Panel to review referendum results

Cedar Point commissioners and staff are pursuing grants to offset the $2.8 million bond sale and potential tax increase the town will undertake after residents approved the borrowing during the Nov. 6 General Election in an effort to purchase land for the town’s first park. (Dylan Ray photo)

CEDAR POINT — Town officials are making progress on an effort to obtain major grants to reduce or eliminate a potential tax increase associated with the planned $2.8 million purchase of 56 acres of land for a park along the White Oak River.

The board of commissioners, during its meeting Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in town hall, will consider a resolution to certify the results of a Nov. 6 referendum in which voters overwhelmingly approved the sale of $2.5 million in general obligation bonds to pay most of the purchase price.

Town Administrator Chris Seaberg has consistently said that paying back the bonds might result in a 3-cent increase in the property tax rate in 2019-20, from 6.25 per $100 of assessed value to 9.25 cents, and has promised he and the commissioners would seek grants.

In a memo to commissioners in advance of their Tuesday meeting, Mr. Seaberg wrote that one grant, for $250,000, appears to be near fruition, while the chances of obtaining another one, for $1 million, look good.

“The town has received preliminary notification that, pending approval by the N.C. Coastal Land Trust Board of Directors, it will receive a $250,000 grant from that organization as a sub-grant recipient under their U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service North American Wetlands Conservation Act award,” he wrote.

The land trust is based in Wilmington and is headed by Executive Director Camilla Herlevich. Deputy Director Janice Allen heads the organization’s New Bern office, and there are two Carteret County residents on the board of directors, John Fussell of Morehead City and Cheryl Bradley Smith of Pine Knoll Shores, according to the organization’s website.

The land trust was founded in 1992 and now serves 31 counties in the state’s coastal plain and coastal regions. It owns property in many of those, including Carteret, and keeps them in their natural state.

The trust’s mission, according to its website, “is to enrich the coastal communities of North Carolina through conservation of natural areas and working landscapes, education, and the promotion of good land stewardship.”

It’s one of 24 land trusts in the state and focuses on “saving and restoring special places in the coastal plain like barrier islands, nature parks and preserves, family farms, and longleaf pine forests.”

The property Cedar Point is buying includes stretches of unspoiled wetlands and scenic shorelines, and Mayor Scott Hatsell said one of the big reasons to buy it is to put it off-limits to development in order to preserve and enhance water quality in the river.

The town’s plan is to purchase from the N.C. Masons all of the remaining undeveloped Masonic property off Masonic Avenue, except for the historic Octagon House, which will remain in private ownership but will still be available for town functions.

The town intends to leave most of the scenic and wooded waterfront property in its natural state, but to provide passive recreation opportunities, such as trails and picnic facilities and maybe a kayak launch, plus expansion or improvement of an existing pier.

The second big grant possibility, Mr. Seaberg stated in his memo, would be through the N.C. Coastal Federation, an environmental organization based nearby in the Ocean community.

“The town has entered into an assistance agreement with the (federation) in a quest to apply for and hopefully obtain an N.C. Clean Water (Management) Trust Fund grant in the amount of $1 million,” Mr. Seaberg stated in his memo. “Preliminary discussions have taken place with representatives managing these funds and our project, and they feel confident that our project will be funded.  Applications for this grant cycle will be due February 2019.”

The N.C. CWMTF helps local governments purchase property in order to preserve and enhance water quality. For example, it helped Emerald Isle buy about 30 acres of land behind the town hall and recreation center along Archer’s Creek last year. More than 200 condos could have been built there.

Finally, Mr. Seaberg wrote, “…Commissioner (John) Nash (and I) have been working on an N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant application requesting $500,000 toward the acquisition of this property. Applications for this grant cycle will be due May 2019.”

The PARTF funding helps local governments buy and improve land to provide recreational opportunities for residents.

Mr. Seaberg noted that, “staff continues to pursue other opportunities to offset these costs associated with this acquisition.” If the town is successful in obtaining the three grants, they would total $1.75 million, or 70 percent of the bond sale and 62.5 percent of the total cost of the land.

The town has pledged to use $300,000 from its general fund to complete the $2.8 million purchase.

None of this, including the bond sale, can happen, however, until the town certifies the referendum results. In the totals submitted to the County Board of Elections Nov. 6, the vote was 523 for the bond sale and 240 against. The BOE website now lists the totals at 527 to 242, or about 70 percent to 30 percent. The votes represent more than 65 percent of the town’s 1,172 registered voters.

Once the board adopts the resolution to certify the referendum results, either Tuesday or sometime in the near future, the town will publish the results in the newspaper and then take further actions necessary to legally satisfy state statutes.

Once all the steps are taken, the town can proceed with the closing of the purchase. If all goes as planned, that would take place between late February and early April.

Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email Brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.

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