Mayor John Byrne said Fuquay-Varina arguably is in the best shape it has been in for years.
Last year, the town issued about 500 permits for new homes, made improvements at half a dozen parks and community buildings, received the highest financial bond rating possible, started a new concert series and hired a new town manager and assistant town manager.
Byrne listed those accomplishments, and more, in his annual State of the Town address Monday night.
In 2015, the town is setting its sights on infrastructure and economic development, Byrne said. By extending and improving infrastructure – utilities, roads and cable access – business growth will follow, Byrne said.
The town extended water and sewer access to three previously unserved areas in 2014, he said. The two new neighborhoods and one mixed-use development, he said, will add more than $100 million to the tax base when it’s built.
Growth is the story of Fuquay-Varina’s recent history, and of its immediate future. In the last year, Byrne said, the town has grown from the 43rd largest city in the state to No. 36. In the past decade, he said, the tax base has nearly tripled – from $1 billion worth of property in town to $2.5 billion.
“Our town is building itself,” Byrne said. “It’s building its base, and that’s very important to a town like Fuquay-Varina.”
Focus on parks, roads
The town approved a splash pad at South Park and is planning $2 million in other improvements there and at other parks. After Byrne’s speech, Parks and Recreation Director Jonathan Cox said the splash pad should be open to the public in July.
Health and safety are also top issues, Byrne said. The town won a $200,000 grant last year to promote healthy living, and Byrne said the town’s Human Resources department is focusing on educating staff how to be healthier themselves.
Fuquay-Varina also expanded its greenway system in 2014 and is planning on building more sidewalks near Lincoln Heights Elementary, Fuquay-Varina Middle and Fuquay-Varina High this year to promote more walking and biking among young people.
Byrne said the town received a $700,000 federal grant for the sidewalks, which will be on Ennis and Bridge streets.
With roads, Byrne said, the top priority is finishing Judd Parkway, which will be a loop around town. Shortly after the speech, town commissioners voted unanimously at their meeting to pay a contractor $440,000 to design what will eventually be a multi-million-dollar project at the intersection of Northeast Judd Parkway and Main Street.
“That intersection will be completely changed,” Byrne said. “There’ll be two turning lanes, and it’ll be much, much nicer for moving traffic along.”
Byrne said likely is the worst intersection in Fuquay-Varina and needs to be fixed as soon as possible. He said the intersection of U.S. 401 and Sunset Lake Road also is on the town’s radar for future improvements.
Business and politics
Another key part of infrastructure development is improving the town’s capacity for high-tech companies that want to move to Fuquay-Varina. Without mentioning projects like Google Fiber or AT&T U-Verse by name – both of which are bringing ultra-high-speed cable and Internet to the Triangle – Byrne said Fuquay-Varina officials need to join the scramble for such services.
“The new utility is cable,” he said. “And it’s becoming part of who we are as a community. You have to have the technology before (businesses) will even consider looking at a site.”
In the meantime, Byrne said, the town is also becoming more physically connected with large employment centers through its first Triangle Transit bus lines, which started early this year. Other lines could come in the future.
The town also has plans to expand its Terrible Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, Byrne said, which would allow for more development to the north of town.
But money is needed to make the projects a reality. Byrne closed his speech by saying he’s worried that various bills currently under consideration in the General Assembly, if passed, could siphon about $500,000 a year from Fuquay-Varina’s coffers.
Byrne said that would hamper many of the projects – especially the more ambitious ones – on the local drawing board. He said he and other town officials have been lobbying local legislators and Gov. Pat McCrory to oppose those bills, Byrne said.
“It doesn’t derail the bus,” he said. “But what it does do is it makes everybody have to be more conservative in what they do, how they feel.”
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran