Economy will slow 2009 city spending
By Anessa Myers
Published in News on January 11, 2009 2:00 AM
Goldsboro Mayor Al King says 2009 will be a slow year -- mostly because of stress on the city's resources that could stall or stop several major city projects -- quite a change from the fast pace of 2008.
"2008 was a great year. I think basically we did accomplish what we sought out to," King said. "I never thought that the city would have accomplished as much as it did. We've seen more results then in any other year."
In 2009, the plan is set -- it is the pace that is in question.
"As for plans for years ahead, we know now where we want to go," King said. "We have a while to get there. The big question now is -- how will the economy slow us down? It may even stop some things."
King said the city is financially secure, but added that that status might change if millions are spent on several projects currently on the drawing board.
That means a change of plans. Just how or what is still up in the air, King said.
"Now that the economy is the way it is, I'm not sure how it will change our targets. The economy is in control right now, and we have to be careful of what we do," he said.
Some of the projects city officials were "very passionate about" might be on the chopping block or at least frozen.
The more than $12 million Community Recreation Center -- once projected to begin construction in late 2008 -- will likely be suspended the longest because of its price tag, King said, unless the city receives federal funding from the proposed federal stimulus package.
"That's one that I would like to see us build. It would be a great benefit for Goldsboro," the mayor said. "Some people have questions about it, and others want us to do it now. I feel we're going to build it, but that's one project that could be delayed."
The progress that has already been made on the center could be a positive when state and federal officials starting looking for places to put stimulus money, he said.
Without federal funding, the city would have to look at other options.
Phasing out the construction of the center over several years is not a solution King says is likely.
"It may be phased, but right now, I see us building the facility as designed if we are going to progress with it," King. "Now, if some parts can be delayed, we might have to look at that."
King said the project is important because it will provide solutions to needs that the city doesn't satisfy.
"We need a gym. We need basketball courts. We have to use school facilities now for some of our recreation," he said.
When asked if the new recreation center would adequately serve those with low to moderate income, the mayor replied, "No question."
"No child will be denied use of the facility because they can't afford it. I'm sure there will be some provision for the parents as well," he said.
Still, even if the economy were on the upswing, not every resident would be in support of the center, King said -- one of the reasons being its proposed location.
"Some citizens say that with it being downtown that it's going to be overrun with bad people, that it is unsafe," he said. "That's not going to happen. It's right across the street from the police station.
"We will not allow any individual or group to deter people from utilizing it. ... I think it is going to be used by a broad mix of people. It's going to be available to anyone who wants to use it."
King said he is determined to fight false presumptions that he says have colored some residents' vision of downtown Goldsboro.
He said most of downtown is safe -- even though he knows some citizens don't believe so.
"These people are living in another world. They don't come downtown to see what anything is about. If they would, they would know that downtown is safe," he said.
He said there are still some problems with areas outside of the James to William and Ash to Spruce streets square, but that grid is where most of the activities in downtown happen, he said.
"I admit years ago that certain parts were unsafe, but that was a long time ago. We do have some problems still. We are aware of those problems. We know where the hot spots are. And we are trying to move undesirables out of those areas. Those areas that we're working on, we haven't gotten them where we want them to be but we will. It just takes time."
In addition to the safety issues, King said another reason that citizens aren't fully behind the recreation center is the more than $12 million price tag.
King said those comments won't go unnoticed.
"There are a lot of issues that citizens feel very strongly about, like the economy and holding off on projects, and I won't ignore that," he said.
Just like he won't ignore that citizens want to keep the city's only recreation facility with inside basketball courts -- W.A. Foster Center.
But that needs money, too, just like all the city's facilities and parks.
"Recreation is an area that we have got to take a hard look at. This council is not looking to close W. A. Foster. We're not closing W. A. Foster. What will we do with W.A. Foster is the question."
But getting the city's parks and recreation offerings in order will not be an easy task, King said.
"I was surprised when Judy Hills gave us that presentation on the state of our parks and recreation facilities. I didn't realize it was that bad. How are we going to fix them? We are looking into it."
That means setting priorities, King said.
"There is not going to be any closing of W. A. Foster. We are going to renovate it. We are going to put money in it," he said. "How fast will we fix it? I don't know. Money is hard to come by now."
The Paramount Theatre is another project King says residents are looking at -- positively and negatively.
He, however, is sure about what the renovated theater means to the city's future.
"It's absolutely outstanding -- one of the best things that has happened in Goldsboro," he said.
The mayor knows that early on, there were worries about the theater's financial state -- spending was outweighing revenue coming in.
But King said the problems have been worked out and the theater is operating efficiently now.
"We just had to figure out how to run it," he said.
King said City Council members knew going in that the theater wouldn't make any money. Parks and recreation facilities don't make money, he said.
But he said the theater does bring money to city merchants -- as will other projects designed to get more people downtown.
"The conference center will not make money, but it will bring a lot of people into the city," King said. "The city will get revenue from them, and the city will benefit. The theater provides a tremendous service and spreads money across the city. The recreation center, it will not make money. It will not. We just need to figure out the amount of losses."
King is confident rebuilding the Paramount Theatre was the right thing to do.
"People enjoy going there. People tell me, 'It is for the elite. The masses won't use it.' Well that's not fully true," he said. "There are people who are drawn to the arts and some who are not."
There are only two services that all Goldsboro citizens agree are necessary, King said -- water and sewer.
"And I bet if they had the choice, they wouldn't even want those," he said. "We know that not everybody will use everything. But is there a large enough population or is it a need? And if it is, then we do it."
There is one city project that the mayor is still not sure about -- Stoney Creek Park.
"With Stoney Creek Park, there is a great divide. Some want it to develop and others say we are wasting taxpayers' money and to get out of it," he said. "If it's good for the city, then it's good for everybody. In most instances, I can determine what is good for the city. But there are a few things out there that I can't quite get my arms around. Stoney Creek Park is one of them."
One project that won't likely see a change in pace because of the weakened economy is the Union Station renovation, King said.
With such a small price to pay -- the city had to contribute $100,000 to receive $900,000 from the North Carolina Department of Transportation -- the project will continue, the mayor added.
"It's going to happen, and I don't think it's going to slow down too much," he said. "I have no doubt we are going in the right direction there."
Another item on the city's spending list that won't change is the city's work force.
King says employees have nothing to worry about.
"They will not lose their jobs," he said. "We are already lean. It's always been that way. We try to work as efficiently as possible. We are OK right now with our finances. We just have to worry about financing future plans."
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