Council members and staff from Morrisville and Cary both spent the weekends of Jan. 27-28 at their annual retreats, which is held by most town governments to set their big-picture priorities for the upcoming year.
Cary’s retreat spanned two and a half days at Wrightsville Beach and cost the town about $20,000.
Morrisville, as it does every other year, elected to stay in town. Town officials spent the weekend at the Welcome Credit Union along N.C. 54 after traveling to New Bern for its 2016 retreat. Morrisville’s retreat cost about $1,500 this year.
Cary officials, having recently adopted the Cary Community Plan, a comprehensive policy document meant to guide Cary’s growth for the next 25 years, spent their weekend exploring other issues.
That included the topic of community trust in government, which Town Manager Sean Stegall said has been in decline nationwide for decades. He said Cary has historically been free of “malfeasance” – corruption, in other words – but that maintaining and bolstering residents’ trust must still be a priority.
Demographics were at the center of discussions at both Morrisville’s and Cary’s retreats. Both towns are growing quickly and attempting to simultaneously anticipate the unique demands of millennials – residents in their 20s and 30s – and aging Baby Boomers.
“Five thousand people in Cary turn 65 every year,” Stegall said. “We need to make sure that there are facilities in which an aging population can live and that our transportation network can accommodate them. The community has been new and young for most of its life, and it’s now going to be older, both in terms of infrastructure and population”
Cary’s first day of retreat closed with a discussion of “Medians: Cary’s defining characteristic.” Stegall, who suggested the item, is a proponent of the road divider.
“I always say that there are two types of streets,” Stegall said. “Ones with medians, and ones that should have medians.”
He acknowledged the topic might seem out of place at what is supposed to be a discussion of big-picture items. But Stegall said the issue struck him as important on both practical and symbolic levels.
“You don’t often see communities of Cary’s size with medians like that that look that great, that create that first impression,” said Stegall, who added that his own first impression of Cary had been colored by its well-landscaped roadways. “It says a lot about a community when you see well-maintained medians. And if they’re bothering to maintain their medians, chances are they’re maintaining a lot of other things well, too.”
Cary left the retreat with a slightly adjusted policy for new medians: The new minimum width for landscaped medians is 6 feet, down from 8 feet. Medians less than 6 feet but more than 4 feet wide will be made of brick rather than concrete.
Morrisville’s population skews young and is split about evenly between homeowners and renters. That’s significant compared to the rest of Wake County, where about two-thirds of residents are homeowners, Morrisville Town Manager Martha Paige said.
Morrisville’s Town Council has discussed recently whether this high proportion of renters might come at the expense of longer-term, homeowning residents. With vacant land at a premium in Morrisville, some council members have suggested casting a more cautious eye toward proposals for more apartments.
Paige said Morrisville will continue to keep an eye on trends like these but that the upcoming year is likely to have a focus on the execution of existing projects rather than generating new ideas or significant changes in policy direction.
“Will we be starting major new initiatives? Probably not,” Paige said. “We’ll address the needs we have, but we have a lot of big projects underway and we want to get those to completion. That’s a theme we heard.”
Budget discussions focused on Morrisville’s debt, Paige said, which is anticipated to grow this year and will continue to grow throughout 2019. The second phase of a road construction bond will be issued later this year, and the town will begin major spending as construction begins on several major projects.
“It seems like we’re going to head into budget season in good shape as far as reserves, which is good, because we need the cash flow,” Mayor Mark Stohlman said. “A lot of our funding is in reimbursements, so we need to be able to put up the money and be reimbursed by the state.”
Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan