Posted on 18 March 2015.
By ANDREW WARFIELD
Lake Norman Citizen
WINSTON-SALEM – In his opening remarks at the Town of Cornelius budget and planning retreat at Graylyn International Conference Center in Winston-Salem Tuesday morning, Mayor Chuck Travis issued several challenges to commissioners.
Think creatively. Think about the future while addressing current needs. Make real progress toward making Cornelius a real lake town with public lake access.
And speak up.
“We’re a board that doesn’t talk very much,” Travis told commissioners. “We’re efficient, which is nice. We get the job done. For the next day-and-a-half, if you have something on your mind and have something to say, say it.”
Travis encouraged commissioners to consider present and future needs when discussing the fiscal year 2016 tax rate during the retreat and the upcoming budget season, setting the stage for possible fiscal debate.
“This year we may hold tax rates the same,” Travis said. “What does that mean for the future?”
Among significant spending consideration will be a request commissioners heard earlier this month from Police Chief Bence Hoyle for an upgrade in the town’s computer assisted dispatch (CAD) and records management system (RMS) — a new, integrated piece of software that would cost upwards of $550,000. Hoyle told commissioners on March 2 that he’s planning not just for five years in the future but 20 years, and such an investment is critical for his department to continue its level of service as the town grows.
With spending conversation to include an arts facility, residential infill development in old town Cornelius, transportation needs, approved bond spending and more, Travis encouraged the board to think beyond resolving the budget for next fiscal year.
“Challenge yourself to think about where Cornelius is going to be in five years and in 10 years,” Travis said.
It didn’t take long for Town Manager Anthony Roberts to go deep into the subject of transportation improvement costs, telling commissioners the town will have to act soon on at least two significant projects or risk losing state funds and grants.
The deadline for the long-discussed Northcross Drive extension from where it ends near the Huntersville border through the undeveloped Cook family land, and then to Eagle Ridge Way Lane through a portion of Robbins Park, is fast approaching, and a commitment from the town to secure a $5.72 million Surface Transportation Program-Direct Attributable grant is due by the end of the current fiscal year, June 30. The town’s match for the grant is $2.56 million and the town is seeking $2 million in bonus allocation money from the state, made available because of the area’s participation in the managed lanes project on I-77.
At issue is the question of the preferred route of the road through the Cook property absent the input of a developer. There is no plan for the site now, and the town wants to balance the risk of planning its portion of the road from the Cook property line and running behind the Alexander Chase neighborhood to Eagle Ridge Way Lane, which connects with Westmoreland Road.
“We need to make a decision on that soon,” Roberts said. “Very soon.”
Not quite as pressing is West Catawba Avenue Phase II widening from Jetton Road to N.C. 73, which the North Carolina Department of Transportation projects at a cost of $29 million as a “superstreet” project. The schedule has been pushed back by the NCDOT from a 2017 start to 2019. The town has committed $1.2 million to the construction plus an additional $2.63 million in aesthetic improvements, such as mast arms, signage, etc., similar to the prior widening of West Catawba Avenue from I-77 to Jetton Road.
“At some time we’re going to have to make a commitment to the DOT whether we’re doing it or not doing it,” Roberts told the board. And if the town does move forward, it must decide whether to follow the “Cary model” of funding, which effectively means fronting portions of the project as a loan to the state to move the project up earlier on the list, perhaps by $7 million for a one-year advancement to upwards of $15 million to have it built two years earlier.
Other significant projects to be discussed are aesthetic improvements and possible widening of N.C. 115 through the downtown area to the Davidson border. That’s a hot button issue for Commissioner Woody Washam, a Cornelius native, who maintains that the highway is effectively the town’s “Main Street,” yet remains neglected and, even worse, appears blighted when compared to the same road through downtown Davidson just a mile to the north.
That project would include utility line burial along the road at a cost of $2.2 million to the town, which is seeking additional participation from the state including requested bonus allocation funding of $6 million for intersection improvements at Potts Street, Davidson Street and Main Street.
“I’ve been around here 60-something years and it looks no different,” said Washam of the stretch of road between Catawba Avenue and Davidson.
Roberts suggested breaking corridor improvements into digestible pieces to move the process forward, but Travis floated the idea of the town taking on the corridor improvement itself rather than waiting for NCDOT participation. “We need to take our destiny in our own hands,” said Travis.
Added Commissioner Jim Duke, “Breaking it into little pieces sometimes isn’t a good idea. Let’s bite it off and get it done. People want to see things happening.”
A project fully funded by the state is the reclamation of Jetton Road from West Catawba Avenue to John Connor Road. The project entails essentially rebuilding the street from the roadbed up.
Roberts told commissioners the project is expected to begin April 6 with a projected completion date of June 14. Once complete, the road will be turned over to the town for maintenance. (See related story, “http://corneliusnews.net/blog/2015/03/06/ncdot-weighing-2-bids-for-jetton-road-resurfacing/”)
The retreat was scheduled to conclude Wednesday at midday, after sessions on the town’s financial condition and budget directives from the board to the town manager.
AGENDA AND DOCUMENTS
See the agenda and documents at http://corneliuspublic.novusagenda.com