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Downtown alley closed in L-burg

LOUISBURG -- The Louisburg town council voted unanimously Monday night to close, at least temporarily, a downtown alley despite the objections of a local businessman.

The town-owned alley is on North Main Street between a building owned by Parker Lumpkin and the Lancaster Apartments building now owned by Tim Thomas.

The vote came after a public hearing on the closing during which local businessman Felix Allen told the council that the closing "serves no useful purpose."

The closing will "not solve the problem of litter and gathering to conduct business that's not appropriate," Allen told the board.

Instead, the "solution to these problems and lots of other problems downtown is to have the police enforce the laws and disrupt these gatherings."

The closing, Allen said, "just moves the problem to another area nearby."

The solution, he emphasized is having "the police enforcing the rules and patrolling the area."

The idea of closing the alley has been batted around by town officials for several months and Mayor Karl Pernell said Monday night that the closing will be temporary to allow the town three to six months to evaluate its effectiveness.

The idea is to put up gates at both ends of the alley -- and to have town crews continue to pick up litter and other debris in the alley at least once a week.

On a more positive note, the town council was presented copies of a Louisburg historic homes tour booklet by Maury York, director of the Tar River Center for History and Culture.

York explained that 7,000 copies of the booklet were printed and will be distributed mostly outside of Franklin County in an effort to lure tourists to town to enjoy the community's "extraordinary architecture."

"We hope they will come and enjoy it -- and spend some money while they are here," York said.

The booklet, which contains a fold-out map of the area, features photographs, descriptions and some history about 30 properties, mostly in the downtown district.

Billed as a "walk, bike or drive" tour, the booklet is part of a growing effort to put more emphasis on tourism as an economic development tool.

York said volunteers put in at least $15,000 worth of work on the project that was funded through the Franklin County Tourism Development Authority.

"It's part of the effort to have Louisburg seen as a destination," added Dewey Botts who was chair of last weekend's successful Historic Homes and Gardens Tour that was a fund-raiser for the Person Place Preservation Society.

Town Council member Emma Stewart said that Louisburg has benefited from more than $16 million worth of historic preservation projects and noted that the North Carolina State Senate is uncertain about renewing the successful historic tax credit program.

She said she met with Sen. Chad Barefoot during last weekend's historic homes tour.

She reported that he called the tax incentive package "too expensive," to which she responded that it creates a payback which is 10-fold what it costs.

"We are very glad for that $16 million in investment," she said, urging the council to join with nearby Warrenton, another community enjoying the benefits of history-related tourism, to pass a resolution in support of the tax credits.

The council voted to support the tax credits and urged Barefoot to vote for them. (Council members Boyd Sturges and Tom Clancy recused themselves from the vote because both own historic properties that could benefit if tax credits are renewed.)

In other action Monday night, the council listened to two local residents complain about the high cost of electricity in town.

Chris Neal and Michelle Minto both told the board that high electric bills, especially this winter, have created a major hardship for many residents.

"You need to get out in front of this issue," Neal told the board, adding that recent electricity bills have ranged from $500 to $900 a month and more, often totaling more than the rent being paid.

Minto said that from December to now she has paid more than $2,000 in electricity bills and called that "outrageous."

After a brief discussion, the council asked town Utilities Director Ray Patterson and Council member George Manley to meet with residents to see what they could do to lower their electricity bills.

In addition, a pending deal between ElectriCities, of which Louisburg is a part, and Duke Power may provide some relief.

Duke is planning to buy the generating capacity of ElectriCities and that could cut the wholesale rates Louisburg pays although the exact amount of any such cutbacks is uncertain since the deal is months away from closing.

Finally, the council approved a loan commitment letter from Union Band and Trust Company to purchase a police car. The bank, which was the only one to bid, offered a 36-month loan at 2.55 percent. (Councilman Sturges, who is a member of the Union Bank Board of Directors, recused himself from this vote.)

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