A referendum for a proposed bond issue for affordable housing in Rocky Mount could potentially occur in November 2022.
That is what City Finance Director Amy Staton told the City Council on Monday during a council work session.
Staton provided a step-by-step walk-through of where the City of Rocky Mount is now in preparing to eventually ask voters citywide to cast ballots to approve a bond issue. She said work is underway right now with her and her team analyzing existing and future debt.
During the municipality’s 2021 annual retreat, which was held April 7-9 in Asheville, online viewers learned that City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney and her team had created a draft strategic plan for affordable housing in Rocky Mount. A key point in that proposed document recommends the city pass a general obligation bond focusing on affordable housing and infrastructure — and also bundle in funding for additional items such as parks and recreation.
Staton on Monday told the council she and her team are going to look at some debt trends, make sure they line up with the municipality’s debt policy and make sure they line up with where the municipality is as an AA-rated entity.
Generally, an AA rating means the chances are low of the city defaulting in connection with a bond issue.
Staton told the council that by early August, there should be another model layering in what a possible housing bond could look like. Staton told the council there would be some options for different levels of funding for a housing bond, or they also could consider some other project they want to pair with this.
Staton told the council that they would know what the financial impact of that would be and that hopefully perhaps during the September timeframe they could be prepared to select what projects and level of funding they want for the housing bond.
She told the council once there is some agreement on that, then the next step would include their adopting a resolution and the city providing a notice of intent to apply with the state Local Government Commission.
She told the council they would adopt another resolution directing the finance director to apply with the LGC.
The LGC is part of the state treasurer’s office and assists local governments in decision-making involving large financing projects.
Staton also told the council that a public notice would be published in the Telegram so residents can know the city is being transparent and that a sworn statement would be filed with the LGC showing the municipality’s existing debt.
Staton said in roughly April 2022 there would be an introduction of a bond order, which would be a precise document stating what the proposed project includes.
Staton said probably in May 2022, the plan would be to let the state Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations know the municipality’s intention regarding a proposed bond issue. The commission conducts evaluative studies of the programs, policies, practices and procedures of the various departments, agencies and institutions of state government.
Staton told the council the next steps would include publishing notices of public hearings.
Staton told the council the plan would be for the council to probably by June 2022 adopt a resolution, with certified copies of the document to be delivered to the respective election boards in Edgecombe County and Nash County.
Staton told the council there would be opportunities in September 2022 and October 2022 to provide public notices.
“And then it all comes down to potentially having this on the referendum in November 2022,” she said. “So it’s a lot of work to get there.”
Staton suggested to the council they probably would want some opportunities for meetings to educate the public.
“But those are the basic steps,” Staton said.
Councilman Andre Knight said he believes some people seem to put a stereotype on affordable housing when there are working-class people in the Research Triangle area unable to afford housing there.
Knight said he believes that locally, there would have to be a lot of education “because simply, with all this propaganda about, ‘We’re just trying to get affordable housing, cheap housing, get people free rent,’” some of those myths will have to be dispelled.
“The intention is that everyone will have a decent place to live in Rocky Mount,” Knight said.
Councilman Reuben Blackwell emphasized making sure the city is talking the same language and having the same expectations as well. Blackwell also asked whether the municipality will identify specific projects or create expectations of allocations to directives.
Blackwell said that, as examples, the municipality might have a renovation program geared to current owners of housing in the communities and the municipality might want to do a small investors program with some goals.
Blackwell said that overall, when people start asking questions about the proposed bond issue, the only way to answer is with something they can see and understand very clearly.
In the meantime, someone else will have to serve as Rocky Mount’s finance director in the future because Staton on June 2 gave her notice of resignation, effective July 5.
Staton on July 6 will be joining the City of Wilson and is going to be transitioning to replace that municipality’s retiring chief financial officer.
Small-Toney has made clear she intends to announce a temporary finance director before Staton leaves for Wilson and to conduct a nationwide search for a new finance director.