Foreclosed facility to house public works department
HUNTERSVILLE – The Huntersville Board of Commissioners voted Feb. 7 to spend $855,000 for 5.5 acres and a foreclosed facility that will serve as the town’s new public works department.
Commissioners had discussed purchasing the former Allied Grading site, at 15316 Seigle Drive, in closed session, and with no debate at the regular meeting, commissioners approved the purchase in a 3-2 vote.
Commissioner Ron Julian, who voted to approve the purchase along with Commissioner Danae Caulfield and Mayor Pro Tem Sarah McAulay, said the 4,000-square-foot facility is move-in ready and features the kind of gravel yard the public works department needs for equipment and storage of supplies.
“This was an excellent use of the taxpayers’ money to purchase an excellent facility that came available through foreclosure,” Julian said.
Commissioners Charles Jeter and Ken Lucas dissented, and Jeter said he thinks this purchase signals that town staff will recommend a “back door” tax increase.
Jeter worries that Town Manager Greg Ferguson will recommend leaving the town’s tax rate at 29 cents per $100 of assessed value for the 2011-12 budget year. Since the county is in the process of revaluating all county property and most property owners will see their assessed value increase, Huntersville can bring in more tax revenue if it doesn’t purposely lower its tax rate.
“We’ve got to quit buying what we want instead of what we really need,” Jeter said. He pointed to the town’s recent purchase of an office building next door to the current police department, which town officials hope will ease police overcrowding.
When the town bought the former Mark Oil property on U.S. 21, town staff said they thought the public works department might go there, Jeter said. At the same time, a new public works facility did not rate as one of the town board’s top priorities at its planning retreat a year ago, Jeter said.
But Julian said town officials have been trying for years to find more space for public works and roads are an important service to Huntersville residents. Though town staff did propose initially using the Mark Oil site for that purpose, Julian said that single property is too small, and the town bought the land with the hope of buying additional property around it.
But the property is surrounded by county land, and the town would also have to make road improvements, Julian said.
Julian won’t “commit absolutely” to a revenue-neutral 2011-12 budget that doesn’t increase Huntersville property tax bills, but he believes the town board can find other cuts to enable it to reduce the tax rate.
His primary target is $300,000 in hotel-motel and prepared-food taxes that Huntersville gives to the Lake Norman Visitors Convention and Visitors Bureau. That money could partially support parks and recreation and Huntersville Family Fitness & Aquatics, Julian argued, freeing up more general fund money to balance the budget.
Julian also isn’t convinced the town can yet afford to sell $10 million to $15 million in bonds to build a new police headquarters. He said he has talked to a number of officers in the department who tell him “unofficially that they want a raise, not a new building.”
The town will take $855,000 out of its general fund to buy the buildings and land on Seigle Drive. The Mecklenburg County Tax Assessor’s office website shows the land and buildings assessed for $326,500, but an official in the assessor’s office said commercial revaluation notices scheduled to go out in mid-March will dramatically increase the site’s assessed value.
Wells Fargo Bank held the lien on the property and bid $985,000 to retain ownership of the property, Julian said, but the bank accepted the town’s lower offer.
Ferguson said the facility has two buildings, one with 14 to 15 offices and a second garage building with multiple bays. Besides public works, the town plans to move the Park and Recreation Department’s maintenance operations to the new site in the NorthChar Industrial Park, off Ramah Church Road, just east of N.C. 115.
“We needed space,” Ferguson said. “This more than doubles the current yard, which we share with Electricities.”
Now Electricities will have full use of its yard, and the town will have room to expand, Ferguson said. The Allied Grading site has enough room to put up a pole barn or other secured outdoor storage area to keep police vehicles that aren’t being used.
“For several years, we had looked at a facility, but we couldn’t afford to spend $2 to $3 million to buy the land and build the facility,” Julian said.
Ferguson said town officials hope to close on the site within 45 days.