your government: Davidson town board
The issue: Town pursuing additional elbow room
Most of the year, public facilities needs have been front and center on town board agendas. In January, one of the first steps taken by an almost entirely new slate of elected town officials was to impose a 90-day pause on in-progress evaluations of a plan to borrow money and create a new town hall near the current facility on Main Street. Before the moratorium expired, the opportunity to lease the former Davidson IB School building at 251 South St. from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) arose. That option led to the fast-paced pursuit of plans to place a $16 million bond referendum on the November ballot. The money would have financed renovations to transform the two-story, 33,500-square South Street building into town administration headquarters while also funding extensive changes at existing town hall providing needed upgrades for fire and police department operations.
What happened: Option to own triggers different debates
The week paperwork was due to put the bond package on the ballot, CMS and the town finalized arrangements for the town to acquire the building and 5-acre site for $2.46 million. Commissioners shelved plans for the 2018 referendum and agreed to borrow money for the purchase. The closing is scheduled for Dec. 11, but commissioners have clashed about the best way to determine the future use of the building and property. An extended debate at the board's Nov. 13 didn't resolve the issue, which centered around how much new discussion and public input is needed before moving forward with plans for the building and a possible November 2019 municipal bond referendum to finance the work required for the building to become the town’s new administrative headquarters.
What it means? Varied views on public input, funding
Commissioners agreed on the important role a citizen task force could play in weighing ideas and submitting recommendations about use of town-owned property, as well as ancillary uses for the building. But points of conflict remained about the parameters of task force efforts – should the group only consider future uses of the property or a much broader picture of town public facilities and other needs? And there were also concerns about a drawn-out review process impacting bond referendum plans. Several commissioners, joined by Mayor Rusty Knox, said they believed the building was purchased specifically to address administrative needs. And since the 80-year-old building needs extensive renovations – and fire and police department upgrades hinge on current administrative offices being elsewhere – the timetable for public facilities improvements depends on bond-backed financing. Finance Director Piet Swart said a decision about a 2019 bond referendum needs to be made by May.
What's next: Task force, public meetings planned
At the board’s Nov. 27 meeting – with Commissioners David Sitton and Autumn Rierson Michael still emphasizing they felt a “holistic” approach to identifying potential uses of the facility was important – the board agreed on a course of action. Commissioners unanimously endorsed a plan instructing Assistant Town Manager Dawn Blobaum to begin the process of recruiting town residents for a task force to explore property and, to an extent, building use options. At the same time, the town will plan at least two public meetings in the first few months of 2019 to, as Commissioner Matthew Fort described it, “verify most people are OK with town hall at 215 South St.”