Kannapolis looks to future, considers best way to brand the city for success

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 8, 2012

By Hugh Fisher
KANNAPOLIS — Wed-nesday’s City Council retreat gave Kannapolis’ leaders a bird’s-eye view of the challenges the city will face in the next decade.
Coming out of a recession, and facing as much as a 12.5 percent drop in property values because of the downturn, city officials spent the day brainstorming and hearing from staff and consultants about how the next 10 years could play out.
Their task: decide the city’s priorities for future growth and investment, and how to fund them in a time when funds are tight.
During the morning, Mayor Bob Misenheimer and city council members took part in a brainstorming exercise to come up with actions they, individually, might want to see taken.
Their list grew to 51 priorities, including improved relationships with Rowan and Cabarrus county governments, a citywide needs assessment, aggressive business recruitment and economic development.
Throughout the day, as they heard presentations from city staff members on potential new projects and challenges, council members said they felt challenged to make the best possible decisions.
“I thought this was one of the better ones I’ve attended because we reached some conclusions about what members of the city council felt,” Mayor Pro Tem Gene McCombs said.
After the retreat ended Wednesday evening, City Manager Mike Legg said that though no official policy decisions were made, there was an atmosphere of ideas.
He said Wednesday’s session was not meant to give staff recommendations, but rather to present facts and opportunities.
One challenge: how to establish a “brand” for Kannapolis.
“We’re at a place now where there’s this blank slate. Who do we want to be?” Councilman Roger Haas said.
“We don’t know what we are yet, but we’re going that way,” he said.
Of key importance: a presentation on the city’s finances in light of the many capital projects that Kannapolis could benefit from.
The idea of building a new police station and city hall recurred throughout the retreat.
In fact, it’s been on the radar for years: a list of 1990 City Council priorities includes a new city hall.
Currently, the Kannapolis Police Department uses converted houses downtown, while city offices are located in rented space in Cannon Village.
One of the 51 items on council members’ list: “Quit talking about and build a new police department and city hall.”
One possibility envisioned by planners includes a city hall and police station on the site of the old post office, off Dale Earnhardt Boulevard.
That plan would allow for two buildings to be built in phases, allowing for future growth. There would also be a garage for storing specialized police vehicles, such as those used during natural disasters.
But the price tag is not small: an estimated $1.5 million to build all these facilities, and that cost likely to rise along with fuel and commodity prices.
In the afternoon, council members heard a presentation from Legg, Assistant City Manager Eddie Smith and Finance Director Eric Davis.
And they discussed a list of other capital projects that have been identified as real or potential needs between now and 2022.
They include replacing fire engines, building new water mains, replacing aging water meters throughout the city and adding or replacing sidewalks.
They range from major projects, such as renovations to Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium, to those which seem minor but are necessary on a large scale, such as replacing water meters throughout the city.
Council members also discussed ways to increase the city’s revenue stream, which will be vital considering the drop in property values.
“Some things have been put off, and put off for a long time,” Councilman Ryan Dayvault said.
The newest member of the seven-person board said he wants to see improvements made, especially to downtown.
But there must be “aggressive” increases to the tax base to match, he said.
“Any increases that we make to any fees or taxes, anything like that, we have to back them up … with economic development,” he said.
And, Dayvault said, that has to include established retail corridors, not just new developments.
He said he believes residents will support new projects if they see that the city is serious about growth.
“We have to tell the world that we are open for business in Kannapolis, that we’re not just trying to have one entity controlling everything. We want to diversify,” Dayvault said.
Another topic of discussion: fiscal policies, including increased performance measures, a 10-year capital improvements budget and emphasis on the city’s fund balance.
One option: grow the fund balance — the city’s savings — to between 25 and 33 percent of annual revenues, enough to pay the city’s expenses for up to 17 weeks.
But in addition to increased saving, city staff also discussed investment options, “mechanisms to allow the city’s money to work harder.”
Legg said council members realize they’re making decisions that will affect the next generation of Kannapolis residents.
But, throughout the day, Legg said these proposals are merely “a point of departure.”
“It is not a staff recommendation,” he said, but simply food for thought.
Another brainstorming tool was a list of potential new revenue sources — ways the city could raise money other than taxes.
The list of potential fees includes the possibility of taxes on animals, new fees for large yard waste pickups and noise permits, taxi driver permits and taxi inspections.
Also on the list: the sale of naming rights and sponsorships, donations and voluntary support for projects and the sale of underused property and buildings.
Again, Legg said none of these are staff recommendations.
Instead, he said, council members will decide whether or not any of these make sense for Kannapolis.
The city’s leaders will gather again in a month for an economic development summit.
At that time, council members will return to the table to revisit some of the ideas raised Wednesday.
Between now and April 4, McCombs said he will try to learn as much as he can from his constituents — “their opinions about whether or not they can afford the additional taxes or user fees to support some of the needs.”
“Realistically, we have to have increases in revenue, particularly with the fact that we’re just coming off the reduction in valuation.
At the same time, he said, there’s no question the city has pressing needs. “Maybe there is a middle ground somewhere,” McCombs said.
“We’ve got some hard decisions,” Councilman Tom Kincaid said. “Not just looking at what we need now, but trying to visualize what we need to carry the city into the future.”
Councilman Darrell Hinnant said he’s going to take time in the weeks ahead to absorb the information he received. “We have a lot of issues to approach and figure out, and I’m excited about going forward,” Hinnant said. “There’s a lot of work to be done.”
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor at 704-797-4244.