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Salisbury council talks capital improvement with challenging budget

SALISBURY — After months of preparation, the Salisbury City Council was asked Tuesday to consider the projects they would like to see in the future as they go into what City Manager Lane Bailey called the “most challenging budget.”

Bailey said this is a result of needed staff salary increases and some added positions in the Salisbury Police Department as part of efforts to combat crime.

Dennie Martin, partner at WR-Martin, presented the capital improvement plan, saying it is a diligent one because there aren’t many projects on it. But the total cost of the projects is about $61 million, with $1.6 million projected to continue past 10 years.

Martin said many of the projects are reoccurring capital improvements that come from city staff recognizing the aging of infrastructure.

The big-ticket items include Main Street infrastructure at $20 million, Fire Station No. 6 at $4.45 million and Fire Station No. 3 at $6.75 million.

Martin advised the council to space out the downtown infrastructure work.

“When you start disrupting your downtown with major street and sidewalk construction, a lot of times clients I’ve had in the past have found that it may be better to not try to do it all at one time because it creates issues with access to businesses and disrupts everything from beginning to end,” Martin said.

He said the city should determine what the outcome of the project should be and the financial plan to support it.

The last downtown master plan was drafted in 2010.

The payout of the Main Street infrastructure project would begin in 2022 at $5 million for four years.

Councilman Brian Miller said he is an advocate for downtown revitalization but wants to see the project pushed out further and to factor in a plan to avoid a tax increase.

“We’re going to have to see a — not going away in the distant future — increase to our tax rate every year for the next five years,” Miller said. “That math doesn’t work for me.”

Bailey said the downtown project would require a 5-cent property tax increase at the end of a 10-year period.

Martin said the money wouldn’t necessarily be a payment of $20 million but could come partially out of water and sewer funds and phased out more, and the city could seek outside funding.

Councilwoman Karen Alexander agreed with Miller, saying she would like to see the project pushed out. The city needs to consider infrastructure for the Bell Tower Green park, for which millions has been raised in the community.

Bailey said representatives of the park project have already begun to pressure the city.

“They’ve already made an ask to do work around the park,” Bailey said. “They’ve said to me, ‘Lane, we’ve raised 10-plus, the city needs to come to the table with some.’”

Bailey said the council also will need to consider the Empire Hotel project.

Alexander said some of the cost of the infrastructure improvements may be balanced as other companies invest in Salisbury.

Mayor Pro Tem David Post took the wait-and-see approach.

“It’s not raising our tax dollars today,” Post said. “It’s not raising our tax dollars next year. It’s not raising tax dollars the following year.”

He continued.

“I wouldn’t push it off the map right now or push it down the road, because we don’t know,” he said. “We don’t have a plan.”

Mayor Al Heggins said the council needs to see a comprehensive plan for Main Street that combines Bell Tower Green, Empire Hotel and transportation plans.

Martin said, regardless, the council needs to think about the effect of those on downtown.

“In the end, you don’t do it in a way that damages downtown from the standpoint of existing businesses and surviving in a construction environment,” he said.

Miller inquired about the two fire stations. Ground has been broken for Fire Station No. 6, but he questioned the imminent need for Fire Station No. 3, which has a settlement problem.

Fire Chief Bob Parnell said a study was done but it has been more than five years and he is uncertain of the threat to the building. Bailey said the city could use resources through the other fire station construction to determine the soil quality.

The council ultimately agreed that both stations are needed in the near future because of rising construction costs.

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