Troutman Council sets project goals at special meeting
BY DEBBIE PAGE
Troutman Town Council members held a special work session on Tuesday to closely examine six projects and prioritize them according to community need and funding availability.
The council and town staff are looking at ways of providing the necessities while proactively planning for burgeoning growth without raising taxes.
Mayor Teross Young explained that town officials want to create a competitive community that is pleasant to live in that will attract economic development, noting that the town does not want to depend solely on residential property taxes and tax increases for revenues.
Layton Getsinger, former associate vice chancellor for Administration and Finance at East Carolina University and an adviser for this financial planning process, said that the council had to decide when to take leaps of faith, as it did last year with the ABC store, which has greatly exceeded expectations in projected sales.
“You didn’t know when you started this if it was going to be a bust or a boom", said Getsinger, who also serves as chairman of the Troutman ABC Board. The council and the board trusted a consultant’s report, which turned out to be “spot on,” and acted, leading to a successful venture for Troutman.
“We’re in those uncharted waters, if you will,” said Getsinger, “where we don’t have assurances of anything other than what we see right now. No one saw 2008 on the horizon, and a lot of people got caught short, so there’s some degree of calculated risk that has to be realized.”
Getsinger noted that the town needs to build a data-driven matrix with trigger points for hiring additional staff as the population grows to keep up with the needs and demands of the growing town.
Council members have already approved moving forward on several major projects, including a loan application in September for up to $1.5 million for sewer system replacement at Mill Village and upgrades throughout the system.
Staff recommends that council borrow $1,160,802 of the amount to complete these sewer improvements if the low-interest loan application is granted by the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality in January.
This long-needed sewer replacement in the Mill Village area and other improvements will begin as soon as funds become available, weather permitting, according to town officials.
In February the council also committed to a 38 percent ($491,430) match for a Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization (CRTPO) grant to improve sidewalk connectivity near schools and downtown and along Talley Street, which is scheduled to begin next year.
A commitment to match 20 percent ($197,997) of another $989,985 CRTPO grant to fund the construction of Richardson Greenway South to Jacobs Woods was also approved in February. This project is slated to begin in fiscal year 2020-21.
With these financial commitments and current and projected revenues in mind, council members next explored six projects that they would like to bring to fruition in the next five to 10 years to make Troutman an attractive area to live as well as to attract further economic development to the area.
During three hours of a presentation by Town Manager Justin Longino and discussion by Mayor Young and council members, the group examined each of the projects and chose two as a focus for exploration in the near term.
Utilizing electric clickers, individual council members voted for the projects in their preferred order of accomplishment. The group quickly established street repairs and improvements as its top priority.
Staff received a ranked list of town-maintained streets from West Consultants last winter, with 10 listed as most in need of repair, including Elliot and Winterflake, Barium Lane, Julian Place, West Avenue West, and East Thomas, Garden, East Church, Georgie, and Massey streets.
To bring these streets up to a high standard would cost an estimated $1,692,300. Repair costs range from $29,250 for Julian Place to nearly $235,000 for West Avenue West.
After debating which streets to choose first, the council decided to leave that selection up to the engineering experts. They decided to break the project up into two phases, proposing the town commit to acquiring a $850,000 loan for construction, engineering and contingency costs to repair five of the streets now and address the rest as funds are available in either the budget or through other funding opportunities.
Council members chose, as its second priority, to explore possibilities to expand recreational facilities beyond the 30-acre ESC Park and the town’s greenways. Town officials are meeting with one property owner next week to discuss a possible acquisition, with the proposed timeline for sometime in 2018.
The cost for this property could range from $400,000 to $1 million.
The town is also looking at several other properties as perspective venues for this expansion of the town’s healthy lifestyle and recreation offerings, which are important not only for current residents but also as important amenities to attract economic development.
Getsinger believes that the project would be operationally self-sustaining after the initial investment.
He mentioned the large demand for preschool age and after-school programs, as well as those for adult and senior fitness, health, and special interests.
“It could be a revenue generator because it would be a draw for all the people in the ETJ (extraterritorial jurisdiction),” said Getsinger.
“Project Fitness is the kind of thing that industry or businesses look at. The first thing management looks at is schools and then what kind of things a community has for children,” he added, mentioning youth leagues in a wide variety of sports as one enticement to attracting businesses to the area.
Getsinger also suggested looking at ways to recover revenue from existing park and recreational facilities from non-town residents.
Gateway Signage Property
Purchasing property at the south end of Troutman to place gateway signage to welcome folks as they enter the town originally scored second on the list of priorities, but council members decided to postpone consideration of this $28,475 expense until next fall after Town Planner Erika Martin pointed out that the town’s cost could be reduced to only 20 percent of that amount if they waited to use the Richardson Greenway South grant money available in October.
Placement of the sign at the south end of Eastway Drive was also questioned by Councilman Paul Bryant, who pointed out that Troutman also has annexed property more than three miles south, all the way to Westmoreland Road.
The gateway signage would help make a good impression on those entering Troutman and establish an entry point to advertise downtown businesses and amenities and to alert them to upcoming special events.
Town Hall Expansion
Space at the 6,000-square-foot Town Hall, which also houses the Troutman Police Department, is quite limited, with most staff doubling up in offices and inadequate storage space. The council chambers for the rapidly growing town are also often overcrowded during public meetings, with citizens having to stand.
Longino again presented the two options that have been under consideration by the council in the past. A $1.7 million addition would add larger council chamber and some office space, with the existing chamber converted into offices.
The full $4.1 million buildout would result in a 24,000-square-foot facility with new council chambers, additional office space, new departments, additional storage, and some area for lease until needed as the town grows.
Bryant proposed that the council delay any consideration of any Town Hall expansion until more roofs were built. With the current population at 2,900, Bryant wanted to see another 1,000 adult residents in town before this project was considered, to which other members were in agreement.
Current population projections by the Centralina Council of Governments have Troutman growing to over 10,000 people by 2025, a rate of 148 percent, with area employment growth projected at 255 percent.
Phase 2 of ESC Park
Troutman did not receive a requested N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) grant to fund the second phase of ESC Park in August, setting back plans to continue park expansion. The feedback indicated that the park’s master plan needed to be updated, especially in light of the planned walking trails, which may be less necessary now with the expanded greenway offerings.
Changes from the master plan have already occurred with the addition of two relocated volleyball courts that are being constructed in the park this month.
Martin and Parks and Recreation Coordinator Emily Watson are planning a public input meeting in January to help update the master plan, which may also be affected by any Project Fitness plans to avoid duplicating amenities.
Martin and Watson will resubmit a new PARTF application in May with the revised master plan and new components, such as the addition of Watson as a full-time Parks and Recreation employee, that should enhance the town’s chances of receiving the grant and conserve town financial resources.
The large phase 2 components currently include a $125,000 splash pad, a $154,000 amphitheater, and $424,224 for additional parking and walking trails.
Lytton Street Connector
The proposed Lytton Street connector to a new intersection with a realigned Wagner Street was also placed low on the town’s current priorities for several reasons. Building the connector road would require the acquisition of five properties, none of which are currently for sale.
The tax value of these properties is $532,360, but the actual costs of acquiring them could be higher. The NCDOT is also currently looking at the Highway 21 corridor and could potentially put all or part of this connector in its project, thus placing the costs on the state rather than the town.
Council members decided to wait until DOT plans are complete before pursuing any further action on this project.