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City approves wish list of 2021 projects, priorities

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Funding for the Empire Hotel project, the Dixonville-Lincoln Memorial, waste reduction, affordable housing and innovative policing initiatives are on the city’s wish list in 2021.

City council members on Tuesday approved the proposed 2021 Federal Action Plan that outlines the city’s projects and policy needs in the areas of community and economic development, quality of life, public safety and infrastructure.

The somewhat lengthy list was compiled by Leslie Mozingo and Rom Hamm, of Strategics Consulting, along with Salisbury City Clerk Kelly Baker and City Attorney Graham Corriher. Hamm and the company spoke with all council members and department directors before creating the list.

Mozingo is also the city’s federal lobbyist, and the city relies on its U.S. representatives and senators to secure funding for the projects and priorities on the plan.

In the area of community and economic development, the plan prioritizes the funding needed for the restoration and redevelopment of the Empire Hotel, a subsidy for the cost of services and improvements needed for broadband, supporting the improvements outlined in the Main Street Downtown Master Plan and funding needed for the Dixonville-Lincoln Memorial that honors the community’s Black residents. Additionally, the plan prioritizes the funding needed to transform the nearby, vacant elementary school into useful space, such as senior housing.

Council member David Post asked Hamm to be on the lookout for any reimbursement opportunities related to implementing broadband infrastructure. Post said many cities are applying for grants to implement broadband, while Salisbury is essentially being penalized for being “ahead of the curve” with its Hotwire lease. Because of pre-existing debt, the lease requires between $20 million to $25 million over the next eight years. Having a couple extra million dollars to work with in fiscal budgets is a huge relief to the city, he said.

Some quality of life priorities include ensuring federal COVID-19 funds reach the intended recipients, providing money to support first responders, funding support for the local farmers market, money to rehabilitate blighted houses in established communities to create affordable housing, support for seniors housing and those without homes, as well as funding to support local initiatives to reduce barriers for ex-offenders trying to become productive members of the community.

Another “quality of life” priority is the support for programs that provide a cleaner environment, such as energy-efficient vehicles and waste reduction.

Public safety priorities include funds to address a rise in domestic violence, innovative policing initiatives, DNA collection, gang suppression and violent crime reduction. Additionally, the plan calls for police training to help build racial equity in the justice system as well as mental health crisis intervention training. Other priorities include supporting fire suppression initiatives and securing a grant to help the community battle the opioid epidemic.

Infrastructure priorities include road and bridge improvements, greenway enhancements and bicycle routes and funding to replace the revenue lost from reduced transit fares last year. Water, sewer and stormwater needs in the plan include an update of the aging water infrastructure, support for policies that provide Clean Water Act regulatory relief, federal support for stream restoration, initiatives that reduce lead contamination and prompt implementation of a sedimentation and flood protection plan for the city’s raw water pump station and related infrastructure.

Hamm said the plan prioritizes the use of grants to carry out the goals. He told council members that he and Mozingo continue to follow closely President-Elect Joe Biden’s proposed stimulus package, which currently calls for renters assistance, funding for local governments and infrastructure investments. Funding in those areas can be used for the city’s projects and priorities.

But Hamm said the list is aggressive and may require council members to pick three to five items to prioritize if funding is an issue. Mayor Karen Alexander said council members will determine what those top priorities will be at the city’s goal-setting retreat, scheduled for Feb. 10 and 11.

Alexander also said she recently submitted a letter to the National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors and other agencies to “bombard them with how important those funds are to be directed to our cities.”

In December 2019, the mayor and Mozingo met with U.S. Rep. Ted Budd’s district director Kyle Bridge and the regional representative for Sen. Thom Tillis, James Estes, to discuss the city’s 2020 federal action plan. Similarly, Mozingo said there will soon be a virtual opportunity to meet with congressional staff to discuss the 2021 plan.

Also at Tuesday’s council meeting, members formally approved the 2020-21 fiscal year action plan that outlines the use of a $200,221 Community Development Block Grant from HUD that came in months ago via the federal CARES Act. The funding is to be used for preventing, preparing for and responding to the pandemic. A public hearing for the plan was presented at the Dec. 1 city council meeting, and comments were received until Dec. 25. Recommendations were presented to council members on Jan. 5.

Uses include public service agencies, housing activities, planning, economic development and infrastructure. The plan is to designate $50,055 for public services in addition to the $34,834 still available from a past HUD CDBG grant, $75,000 for rent and utility assistance, $10,000 for emergency sewer lateral repair assistance, $40,000 for a homeless prevention strategy and $60,000 for small business assistance.

With the plan’s approval, city staff can now submit it to HUD for final approval.

Mayor Pro Tem Al Heggins did not attend Tuesday’s meeting due to a health issue, Alexander said.

In other business:

• Council members appropriated $1,155 in donations received in December for the Share2Care fund to the 2020-21 budget. Those funds will then be distributed to Rowan Helping Ministries to administer via their utility assistance program. Post told council members the full amount of donations received for the city’s utility assistance program may be larger as some locals have donated through Friends of Rowan, which currently matches donations.

• Council members approved a request for a right-of-way encroachment by Spectrum for the installation of directional bored duct on Lash Drive. There is no cost to the city.

• Council members adopted an order to close a portion of an alley located in the 800 block of West Cemetery Street, referenced as Elite Street, and accept an offer of dedication for the right-of-way. A public hearing for the closure was held at the Jan. 5 meeting, and no public comments were received.

• Council members considered Land Development District Map Amendments Z-01-2020 and Z-02-2020. They approved the first amendment, which rezones one parcel on the south side of South Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue from “Corridor Mixed Use” and “Highway Business” to just “Highway Business.” The latter amendment called for a parcel located at 725 South Main Street to be rezoned from “Highway Business” to “Corridor Mixed Use.” That amendment included some discussion, including whether it was appropriate to designate the parcel “Corridor Mixed Use” or “Downtown Mixed Use,” due to a concern for “spot zoning” in an important area of the city that’s primed for further development. Council members ultimately ruled to approve the second amendment as well, with Post casting the only “no” vote.

Corriher said the council makes a case against “spot zoning” since the members made a decision based on a discussion of all the factors related to the parcel. But following a suggestion by Post, Salisbury Community Planning Director Hannah Jacobson told council members that it would take about six months for staff to complete a study for the South Main Street corridor to assess any necessary rezoning needs since further development there is anticipated.

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