By Natalie Anderson
SALISBURY — City Council members agree their top priorities for 2022 are investing in youth programs to deter crime, building Fire Station No. 3 and continued support for neighborhood stabilization programs and accommodations.
Salisbury City Council wrapped up its annual planning retreat on Friday with an exercise where they were given $6 million and asked to pin points on a board showing all of the city’s capital projects. The $6 million represents the approximate amount of U.S. federal bailout dollars left to spend, though acting director Brian Hiatt said it was not expected the board would choose to spend all of those. funds for capital projects.
The exercise was intended to guide Hiatt in the preparation of the budget and to better understand the issues that board members deem most important.
Mayor Karen Alexander said she used half of her allotted amount for Fire Station No. 3 in the exercise because public safety is one of the city’s primary obligations. The projected cost of the station is $6 million and has been a board priority in recent budget years. His next priorities included expanding the teen program at the Miller Recreation Center and establishing after-school programs within the Parks and Recreation Department, as these target at-risk youth and can provide outlets to avoid violent crimes. The two 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 gave the same priority and said the town center plan and streetscape was an idea he had endorsed in previous campaigns. Post also prioritized the design of the $2.5 million Salisbury-Rowan Utilities Pumping Station, in addition to improvements to the park’s bathrooms, Hall Gym and Miller Recreation Center. These improvements total $1.4 million.
Mayor Pro Tem Tamara Sheffield said she was considering projects she knew could benefit from a grant. She said she was in favor of a skate park, which is estimated to cost $350,000. She also chose the Grimes Mill Refueling Center because it could accommodate residents and workers when businesses are closed or affected by weather events. This project is estimated at $1.06 million.
Sheffield also selected the Kelser Mill neighborhood infrastructure, which costs $1 million and is a project close to its heart. She also selected the Downtown Main Street Plan streetscape and the Empire Hotel. The $32,500 project to set up dumpsters in the city centre, Sheffield said, is important because perceptions of the city center can impact visitation and economic investment. It also selected a $115,000 project to build electric vehicle charging stations in the city.
Sheffield also selected Fire Station No 3, upgrades to parks and recreation utilities and after-school programs for young people.
Councilman Harry McLaughlin Jr. said he invested money in the fire station because it’s a service the city is supposed to provide. It also prioritized improving parks and recreational facilities, as well as 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 new development.
Board member Anthony Smith said he had been guided by earlier discussions about the expected growth, so he thought about additional services that can be provided to families and children. He prioritized opportunities for youth engagement through parks and recreation, neighborhood and housing stabilization, and the Kesler Mill site.
Hiatt said his takeaways are that the council has prioritized projects between parks and recreation and Salisbury Police to improve youth engagement, fire station No 3 and housing projects and neighborhood stabilization.
Hiatt added that new guidelines for eligible uses of American Rescue Plan Act federal funds allow for greater flexibility, with opportunities to make one-time capital investments. City Attorney Graham Corriher clarified that eligible uses apply to all traditional government services and can be used to replace lost revenue. So while the funds cannot be used directly for debt service, an idea discussed earlier, using the money to invest in other projects could free up money in the general fund that can be transferred to the city’s debt in the Fibrant fund.
Hiatt also noted the excess revenue projected in the 2021-22 budget, but reminded the board that a number of employees will be eligible for retirement in the next fiscal year. Additionally, the city could face additional costs if Salisbury firefighters vote to return to Social Security.
This exercise was also used to pull together the “big picture” goals for 2022. Moderator Warren Miller, president of Fountainworks Facilitation and Management Consulting, said he and his team would come back to the board with a more fleshed-out list of priorities. which will complete its federal action plan adopted each year. Here is a list of priorities included:
• community intervention and prevention programs to deter crime
• an overhaul of the Project Safe Neighborhoods program
• continue to develop diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, including more staff and increased training to fit into the workplace culture
• development of uniform construction standards
• Draft Forward 2040 plan
• adoption of a 15-year rain capital improvement plan
• implementation of the findings of the city-wide salary study
• exploration of organizational opportunities to better recruit and retain city employees
• Ongoing funding to address affordable and equitable housing needs and initiatives
• increased awareness of landlord and tenant rights
• Ongoing workforce development with county partners
• a microtransit pilot program
• a study for a possible parking platform in the city center
• short-term mediation of existing car parks to solve parking problems
Post said he liked that the presentations were mostly conducted jointly, noting a sense of “interconnectedness”. He added that board members seemed to be on the same page about the “critical and important things” that need to be addressed.
Smith said the retreat showed the city is charting a course while adapting to the current environment and circumstances felt across the country.
Sheffield also noted the synergy between departments, adding that “the time to work in silos and fetch the same bucket of cash” is over.
McLaughlin said he appreciated the opportunity to sit down with board members and see that they were all pretty much on the same page.
Alexander echoed the council’s comments, adding that the city is well positioned with its leaders and staff.
Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.