ASHEBORO — The Asheboro City Council has approved a lease agreement with Asheboro Mall to locate the Water Department administrative and billing offices in the mall.
The former billing office, which was at the Municipal Building on Church Street, has been closed since the COVID-19 pandemic.
During a special meeting of the council on Jan. 20, Debbie Reaves, the city’s finance officer, explained the decision to relocate the Water Department offices. She said the billing staff handles some 12,900 water invoices every month. While most customers opt to pay online or at two kiosks, there remain 2,600 who prefer to pay face-to-face, mostly during a three-day period leading up to the due date.
Reaves said that she has seen customers lined up outside the former office during the rush period. Parking at the Municipal Building is also limited, making it necessary for some customers to park in the municipal lot up the hill and beyond the “Roundhouse.” Construction next door on the Church Street Lofts has limited parking even more.
With reopening of the billing office imminent, Reaves said, the city staff began looking for other options, including the purchase of a building, that would have required extensive remodeling and eventual maintenance.
“The mall location has adequate parking close by,” she said. “It’s better than buying a building, renovating it and taking it off the tax rolls. That’s why we feel the mall is a good location.”
Showing overhead photos and drawings of the mall site, Reaves said the Water Department administrative and billing offices would be next to the new entrance on the west side of the mall where a portion of the Sears anchor once was.
As a water customer comes through the main door, the billing department will be just a few steps away on the right.
Once inside the billing department, customers would have plenty of queuing space within the 3,700 square feet of area. There would be payment counters and another area for customer service. Administrative offices would be behind the counters.
According to Reaves, the lease agreement is for five years with rent payments of $4,072.25 per month as well as $626.50 for common area/maintenance/taxes/insurance. Another $109.50 would be for trash removal. That’s a total of $4,808.39 per month, or $57,700.65 per year for the five years.
Council member Charles Swiers questioned the five-year lock-in of the lease. Reaves explained that “we wanted the mall to give us a favorable rate, which would flow to our customers. We’re not asking them to pay for renovations and then leave after two years. There’s not a prospect of a new location. We felt that the five-year term was fair and reasonable. The rate is lower than others in the mall. This will allow flexibility to make changes down the road.”
She said the staff is hopeful that the office can open approximately 90 days from execution of the lease but such a target will be dependent on availability of supplies and materials needed for the upfit.
Mayor David Smith said that the perception of some customers would be that the walk from the parking lot and through the mall would be longer. However, Reaves said she had walked the distances from both the former office at the Municipal Building and the distance from parking to the mall office. She said she found the mall walk more convenient. “It’s a win from where we were before,” Reaves said.
The mayor responded that “it’s up to us to make sure the public understands. It’s absolutely necessary to do that.”
City Manager John Ogburn said, “When you spend public dollars, you want it to grow out and create more wealth. We hope this will create more traffic for the mall.”
Walker Moffitt, mayor pro tem, said the city had looked at buying other buildings and he concluded, “This rent is almost free.” He showed how the figures favored the mall lease.
He divided the approximately $5,700 annual rent and fees by $1.40, just more than the city’s property tax rate. That’s the tax amount for property valued at more than $4 million. Walker went on to say that if the city bought a building for $2 million, it would have to be taken off the tax rolls and the city would lose approximately half the annual rent for the mall site. Also, the city would have had to maintain the building and parking lot.
Another benefit of leasing from the mall, Reaves said, is the security officers in the mall. She said the billing office often has large amounts of money. Added to the security force will be cameras installed at various locations around the billing office.
Once the offices move into the mall, Reaves said, the drive-thru water bill payment kiosk on Dixie Drive will at some point be moved to the mall.
Moffitt made the motion to enter into the agreement with Asheboro Mall LLC and Eddie Burks seconded the motion. The vote to approve was unanimous.