So what’s going on with Howard Street in downtown Boone?
By Frank Ruggiero
The Boone Town Council discussed the future of Howard Street at its annual retreat Friday, April 7.
Funding considerations for revamping the downtown roadway was the Howard Street topic du jour, and council member Dempsey Wilcox said the next step in the process is to hire a bond council to get the project rolling.
Town manager Greg Young said the council would need to apply to the Local Government Commission for a bond referendum, and that the town is currently working on right-of-way acquisition.
Council member Bunk Spann asked about the escalating costs presented by New River Light and Power for moving utilities underground on Howard Street. At the council’s February meeting, a price tag from New River ranked in at $1.1 million, from $475,000 in 2004. Young noted that when the project was first discussed, New River agreed to transfer utilities for free.
At last years retreat, the council discussed means of funding, including contributions from the Downtown Boone Development Association (DBDA). Wilcox, who serves as the council liaison to the DBDA, said the DBDA would not be able to sizably contribute, but that it would help however it could.
Council member Janet Pepin asked how long easement acquisition would take, and Young said it would take a few months.
There will most likely be some landowners unwilling to donate their easements, Young continued, meaning the council could have to exercise eminent domain.
Wilcox said he believed the number of the unwilling is going to be modest, and that the parking issue on Howard Street is a paramount reason for their hesitance.
“For the public good, we may have to condemn ... and we’re not talking about a whole business ... but easements,” Wilcox clarified.
Mayor Loretta Clawson asked how many property owners would have to sign over easements, and town attorney Sam Furgiuele said there would be quite a few. Though he couldn’t provide a round number at the time, Young said there are 16 maps with two to five rights-of-way on each.
The bond referendum, he proceeded to explain, is a general obligation bond that will necessitate a tax increase.
As such, he said the town will need an active committee working on the issue. “It’s a serious issue — a lot of work to be done,” he said.
Spann said it would be important to have a diverse committee comprised of representatives from different aspects of the community.
Wilcox said members of the DBDA should get priority for a seats on the board, as they’d stand to benefit from the eventual renovations.
Mason said the process must be broken down thoroughly and presented simply to the public, “so people know what it will cost them and what it means to the average taxpayer.”
Young said the Local Government Commission will make the town adopt a referendum a little higher than the projected cost as a contingency. Once devised, the numbers would have to be publicized, he said.
Young said the town already has enough funding to finance a bond council and apply to the Local Government Commission. Mason echoed how the process should be broken down in simple words “to help gain support and show how it’ll benefit [residents] and how much it’ll cost them.”