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Hope Mills board presents budget priorities to local delegates


Hope Mills Board of Commissioners met Monday night at the Public Safety Center on Rockfish Road to discuss their upcoming budget priorities with state delegates. North Carolina State Senators Val Applewhite (D-Dist. 19) and Tom McInnis (R-Dist. 21) were present, along with state Representatives Diane Wheatley (R-Dist. 43) and Frances Jackson (D-Dist. 45).

The top priorities for the board include completing Phase Two of the Heritage Park, starting work on a proposed Senior Center, improving the town’s infrastructure, and exploring the possibility of a local transportation system for Hope Mills.

The total cost for these priorities, according to town officials, is $23.5 million. Town Manager Chancer McLaughlin gave the presentation, which went into detail about each project.

The proposed Senior Center would include a full-sized gym, a computer lab, a locker room and restrooms, and three multi-purpose rooms. The total cost for this 15,000-square-foot building, according to the Parks & Recreation Department, is estimated to be $6,387,855.

Part of the Senior Center project will include the relocation of the town’s tennis courts. They are currently not in good condition to use due to cracks in the ground, according to Lamarco Morrison, the town’s parks and recreation director. The town plans to use ARPA funds to build four outdoor tennis courts, ADA sidewalks, an outdoor restroom and utilities to replace the current tennis courts. The tennis courts will also be adaptable to be turned into 8 pickleball courts. The total estimate for the project is $462,000.

When it comes to Heritage Park, Phase One will be finished this upcoming fall and the town is already planning for Phase Two. The second phase will include a playground area, a floating boat launch, an outdoor classroom, a pedestrian bridge to the Thomas Campbell Oakman Memorial Chapel building, park signage, way-finding signage, and natural trail paving. The total amount for the project, according to the Parks & Recreation Department, is $1,773,883.

When it comes to infrastructure, the town wants to repair its roads. According to a 2020 study by The Kercher Group Inc., only 28% of the town streets are in good condition.

The Woodland Hills project, which needs repairing of a failing stormwater system and the replacement and resurfacing of the road, has been estimated at $1.98 million. Currently, the town’s funding for the project is less than $630,000. 

The town also outlined priorities for East Patterson Street, which needs repairs to its embankment, according to the Public Works Department. The process to fix this street started before 2020; repairments initially received state funds for $2.5 million, but the project now costs $4.5 million

Lastly, Hope Mills would like to have a Cross Town Connector with the Fayetteville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and the City of Fayetteville. This would allow for a Fayetteville FAST connector to have a consistent route in Hope Mills. The connector would cost the city a $120,000 start-up fee, with an annual payment of $35,000 for operation costs, according to McLaughlin.

The town is also looking at purchasing two minibusses, fitting 25 passengers at a time. This would not be a full bus route, but would ideally work with the cross-town connector, McLaughlin said. To buy both minibusses would cost the town $220,000. The operation costs are not included.

After the presentation from McLaughlin, the state legislators made it clear to the board that there is nothing they can do for this upcoming fiscal year with regard to the town’s budget priorities. 

"The challenge we have here about meeting tonight about this issue, I'm assuming y'all know — we've gone into short session,” McInnis said. “We don't allocate money or appropriate money during short sessions. We operate by a bi-end budget in N.C."

The senators and representatives could present some of these projects to the budget next fiscal year, but McInnis said the town wouldn’t see the money until January 2026, depending on when that specific budget passes.

“We can’t promise you anything, but we are here,” McInnis said.

Still, Mayor Jessie Bellflowers told CityView after the meeting it was good having the delegates present to hear their input and receive advice on the town’s projects. It was also a good opportunity to inform the delegates about what was going on in the town, Bellflowers said.

“The value of tonight was the guidance, the direction and the [willingness] to help. [Them being] willing to listen — that was probably the biggest value of tonight,” Bellflowers said.

Applewhite asked the town about the General Obligation (GO) Bond for the town’s Parks & Recreation projects. GO bonds are municipal bonds backed solely by a local government’s credit and taxing power. GO bonds are issued on the basis that the local government would repay its debt obligation through taxation or revenue from projects, according to Investopedia. The bonds are voted on by the residents. Bellflowers said the town is looking into GO Bonds, but it is too late to consider it for this coming fiscal year.

Applewhite did tell the board she would reach out to contacts at FAMPO and see what they can do about getting a bus route in Hope Mills.

McInnis suggested the town use a design-build contract for the Senior Center. A design-build contract would have one contract to design and construct the project. That way, it would be easier to present the project to the state, and if the project gets funding, the construction could start right away.

McInnis also asked about the sales tax loss due to a change in the sales tax agreement with the county. Last year, Cumberland County agreed to change the sales tax distribution starting in fiscal year 2025-2026. The board intends to change the sales tax distribution method to ad valorem. This means a loss of $1.8 million to the town of Hope Mills. 

McInnis recommended the municipalities go back to the county and ask for a soft close, which would allow the sales tax loss to be incremental rather than all at once. However, he did say he could understand from the county’s perspective why it did not keep the original agreement due to the town not increasing its sales tax.

Jackson recommended re-examining the costs for the transportation projects and finalizing the operation costs for the minibusses.

Multiple legislators also brought up to the board the question of the town’s tax rate and whether it was going to be raised. 

Currently, the town’s tax rate is “$0.46 per $100 of property valuation with an additional $0.05 per $100 of property valuation for recreation.” 

The topic of raising property taxes isn’t new. The board voted last year not to increase the tax rate to 50 cents per $100 of property valuation. Commissioners Jerry Legge, Bryan Marley and Joanne Scarola voted at the time to approve the budget without raising taxes. Mayor Pro Tem Kenjuana McCray voted against the plan. However, almost all of the commissioners are now reconsidering it.

“We can’t just skate along for this next year,” Scarola said during the meeting. “We have to do something proactive. And that was our problem. We had an opportunity to be proactive, and we still kicked it down the road.”

“I have only raised taxes one time, but I see that may be changing in the near future. We’ve got to do our part in trying to see what we need funded, get funded,” Legge said.

Craver told CityView after the meeting she was not in favor of voting for a tax increase.

“I think that when the new re-evaluation comes out, it’s going to be huge,” she said. “We will be getting tax money on that addition, so that should make up.”

Craver also told CityView she wants to see if the state could approve the town to get its own sales tax rather than get it through the county.

Wheatley told the board that as a homeowner in the county, she would not be happy to get a tax increase.

"I find the economy, and I'll just go ahead and state it right now, not real conducive to asking to increase taxes,” Wheatley said.

The town’s pay study is wrapping up, according to Bellflowers. The town-wide pay study, which was approved in October, will examine competitive salaries for each department in Hope Mills. He says the presentation will be coming out soon; he anticipates a budget increase for salaries, starting with first responders.

Chairpersons of town committees will present their priorities to the Hope Mills Board of Commissioners on March 4. The budget retreat for commissioners will be on March 7.

Contact Hannah Lee at hannahleenews@gmail.com.

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Hope Mills Board of Commissioners, Budget priorities, State delegates, Infrastructure projects, Senior Center, Heritage Park, Transportation system, GO Bond, Design-build contract, Sales tax distribution