Fairmont stalls on youth center

By: By Scott Bigelow - Staff writer

FAIRMONT The Fairmont Town Board of Commissioners took two steps forward and one back Tuesday in establishing a youth center.

The commissioners seemed to do an about-face on the establishment of a citizen advisory board, eventually tabling the issue until the their March meeting.

During debate Tuesday, a majority of the commissioners argued that an advisory board is not needed. The commissioners asked in January for guidelines for a board.

“It may be better for whoever runs the youth center to have their own board,” Commissioner Monte McCallum said.

“An advisory board may limit what can be done for youth,” Mayor Charles Townsend said.

Issues with maintaining membership on citizen boards and legal liabilities for the town were discussed Tuesday.

Commissioner Charles Kemp, who has been a strong advocate for the youth center, said he “did not see the harm in having seven citizens, chosen by this board, to weigh in. I can’t see how it would be unproductive, and I believe community input is appropriate.”

Town Attorney Rob Price said an advisory board would have no effect on legal liabilities.

“In terms of creating liability, I don’t see it,” Price said.

Commissioner Terry Evans proposed that the town manager should have oversight of the youth center.

The commissioners decided they will discuss youth center operations with third parties.

Town Manager Katrina Tatum said several groups have expressed interest, including SWELL, or STEM Wellness Empowering Lifelong Learning, a Rockingham company.

Representatives of the company made a presentation to the commissioners on Tuesday. They said the company takes a holistic approach with youth that involves assessing life factors, including mental health and substance abuse.

“We’re not just about giving snacks after school. It’s a structured learning environment that is also fun,” said Denise Cozart, SWELL’s mental health coordinator. “Our programs are not a one-size-fits-all, but we already know there are problems here with education and legal issues for youth.”

SWELL focuses on STEM learning and aims to educate youth for 21st century jobs. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

“It’s not just about youth. It’s about communities,” said James Hamilton, SWELL’s finance director.

Mayor Townsend expressed optimism about what a youth center can do.

“We could be a place where good things happen for our youth and our community, and everyone will have to be engaged,” he said.

The commissioners appointed three members to fill vacancies on its Economic Development Committee. The new members are Sam Johnson, an optometrist; Mark Madden, a banker; and Terry Hunt.

The newest members were recommended by Tatum, who was tasked to find one more member to fill out the board.

The commissioners approved selling the town’s 1990 Volvo fire truck, which has proved unreliable and difficult to drive. And they authorized Tatum to contract with a financial institution to finance equipment, asking that she get the best interest rate and terms possible.

The commissioners approved a new policy to seek larger deposits from habitually slow-paying customers of utilities. Current utility deposits are $75 for homeowners and $150 for renters. The town will now require customers to pay an additional deposit equivalent to the amount their bills are overdue.

The town also will get tougher with nonpaying sewer customers. The board approved a policy to place liens on owner-occupied properties that are delinquent.

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By Scott Bigelow

Staff writer

Reach Scott Bigelow at 910-644-4497 or [email protected]

Reach Scott Bigelow at 910-644-4497 or [email protected]