CORNELIUS — If commissioners fulfill items on their wishlist, Cornelius residents could be driving, biking, walking and running in town with greater ease.
Town commissioners met Jan. 18 for a four-hour special meeting to hash out how to proceed with the voter-approved $20.4 million in bond money to improve streets, sidewalks and greenways, plus build an arts center.
While the cost for potential projects in each area far exceeds the allotted amounts, the board hopes to prioritize, look for other sources of funding and find ways to get “the best bang for their buck,” according to Mayor Chuck Travis.
The bonds are categorized for $11.15 million for road, intersection and sidewalk construction; $5.25 million for greenway initiatives and $4 million to build an arts center.
Regardless if one area costs more than expected, the town must adhere to these breakdowns, but is not required to spend all of the money — if any of it.
“The citizens gave permission to spend up to $20.4 million,” said Town Manager Anthony Roberts, adding how and when it’s spent is “entirely up to this board and most likely future boards.”
Making that decision is a bit of a balancing act: choosing projects, seeing how much debt can be handled, building partnerships for additional revenue streams and taking into account that with each issuance of a bond, the town incurs fees.
Finance Director Jackie Huffman added if they go over a threshold in debt amounts, they could have a higher interest rate. But if they wait, future interest rates could rise anyway. Commissioner John Bradford said that’s a risk they have to consider.
After the meeting, Travis said they feel the bonds are best issued in at least two stages.
Using all of the bonds at once would be detrimental because of prospective tax hikes, but he said, since the residents approved the funds, he wants to make a plan and put it in action.
Roberts proposed beginning design and land acquisition this summer to start the projects, but not issuing a bond until 2015 to have the first payment in the 2015-16 fiscal year.
The board gave the go-ahead to spend $20,000-$30,000 to begin studying high-priority road development before making a decision. Proposals include adding left turn lanes on Catawba Avenue, a Holiday Lane connector to North Ferry Street, U.S. 21 connectors to Smithville with a potential developer partnership and looking at improving the U.S. 21 and Westmoreland Road intersection.
While some road proposals are short distances, Roberts explained they offer more route options and relieve congestion from some of the major thoroughfares.
The town has the option of using bond money or Powell Bill funds, money granted from the gas tax designated for road and sidewalk improvements, to cover sidewalk proposals. They include Old Statesville Road from Bailey Road to Caldwell Depot Road, along Norman Island Drive, Holiday Lane from Catawba Avenue to Sterling Bay Lane and North Main Street from Pecan Street to Davidson Street.
Roberts said the areas that have more leverage are the ones that offer the largest overall connectivity.
That intent was the same with prioritizing greenway expansions. Using bond money and partnering with developers, Cornelius has the potential to connect more than 10 miles of greenways.
Commissioners discussed how not only were residents already asking for them, but also how greenways would improve the overall quality of life for residents and add further appeal to future residents and business owners.
The board hopes to continue moving forward, but will have to wait until the road study is completed.
The prospective art center was discussed in closed session because talks included real estate acquisition, which is exempt from the North Carolina public meetings law.