Bond will pay for new road projects, fire stations
by Staff Writer
Huntersville residents will vote for the first time in nearly a decade this November on whether to authorize millions of dollars in new bonds to fund major projects.
The town has proposed a bond package of $30 million, which will show up as three separate items on the ballot. The largest will be $17.85 million for transportation improvements. The other two cover $7.15 million for fire and public safety and $5 million for parks and recreation.
Huntersville’s last referendum was in 2003 for $20 million in transportation, public improvement and parks bonds. Each passed overwhelmingly, with at least 69 percent approval. But the 2003 referendum did not require a property tax increase.
Huntersville Finance Director Janet Stoner said she expects a tax hike of 3 cents per $100 of valuation in 2013 if the bond referendum passes, with additional 1-cent increases in 2015 and 2017.
Huntersville Town commissioners Melinda Bales, Charlie Jeter and Danny Phillips joined discussed the bond July 27 with the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce. Bales and Jeter said they support for the bonds, but Phillips said he opposes the parks and recreation bond.
“I do not think that (the parks) bond is appropriate during our current economic climate,” Phillips said.
Addressing traffic issues
The town has been beset by traffic problems for the past two decades, but the transportation bonds will likely be the easiest sell to voters.
During the 1990 Census, the population was 3,014. The 2010 Census had the number at 46,773, an increase of 15.5 percent.
In fact, the board might have waited another year or two before putting the bond before voters if not for proposed improvements at the intersection of U.S. 21 and Gilead Road. Huntersville can receive up to $2.5 million in reimbursement from the Federal Highway Fund for the project in 2015, but only if the money has already been spent. For the project to be underway by that time, work needs to start next year.
“If we do not move forward, we have the potential of leaving $2.5 million on the table,” town Transportation Director Bill Coxe said.
Other major transportation improvements likely to go forward if the bonds are approved include:
• Improvements to N.C. 115 and Main Street that would tie the two roads together with roundabouts north and south of the downtown area.
• A bridge across McDowell Creek conecting Birkdale Village to Northcross Drive.
Safety also a concern
The fire and public safety bonds would fund two new fire stations, one a replacement of the former Gilead Volunteer Fire Department station (now called Huntersville Station No. 2), and the other a new station in the southwest corner of town. The Gilead station is becoming obsolete.
Huntersville currently has a contract with the Long Creek VFD in Charlotte to cover the southwest part of town, but Charlotte is gradually shifting to a full-time, professional fire department. Long Creek VFD will be shut down in the not-too-distant future.
Town manager Greg Ferguson said the immediate priority is to secure land for the new stations, with construction expected to get underway in three to five years.
Bond could build new recreation center
The lion’s share of the parks and recreation bonds would likely go towards construction of a new recreation center in the downtown area. The center would primarily feature indoor basketball courts, with other unspecified indoor recreation space included.
Explaining GO bonds
General obligation bonds are often the most efficient way to pay for large capital projects. They are similar to home mortgages, in that they can be paid off over a long period of time (20 or 30 years) and have lower interest rates. GO bonds are backed by the full faith and credit of the government that issues them, which is why, in North Carolina, these bonds cannot be issued without voter approval. When voters approve a bond referendum, they are also approving any tax increase that may be needed to pay for them.
Projects covered by the bond
• Birkdale Village/Northcross Drive connection: $2,400,000
• N.C. 115/Main Street upgrades: $10,275,000
• U.S. 21/Gilead Road intersection: $3,175,000
• Stumptown Road extension: $2,000,000
Parks and Recreation
• Recreation Center: $4,100,000
• HFFA (New workout space and media platform): $500,000
• Farmer’s Market improvements: $400,000
Public Safety Facilities
• West Huntersville Fire Station No. 4: $3,575,000
• Huntersville Fire Station No. 2 (replacement): $3,575,000