Council holds planning retreat

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Feb. 26—HENDERSON — The city council, sans members Lamont Noel and Sara Coffey, met at the Satterwhite Point Community House on Monday for their annual planning retreat.

That's where the council sets their goals and priorities for the coming year, as well as reviews updates from goals set in previous years.

Near the beginning, they discussed some items specific to the council as a governing body. Council member Geraldine Champion questioned City Manager Terrell Blackmon about the possibility of instituting an attendance policy for council members. There's no such policy at the moment.

Mayor Melissa Elliott pointed out that council members and the mayor haven't seen pay raises for the past 18 years. She also said they aren't in it for the money.

Before they got to the meat of the meeting, council members enjoyed some lunch from Oxford's Family Diner — it was some bona fide Southern cuisine, chicken, mac and cheese and green beans with some pie and cobbler afterward. Apostle Joann Evans from Divine Habitation Ministries delivered the invocation.

Improving the city's reputation was at the top of the last Strategic Plan, adopted in 2022. The council brainstormed some ideas for how to do so.

Elliott floated the idea of "tapping into untapped resources" to decorate the city. She's talking about accepting the help of locals who offer, having received questions from local schools asking what they can do, for example.

Garry Daeke suggested coming up with two to three small projects for local students, akin to the mural on the side of Sadie's Coffee Corner. Vance County High School Art Club students painted the piece, a collection of iconic local images like the clock tower, a few years back.

Speaking of beautification, the council also discussed code enforcement.

Improving the town's image is especially important given the state Department of Transportation's S-Line project, which is slated to be completed by around 2030. With more people coming through Henderson, the council agreed they wanted to make the city more inviting.

One way of doing so would be to get a hotel downtown, Champion said.

Elliott suggested Development Services assign an inspector to the downtown area to help speed up code enforcement.

One last thing — the council should vote to adopt a unified development ordinance that would give Development Services Director Corey Williams more tools when dealing with property owners who are out of code.

Item number two was attracting and retaining more employees. Last year, the council voted through a pay raise for city police officers to $48,959, a $700 or so increase.

Regardless, there are still a few vacancies in city departments — Police Chief Marcus Barrow is down 10 officers and Development Services has two vacancies, though Director Corey Williams has found a potential candidate for development technician, said Blackmon. Fire Chief Tim Twisdale is missing four firefighters.

Firefighters in Henderson make around $37,500 — Blackmon "put a bug" into the council's ears, suggesting it's time to consider raising their pay. That's well below the region's benchmark of $43,000 to $45,000, said Blackmon.

The third item was increasing the city's housing stock. A 2020 UNC School of Government study declared the city around 3,000 houses short.

Several developments in the community might address that shortage — Dabney Village is slated to bring 750 new homes and expand the city's walkability. The developers, GBF Holdings, are awaiting the results of a traffic impact study before submitting their final plans for the site.

A True Homes project on Vicksboro Road will bring around 340, give or take.

Lastly, Elliott has been working alongside Oxford Mayor Guillermo Nurse to establish an intergovernmental committee in the interest of cross-town cooperation.