02/05/12 — City Council set to vote on Streetscape Monday

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City Council set to vote on Streetscape Monday

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on February 5, 2012 1:50 AM

Even as the Goldsboro City Council's second vote on bids for the Center Street Streetscape project nears, its supporters and opponents are moving even farther apart as the discussion becomes a debate that pits investment against debt.

That disagreement reached fever pitch at the last two council meetings as two council members who are staunchly opposed to the project began airing their concerns about the city taking on additional debt.

The version of the project the council is expected to vote on Monday involves the renovation of just one of Center Street's blocks, which led District 6 Councilman Jackie Warrick to ask at the council's Jan. 9 meeting when the city would come back to the council asking for more money to finish the project, presumably pushing the city further into debt.

That discussion came as the council was briefed on the result of the bidding process for the project, which revealed a low bid of about $1.4 million from Daniels & Daniels Construction. When utility work and contingency were factored into the estimate, the approximate cost of the project came in just under $2 million.

District 2 Councilman Bob Waller pointed out the conditions of roads and sidewalks throughout the city, saying there were other needs for the council to consider.

Although a recommendation and vote from the council were expected for the Jan. 23 meeting, Mayor Al King determined it would be best to schedule a separate work session to discuss the project.

That session came before the Jan. 23 council meeting when Waller pulled out all the stops in expressing his disagreement with the project.

Finance Director Kaye Scott coupled options for refinancing the city's outstanding debts to create savings that could offset additional debt service payments from a Streetscape loan, but Waller began questioning the project, which the council has discussed since summer 2011, at its most basic levels.

Waller questioned whether the city had ever actually gained ownership of the right of way where a railroad track once divided Center Street and asked how the businesses along the street would be serviced by electrical lines once they are put underground.

The utility work had always been considered a move toward repairing downtown's infrastructure, City Manager Scott Stevens said, and Julie Thompson, director of the Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp., confirmed that the city did own the land in the median.

Waller also came out of nowhere to question other unknowns that were not reflected in Mrs. Scott's proposal, asking rather rhetorically whether the numbers took into account raises for city employees or the mounting dollars being spent on the city's lawsuit over the deannexation of the Buck Swamp area known as Phase 11.

Mrs. Scott's presentation, which approximated the next two blocks would cost roughly $2 million each, showed the implementation of a loan beginning in fiscal year 2013-14 would balloon the city's debt payment that year by nearly $400,000 with additional payments in the three years following amounting to $200,000, $150,000 and $83,000 before paying down the city's debt service from its current level in fiscal year 2017-18.

A separate chart showed that delaying the project loan until fiscal year 2015-16 would have a similar effect, with the city beginning to pay down its debt service beginning in 2017-18 as well.

As the council eyed Mrs. Scott's presentation showing the city's assumed debt service if the project continued with two more blocks, Mayor Pro Tempore Chuck Allen, a supporter of the project, said the city should look at ways to get the full street done within half a decade.

"We need to figure out how to do it in less than five years," he said. "I don't think anyone is going to be that patient."

It was also reported that, for a city Goldsboro's size, the city's bank said its debt service wasn't too high or too low.

But the discussion about future blocks was threatening to shift the discussion, leading Stevens to refocus the council and remind them of the 60-day deadline attached to the bids.

"We need to make a decision Feb. 6," Stevens said, pointing out the bids would expire March 4.

He explained that the recommendation on the table that day will be to proceed with a loan closing and awarding the bid.

King seemed to offer a soft conclusion to the discussion.

"We can't predict where we're going to be," he said of the future.

Monday won't be the first time the council has voted on the Center Street Streetscape project. When the initial bids were opened Sept. 19, the council decided to alter the project in an effort to reduce the amount of money the city will need to borrow. Initial estimates showed the city could put up about $1.129 million from street bond money and the utility fund to cover the project, which the lowest, initial bid revealed would cost $1.7 million, not counting utility work. To decrease the amount the city would need to borrow, those bids were rejected and an altered project was put out for bid, garnering the prices the council will consider Monday.