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Consensus on community building remains elusive

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PRINCETON — Just as they did last month, Princeton commissioners on Jan. 6 discussed, debated and discussed some more whether to renovate or replace the Princeton Community Building. And once again, they were unable to reach a consensus.

After two hours of debate failed to produce a way forward, the board agreed to table the matter until next month.

In a memo to commissioners after their December meeting, Mayor Don Rains said he wanted them to act soon. “I would like for us to move forward on plans for the community building,” he wrote.

The memo made clear that Rains favors a new building. “A new building in the downtown area is a statement about community pride, plus the current building is not inviting,” he wrote.

The mayor noted too that Princeton residents favor a new building over a renovated one.

But despite the urging from Rains, commissioners remained at an impasse, partly because some fear borrowing a large sum of money to build a new community center.

An architect has estimated the cost of a new building at $1.1 to $1.2 million. A renovation would cost $717,000, according to the same architect.

The mayor noted that Princeton already has about $1 million lined up: a $533,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a $424,000 loan from the USDA, $50,000 from the Johnston County Visitors Bureau and another $93,000 from the sale of naming rights.

It’s repaying the loan — $21,000 a year over 35 years — that gives some commissioners pause.

Rains thinks their fears are unwarranted.

“When we built the new town hall in 2006, we had a loan of 30 years with a similar repayment,” he said. “In the first 10 years, we were able to refinance with the same note amount and reduce the repayment schedule ... ending with full repayment in 2031 (and) saving $220,464 in interest.”

Rains added that growth in Princeton’s tax base is yielding additional tax receipts. In 2018 and 2019, the town issued building permits that added $3.8 million to the tax based. Alone, those buildings pay more than $21,000 annually in property taxes.

“There will be no increase in property taxes necessary to make this payment,” Rains said. “Even if there was a recession and construction or permits slowed down, the revenue will still be available. Based on census data and growth patterns, our community will continue to grow.”

Town Administrator Marla Ashworth has made it clear that she too supports a new community building. “I cannot stress how strongly I feel that the thing we need to do is replace the building at the current site,” she said at the board’s December meeting.

Next month, commissioners will try again to reach a solution.