Of all the topics people bring up when I ask about Hickory, this topic is the most contentious. I find most people fall into one of three camps, which I'll explain, but first, let me lay out what "the bond" is.
WHAT IT IS
The City's website explains it this way: "In early 2012, the City of Hickory recognized that a plan was necessary to economically revitalize the City. The strategy led to the creation of four major projects: Riverwalk, Class A advanced manufacturing park called Trivium Corporate Center (formerly Park 1764), City Walk, and Streetscapes and Gateways. It was apparent that a substantial amount of money would be necessary to fund such an undertaking, which resulted in a $40 million bond referendum that allowed Hickory voters to choose how to move forward. One bond order was for $25 million to cover the costs associated with street and sidewalk improvements, including enhanced streetscapes and pedestrian access. A second bond order was for $15 million and was designated for economic development related costs, which encompasses a broad range of public infrastructure intended to enrich the local economy. In November 2014, the citizens voted in support of both. Below are up to date details on each project and costs, the next steps in the process, and more."
The Hickory Daily Record reported that the bonds passed by an impressive margin: "The $25 million streets and sidewalk bond passed 6,907 to 4,590 (60.08 percent to 39.92 percent). The $15 million economic development bond passed with 6,384 to 5,118 (55.50 percent to 44.50 percent)." The same article also says, "The most immediate result for Hickory residents will be a rise in property taxes. City officials said they planned for the bond referendums to be funded in an 2-cent increments in property taxes through the next seven years. After reaching a projected peak of 58 cents per $100 in property value, taxes will remain at that level for 13 years." The bond referendum had a lot of support from established Hickory leaders and families, and there is more info about that in the same article. It also had a lot of critics, as well as some accusations of wrongdoing and, well, contention.
The main goal of the bond was to raise $40 million of $80 million (the rest to come from grants and investors) to improve Hickory. It's based around several projects:
- Trivium Corporate Center
HDR reported on the top choices of Hickory residents for what we should spend this money on. These were the choices:
Top Choices by Survey Respondents
Waterfront Park: 33.3 percent
Union Square Improvements: 25.5 percent
Streetscape and Pedestrian Improvements: 25.5 percent
Splash Pads: 22 percent
Citywide Swimming Pool Facility: 19.6 percent
Below is a City video of the Riverwalk.
THE THREE CAMPS
Camp One: People who voted for the bond referendum and are quite happy with the progress and think these changes will be excellent for Hickory.
Camp Two: People who voted for the bond referendum but are unhappy with the progress for any number of reasons.
Camp Three: People who didn't vote for the bond and are unhappy with all of it.
My goal in running for Council is to speak for you, the citizens, so I'd really like to know which camp you are in.
I don't feel the need to elaborate on Camp One. They are happy and things are progressing nicely for them, so my voice isn't needed here.
Sadly, the ship has already sailed for Camp Three people. I, as a lone councilwoman, would not be able to undo the bond or cancel the projects, so, while I'm interested to hear this perspective, I don't think I can be very helpful here.
So, for the rest of this post, I'm going to concentrate on Camp Two. This is a group of people who care enough about Hickory to vote, and care enough about our future that they saw an investment was needed. But they are unhappy about the progress for any number of reasons. I don't think that I can cover every single thing that people have expressed to me, so I'll offer an abridged list of paraphrased complaints:
- "Why in the world is this taking so long? It's been 5 years and all we have is a leaf sculpture and an under-construction downtown."
- "Why are we spending all of this money on decorations when our streets and sewers are crumbling and we have one of the worst homeless problems in the nation, per capita?"
- "The improvements are helping the people who don't need help, while the poor parts of town struggle harder than ever."
- "How many improvements does Union Square need?"
- "We already have parks that people don't even use."
- "Why are all the contracts going to one place?"
- "Why do the wayfaring signs direct visitors to places that don't exist yet? Doesn't this defeat the purpose of the signs?"
And I have to say, I don't know the answers to these questions, but I intend to keep asking them.
Do tell me which camp you are in. I want to know your thoughts.