North Carolina burning ban halts Memorial Day fireworks

Bring on the “oohs” and “aaahhs.”

The annual Fourth of July fireworks display will be held this year after being cancelled last year because of the pandemic. The go-ahead was given at a regular meeting of the Aberdeen Town Board on Monday.

No other events are planned around the fireworks. “We will continue to assess what we can do that day,” said Parks & Recreation Director Adam Crocker. “At this point, I would not anticipate any other activities going on.”

The event normally attracts tens of thousands of local families and out-of-town visitors who gather around Pages Lake and line countless side streets in Aberdeen to see the summer holiday tradition. The display can be seen from miles away.

Occupancy Tax Increase Expected

During the meeting, the mayor and town commissioners all agreed that increasing the hotel tax visitors pay when they stay in Moore County is a good idea. What the extra money will be used for is still undecided.

Currently, the occupancy tax is 3% and has been that way since it was enacted in 1987. It is looking like the tax will be raised 6%, the maximum allowed by the state, but that will have to be approved by the Moore County Commissioners. A vote is expected in the next 30 days.

“It does appear that the consideration by the board of county commissioners does have support at this point,” said Aberdeen Town Manager Paul Sabiston. “I think there will be a good, hard consideration of increasing that tax to be more in line with what the rest of the state is charging. We are one of, if not the only, remaining jurisdiction that is only at 3%.”

In a normal year, $1.7 million is collected in occupancy taxes across all of Moore County. That money is spent on marketing and advertising to promote the many attractions that draw visitors to the area. The Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) of Pinehurst, Southern Pines and Aberdeen determine how the funds are used.

The Town of Aberdeen wants to have some say as to how the money would be spent if the tax is increased. “There is some talk to have at least a small share of that tax go to the towns because they have their own events, big or small, that they would like to advertise for and promote,” said Sabiston.

Under the North Carolina legislation that permitted occupancy tax, only the CVB Board defines how the funds will be spent, according to CVB President and CEO Phil Werz. 

Sabiston pointed to a provision in the legislation that permits up to one-third of the money collected to be used for the construction of new facilities promoting tourism. He would like to see some of the money collected from the anticipated increase used for that purpose.

“If it goes from 3% to 6%, it is a lot of money,” said Aberdeen Mayor Robert Farrell. “There is a lot of tourism that comes to Moore County. A lot of people are waiting for COVID to lift, and I’m sure we will see a flood of people coming out to our golf courses. The CVB does an excellent job of advertising what we have, and they bring a lot of people and money to this area.” 

Injection of Funds

The Town of Aberdeen stands to receive $2.34 million from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, according to Sabiston. The act, also called the COVID-19 Stimulus Package, sets aside $1.9 trillion for direct payments to states, counties, cities, towns and individuals nationwide.

Funds from the relief package can be used by local governments to make up revenues lost due to the pandemic. Also eligible, infrastructure investments in water, sewer or broadband. Aberdeen is expected to receive half of the total funds from the federal government in early May. The other half is expected within a year.

Malcolm Blue Farm Grist Mill Repairs

After a long discussion, town commissioners voted to spend up to $18,000 for the repairs of the Malcolm Blue Farm Grist Mill. The money will be used to hire a contractor to address safety concerns raised at the last building inspection. 

The commissioners decided against authorizing a more extensive rebuilding project citing the need to assess the needs for repairs of the farmhouse, museum and outbuildings. The cost of more extensive repairs and rebuilding of the grist mill would have cost $43,000.

“Not knowing the other expenses that we face with the other historic portions of the farm, I would be hesitant to, at this point, to go all-in at $40,000 or $60,000,” said Commissioner Joe Dannelley “I think we would need a goal of salvaging what we have for the near term until we are given an opportunity to know what long term cost of the farm will be.”       

The Malcolm Blue Farm dates back to 1825 and is part of the North Carolina Civil War Theme Trails. In 2014, the Town of Aberdeen decided to take over the 7.4-acre parcel from the Malcolm Blue Historical Society. Today, it is best known as the site of an annual fall festival celebrating early farming settlers and crafts.

Sandhills_Sentinel~ Article and photo of fireworks in Moore County by Sandhills Sentinel Reporter John Patota.

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