China Grove ponders growth within budget limits

Published 12:05 am Tuesday, March 1, 2016

By Josh Bergeron

CHINA GROVE — Town board members on Monday tempered their dreams of growth and development with a dose of fiscal reality.

China Grove has millions of dollars in capital needs, according to a capital improvement plan draft. The single most expensive project is resurfacing streets. However, other, small costs quickly add to the monetary total. There’s new police cars, a ladder truck for the fire department, a remodel of the town’s community building and a facility for the public works department.

With a draft of the capital improvement plan in hand, the town board during a planning meeting tossed around ideas for cheap, short-term goals and flirted with the thought of accomplishing massive projects that would boost tax revenue.

Short-term ideas included: planting trees along sidewalks in downtown, changing the landscape of Hanna Park, securing grants to build or develop parks, supporting existing businesses and attracting new shops to China Grove. Long-term ideas varied, but focused on creating a large park and adding businesses to the town.

Town Manager Ken Deal near the end of the meeting said the town board members discussed a number of positive ideas. He said significant projects are “falling into place.” Deal, however, dashed his comments with a dose of monetary constraints.

“I don’t want to be the naysayer and be the one saying we need money,” Deal said.

With money in mind, Mayor Lee Withers told council members about a select, few projects that could be done with money already set aside in the town’s budget. Withers said the town could add trees along downtown sidewalks for $15,000 or less. The town could alter the layout of Hanna park for $10,000.

He talked about the ideas as an “instant hit to show people we’ve done something.” Withers proposed both projects be completed before the town’s 2016 Farmer’s Day festival.

Withers asked each town board member to discuss a few ideas or proposals for the Town of China Grove to accomplish.

Newly elected town board member Rodney Phillips avoided talking specifically about ideas that would require funding. Phillips presented a slideshow and called his ideas “things we can do to influence behavior.” He said the town could proactively try to control its growth or take a lassez faire approach.

Phillips suggested recruiting a high-end restaurant to China Grove. He said the town needed attractions — including the high-end restaurant and parks — that would bring significant numbers of people from surrounding communities to China Grove.

Councilman Mike Upright proposed adding more street lights to U.S. 29, crosswalks in downtown and possibilities for adding or improving parks.

Other council members repeated or agreed with previous speakers. Mayor Pro Tem Steve Stroud only said he’d prefer for China Grove not to experience growth similar to Charlotte. He said growth doesn’t lead to increased tax revenue because the town would then take on additional financial responsibilities.

A large portion of time focused on what council members could do to add parks to China Grove. Phillips mentioned it as a possible attraction for the town, and board members have previously tossed around ideas for new parks.

Councilman Brandon Linn cited the town’s recent “Christmas in the Grove” event as a reason China Grove should focus on its parks. For the event, the town coated a park of a hill on Swink Street with fake snow and invited members of the public to sled down.

“It was amazing seeing the huge turnout we had for Christmas in the Grove,” Linn said. “I think it would be excellent if we could focus on parks.”

Deal, the town manager, said the town may be able to obtain funding to clean up an old landfill property in China Grove. The property could then be turned into a park. Deal said the old landfill may even qualify for free cleanup.

Town board members also discussed developing a large, empty lot at the intersection of Church and Main streets. However, board members seemed to favor attracting new mixed-use properties to that plot of land, which is adjacent to downtown.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.