Steps taken to issue bonds: Capital improvement package for $43 million covers airport, tower

Oct. 18--MONROE -- The city is taking steps to borrow $43 million for assorted capital improvements, including for regional airport improvements and a new water tower in the city's growing western outskirts.

The City Council Tuesday adopted a resolution to ask the N.C. Local Government Commission to allow Monroe to issue bonds. Also part of the bond package are improvements to the city's electric, natural gas and water systems.

The projects already are part of the budget's capital improvement plans, City Manager Craig Meadows said. The bonds don't need voter approval because they're backed by fees paid by city service customers, not property taxes. The Local Government Commission's approval is expected, Meadows said.

The city plans $25 million in improvements to Monroe Regional Airport, including a dozen new hangars and expanding the 5,500-foot runway to as long as 7,500 feet. The city also would realign Goldmine Road and expand the airport terminal. Work would be complete in summer 2009.

The city expects the state will reimburse about $17 million of the airport project, including most of the $11 million in borrowed bond money. The city would provide about $3.4 million. The remainder, about $5 million, would come from airport fees such as hangar leases, Assistant City Manager Mark Donham said.

At Tuesday's meeting, council member Billy Jordan said he was concerned the state reimbursement might not come through.

"I would just hate for us to take on the money in anticipation of a grant, and if that does not come through, we dip into our (cash reserves)," Jordan said..

Officials with the N.C. Department of Transportation's Aviation Division have agreed to funding arrangements, Donham said. The state's contribution would come from a federal block grant for such transportation improvements.

Meadows said the state typically does not commit in advance to a specific dollar amount.

"We're confident based on past history with that program" that the state will reimburse the city, Meadows said.

In addition to $11 million for the airport, the $43 million bond issue includes $23 million for improvements to the city's electric and natural gas services and $5 million for water system upgrades. An additional $4 million would pay for cost overruns.

Included in the water improvement plan is a water tower to serve the western outskirts of Monroe. Part of the service area would be two controversial residential subdivisions on Rocky River Road totaling 1,100 houses. Opposition at a public hearing earlier this month led the council to send the subdivision plans back to the land development committee for revision.

The tower would be between 150 and 200 feet high and hold 1 million gallons, water director Russ Colbath said.

"If the developments proposed down there go away, it really doesn't change the need for the tank," Colbath said.

He said the area is expected to add commercial as well as residential customers.

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