Ronnie Thompson State of the City 2019 photo

Morganton Mayor Ronnie Thompson speaks to members of the Morganton Recreation Seniors at the Collett Street Recreation Center.

Editor’s Note: This is the final part of a three-part series.

Morganton Mayor Ronnie Thompson has been speaking to community organizations in Morganton this year to share his annual State of the City address. He stopped by to speak with the Morganton Recreation Seniors at the Collett St. Recreation Center on Jan. 24.

After sharing information on the budget and new development coming to Morganton, he addressed the challenges the city is facing and what officials are doing to try and overcome them.

He noted a lack of skilled trades workers, such as plumbers and electricians

He said Western Piedmont Community College is working on getting more young people trained in the trades, primarily through its Mechatronics program.

Thompson also noted significant problems with housing in Morganton, including lots of vacant housing and lack of houses that are affordable and desirable.

The city has set aside $120,000 for a Downtown Housing Improvement Program that provides loans for people to renovate upper-floor spaces downtown for residential use. The city also plans to look at some potential rezoning to accommodate “granny pods,” or small housing units for senior relatives built on properties with existing homes.

The city is also looking at other locations to build small homes or apartments.

Someone asked about the old Drexel Heritage plant across from Roses’ discount store currently being renovated into an apartment complex. Thompson said he recently got word that the owner plans to hold a ribbon cutting ceremony on March 1.

» Opioid epidemic

Thompson said that substance use disorders, especially opioid abuse, continue to be a major challenge for the city. He shared that one 1 in 4 people in North Carolina die from an opioid overdose every day.

“The Burke Substance Abuse Network is working with the doctors, the dentists, the health department, mental health and the sheriff’s department,” Thompson said. “They meet the last Friday every month to talk about how to come to grips with that, because a lot of our violent crime and breaking and enterings are caused by people breaking into houses to get drugs or money to get drugs.”

Thompson addressed other problems that attendees at the meeting inquired about:

» On status of the sinkhole underneath the railroad tracks downtown:

“ It’s a major concern,” Thompson said. “The railroad refuses to fix it. They say the city can fix it, if we want to spend $800,000. I don’t think we ought to use your tax money to fix their property. But that could be a big problem, because if a train came though and that sinkhole finally gave way, that whole railroad track would collapse.”

» On plans to change College Street from a four-lane to a two-lane road:

“ I think one of the reasons is that they want to make it so more people can walk and not use vehicles to get to the greenway,” Thompson said. “We’re trying to bring a system of trails and greenways so people can get out and walk as much as they want to. If you go out there now, there’s really not a lot of traffic on that four-way road. We’d like to put in a sidewalk and a bike path there and put a median down the middle.”

» On the status of the new Broughton Hospital:

“ It was scheduled to open in 2014, so that means they’re at least five years overdue,” Thompson said. “I took a tour last November, and it looked finished to me, but I don’t know anything about the structure and those plans. They had the elevators working and tables and chairs in the dining room, and the beds were in. I don’t know that local people have any idea when the state people are going to move anybody. Now some of the lawyers and companies are suing each other. I really don’t see it opening in 2019.”

On the local homeless population:

“ David Burleson (executive director of Burke United Christian Ministries) and I talk a lot about this,” Thompson said. “We have about 83 homeless people currently. Those people who are homeless or want to be homeless can go get a tent and a sleeping bag and lots of stuff down at Burke United Christian Ministries, and the city can’t take them. It’s a recurring problem.

“One of the situations we found out about this past year is that some of the counties are having some homeless people, and they put them in a car and bring them up here Burke United Christian Ministries and drop them off and then go back home and just leave them here. They tell them, ‘If you go to Morganton to Burke United Christian Ministries, you get three meals a day.’ We’re not excited about that, because they (BUCM) just don’t have the resources for that.”

Staff writer Tammie Gercken can be reached at tgercken@morganton.com.

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