Council Notes: Town debates spending more to bury power lines

kjahner@newsobserver.comNovember 7, 2013 

— Now that the White Oak shopping center has a planned anchor store, the town and the developer want to bury power lines in the area.

The Garner Town Council recently discussed the possibility of kicking in more money than budgeted to burythe power lines along the north side of U.S. 70 near White Oak.

But council members had different opinions about how much the town should spend.

Workers must move the utility lines to widen U.S. 70 as part of the road project to rebuild the interchange at Interstate 40 and White Oak/Jones Sausage roads.

Town leaders and the developer agree buried power lines would be more aesthetically pleasing and enhance the development project. Outdoor retailer Cabela’s recently announced it is putting a store in the area.

The total cost of burying the lines would be about $635,000 more than the $364,000 already included in the project to move the lines north.

Roughly half of the road project is funded by the federal government and other grants.

Garner town staff presented a variety of options to the council.

The least generous would have Core Properties, the developer, pay about $229,000 to bury the lines up Jones Sausage Road, which is less visible than U.S. 70. The developer and the town would split the cost for the rest of the project.

Under that scenario, the town would pitch in an additional $20,000 beyond what’s already budgeted in a $385,000-$614,000 split with Core Properties.

Or the town could cover all underground costs except for Jones Sausage Road, a $770,000-$229,000 government-Core split.

Some council members balked at the idea of trying to nickel-and-dime the company.

Councilman Gra Singleton proposed an option in which the town would pay the initial $364,000 already budgeted, and split the rest down the middle, leaving a roughly $681,000-$317,000 government-Core split. The town would pay about $500,000 once the federal and grant share is factored out.

“This is a game-changing economic development initiative that could set the tone for us for the next two decades,” said Councilman Buck Kennedy, who also said a few hundred thousand dollars shouldn’t halt $80 million in development.

“I think it will be in the vicinity of what Gra was recommending,” Kennedy said. “But the town needs time to consider what it is comfortable with and what is in the best interests of the town.”

Councilman Ken Marshburn pushed back, arguing that the town shouldn’t pay for the Jones Sausage Road portion at all, and should at most split the remaining $770,000. In any case, he said, he disagrees with the town taking on more than 50 percent of the total cost, the original cost of moving the lines included.

“At the very most the town aught not to pay more than 50 percent of that $999,000,” Marshburn said. “I just think it’s only reasonable that the town not expend overly on this particular project.”

Core Properties was slow in the past to get back to town staff on the issue of burying the power lines as the town planned the project and put it out for bids, Town Manager Hardin Watkins said.

But Kennedy, who along with Singleton had worked closely with Core, said that had more to do with the company scrambling to get its anchor tenant that would prompt other retailers to buy in.

“The primary thing they have been working on the last few months was securing a major anchor tenant in Cabela’s, and without them it was almost a moot point,” Kennedy said.

The town has until Dec. 1 to tell Duke Energy whether to sink the lines. The council will meet again Nov. 19.

In other council news:

•  An audit of the town’s finances from the 2012-2013 fiscal year revealed no major issues, and the presenter from the auditing company praised fiance director Emily Lucas, who took over the job in the middle of the previous fiscal year.

“You have made a good decision with her. She’s done a very good job,” said Eddie Burke of accounting firm Cherry Berkaert LLP. “In my opinion you are all in very good hands right now.”

The audit unturned no significant deficiencies or weaknesses.

“You have a very strong cash position by the end of the year,” Burke said. “For the size of the town that’s a pretty good cash balance.”

•  A public hearing was held regarding a rezoning request of Inwood Road property outside Garner’s town limits but inside its extraterritorial jurisdiction.

The Buffaloe Land Limited Partnership requested the land be shifted from its current light industrial classification to residential with the intent of creating two tracts on the land and building town houses.

Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland

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