With a little more than four months until the November election, Clayton might still place a bond referendum on the ballot.
Town leaders are thinking about asking voters to borrow some $17 million for several high-profile parks and recreation projects.
The proposed bond was one of the last things former town manager Steve Biggs put together before leaving Clayton.
With the bond dollars, Clayton would build a second gym at the Community Center, develop two parks, extend the Sam’s Branch Greenway and add lights to Legend Park and East Clayton Community Park. All together, the projects total $17.4 million, with the cost of developing one of the parks still undetermined.
At the town council’s retreat last year, members mentioned wanting to move forward on developing town-owned parkland. Though he won’t be around to see the projects through, Biggs said he brought up the bond now to give the council something to start with.
The town purchased the so-called “River Land” on the north side of the Neuse River with money from the Clayton’s last bond issue in 2008. Six years later, it bought a 67-acre tract southeast of town along Little Creek Church Road.
“We went ahead and purchased those lands so we didn’t lose them to a developer or economic pressures as land costs inflated,” Biggs said. “When you spend capital to develop a park, people see that and appreciate that. It takes more vision and more patience to do land-banking.”
On the Neuse River property, the town plans to develop an extensive and diverse park, including an events lawn, dog park, playgrounds, ziplines and trails. Biggs said the town is still waiting on a quote for those plans. For the Little Creek Church Road property, located in a quickly growing part of town with next-to-no amenities, the town proposes six athletic fields, a playground and nature trails. That plan is projected to cost $6.9 million.
The bond would also include the next phase of Clayton’s community center. Biggs said that means a new gym and indoor walking track, plus meeting rooms and added parking. Those additions total $9.4 million. The plan hints at an eventual aquatics center, but Biggs said the town is not prepared for and growth is so far not requiring a pool.
Biggs said that for Clayton to get the bond on the November ballot, the council would need to determine a “value not to exceed” figure by its July 18 meeting. While he compiled the plans and figures as if the town wants the referendum this year, Biggs seemed to think it was risky to hold a vote during a presidential election year.
“I think what happens in the context of a bond referendum in a general election is the referendum gets lost,” Biggs said. “The advantage of doing one outside a general election is you can do a better job educating people, voters aren’t as focused on national and state issues, and you can have a better-informed voter.
“A lot of times in a general election, our message about our referendum gets lost in all of what is going around a general election; the voter has less opportunity to come informed about the implications of the referendum.”
Councilman Michael Grannis said the council has reached no consensus on whether to hold the referendum this year or next. But he said the risks of a general election might not compare to the benefit of polling a larger number of Clayton residents.
“You don’t want to rush to judgment,” Grannis said about getting the bond on the ballot in a month’s time. “You want all your T’s crossed and all your I’s dotted before you do something like this, and it’s kind of tight. So right now I’m leaning more toward 2017. ... But I do believe more is better. It’s more important to me to hear from a higher number of Clayton residents.”
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson