Cornelius commissioners tweak $20 million bond projects, ballot verbage

CORNELIUS – If you had your choice to spend millions of dollars on enhancements to your town, what would you do with it?

Improve roads?

Enhance town parks?

Of course, you could always hold on to it for a rainy day.

Cornelius residents will have that choice in November, much like Huntersville residents did last year.

They will be called to the polls to decide whether to grant town commissioners the authority to spend “up to” $20.35 million in bonds. Huntersville voted on and approved $30 million worth of bond in November 2012.

Town staff has worked with consultant Scott Leo to determine the best way to word the bond referendum in an effort to get the most compliance out of voters.

Everything from big-picture issues, like where the money should be spent, to the tiniest details, like using the term “up to” before the dollar amount, is being carefully considered.

“The ballot, what gets voted on by the voters, really does provide the parameters of what any future board could do with the money,” Leo said. “The idea is to draft it broadly enough, so that there is some flexibility given the amount of time we are talking about, because you can issue these bonds over the course of seven to 10 years and things naturally change.”

 

Finding the right balance

Town commissioners finalized the wording for two of the three questions that will appear on the November ballot at their June 17 board meeting, but they will continue to tweak them throughout the summer.

The first question’s title was switched from “Street and Sidewalk Bonds” to “Roads, Intersections and Sidewalk Bonds” after Commissioner Dave Gilroy requested the change in an effort to boost public buy-in.

Including the word “intersections” in the bond, “is probably worth 5 percentage points,” Gilroy said. “Honestly, that stuff matters. It’s the psychology.”

Commissioner Chuck Travis said too much money was being given to parks and recreation and not enough was being allocated for roads.

So town staff shifted $2 million from the parks and recreation bond to the “Roads, Intersections and Sidewalk Bonds,” bringing the total for that bond to $11.15 million.

Town staff has listed 13 prioritized transportation projects including Bailey Road straightening, an Interstate 77 service road to the Westmoreland subdivision and the West Catawba Avenue intersection with Torrence Chapel Road.

The second question, titled “Parks and Recreation Bonds” will authorize $5.25 million for renovation and construction of parks, greenways, paths, trails and open space around town.

Potential parks and recreation projects listed by town staff include an extension of the town center and McDowell Creek greenways.

The third question, yet to be finalized, asks for $4 million will be labeled either the “Community and Arts Center Bonds” or the “Town Center Redevelopment Bonds.”

All the commissioners and Mayor Lynette Rinker said they favored the use of “Town Center Redevelopment Bonds” on the ballot, but they wanted to define the area’s boundaries.

“Really its not to trick them into voting for it,” Travis said. “I think we need to be clear that we are intending this to be an eastside redevelopment opportunity … if they don’t want it, then they vote against it.”

The board settled on including the boundaries within a one-mile radius of the intersection of Catawba Avenue and Main Street to the question.

 

Communicating to the public

The questions appearing on the November ballot will be fairly vague, providing little description of what specific projects the bonds will fund.

However, the board will roll out a public awareness campaign over the coming months that will educate voters on potential projects.

In the end, the money doesn’t have to be used. If future boards decide to spend money approved by voters, they have to go through another approval process before they can.

“We are not committed to spending,” Rinker said. “But the authority is going to be there, and future boards can exercise it.”

So why would residents choose to support the bonds?

The town is in a good position to borrow now for future projects, Town Manager Anthony Roberts said.

“Ultimately, what the board was thinking is that interest rates are low and bond debt rolling off the books,” Roberts said. “So we could go out and borrow money for cheap and do capital projects that are on the (Capital Improvement Plan) sooner rather than later.”

Roberts said the board’s next step, after giving final approval of the bond questions, is to begin working on a brochure that will provide more details on specific projects.

The brochure will include some of the town projects and refer to a list and maps with more detail.

Once the brochure is finalized by the board, the town will distribute it throughout various locations and on the town’s website.

On August 19, the town will hold a public hearing and decide whether to adopt the bonds.

(click the town logo above for a full list of project documents)

Potential bond-funded projects

Streets and Intersections

• Bailey Road straightening;

• Catawba Avenue (left turn lanes and/or closed loop signal system);

• Floral Lane Extension to U.S. 21;

• Gem Street Extension to Oak Street;

• Hickory Street Extension to Antiquity;

• Holiday Lane Connector to North Ferry Street;

• U.S. 21 connectors in Smithville at south end of South Hill Street;

• I-77 Service Road to Westmoreland subdivision;

• Vivian Lane Extension to Smith Circle;

• West Catawba Avenue Phase II;

• West Catawba Avenue and Torrence Chapel Road Intersection;

• Westmoreland interchange; and

• Crosswalk enhancements including lighting bulb outs, flashers (in road or aerial), raised crosswalks and signage.

 

Sidewalks

• New sidewalks at Holiday Lane, Burton Lane and South Hill Street, Danesway Lane. Bon Meade Lane, Footsman Place, Heartland Street, Coachmans Trace, Meta Road and Walter Henderson Road; and

• Extending sidewalks on North Main Street, Brinkley and Pine streets, John Hawks Road, Old Statesville Road, Norman Island Drive and Harbor View Drive.

 

Parks and recreational bonds

• Town Center Greenway (extend existing South Prong Rocky River Greenway from South to North Main streets);

• McDowell Creek Greenway North (extend existing McDowell Creek Greenway from Westmoreland Road to Magnolia Estates Drive); and

• Park enhancements and renovations.

 

Town center redevelopment bonds

• Indoor community/art center;

• Outdoor spray (water) park;

• Outdoor amphitheater; and

• Improved sidewalks, parking and landscaping.