The day after Gov. Roy Cooper signed the state’s 2021 biennial budget, Swansboro Mayor John Davis chose carefully the word he would use to describe his mood: “elated.”
“Elated would be the best word,” he said on Friday morning on sharing the news that Swansboro is in line to receive $6 million.
Through the efforts of state Rep. George Cleveland, the budget signed on Thursday provides $6 million for Swansboro to spend on an emergency operations center.
Cleveland had secured the funds – pending the governor’s signing of the budget – weeks ago. However, the signature was never guaranteed as Cooper, a Democrat, and the Republican-controlled N.C. General Assembly have been unable to agree on a budget for the past few years.
“I was watching WRAL religiously,” Davis said last week. The Raleigh television station was apparently the mayor’s go-to media for coverage of the unfolding budget drama. “Over the weekend, I was told he was going to veto the budget.” And, Davis added, “That was my inside information,” indicating that inside information was not only hard to come by, it was unreliable.
“On Monday, I found out, like everybody else, that he would sign it,” Davis said.
In an email, Cleveland said the town would also receive $100,000 through the budget. Those funds are to be used to complete a sidewalk-building project that its underway in town by the N.C. Department of Transportation.
There are no strings attached to either item, according to Cleveland.
Speaking of the $6 million, Davis said, “It is my understanding there are no stipulations other than it will be used for an emergency operations center.”
Those details will be worked out between the town staff and Cleveland’s staff, according to Davis. “I don’t know how that process works.”
Receiving this much state funding for a single project is unprecedented in Swansboro, certainly in the past 40 years, and Davis said it is noteworthy.
“It is a tribute to our community and it is a tribute to our first-responders,” he said.
Following Hurricane Florence in September 2018, Swansboro officials learned that the Swansboro Public Safety Facility, which serves as the town’s EOC, was incapable of withstanding a severe weather event. Multiple problems including leaks and loss of power were experienced during the Category 1 hurricane.
Subsequent engineering reports indicated that no structure on the Swansboro Town Hall campus could adequately serve as an EOC.
As a result, town officials have struck a deal with the Swansboro United Methodist Church to move its EOC operations to Building 2 on the church grounds, when necessary.
One of the engineering reports indicated it would cost about $6 million to retrofit the Public Safety Facility so it would safely withstand a Category 3 storm. The same report produced a drawing of what a $6 million building, built offsite, might look like. That is where the $6 million price tag originated, according to Davis.
In what he described was a casual conversation, Davis said he explained to Cleveland the towns dilemma with the EOC. Cleveland has said the money is coming from the State Capital and Infrastructure Fund.
The process – the back and forth between the town and Cleveland – drew harsh criticism from the town commissioners, none of whom were made aware of the negotiations until several weeks after the process had started.
Davis and Chris Seaberg, former town manager, primarily, were in discussion with Cleveland between August and late-September when the representative notified Seaberg that the funds were in the budget.
Seaberg’s call to the the commissioners informing them of that development was apparently the first they’d heard of the plan.
Commissioners criticized both Davis and Seaberg for working on what is arguably one of the town’s most ambitious building projects, without making elected officials aware.
Davis said he is hopeful the board of commissioners can look past the controversy and proceed with the task of improving or building an EOC.
“This is the part where we have to get to work,” he said.
The first step, according to the mayor, is saying yes.
“The board of commissioners will have to accept this money, and I hope they will,” Davis said.
He said he would then advocate for establishing a committee to include police, fire and EMS members; representatives of the board of commissioners; and citizens, preferably with “first-responder” background. “They bring something to the table as well.”
In reference to the sidewalk funds, Davis said that with Cleveland’s $100,000 being directed to the town, Rep. Phil Shepard has withdrawn his request for similar funds through the DOT’s discretionary funds.
The sidewalk project is taking place on the south side of N.C. 24 on west end of town.
To accomplish the work, Davis had asked state legislators to assist with funding. He found Rep. Phil Shepard and Sen. Harry Brown were willing. As a result, $366,668 in DOT contingency funds were matched with funds the town had been setting aside, $116,634, to total $483,302 for the work.
DOT agreed to do the work.
Based on the funds available and the estimates at the time, the project was slated to include essentially three phases.
However, at the time the work finally commenced, prices had risen to the point that the state would be short about $95,000 of paying to complete all three phases, which include …
• Priority 1 – Along the south side of N.C. 24 from Hammocks Beach Road to Phillips Loop Road. (This was completed June 9.)
• Priority 2 – Along the south side of Old Hammocks Beach Road from Deer Island Road to existing sidewalk near Fredericka Lane at the Catholic Church. (This is the work that is underway as of October.)
• Priority 3 – Along the west side of Hammocks Beach Road from Moore’s BBQ sidewalk to opposite Schooner Drive at existing sidewalk, then extend existing sidewalk to tie into sidewalk at Cormorant Drive.
Email Jimmy Williams at email@example.com.