Much of the Sept. 2 council meeting consisted of rehashing goals set during the council retreat last winter, and the town staff’s progress in addressing the council priorities.
In Hardin Watkins’ eyes, the meeting revealed a lot of progress, and he praised his staff’s efforts in bringing council directives to life. At the same time, councilman Buck Kennedy called the discussion fruitful but also noted that it laid clear how much staff would have on its plate very soon.
“There is a lot of work going on, and even more is coming before us in the very near future. It’s going to be a challenge to staff to keep up with it,” Kennedy said, echoing a concern he has previously voiced about the multitude of concurrent major bond projects planned. “That’s going to stretch staff very thin.”
Progress on goals regarding growth management, infrastructure, financial management, economic development, aesthetics, town relationships and other projects were addressed during Watkins’ presentation.
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Councilwoman Kathy Behringer pointed out one area she’d like to see more progress: aesthetics of Garner’s major highways. She suggested more money dedicated to that end in next year’s budget.
Staff has also presented the idea of offering incentives to property owners fronting major streets to “plant and create their own landscaping, especially along 401.” Kennedy recalled a similar program from the past in which the town provided some matching funds to property owners on Garner Road.
Meanwhile, some transit items outside of the town’s hands remain stalled. A new state law prevents a vote on a Wake County transit tax until 2016, delaying bus upgrades and possible commuter rail planning. And while the town continues to prospectively plan for possible development along the most likely 540 path, the study to determine where that road will go remains in progress. The state plans to release an environmental impact statement next spring and select a route in the fall of 2015.
Other details included:
• A new storm water and sewer allocation policy has been proposed; the vetting and refinement process is expected to be complete in two or three months. It’s an item “that has been on the tips of people’s tongues for a number of years,” according to councilman Gra Singleton.
• The vehicle and equipment replacement team is assessing the needs for small capital replacement. Kennedy cited $7 million as the replacement cost for all the town’s equipment and vehicles, saying “put that in your household budget.” While that figure would not come all at once, the recession has pushed back replacement of a lot of town-owned vehicles and equipment.
• Bond-tracking reports updating citizens and council members on bond projects are provided bi-monthly.
• The town has been in regular discussions with Raleigh about properties with U.S. 70 frontage that might be prime for development, such as near Raynor Road.
• An event this fall will showcase the former ConAgra site to potential investors. The town hopes to establish a multi-company high-tech industry campus on the 100-acre property vacant since the factory exploded.
• A greeting sign is scheduled to be installed at the U.S. 70/401 entrance to northwest Garner in November, while another on the town’s western border at U.S. 401 may take longer. A location has to be selected and approved and NCDOT may not approve previously selected sites.
• Staff is collecting data to determine projected operating costs for new bond projects such as the police station, recreation center and town hall.
• Watkins and fire chief Matt Poole have engaged the county, which is reviewing current cost sharing formulas and methodology.
• Two dog parks are being planned, one at Garner Rec Park and another somewhere in South Garner at a to-be-determined site.
• The engineering department is currently surveying town streets to identify priorities for repaving.
“The staff has done a good job of dealing with what they can. Some of these items take longer than others,” Singleton said.
For Watkins, compiling a list provided a good chance to pause for a moment and look back on efforts over the past six months or so.
“We’re doing great,” Watkins said. “I’m very proud of our staff and very proud of where we are. When you look at the list, there’s very few things that haven’t been addressed.”