Cedar Point faces decision on how to use park grant funds

Cedar Point will soon have to decide exactly how to use $1.5 million in approved state grant funds to help pay for the land for its waterfront park. (Brad Rich photo)

CEDAR POINT — When the town of Cedar Point soon receives an approved $1.01 million state grant to help pay for the 2019 purchase of 56 acres of waterfront land for its park, it will be up to town commissioners to determine exactly how that’s done.

That was the word Friday from Town Administrator David Rief, who has been working for months to get the grant money, which was awarded to Cedar Poiny more than a year ago by the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund.

At first, the release of the funds for Boathouse Walking Trails Park was held up by the lack of a state budget, but CWMTF officials early this year said the money was on its way. One hurdle remains: approval by the CWMTF of a conservation easement on the property, which the town bought to forestall development that would cause more stormwater runoff and potentially degraded water quality in Boathouse Creek and White Oak River. The easement limits where the town can build things like restrooms, picnic shelters, parking lots and a kayak launch, all of which are planned.

Mr. Rief said Friday town attorney Neil Whitford has reviewed and approved the easement.

Now, the administrator said, “We’re preparing to send the easement agreement to the CWMTF for review and approval.”

The $2.8 million purchase of the land was mostly funded by a $2.5 million bond referendum approved by voters in 2018. Before the referendum, town officials said grant money would be used to help pay down the debt incurred by the sale of the bonds, which were purchased by a bank in New York. The annual 20-year payback to the bank is about $185,000, more than the town thought when it expected a 30-year payback. The bank allows the town two lump-sum payments to reduce the debt during the 20-year term.

The town initially increased the property tax rate from 6.25 cents per $100 of assessed value in the 2018-19 budget to 9.25 cents in the 2019-20 budget to begin paying off the debt. The property tax rate then increased to 11.75 cents per $100 for the 2020-21 fiscal year, which began July 1, in order to reflect the shorter term and higher annual payback.

Commissioners have repeatedly said the CWMTF grant, plus another $500,000 one approved but not yet received from the state Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, would help alleviate the bond-related tax increases, the first of which voters were told of before they voted for the referendum. But Mr. Rief said Friday, there are two ways that money can be used for the intended purpose.

When the town receives the grant money, he said, “It has to be used to pay for the property. The question for commissioners is how.”

The town, Mr. Rief said, could make an immediate lump sum payment to the bank or it could hold on to the grant money and use it to make those big monthly payments.

Either could help reduce the tax rate, but that, too, is ultimately up to the board, during 2021-22 budget deliberations in the spring.

The same goes for use of the $500,000 grant, which the town expects soon.

Either way the town decides to use the funds, the earliest a tax rate decrease could take effect is Tuesday, July 1, 2021.

Officials are also looking for grants to fund construction of the improvements envisioned in the park.

 

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

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