Thomasville’s financial future is sound

United effort encourages stability
Jun. 07, 2013 @ 01:47 PM

The City of Thomasville has come a long way in recent years.

A series of events beginning in late 2005 left the Chair City in a financial fog. Faced with financial pressure from the state over its deficient budget as long-standing furniture jobs fled by the hundreds, Thomasville officials stood at a crossroads.

Led by a new city manager and a unified city council working hand-in-hand with the community, Thomasville is nearing the end of a tunnel that in 2006 seemed miles away.

As the Chair City makes a run at the National Civic League’s All-America City Award, Thomasville’s future is showing promise. Armed with a balanced budget, an all-time best A+ credit rating from Standard & Poors and committed partners like the Davidson County Economic Development Commission, city leaders are working hard to create jobs, address infrastructure needs and stimulate growth in an area that has endured its share of hardships.

“It was combination of good management practices on our part and good financial stewardship by our councils,” said City Manager Kelly Craver, who started his job as the financial struggle began. “I inherited a company that was not financially healthy. We knew we needed to deal with this situation and formulate a plan to get the city in better financial shape.”

When the State Treasurer sent a letter to the city in December 2005, Thomasville lagged well behind other municipalities its size. Losing money to help pay for hurricane damage at the coast only weakened an already lagging budget, and the state sat ready to take control Thomasville‘s finances. Like any household trying to balance a budget, Craver said city officials started looking at ways to spend less and save more. Beginning in 2006, the city froze and eliminated several positions, restructured its capital purchases, bought used equipment when possible and set out with a plan to put aside 3 cents of the property tax rate toward rebuilding its fund balance.

This year’s budget featured a 20-percent reserve fund balance.

“The revenue side you can’t control,” Craver said. “We did those things you have to do on the expenditure side. We streamlined our organization somewhat. Our council had a goal and they took a very positive step. We were able to reach that goal. It has been a team effort to get to where we are.”

City Council knew they were not alone when it came to massive job loss. With the National Recession impacting communities nationwide, city leaders sought examples of municipalities that found a way to not just survive but somehow flourish.

A trip to Danville, Va., last May gave them that.

In the past year, the two themes resonating from that trip, cooperation and collaboration, have sparked a commitment to revitalizing downtown, a successful citywide playground project and advances in the city’s task of upgrading an aging infrastructure.

In June 2012, the city approved tax incentives for business owners who improve their downtown property from $150,000 to $200,000. When the opportunity presents itself, city council has shown a willingness to offer performance-based economic incentives to prospective companies considering an investment in Thomasville.

“We also work with our partners at [Davidson County Community College],” Councilwoman Pat Shelton said. “That partnership is available for any company that wants to come here. It’s another asset we have. We‘ve got incentives we can offer new businesses if they meet certain criteria and we‘ve been pretty successful with that.”

The Thomasville Area Chamber of Commerce and its strategic plan, EnVision, is receiving council and community support for trying to revitalize the Chair City economy.

“We recognize that large manufacturing isn’t coming back like that,” said Shelton. “What we would like to see is more smaller companies coming in to fill up the empty spaces. We know the direction we want to go in. We‘re trying to be more business friendly and make people want to do business in Thomasville.”

Last summer, council introduced the Sewer Hookup Grant Program. Residents not connected to the city’s sewer system could receive $500 to help cover any tapping expenses.

Residents have seen water and sewer rates go up of late, but council feels the city’s antiquated infrastructure no longer can be ignored. Several sewer line replacement and treatment plant upgrade projects  are on the horizon, and long overdue.

“None of us are happy with the increases in the water and sewer,” said Councilman Raleigh York. “We know the rates are high, but our infrastructure is fairly dilapidated and its been let go for so long. We decided we‘re going to address them. We‘re going to bite the bullet and do it. By in-large, our people are understanding.”

When the Thomasville Rotary Club needed funds for its Children at Play initiative, council helped pay for a program that resulted in new playground at all seven city parks. This initiative is a key component in Thomasville being one of 20 cities in the running for the All-America City Award.

 

Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or duke@tvilletimes.com.