Public hearings on town spending will bookend Clayton’s 2017 budget season.
The first hearing, held Feb. 6, mostly drew groups seeking taxpayer support for their causes.
Earlier this year, Town Manager Adam Lindsay asked the town council to double the number of required budget hearings and invite citizens to react to town spending at the beginning and end of budget talks. The first public hearing drew three responses.
“The town decided to do something a little different this year in our budget process,” Lindsay said. “By state law, all towns must have a public hearing in order to adopt a budget. Historically, we’ve don’t that at the end of the process. While that’s very important, we want to open it up and get any input from our citizens on the front end as well, so they don’t feel like they’re left out of this process at all.”
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The future of cycling in Clayton proved to be a major concern at the public hearing, as two speakers asked the council to think of the cycling community as an economic opportunity for Clayton. Jerry O’Connor from Friends of Legend Park called the park an asset to Triangle cyclists, and he urged the town to preserve and protect it. Legend Park is a former municipal landfill turned community park, with one ball field and a system of biking trails out on City Road.
Legend Park has about 8 miles of trails of varying difficulty, including significant jumps and skills areas. O’Connor said the park draws serious bikers to Clayton.
“Part of the reason we want to keep the upper part of Legend is that’s where all the good mountain bike trails are,” O’Connor said. “It’s not just the easy stuff; it’s for more-advanced riders and draws people to town. People who are training for the (Appalachian Trail), mountain bikers, dog walkers, all that stuff. We’d like to preserve all that because that’s a great spot. It would be a true shame to lose that area.”
O’Connor asked the council to consider funding a long-discussed greenway extension and to place more bike racks in and around town.
John Goldman owns Fat Johnny Bicycle Repair on Main Street in Clayton, in the same building as Deep River Brewing. He acknowledged he has a professional and financial stake in the vitality of Clayton’s biking resources but asked the council to consider the safety hurdles facing cyclists in town. Goldman said the hilly roads connecting the town’s greenway along the Neuse River to downtown Clayton are dangerous.
“I already have customers that come up off the greenway to visit downtown, but it’s really unsafe to come up Covered Bridge Road or O’Neil Street,” Goldman said. “Cyclists come up that hill, it’s pretty dangerous. Most cyclists aren’t confident to get on the road, especially recreation riders on the greenway, with curves like that, with cars closing on them so fast.”
Goldman said connecting the town’s greenway with downtown proper could boost spending at local businesses and keep riders safe.
“Getting that greenway completed into town is huge for everybody,” Goldman said. “It’s huge for the restaurants. It’s huge for the convenience stores. It’s huge for all the local businesses, especially the service businesses. Prioritizing the greenway, getting it into the town, even if you can’t get it exactly how you want right this minute, but getting the pavement down and giving people a way to get downtown without coming up O’Neil Street would be a huge improvement.”
Goldman echoed O’Connor’s request for more biking infrastructure, like bike racks, saying that getting people to downtown is one thing, but if they can’t lock up their often pricey bikes, they’ll stay away.
Also looking for support is the town’s Saturday morning farmers’ market. Since 2009, downtown has had a weekend market for small farms to sell their produce, eggs and other goods to locals. Market manager Andria Lynn Merritt asked the town for funding, downtown storage space and possibly a line on utility bills telling residents the market’s operating hours.
Merritt argued that farmers’ markets are the only venue left for farms of a certain size to sell their products to customers and that without the market’s survival, one part of Johnston County’s long and proud agriculture tradition could be lost.
“We are the only point of sale for a handful of small Johnston County family farms and businesses,” Merritt said. “These families we serve produce their goods on a scale that’s too small to be part of your typical grocery store, so we feel we’re helping to preserve small-scale family agriculture in Johnston County, as well as draw people to downtown Clayton on a typical Saturday morning.”
Mayor Jody McLeod asked the farmers’ market for a copy of its last budget.
Lindsay is expected to deliver his proposed budget in April.