BY DEBBIE PAGE
The Troutman Town Council voted to proceed with the acquisition of two pieces of property on Wagner Street and to pursue the purchase of four unidentified additional lots.
The town is buying the properties at 160 and 170 Wagner Street at a total cost of $513,000. The decision to purchase was made in recent closed sessions but was announced at the town’s annual retreat with the formal public vote to purchase and proceed with due diligence and the financing process.
After structural inspections are complete, town officials will decide how to repair and use the properties, which Town Manager Ron Wyatt could possibly house some town departments to relieve overcrowding, at least temporarily, until Town Hall expansion plans are ironed out.
The council also voted to pursue the purchase of unidentified four adjoining lots, authorizing Wyatt to negotiate the price within certain price parameters because of the time sensitive nature of the situation.
Wyatt predicted the town would lose the opportunity to pursue the lots by the second week of March if it did not act quickly. “It’s property we still need and can still purchase because of location, location, location,” Wyatt said.
The town manager warned that investor interest has recently raised the cost of the property but advised it was still worth the cost.
Wyatt then discussed several scenarios. If the lots are purchased, Wyatt said the town could build a new Town Hall on that property and the police department would stay in the current Town Hall location.
If the lots are not purchased, the buildings at 160 and 170 Wagner could be razed and a new police department built there, followed by renovation and expansion of the current Town Hall site.
Regarding the Wagner Street properties, Wyatt said “because of future growth, those two parcels are still much needed.”
Council member Paul Henkel added that the house could still be rented and the two-story building used as temporary town offices.
Worst case scenario, the town could sell both properties later at a profit after cleanup and repair.
Finance Director Steve Shealy assured Henkel, when discussing buying the four lots, that the town has a wide debt margin. The council’s past frugality has led to the town only having .77 percent of its state allowed 8 percent of debt margin.
“I don’t want to put us in financial peril,” said Henkel. “I want to be able to sleep tonight.”
Council member George Harris noted expansion of the current Town Hall has been discussed for many years and that it was time to move forward because of Troutman’s exponential growth and growing staffing needs.
Council member Eddie Nau added: “The mayor and this council have a vision to go forward with our Town Hall, with our park, with our water and sewer, our public works. The vision is to take care of the citizens of Troutman, and to me that’s us doing our job. That’s why we’re here.”
Mayor Teross Young appreciated “the council’s ability to stay on track” and focus on the town’s most pressing needs. “I appreciate a council that is forward-looking and has the ability to come together and try to to figure out the difficult choices the town needs to make,” he said.
Also during Friday’s retreat, the council discussed the town’s robust financial condition. Shealy reported that property valuations in Troutman were up 21 percent last year, and the fund balance increased from $935,000 to $2,640,000 with the council’s focus to build the town’s financial stability over the past few years.
As budgets grew, so did savings, and current loans are paid down, added Shealy.
Shealy also noted the strain on the town staff as 2,000 homes are coming online and more inquiry calls to build arrive each day. Both the increased residential and commercial demand requires more staff to meet citizens’ needs.
CRITICAL SPACE NEEDS
With the town’s financial situation clear, the council next turned to discussion of expansion of town facilities, first built in 1990. Four offices were later added to the facility in 2008.
Henkel asked if the police department moving elsewhere would solve space needs.
Shealy said that would pick up only three offices and a small amount of storage. Wyatt added that the small council chamber would still be an issue, which the mayor agreed was inadequate for the growing population to access town meetings.
Town Clerk Kim Davis also added that fireproof, secure storage to preserve official documents was scarce. Wyatt added the police department is experiencing critical storage needs for evidence as well, saying the officers need four times the current available space.
In August of 2017, architect Jonathan Fuller presented two options and conceptual drawings for Town Hall expansion to the council.
The first option includes a 6,720-square-foot addition, along with the renovation of the existing building and turning the council chambers into offices. With site work, the project would have cost an estimated $1,440,900 in 2017. The addition would average $190 a square foot, with renovation costs coming in around $75 per square foot.
With the addition of soft costs such as architectural and engineering fees, audio-visual, telecom and security design and installation, furnishings, and a 7 percent contingency fund, the total project would have totaled around $1,670,563 at that time.
A second alternative would be a larger expansion that would include space for lease to other entities. This two-level option would include 8,235 square feet of main floor finished space (at $190 per square foot) and 7,101 of unfinished lease space at $100 per square foot.
The lower level would house the police department with 2,500 square feet of finished space ($160 per square fot), with another 2,400 (at $100 per sq. ft.) serving as a sallyport (where patrol cars bring prisoners in and out of the police station). An additional 3,608 square feet of unfinished space would be available for lease on this level.
The existing council chamber’s transition into office space would cost about $89,000. With all additional site preparation and soft costs, this second option would total just over $4 million in Fuller’s 2017 estimate.
Shealy said conditions currently favor buying or building over leasing. Little rental property is available, with costs ranging from $6.50 to $29 per square foot. At the mid-range of that cost, leasing needed space would be around $90,000.
Additionally, available space would require extensive renovations at the town’s expense that ultimately benefit the property owner.
Another space option, mobile units, would cost $450 to $650 per month.
Shealy’s opinion was that the town should expand on the current site or build on other property and design the space to fit to town needs. Interest rates are currently in the 3 percent range for 10 years, with year 11 to 15 interest negotiable, so the town could finance any building project inexpensively.
The town has also saved about $200,000 in a capital facilities fund that could help lower the loan amount.
The council made no decision on any expansion plans at this time since they must wait for current and proposed property acquisitions to be complete before any concrete plans are made.