I live on Church Street. I can see the lower end of Main Street from my backyard. Roller Mill Hill, where the factory used to sit, is just across the creek a few hundred yards through the woods behind my house. The old company store, now a residence, is next door to my house, and from what I’ve gathered most of the owners and managers of the old mill lived in the houses on Church Street back in the day. In short, I live in one of the oldest and most historic neighborhoods in Ramseur.
To hear people around these parts talk one could easily become convinced that folks in Ramseur, especially the generation now in or approaching their retirement years, love this town and it’s short but relevant history as a mill town more than almost anyplace else on the planet. I’m something of a history buff as well. I love history and seeing historic places preserved for future generations to learn about. So why is this part of town so badly neglected?
Church Street is literally crumbling under our feet. Last year we did get a few broken sections of sidewalk replaced as part of a larger program of sidewalk repairs around town, but otherwise we can’t get anything done for our neighborhood.
For instance, beside the dumpster next to the First Christian Church Family Center up the street there’s a hole in the street; more like a crater actually. I don’t mean just a pothole, although there’s one of those up there now too; I mean a literal hole in the edge of the street.
The hole opened up during a winter storm in 2015 shortly after I moved here. It is about two feet deep and allows soil and other debris to infiltrate our storm drainage system. It’s now about twice as big as it was when it opened four years ago, and deep enough to swallow a small child. If someone tripped or fell in it they could easily break a leg or worse, and it would cause significant damage if someone hit it with a car. In short it’s a liability to the taxpayers of this town, and it’s been ignored for going on five years now.
Soon after the hole opened I stopped our former head of public works, Frosty York, and made him aware of it. He set a traffic cone in it, but within a few months he had taken a new job somewhere else. Since that time I have informed every public official or town employee I meet, including Suez contractors, about this problem many times, including Mayor Shaw and our current head of public works, Commissioner Grant Cheek. Cheek’s response is always, “We don’t have money in the budget for that.”
Funds may not be allocated specifically for this purpose, but I know for a fact that we have enough money to make this small repair, and budget amendments are made on an almost monthly basis around here.
How do I know we have the money? I’m glad you asked.
Shortly before the end of the last budget year, last month, I became aware that Waugh Asphalt was in town working on several street patching projects. At the last minute two additional projects were added to their to-do-list: one beside Loflin’s funeral home on Brady Street, and another at Weatherly Square. These proposed projects were forwarded to all the commissioners and the mayor by Bobbie Hatley on behalf of Commissioner Cheek. Why Mr. Cheek didn’t simply forward them himself is a good question all voters should be asking?
The only reasons I can come up with are that either he is incompetent and can’t figure out how to operate his email application, or he’s just too lazy to do the job and asked his day time boss, the town clerk, to do it for him. Or maybe it was done that way so that no one could say that Mr. Cheek was doing “commissioner work” while on the clock as water billing clerk. He obviously doesn’t spend much time doing anything for this town after he punches out for the day, unless there’s a meeting to attend, and then his main focus seems to be on obstructing any idea – good, bad, or indifferent – that comes from Commissioner Vicki Caudle. Both projects were apparently approved by a majority of the board (three commissioners) via text messages or telephone calls because the work was completed soon afterward without any mention or any votes taken in a public meeting.
Projects like this, relating to the construction and maintenance of local municipal streets, sidewalks, and bike paths, are typically funded through a piece of legislation called the Powell Bill. For those unfamiliar here’s how the Powell Bill is described at NCpedia: ”
“The Powell Bill was the successful product of a 15-year fight by the League of Municipalities to have the state of North Carolina fund the building and maintenance of major city streets. Senate Bill 120, as it was known to legislators, was introduced on 30 Jan. 1951 by Junius K. Powell of Whiteville and 37 other state senators. After Governor William Kerr Scott recommended an additional one-cent gasoline tax to fund the proposed measure, the Powell Bill became Chapter 260 of the 1951 General Statutes of North Carolina on 15 Mar. 1951.
“Section 1 asserted that city and town streets were part of the state public roads system and would be constructed, reconstructed, and maintained by the State Highway and Public Works Commission from state highway funds. Section 2 provided additional money (taken from a half-cent gas tax) directly to municipalities-based on their population and street mileage-to maintain, repair, and construct city streets that were not part of the state highway system. Since the Powell Bill’s ratification in 1951, minor changes have been made, generally increasing allocation to cities under Section 2.”
I did a little digging and found this document, produced by the state of North Carolina, indicating that in 2018 the Town of Rameur received $49,312.04 in Powell funds. I was under the impression that unused funds reverted back to the state each year, but when I asked our recently departed Town Clerk, Bobbie Hatley, how much money was left at the end of fiscal year that ended 30 June 2019, in an email dated July 2nd, she stated, “The fiscal year ending balance was $208,715. A municipality is allowed to have up to 5 years’ worth of disbursements accumulated. Over that could result in funds reverting back or lowed future disbursements.”
In other words, Ramseur currently has over $200,000 of money that could be used to repair our streets, so why isn’t there enough “money in the budget” to repair my street and others in similar states of disrepair? I spoke to Jim McIntosh, former director of our public works department, and he indicated that part of the problem may have to do with the fact that Church Street isn’t wide enough to meet current state standards.
Having spent much of my adult life working in public utilities I am aware of that standard. Church Street is essentially a nineteenth century (1800s) wagon path with a layer of stone and asphalt laid on top of it. Some of the old mill houses here sit less than thirty feet from the street. In front of my home there is a paved ditch about six inches deep and over a foot wide in the edge of the street to divert stormwater runoff into a catch basin.
I can’t speak for the rest of my neighbors but given the amount of traffic activities at First Christian Church generate on our otherwise quiet street, I think most of us would be willing to give up a few feet of frontage in exchange for a modern curb and gutter system and a wider street if that’s what it takes to get these repairs made.
So far I’ve described the crumbling street and the broken antique storm drain system we have here, but there’s more. The water lines under Church Street are almost a century old. That’s pretty much prehistoric in terms of infrastructure. The lines are most likely cast iron and full of rust. My bathtub is permanently stained as I’m sure are many of my neighbors’ are as well. The water here is often undrinkable by the time it gets to our taps because no matter how clean it leaves the plant it has to travel through thousands of feet of bad distribution pipes.
One of my neighbors, Mr. Ernie Mitchell, has gone before the Board of Commissioners many times over the last several years and literally begged them to find the money to replace these rotten pipes, and every year he gets ignored. There is simply no longer any reasonable excuse left for this negligence.
During the budget audit report presented a few months ago Commissioner Cheek, who currently has sole responsibility for our water and sewer department, as well as public works and streets, pointed out what great financial shape our water and sewer enterprise funds are in.
Even if we don’t have the money on hand to replace these pipes, there are grant opportunities available for such things almost every year, and Mr. Cheek has now had nearly four years to find and apply for those opportunities. Such has not been the case.
I could go on with this list for a while longer. I could tell you about the speed limit signs promised after I presented a petition, signed by most of my neighbors, to the Board of Commissioners several years ago, but never materialized. Or I could mention the missing street sign at the corner of Coleridge Road and Carter Street, which should have been replaced years ago, but this post is already too long, so I’ll leave you today with one more thing to think about.
Last summer, when I was frequenting the municipal office and on speaking terms with Mr. Cheek and our mayor – before they proved themselves to be men of little or no integrity – we once had a discussion about how it is that some people in this town seem able to get anything they want, when they want it, while requests or complaints from other citizens are essentially ignored.
Mr. Cheek told me then that in Ramseur everything depends on who you are. I was under the impression then that he and I agreed that such corrupt practices have no place in our government, but obviously I was being misled, given the abuse of power I have since witnessed Mr. Cheek use for the benefit of himself, Commissioner Smith, and others. Mr. Cheek has no business on our Board of Commissioners, and less business working in town hall.