The two towns abutting the Wendell Falls development are scrambling to boost their public services, ensuring that they are prepared from public safety to parks and recreation for a massive population boom.
Another factor that Wendell commissioners are discussing is how the town’s leadership might evolve.
The Newland Communities development, which was rejuvenated in the last part of 2013, is estimated to complete its 4,000 single- and multi-family homes within 10 years.
By that time, new residents could more than double Wendell’s current population of about 6,000.
“If we want to have representation in all parts of Wendell, we will have to go from general election to election by districts,” Wendell Mayor Tim Hinnant commented at the end of a town meeting May 11. “And that is just to ensure that we won’t just have one huge development dictating how the entire town is going to be run.”
Hinnat said it’s time the town start getting advice on how it should proceed.
“I think the town would be negligent if we didn’t look to you (Town Attorney James Cauley) to help guide us in that direction.”
The mayor is elected for a four-year term and the commissioners are elected for staggered four-year terms. Three elected positions are filled every two years.
Currently, town elections are held every odd year in November for the mayor and commissioners. Elections are non-partisan and at-large, with no assigned districts.
The town’s attorney, James Cauley, said during a May 29 interview that he had not yet responded to the town with possibilities and there was currently no deadline.
“It could take a number of different shapes or formats,” he said. “I’ve been looking at the possibility of a mix of at-large and district seats but all of that remains to be determined by the board.”
To change the election process, the board of commissioners could adopt an ordinance.
Two factors for the board to consider, Cauley said, is the morphing numbers of residents during the 10-year development buildout and the timing of the 2020 U.S. Census.
“Most of the clients we work with, over the years implement district changes following census outcome,” Cauley said. “We usually have to adjust districts after the census because people come in and out of the district.”
Hinnant emphasized the need to move forward.
“We desperately need to look ... to go to district elections to make sure we have fair representation throughout the town for Wendell,” he said.
The board agreed with his sentiments.