What has largely been idle chatter turned into serious discussion at a daylong planning retreat for Wendell’s elected leaders last weekend.
Meeting at the Wendell Community Center, the town board listened to a laundry list of projects town staff has proposed on one form or another over the past several months and spent time setting priorities for completing them.
Topping the list were improvements at Wendell Park. Earlier this week, the town submitted a grant proposal that would pay half the cost of a $500,000 improvement project at the park, including a new ball field and a new play area for small children.
For the past few months, Mayor Tim Hinnant has endorsed the idea of floating a bond once a new board of commissioners takes over after this November’s elections.
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But at last weekend’s retreat, Hinnant took a stronger stance, telling commissioners he didn’t think the town should wait that long to begin making some of the improvements town leaders mentioned.
“From what I’m hearing here today, I don’t think we need to wait. It sounds like we need to go ahead and get moving on this,” Hinnant said. During a break in the meeting, Hinnant said he had originally proposed waiting until after elections next fall to keep from obligating a future board. But he agreed that any board which takes such an action would be binding future boards because of the debt obligation.
The timing of incurring any debt is important to the town, Currently, the town has less than $100,000 in existing debt. Previous overtures to the Local Government Commission, which oversees municipal finances, have indicated the town is in a strong financial position to accrue new debt.
Though commissioners didn’t take a formal vote, they did show interest in the idea of starting on some of the projects and they asked Town Manager Teresa Piner to invite someone to a future town board meeting to discuss the process for putting a bond referendum on the ballot and paying it off. At this point, however, none of the projects commissioners and town staff discussed at their retreat have price tags attached to them.
If commissioners decide to move ahead with some of the large dollar projects, they have a number of options for paying for it.
They could ask voters to decide on a bond issue that would spell out what the money would be spent for. Commissioners could also work with banks to secure a more traditional loan. They could take that step without voter approval.
In addiion to work at the park, commissioners also expressed an interest in installing fiberoptic cable throughout the downtown. Wendell’s IT director, Tamah Hughes, has already started studying the options for installing fiberoptic cable in Wendell. Commissioners last fall allotted $9,000 to study options for installing the infrastructure, but actually doing the work would cost considerably more.
During Saturday’s retreat, commissioners also discussed a number of other initiatives they’d like to undertake, including the creation of a transportation plan that could help guide the town’s efforts at winning DOT money for a variety of projects around town. Among the projects commissioners have tried to find funding for is making improvments at the intersection of Wendell Boulevard and North Buffalo Street. Buffalo Street, which is due to undergo a name change next month to Wendell Falls Parkway, will serve as the connecting corridor between the new Wendell Falls subdivision and Wendell proper. Traffic now tends to back up significantly on Buffalo Street as drivers try to turn onto Wendell Boulevard. The problem is especially bad during commuting hours and when children are being dropped off or picked up at Wendell Elementary School.
Commissioner Sam Laughery championed the need for a plan.
“Right now we have absolutely no projects on the (regional) Transportation Improvement Plan and if someone came to us and asked us what project we wanted to work on first, we couldn’t tell them,” Laughery said.
Commissioners also agreed that they will have to begin looking at an expansion of the town’s staff in the next 2 to 5 years as demand for services increases in the wake of new homes and new residents in the Wendell Falls neighborhood.