Council prioritizing youth engagement, Fire Station No. 3, housing needs in upcoming budget

Published 11:59 am Saturday, January 29, 2022

By Natalie Anderson

SALISBURY — City Council members agree their top priorities for 2022 are investment in youth programs to deter crime, construction of Fire Station No. 3 and continued support of neighborhood and housing stabilization programs.

The Salisbury City Council closed out its annual planning retreat Friday with an exercise where members were given $6 million and asked to pin dots on a board showing all of the city’s capital projects. The $6 million represents the approximate amount of federal American Rescue Plan dollars left to spend, though Interim Manager Brian Hiatt said it’s not expected the council would choose to spend all of those funds of capital projects.

The exercise was intended to guide Hiatt as he prepares the budget and also gain a better sense of what issues council members feel are most important.

Mayor Karen Alexander said she used half of her allotted amount on Fire Station No. 3 in the exercise because public safety is one of the city’s top obligations. The projected cost of the station is $6 million and has been a council priority in recent budget years. Her next priorities included expansion of the teen program at Miller Recreation Center and the establishment of after-school programs within the Parks and Recreation Department because those target at-risk youth and can provide outlets to avoid violent crime. Both of those total $565,000.

Alexander also prioritized the Downtown Main Street Program at a cost of $650,000 and incentives for the Empire Hotel at a cost of $250,000.

Council member David Post prioritized the same, and said the Downtown Main Street Plan and streetscape is an idea he endorsed in previous campaigns. Post also prioritized the design of the Salisbury-Rowan Utilities pump station, a $2.5 million project, in addition to upgrades to park bathrooms, Hall Gym and Miller Recreation Center. Those upgrades total $1.4 million.

Mayor Pro Tem Tamara Sheffield said she considered projects she knows may qualify for grant funding. She said she’s in favor of a skate park, which has an estimated cost of $350,000. She also selected the Grimes Mill Refueling Center because it could accommodate residents and workers when businesses are closed or impacted by weather events. That project is estimated at $1.06 million.

Sheffield also selected Kelser Mill neighborhood infrastructure, which costs $1 million and is a project close to her heart. She also selected the Downtown Main Street Plan streetscape and the Empire Hotel. The $32,500 project to implement downtown dumpsters, Sheffield said, is important because one’s perception of the downtown can have an impact on visits and economic investment. She also selected a $115,000 project to construct electric vehicle charging stations in the city.

Sheffield also selected Fire Station No. 3, Parks and Recreation utility upgrades and after-school programs for youth.

Council member Harry McLaughlin Jr. said he put money toward the fire station because it’s a service the city is expected to provide. He also prioritized improvements to Parks and Recreation facilities, along with neighborhood and housing stabilization initiatives, which total $2.1 million.

McLaughlin also prioritized Empire Hotel incentives because the city needs “a viable downtown” to attract further development.

Council member Anthony Smith said he was guided by earlier discussions of anticipated growth, so he thought about the added services that can be provided to families and children. He prioritized youth engagement opportunities through Parks and Recreation, neighborhood and housing stabilization and the Kesler Mill site.

Hiatt said his takeaway is that the council prioritized projects between Parks and Recreation and Salisbury Police to enhance youth engagement, Fire Station No. 3 and housing and neighborhood stabilization projects.

Hiatt added the new guidance for eligible uses of the federal American Rescue Plan Act funds allows greater flexibility, with opportunities to make one-time capital investments. City Attorney Graham Corriher clarified eligible uses apply to all traditional governmental services and can be used to replace lost revenue. So while the funds can’t be directly used for debt service, an idea previously discussed, using the money to invest in other projects could free up some money in the General Fund that can be transferred to the city’s debt in the Fibrant Fund.

Hiatt also noted the anticipated surplus revenue in the 2021-22 budget, but reminded the council a number of employees will be eligible for retirement in the upcoming fiscal year. Additionally, the city could have additional costs if Salisbury firefighters vote to opt back into Social Security.

That exercise also was used to gather the “big picture” goals for 2022. Moderator Warren Miller, president of Fountainworks Facilitation and Management Consulting, said he and his team will return to council a more fleshed out priority list that will complement its federal action plan adopted each year. The following is a list of priorities included:

• community-based intervention and prevention programs to deter crime

• a revamp of the Project Safe Neighborhoods program

• further developing of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, including more staff and increased training to integrate into the workplace culture

• development of uniform construction standards

• draft of the Forward 2040 plan

• adoption of a 15-year stormwater capital improvement plan

• implementation of the citywide pay study findings

• exploration of organizational opportunities to better recruit and retain city employees

• continued funding to address affordable and fair housing needs and initiatives

• increased awareness of landlord and tenant rights

• continued workforce development with county partners

• a microtransit pilot program

• a study for a potential downtown parking deck

• short-term mediation of existing parking lots to address parking concerns

Post said he liked that presentations were mostly conducted jointly, noting a sense of “interconnectivity.” He added that council members seem to be on the same page about the “critical, big ticket items” that must be tackled.

Smith said the retreat showed the city is forging a path forward while adapting to the current environment and circumstances felt across the nation.

Sheffield also noted the synergy among departments, adding that “the days of working in silos and clawing for the same bucket of money” are no longer.

McLaughlin said he appreciated the opportunity to sit down with council members and see that they’re all pretty much on the same page.

Alexander echoed the council’s comments, adding that the city is positioned well with its leadership and staff.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

About Natalie Anderson

Natalie Anderson covers the city of Salisbury, politics and more for the Salisbury Post. She joined the staff in January 2020 after graduating from Louisiana State University, where she was editor of The Reveille newspaper. Email her at or call her at 704-797-4246.

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