Thursday, July 18, 2024

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Graham, NC 27253
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Graham council decides on priorities for $600K downtown grant, but Duke Energy vetoes hanging flower baskets


Graham’s city council members came to a consensus during their latest meeting last week on how they want to spend a $600,000 “downtown enhancement grant” from the state that was awarded to the city through the efforts of state senator Amy Galey.

Mayor Jennifer Talley continued her push for “stamped crosswalks” around Court Square, frequently telling other council members and this newspaper’s publisher, who questioned her repeated description of the conversation, that “that’s what she’d asked for” from Galey. [See separate story this edition.]

The re-installation of the stamped crosswalks that were eliminated by NCDOT when they repaved Main Street and around Court Square last year, would eat up most of the grant, about $500,000, according to an estimate presented to the council.

That would include stamped crosswalks at North Main and Harden streets, South Main and Pine streets, and the four intersections around Court Square.

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Talley pressed that the crosswalks could improve both “safety” and the “appearance” of downtown.

Other options were to have new downtown lighting.  As a test of the project, the city asked Duke Energy to install new lights in one corner of Court Square.

Last month, Talley noted that Burlington had originally installed new LED bulbs downtown and she felt the area was too dark.

It was explained this month that the original installation there had been 150-watt bulbs, but they had subsequently been replaced with 220-watt bulbs, which was the wattage used in the Graham test.

Duke Energy changed out bulbs in the northwest corner of Court Square as a test for council members to consider.  Talley said the new bulbs made a “big difference.”

Councilman Ricky Hall said the change “lights it up like a Christmas tree.”

The cost for changing out 96 downtown lights is about $36.00 each, or $3,456 altogether.

However, the monthly cost would go up by $8.50 (about 60 percent), or $816.00 per month (going from $13.92 per light per month to $22.42 per light per month).

Nonetheless, the council generally liked the idea and included it in their smorgasbord of projects to be funded by the grant. Talley suggested that the city explore whether any grants, from Duke Energy or otherwise, might offset some of the increased monthly costs.

Another Talley favorite this month, as it had been during last month’s discussion, was the idea of having hanging baskets in the downtown area.

Approximately 65 baskets at $70 each, with installation to be done by city staff, would be about $4,500.  However, everyone acknowledged that doing so would require permission from Duke Energy, since the baskets would be hung on their power poles.

Public works director Burke Robertson also raised the possibility that Duke would implement some sort of “monthly pole rental fee” in order to allow the hanging baskets.

Another factor was the cost of “almost daily watering/maintenance, especially in the summer.”  Public Works reported that it could not divert staff to this assignment “without reducing efforts elsewhere.” The cost for a private contractor to do the maintenance was put at $43,000 to $50,000 per year, according to Robertson, who also noted contractors would have to meet the city’s liability insurance criteria.

Council member Bonnie Whitaker raised concerns about the ongoing costs of maintenance for the baskets, and she was joined by councilman Joey Parsons who said he didn’t want to see the city spend $50,000 for maintenance.  Councilman Bobby Chin suggested that the city need not commit to doing them every year, and Hall suggested perhaps they could be tested for a first year.

Parsons also raised the option of artificial flowers in the hanging baskets, which would eliminate the maintenance price tag.

The baskets were included among the top priorities for the grant.

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However, city manager Megan Garner subsequently told The Alamance News this week that Duke Energy’s Hank Henning has now gotten back to the city with a negative reaction to the idea. “Unfortunately, our lighting standards do not allow for hanging baskets,” he told the city.

Meanwhile, Talley voiced opposition to painting the downtown utility poles (listed as a potential $272,000 expense).  As she had last month, Talley said she did not feel that the city’s taxpayers should fund maintenance that Duke Energy should be keeping up.  She also said some of the poles are in “poor condition.”

Hall said he liked another item on the list put together by public works, to pave West Elm Street between the Historic Court House and Harden Street, which was listed as a $385,000 project.  But Talley elicited from Robertson that there were higher repaving priorities in the city’s long-term plan than the blocks along West Elm Street.

At the meeting, Hall also asked if the baskets were not approved, could the city implement another option provided by the public works department: replacing some dead trees.

It was reported that there are about 50 trees in the downtown area that have either “outgrown their planting area, are not the best choice for the area where they were planted, or are diseased and need to be replaced soon.”

The cost estimate for 50 trees at $250 per new tree was $12,500.

It was also mentioned that approximately 60 trees in the 200 to 500 blocks of West Harden Street “could also be addressed at this time as well.

City manager Megan Garner said the city needed to provide a description of the “scope of work” to be financed with the grant to the state by June 30.

Council members pressed as to whether the city would be “locked in” with its submission or whether subsequent changes could be made.  “Most likely,” Garner told the council changes could be made after the June 30 deadline as long as the state was notified before any actual work was undertaken.

The list of four potential projects was adopted 5-0.

Read related stories:

Graham businessman asks to preserve Sesquicentennial Park as needed “green, public space” downtown:

Downtown grant had no restrictions – not from the state and not from the legislative benefactor, state senator Amy Galey:

The newspaper’s editorial page view: the grant is the city of Graham’s not for mayor Jennifer Talley’s personal preferences:

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