Siler City board grapples with event planning as pandemic wanes

Posted 4/7/21

SILER CITY — The town’s board of commissioners deliberated over two potential upcoming events in its regular meeting Monday, weighing future pandemic uncertainty and fiscal limitations against …

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Siler City board grapples with event planning as pandemic wanes

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SILER CITY — The town’s board of commissioners deliberated over two potential upcoming events in its regular meeting Monday, weighing future pandemic uncertainty and fiscal limitations against community calls for town-sponsored activities.

A month ago, Siler City resident Donald Matthews petitioned the board during the public comments section of a regular meeting to officially recognize the town’s historically Black business district. The block of buildings on Birch Street, and some others downtown, were owned and operated by several Black residents, Matthews said, when the town was still segregated in the mid-20th Century. He suggested the town honor these past town leaders with a mural and establishment of an annual Juneteenth festival.

“This part of our history will be lost if we do not take advantage of the situation now,” Matthews wrote in his proposal to the board. “Many of those that remember are dying, pictures are getting hard to come by.”

To fund the mural and endow a fund to launch the Juneteenth commemoration, Matthews requested as much as $4,500 from the town, but estimated $3,660 would be enough. About $2,500 would cover the mural’s installation and an accompanying plaque. Another $1,000 would serve as seed money for the celebration, and the rest would pay for security, advertisement and other associated costs.

The commissioners were excited to learn of the town’s unique history and eager to oblige Matthews’ request, but many expressed apprehension about proceeding without a more complete proposal. The town is in the midst of its budgeting session and money is tight. Matthews had not submitted the town’s grant request documentation in advance of the meeting, an oversight which made it impossible for the commissioners to evaluate the exact demands of his petition.

“Understanding that we haven’t picked out an artist (for the mural), we don’t have a rendering, and it’s a proposed budget — we don’t know exactly what the budget is,” Commissioner Bill Haiges said, “you’re asking us to commit to funding something ... that we just don’t have right now.”

Haiges emphasized that “this is an incredibly important and very worthy cause,” and that he wanted the town to back it, but without a more comprehensive breakdown of costs, there was little the board could do.

“The paperwork that’s filled out for grant requests, it’s required of everybody,” Commissioner Lewis Fadely added. “... I would ask you to hurry up and get those in ... please work on those as quickly as you can.”

Matthews was dismayed with the commissioners’ response and their assertion that fielding such requests is “complicated.”

“I really don’t think it is,” he said. “When you think of the value of your citizens and what we’re asking you to do, it’s something that has never been done before. And so I don’t see where it’s complicated at all. I think it’s kind of a no-brainer, because we’re at a time now where so much is going on in this world, so much division has gone on in this world.”

Still, the board could not proceed with a vote. The commissioners promised, though, to consider Matthews’ request again in its next meeting on April 19 if he could submit the requisite paperwork in time.

Chatham 250

Matthews wasn’t the only attendee on Monday requesting Siler City sponsor an event. Several county representatives and members of the Chatham 250 committee — organizers behind a series of events to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Chatham’s founding — requested the town host a parade to close out the year-long celebration.

The event is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 23.

“The parade route will be starting at Bray Park and ending across the street from the fire station,” said Town Manager Roy Lynch. “This parade route has been vetted through (town) staff, and they are in agreement.”

Siler City Police Chief Mike Wagner had also approved of the event, Lynch said, as had Sheriff Mike Roberson.

The commissioners were pleased with the prospective attention Chatham 250 might bring the town, but they were quick to point out that hastening to approve the event might betray a double standard.

“We’ve already canceled one festival,” Fadely said referencing the Siler City Spring Chicken Festival. “We had a request tonight for another; we need to be treating similarly situated events as equally as feasibly possible.”

He acknowledged, though, that a parade might offer more protection from COVID-19 exposure than the Chicken Festival would have.

“I know this event is a little bit different,” Fadely said. “It’s more in-car as opposed to people getting together to eat and listen to music and that type of thing.”

Lynch added that Chatham County’s request was not for commitment to a specific date or even the exact event arrangements.

“It’s just to approve the sponsor agreement,” he said. “That is not directed at a date, that is just to state that the town will sponsor the event.”

As part of sponsorship, the town would contribute $500 toward organization expenses, a “minute amount,” Mayor Pro Tem Cindy Bray said.

Following Lynch’s clarification, the board voted unanimously to sponsor the Chatham 250 parade.

Other action

• The board voted to schedule a public hearing on May 17 to consider a voluntary noncontiguous annexation petition for a new manufacturing building and stormwater filter area at 1217 Harold Andrews Rd. in Siler City.

Town staff investigated the request and found that annexation would yield more the $5,000 in new tax revenue for the town without burdening its police force or other municipal services.

• As part of the American Rescue Plan Act, President Biden’s economic stimulus initiative, the town is “poised to be receiving some funding,” Lynch said.

More details are forthcoming.

Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at dldolder@chathamnr.com and on Twitter @dldolder.

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