Hickory leaders are moving swiftly to create an advisory committee to help them carry out public improvement projects in coming years, the first major step in a revitalization initiative for which the city is preparing to buy municipal bonds.
The committee will comprise 42 members, 28 of them residents appointed by city council and the rest representatives of boards and committees. Expected to meet at least once every three months, it will offer guidance on managing the projects by giving feedback and also relay public input and explore fundraising opportunities and public-private partnerships.
“We want the community very involved,” City Manager Mick Berry said
The preparations come less than three months after Hickory residents passed two bond referendums totaling $40 million to fund beautification projects, commercial development and infrastructure improvements during the next several years.
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The committee has attracted considerable interest since the city started accepting applications about a month ago, drawing more than 150 applicants as of early last week.
“We’ve never had this kind of response, of citizens wanting to be involved in something,” Mayor Rudy Wright said recently.
City leaders are expected to approve its bylaws at a meeting scheduled for Feb. 3, with the six council members and Wright expected to make four appointments each from the pool of applicants. Nearly all of the boards and committees have already appointed a representative.
Of the 28 residents appointed to the committee, half will serve three-year terms, with the possibility of getting reappointed to an additional year; the remainder will equally split two- or one-year terms and could serve an additional three-year term. All of them are limited to a total of two terms, while the board and committee representatives are limited to three one-year terms.
Free to choose whomever they deem fit for the role, city leaders could appoint members who reside outside Hickory and pay no city taxes.
“If we want to make four really, really bad decisions, then we’ll have to pay for those,” Councilman Brad Lail said at the Jan. 12 work session, in which council voted 5-2 in favor of placing no restrictions on its appointments. Dissenting were Wright and Councilman David Zagaroli.
But despite that liberty, the applicant pool does not reflect the overall demographic of the city, Lail said, citing an over-representation of white applicants 40 and older.
While the city has held only one public hearing on the committee itself, he dismissed any notion that it had not adequately promoted it, saying in an interview that the bond referendum in general “has been very, very widely covered, widely discussed.
“We want people who are interested and engaged,” Lail added, noting that the city will accept applications on a rolling basis.
The committee will initially advise the city on three improvement projects it hopes to start as quickly as possible: two cycling and walking trails, one connecting Geitner-Rotary Park and L.P. Frans Stadium and the other linking Lenoir-Rhyne University to downtown, and streetscape and other improvements to major city roads. In addition, the city is working with the Catawba County Economic Development Corp. and county commissioners to build a business park that would stretch some 170 acres between Robinwood and Startown roads, just south of U.S. 70.
Those projects are among several dozen proposed by a Charlotte urban planning firm as part of a planning process called Inspiring Spaces that preceded the November bond referendums.
It is difficult to determine when construction on those projects could begin. After the city awards contracts for design services, it will seek to upgrade its bond rating after going before the state Local Government Commission.
The city must begin repaying the bonds six months after it starts selling them, Berry said.
To do so, it has said it will incrementally raise property taxes during an unspecified number of years. The first increase is expected to take effect in the 2016-17 fiscal year, he said.