph to Franklin, along the edge of Atlantic Union Bank. He explained that the Farmers’ Market would be cordoned off with bicycle racks and the vendors relocated to the Rocky Mount train depot on Franklin Street.
“We believe that 3,000 additional customers downtown in mid-fall will be a significant pre-holiday boost to our downtown businesses, furthering the economic development mission of the Harvester and the economic fortunes of nearby retailers and restaurants,” Hankins told council.
Hankins and Gary Jackson, general manager and booking agent for the Harvester, have contacted three major acts about the concert.
“It would be much like the Harvester in that everything would be contained,” Jackson told council. He added that the fence would be constructed so that roads are not disturbed.
“It’s sort of a catch-22 with the Harvester,” Jackson added. “Economically, the only way I can really capture revenue is through ticket sales and traditionally, in the music business, your goal is to break even at the door and you make your profit selling food and drink. In the Harvester’s case, that money is going into other businesses.”
Jackson added that the event would host six food vendors, and be held rain or shine. If it’s successful, he added, the Harvester could look at additional outdoor concerts next spring, summer and fall.