As Swansboro’s joint sidewalk-building project with the state will come up about $100,000 short of being able to complete the top three areas of priority, Mayor John Davis made a last-minute plea for commissioners to fund the shortfall in the town’s 2021-22 budget.
The budget was approved during the meeting of the town commission on Monday, June 28. (See related story.) The extra sidewalk funds were not included.
The state’s work on the sidewalks began earlier this year, according to Lauren Haviland, communications officer for Divisions 2 and 3 with the N.C. Department of Transportation.
Swansboro had originally listed four areas in which it hoped to complete sidewalk construction, utilizing state and town funds:
• Priority number 1: to complete gaps on the south side of N.C. 24. It is approximately 1,239 linear feet from McDonald’s to Hammock Beach Road.
• Priority number 2: to complete a gap on the east side of Old Hammock Road from Deer Island Road to N.C. 24, approximately .89 miles.
• Priority number 3: to complete the sidewalk from Moore’s BBQ to Park Place, approximately .38 miles along Hammock Beach Road.
• Priority number 4: the Hammock Beach Road multi-use trail from Halls Creek Subdivision to 4H Road. This section is 2,323 feet.
Haviland points out that funding available – $116,634 from the town and $366,668 from the state – will not be enough to complete the first three priorities.
She said that Priority 1 will cost about $120,000, Priority 2 will cost about $335,000, and Priority 3 will cost about $125,000.
“Total cost as described above is about $580,000,” Haviland said. “Funding is $483,302, which means the shortage is about $97,000.”
The state funds come from the Division-wide Small Construction, Statewide Contingency, Public Access, Economic Development, High Impact/Low Cost, according to Chris Seaberg, town manager.
Former state Sen. Harry Brown and state Reps. George Cleveland and Phil Shepard worked together to secure that state funding, according to Davis. That was in 2019.
Seaberg, in his report to the town commissioners at the June 14 board meeting, said sidewalk building began on April 8.
He referred to the $97,000 shortfall as being “due to limitations caused by ditching and utilities.”
Davis, aware of the shortfall, said he has been in touch with Cleveland, Shepard and Sen. Mike Lazzara about securing more funds.
Davis also said the town might want to consider coming up with the additional funds to take advantage of the state’s partnership in the project.
DOT’s involvement to design and install the sidewalks is a real boon, according to Seaberg. The reason, he explained, is the difference between what is required for stormwater mitigation between the town doing the work and the state doing the work. Swansboro falls under a different set of stormwater rules than DOT. DOT has a national discharge permit and Swansboro does not.
Davis cited that advantage is urging the commissioners to revise the budget.
“I’d like to ask the board to commit,” he said of coming up with enough funds to cover the shortfall.
He said he had spoken with Lazarra and was confident the senator would provide a reimbursement of $50,000. Not only that, he said Shepard was hoping to provide the town with $100,000.
Commissioners, who struggled with having to cut much of the budget priorities to maintain the tax rate and limit the amount of unrestricted fund balance to pass the budget, were reluctant to commit.
“This is a terrible, terrible way to fund a capital project,” Commissioner Frank Tursi said.
After struggling for months to cut expenditures, he said he could not support the idea of adding $100,000 in spending at the last minute.
“I think this is a huge opportunity for us,” Davis said.
Commissioner Pat Turner summed up the board members’ feelings.
“I’ve been a proponent of sidewalks,” she said. “But I’m not a gambler.”
Another possibility, according to Davis, is partnering with the homeowners of Halls Creek North, one of the subdivisions benefitting from the sidewalk construction. He said the owners have expressed a willingness to participate financially in the sidewalk building.
Email Jimmy Williams at email@example.com.