Retreat allows council to build priorities

Published 6:04 pm Monday, April 11, 2016

MIKE VOSS | DAILY NEWS CONCENTRATION: Council members Richard Brooks (left) and Larry Beeman prioritize issues, challenges and opportunities the city faces in the coming years. The work was part of a council retreat held Saturday.

CONCENTRATION: Council members Richard Brooks (left) and Larry Beeman prioritize issues, challenges and opportunities the city faces in the coming years. The work was part of a council retreat held Saturday.

Building a new headquarters for the Washington Police Department — and finding the money to pay for it — is the city’s No. 1 challenge, according to the Washington City Council and Mayor Mac Hodges.

The new police department headquarters was at the top of a prioritized list of challenges, issues and opportunities facing the city, with that list developed by the council and mayor during a retreat held Saturday at Washington-Warren Airport. The retreat was facilitated by David Long, who has been a professional planner since 1974, including 30 years with the North Carolina Department of Commerce. He also has served as a retreat facilitator for numerous North Carolina counties and municipalities.

The other top issues, winnowed from an initial list of 34 issues, challenges and opportunities identified by the council members and mayor, include the following (in descending priority):

• developing a vision and plan for the city covering the next 20 years;

• addressing drainage issues in the city;

• improving and enhancing the downtown  area (keeping it clean) so residents and visitors will want to return there;

• determining whether the city will continue to operate and maintain the city-owned pool with its associated costs;

• addressing the aging infrastructure downtown (old water lines, sewer lines);

• better maintain city facilities and remove those facilities that are beyond repair and/or no longer useful;

• City Council set a positive tone in the relationship between the council and city employees.

The retreat’s format allowed each council member and the mayor to provide individual input without interruption and comment by the others. Once that input was provided, then discussion about that input was used to help determine the top issues and prioritize them. A scoring system determined the top priorities. Many of those priorities have a connection to tourism, according to the council members and mayor.

The construction of a new police department headquarters has been discussed for many years, but in the past several years it has been a back-burner matter. Now it’s in the forefront again. So much so that the proposed city budget for the upcoming year includes funding to begin the process of building a new police station.

In 2011, the city suspended efforts to build a new police station, citing the lack of funds. In 2011, the total estimated cost of a new police station — construction, site preparation, soil analysis, architectural/engineering fees, moving costs and other fees — came to an estimated $4.3 million, according to figures provided to the council. The construction cost and site work cost combined came to $3.22 million. At the council’s March 8, 2011, meeting, the council decided it wanted the project cost closer to $3 million rather than $4.3 million.

The council was on record as supporting allocating $3 million for the new station, with $1 million in revenue coming from the city’s public-safety reserve fund, another $1 million borrowed from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and $1 million from other sources, including grants.

The city has looked at building a separate police station or a facility that would house police, fire, rescue and EMS services.

For several years, the city has been setting aside part of its general-fund revenues into a reserve fund to help pay for capital expenditures such as building a new police station. Of the city’s property-tax rate of 50 cents per $100 valuation, just under 2 cents of that rate is designated for the city’s Public Safety Capital Reserve. Currently, that fund receives about $167,000 each fiscal year.

For additional coverage of the retreat, see future editions of the Washington Daily News.





About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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