Pitts: Fayetteville bonds for police, fire, sidewalks on the ballot

Fayetteville is not friendly for pedestrians. That is no state secret.

A few years ago, we ranked dead last for cities our size in terms of walkability, according to Walk Score, a company that offers transportation and walkability improvement services.

I don’t pay attention to every survey that is negative toward Fayetteville. Many are marketing tools based on a narrow metric or set of metrics that can be skewed by one out-of-whack figure.

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Though we may not be dead last, our low Walk Score tracks with what I have seen and heard about a lack of safety for walkers — and bikers. I know a cyclist who has been hit twice. He survived both incidents, but one collision knocked him unconscious, and he does not remember anything about it.

Myron B. Pitts
Myron B. Pitts

City officials are looking to build more sidewalks and possibly bike lanes and paths, too, as well as do some road re-surfacing.

They hope we city voters will pass three bonds.  They include:

• A public infrastructure bond at $25 million to help cover the above items;

• A public safety bond at $60 million that could include a new 911 call center, new fire stations and renovations of existing stations, and expansion of the Fayetteville Police Department training academy; and

• A housing opportunity bond at $12 million that could include a housing trust fund, home ownership programs and new housing programs.

Passing the bonds will raise taxes, somewhere around 4 cents or less on property tax rates. That means someone whose home is valued at $200,000 would pay about $6.67 a month or $80 a year, the city says at its bond information website.

I think voters should go for it. That is not a lot of increase to help deal with some long-standing needs. Affordable housing in particular is reaching a critical point not just in Fayetteville but in most cities of any size.

Homelessness, already a challenge in our community, typically follows a crisis in affordable housing. We have seen that happen in many places across the country.

More:Pitts: Fayetteville options limited on homeless camps

As for the bonds and whether they are worth it, don’t go by me. Go ask more about them directly from city officials.

Several bond information events are scheduled, with the next one set for 6 p.m. Monday at E.E. Miller Recreation Center at 1347 Rim Road.

The rest of the schedule:

  • Sept. 20 at 5:45 p.m. at G.B. Myers Recreation Center, 1018 Rochester Dr.

  • Sept. 21 at 5:45 p.m. at Kiwanis Recreation Center, 352 Devers St.

  • Sept. 22 at 5:45 p.m. at J.S. Spivey Recreation Center, 500 Fisher St.

  • Sept. 23 at 5:45 p.m. at Westover Recreation Center, 267 Bonanza Dr.

  • Sept. 27 at 5:45 p.m. at Smith Recreation Center, 1520 Slater Ave.

  • Sept. 28 at 7 p.m. at Pine Forest Recreation Center, 6901 Ramsey St.

  • Sept. 30 at 5:45 p.m. at Tokay Senior Fitness Center, 328 Hamilton St.

  • Oct. 3 at 5:45 p.m. at College Lakes Recreation Center, 4945 Rosehill Road

  • Oct. 4 at 5:45 p.m. at Stoney Point Recreation Center, 7411 Rockfish Road

  • Oct. 5 at 5:45 p.m. at Massey Hill Recreation Center, 1612 Camden Road

  • Oct. 6 at 5:45 p.m. at Fayetteville Senior Center, 739 Blue St.

  • Oct. 12 at 5:45 p.m. at Lake Rim Recreation Center, 1455 Hoke Loop Road

Sidewalks are not cheap and other things I learned

Earlier this month, I took part in “City Circuit,” where city officials took us around to show us a few places where the bond would be helpful. They had people talk to us about how it would help city residents.

One thing I learned on the tour is, that as expensive as roads are to build, sidewalks are no slouch in that department, either. They would be covered in the $25 million infrastructure bond.

“About seven-and-a-half-million of that proposed 25 would be for sidewalk construction, which would encompass about 15 miles,” said Lee Jernigan, city traffic engineer. “It’s generally about $500,000 a mile to build sidewalks.”

He said new sidewalks would be laid at different places around the city, noting that the money would not cover all the need.

A newly installed sidewalk along Brighton Road in Fayetteville on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022.
A newly installed sidewalk along Brighton Road in Fayetteville on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022.

“It would focus mainly on our thoroughfare streets and connecting gaps between current sidewalks,” he said. “Adding sidewalks on another side of the street where maybe it’s on one side of the street.”

Connecting gaps. Yes, I like that. We long-time residents know how a sidewalk in the city can be going along nicely, then it just … stops.

Jernigan said the bond money would speed projects up, by about five years.

The city estimates that funding its projects through the bond will save $2.5 million over time.

Public safety

Another thing I learned — the city’s 911 call center handles more calls than you might have thought — 500 or 600 a day. We dropped by there for City Circuit.

“We’ve seen days when we’ve had upward of 700 — and that’s just 911, not the administrative calls,” said Lisa Reid, the city’s 911 communications manager.

And while I expected Saturday would be a big day for calls, another day stands out, too.

“For some reason, Mondays,” Reid says. “I guess everybody had a great weekend, then Monday we get a lot of calls. So we never know.”

She said staff in the center need more space; ideally, double the current 5,600 square feet.

Police Chief Gina Hawkins, in an interview later, called the 911 center a “crucial priority.”

“That is your first connection to us — public safety. They have saved lives. They have provided crucial information to firefighters and to us.”

She said the 911 communicators are trained to deescalate situations.

“They are truly our lifeline.”

The city in its pro-bond literature says the public safety enhancements will improve response time. That would obviously be a good thing.

Increased public safety is another thing I have heard people talk about a great deal around here.

I guess now’s the chance to put some money where our mouths are at.

The best things in life are free, but not every good or useful thing is free.

Myron B. Pitts can be reached at mpitts@fayobserver.com or 910-486-3559.

This article originally appeared on The Fayetteville Observer: Pitts: Fayetteville bonds for police, fire, sidewalks on the ballot