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Good leaders tend to embrace the concept that there is no ‘me’ on the team – and in discussing 12 years of accomplishments as the CEO of Mount Airy, Barbara Jones has spoken almost as much of its staff.
“Each member works with passion, compassion and professionalism,” observed Jones, who will retire Oct. 1 after a 30-year career in municipal public service.
“We all have a great bond, partnership and friendship,” Jones added of the various department heads and others she worked with during this time.
“It is sincere and there is a certain sadness in retirement,” said the city official of her upcoming departure. “I will miss working with them, but we will all remain friends. “
Jones was a trailblazer during her time at Town Hall, becoming not only Mount Airy’s first female manager in 2010, but the longest-serving one.
Its local government experience actually goes back further.
Jones, who is from Carroll County, Va., Recalled that his first job right out of school was as a clerk with the county administrator. In addition to this role and others, the retired city manager has been involved in the public service for over 40 years.
She was hired as a City Clerk at Mount Airy in the early 1990s and eventually became Deputy City Manager before being appointed to her current position in August 2010.
Focused on finances
Mount Airy faced many challenges during Barbara Jones’ tenure, some of an economic nature due to the closure of textile and furniture factories over the past 20 years. This not only negatively impacted residents, but also put pressure on the city government to provide needed services amid a shrinking tax base.
Consequently, the financial health of the municipality has been a major concern for Jones during his managerial career.
“Taxes are lower today than when I took office,” she said afterwards.
The Mount Airy fund balance – also known as surplus, savings and reserves – is another.
“We have created a strong fund balance,” Jones said. “The 2020-2021 fiscal year ended (June 30) with an estimated fund balance of $ 14 million.”
The city’s financial situation is not rosy from Jones’ perspective alone, but it is supported by the required annual audits of its books by an independent accountancy firm from out of town.
“With our audits, we have received rave reviews on accountability,” she summed up. “I received a comment from a listener that this is the best managed city in his district, possibly the state.”
Jones has high regard for Mount Airy’s Chief Financial Officer Pam Stone, who has been a fiscal right-hand man for Jones since taking on the role in 2014, including the arduous task of helping prepare the municipal budget. annual.
And Stone is expected to play an important role after Jones leaves when Director of Parks and Recreation Darren Lewis becomes Acting City Manager to oversee day-to-day operations until a permanent replacement is hired.
Lewis will work closely with Stone during this time.
Discussing what she considers her most significant accomplishments, Jones was quick to thank those around her as well:
“Leaving town in a solid financial position and with great staff. “
Still, it wasn’t about saving money just to look good on paper while ignoring capital needs, which involve significant expenses for vehicles, equipment, and buildings.
“We have spent over $ 21 million during my tenure as manager to keep police cars rotated,” Jones explained, as well as obtaining equipment to allow officers to stay safe and secure. day. “We bought three fire trucks, upgraded our computer system (information technology) and met many other needs.
In some cases, money from the fund balance has been used, but the outgoing manager says grants have also been secured for such efforts as expanding the Mount Airy greenway system and upgrading utilities. “I have worked to accomplish many projects without creating debt for our citizens. “
Recognizing that the health of the local business community directly affects city government, Jones says she has tried to improve that relationship.
“We have partnered with many existing and new businesses, helping them to grow and create additional employment opportunities,” she detailed. “I feel like I am leaving this city in a great position for growth in the future.”
More than money
Also at the top of Jones’ list is a change implemented in December 2010 whereby the Mount Airy Fire Department – along with its primary function – began being dispatched to a wide variety of medical emergencies through a schedule. expanded first responders.
“The number of lives that have been saved is just huge,” Jones said of a total that has sometimes reached 14 per year.
Mount Airy has not only been recognized by the North Carolina Water Resources Division in Raleigh several times over the past decade for producing quality water, but it has been willing to share its excess supply with his neighbors.
These include Dobson, Pilot Mountain, Flat Rock, the so-called Interstates District and Carroll County.
“Being able to provide quality water to people is great,” Jones said.
In addition to the growth of the Green Lane, she prides herself on other recreational gains, including improvement programs and many improvements at the Reeves Community Center.
The city’s sanitation operations, meanwhile, were addressed with the launch of a curbside recycling program in 2011 and the acquisition of two automated garbage trucks earlier this year as a safety and cost saving measure. .
Once again, Jones praises the work of staff members to achieve such results under sometimes difficult circumstances, including vacancies in their ranks during the period of the pandemic. The city is budgeting 172 employees, but is operating on less, Jones said.
“Today, we are working more efficiently to provide high quality service to our citizens and are working with fewer employees.”
In addition to municipal staff, Jones has enjoyed an association with elected officials over the years, such as former mayors Maynard Beamer, Jack Loftis and David Rowe.
“I’ve had some great mentors to work with,” she said reflecting on her experiences in municipal government, which Jones is leaving in part to spend more time with her family, including her husband Weldon , her two children and four grandchildren.
“It’s been 30 great years – we’ve accomplished a lot.”
And during this time, Barbara Jones has relied on a simple philosophy, which has won success with those with whom she served as a manager – and with citizens:
“This job is about people,” she said.
“Life is about people and how you make them feel.”