DAVIDSON – Department updates and an updated compilation of priorities – along with the picking of “low hanging fruit” to signal progress at the start of their terms – were just some of the steps town leaders took in a week that included a regular town board meeting and a two-day planning retreat.
During the Jan. 23 town board meeting, and again through individual discussions with department heads Jan. 25 at the annual planning retreat, commissioners and Mayor Rusty Knox were given summations of operations and challenges facing town departments.
Lower than desired staffing levels, especially for Police Chief Penny Dunn and Fire Chief Bo Fitzgerald, were identified as high priorities, with commissioners unanimous in their support for a thorough analysis of how to meet those needs. But municipal subjects that sometimes get overshadowed by issues like public safety were also examined.
In her presentations about the town’s affordable housing program, Town Attorney Cindy Reid said limited land and rising costs are two primary hurdles. She said the town’s affordable housing team is trying to pursue projects geared toward seniors – in response to market demands and the fact that senior communities traditionally don’t add much traffic congestion.
Reid added that the current “payment in lieu” approach, which allows developers to deposit money into an affordable housing fund instead of including those types of housing options in their projects, has resulted in the program developing a healthy nest egg – about $750,000. But opportunities to use that money to establish actual affordable housing facilities are limited because land prices are so high.
Public Works Director Doug Wright listed a larger, updated headquarters for his department as a priority, especially since his needs assessment is based on a current comprehensive plan that includes the possibility the town could double in size in the not-too-distant future. Wright referenced the upcoming mobility plan study as vital for his department, and the town, as a tool to prepare for future needs, especially in terms of traffic management.
Parks and Recreation Director Kathryn Spatz said the lack of indoor recreational space is her biggest concern. Spatz said the town currently uses outdoor fields to barter for indoor space with local schools. She added a plan to provide lights at a field at Davidson Elementary School in exchange for more indoor court time is in the works, but space remains the department’s major challenge.
In a quick vote at the retreat, officials identified the realignment of land use strategies as their highest priority. While they agreed many subjects overlapped, other items high on the list were strategies for community engagement, historical preservation, greenway and open space planning, affordable housing and economic development.
What to do first?
Commissioner Matthew Ford, acknowledging a “sense of urgency ... to walk out of this meeting with a feeling we got something done” pushed for some firm actions by colleagues, even if they involved issues described as easy-to-grab “low hanging fruit.”
Those decisions are to move forward with plans for community dinners, pursue signage at the town’s eastern border, adopt a new meeting schedule and seek changes in the timing of the left-hand turn signal for southbound traffic at the N.C. 115/Concord Road intersection.