Bringing the Red Line Project closer to reality will be a primary focus in 2012 for the Lake Norman area, according to newly elected officials in Cornelius, Davidson and Huntersville.
Last week, the towns of Cornelius and Huntersville swore in their commissioners. Davidson swore in its officials earlier this week.
Commissioners from all three towns said they hoped to increase resident engagement and see the Red Line Project move forward in 2012.
The Red Line Task Force recently announced new recommendations for the commuter train, which would run from Charlotte to Mooresville, with a potential future extension to Statesville.
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The task force has suggested all affected communities work together on the project instead of independently. The group also suggested the red line have a freight component.
By the most recent estimates, the initial phase of the Red Line will cost about $452 million to develop and create about 23,000 jobs.
If all nine affected entities - Mooresville, Charlotte, the three North Mecklenburg towns, Mecklenburg and Iredell counties, the N.C. Department of Transportation and the Charlotte Area Transit System - approve the plan within the first six months of 2012, the Red Line could be running as early as 2016.
Only about 10 percent of eligible voters participated in the November election, which returning Commissioner Chuck Travis said he viewed, at least in part, as validation that residents were happy with the direction of the town.
But others said the low turnout may reflect a disconnect between voters and government.
Voters elected three incumbents and two newcomers to the Board of Commissioners. Incumbent Thurman Ross Jr. lost, and incumbent Mayor Jeff Tarte ran unopposed.
Last week, incumbent Lynette Rinker was appointed mayor pro-tem. She was the top vote-getter during the elections, which saw a 10 percent voter participation rate overall.
Elected officials said they hoped to increase resident involvement during this term.
Tarte said lower voter turnout may in part be evidence of voter disengagement.
"We really need to overcome the cynicism in politics we face. How do we engage the residents?" said Tarte, adding that resident-led task forces may help.
"That lets the town be a facilitator and catalyst but not the solver," he said.
Officials said the Red Line Project, improvements at Exit 28 and the Cornelius Master Plan would be major focal points for 2012.
Travis said the revitalization of the community center in the historically-black Smithville neighborhood will be one of his top projects during the coming year.
With the departure of Ross, the Cornelius board of commissioners lost its last registered Democrat, although municipal elections are not partisan races.
The new board "represents the residents of our town: conservative with a strong sense of fiscal responsibility," said Travis.
Ross's departure also signals a loss of minority representation on the board, although commissioners pointed out they were elected to serve all residents of Cornelius, not just a particular group.
"I was elected for a third time to represent all of Cornelius's citizens, and that is exactly what I will do," said Commissioner Dave Gilroy.
Three incumbents and two newcomers were elected to the Davidson Board of Commissioners in November, and Mayor John Woods was re-elected by a 3-2 margin.
"I do think it felt to many folks like an awfully long and tumultuous election season," said incumbent Connie Wessner. "My sense is that citizens want us to get back to work on the things that make Davidson such a great place to live.
Woods said the board has a "full plate" of initiatives and challenges to address.
Commissioners said the Red Line Project, economic development and the Davidson Civic Investment Commission will be high on their radar.
"I want us to make an informed, fully vetted decision regarding the Red Line, and for our community to be supportive of that decision whatever it may be," said newcomer Rodney Graham.
None of the incoming commissioners who talked with Lake Norman News mentioned MI-Connection, the community-owned and operated cable and Internet system for Davidson and Mooresville, as a focus.
The company was a hot-button issue during the election season, leading to the creation (at least in part) of two grassroots groups, Positively Davidson and The Davidson Coalition for Fiscal Responsibility.
According to MI-Connection board members, the company will need about $17 million from the two towns during fiscal years 2011 through 2013.
Reflecting the town's top campaign platforms, newly elected officials said they would focus on economic development, job creation, the Red Line Project and keeping taxes low during the new year.
In November, voters chose between two candidates running for mayor and 11 candidates for six commissioners seats.
Incumbent Mayor Jill Swain easily won re-election with nearly 60 percent of the vote while the three incumbent commissioner seeking re-election also won.
Melinda Bates, Danny Phillips, Charles Guignard and the incumbents were sworn in last week.
Commissioner McCaulay, who was the top vote-getter, was appointed mayor pro tem.
Officials said the low voter turnout was validation for the direction the town has taken in recent years.
"However, I am taking the low percentage turnout as a challenge to get more citizens involved in town issues," said Swain.
One of the new challenges the board will have to face is an extra seat on the board of commissioners, said Swain.
The new set-up may lead to more tie votes. In such instances, the mayor, who is typically a non-voting member, would break the tie.
"The Huntersville Town Board has always been blessed to have Commissioners who are conservative but yet know how to balance ideology with quality-of-life issues," said incumbent Ron Julian.