District 4 Councilman Rick Smiley said even though Greenville made forward progress during the past few years, there still is work to be done in the city.
“The story in Greenville is good,” Smiley said. “The city is doing very well … but we need to make sure that our growth is sustainable.”
Smiley is seeking his third-consecutive term on the Greenville City Council during the upcoming municipal elections in November. Smiley faces challenges to his seat from corporate executive Darrell Hinnant and former U.S. Army captain J.R. Reddick.
A native of Greenville, Smiley was elected to the Greenville City Council in 2013. Smiley works at East Carolina University – where he attended graduate school – as a contract-grant officer.
Smiley said economic development in Greenville will be one of his top priorities during his third term. Smiley said one of the projects he wants to focus on is the redevelopment of the former Imperial Tobacco site on Atlantic Avenue.
The Imperial plant, built in the early 1900s and in use until 1978, mostly was destroyed by a fire in April 2008. As a result, the property was cited for multiple code violations.
In 2012, the city applied for a brownfield cleanup grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to remediate the site. To qualify for the grant, Greenville had to own the 6.08-acre property. The owner entered an agreement in which the city purchased the property for $1 and retained ownership until the cleanup was completed.
Under the 2012 agreement with the property’s owner, the city had the option to purchase the property at $1.04 million after the cleanup was complete. That purchase was included in the city’s 2016-17 fiscal year budget.
In anticipation of purchasing the Imperial site, the city also spent $360,000 the past two years to purchase adjacent properties, giving the city about 9 acres to develop.
“This was a site that had no economic purpose,” Smiley said. “And now we are getting offers from developers to purchase the site for more than we paid for it and are pledging tens of millions of dollars into the project. Not only will this drive the economic growth in this area it will bring in additional tax revenues to the city.
“A lot of effort has been put into this,” Smiley said. “Seeing the project through will be something I focus on.”
Smiley said another priority during his third term will be the city’s infrastructure, namely the city’s storm water system.
“Storm water is a major priority,” Smiley said. “We have spent the last few years gathering all of the data we need to repair and maintain our storm water system and we have to start wrapping our arms around this task.
“We need to spend about $15 million a year to keep our system where it should be,” he said. “Right now, we are spending about $6 million … we have been under sourcing our storm water infrastructure for years. We have the inventory, now we need to develop a policy and work out the finances.”
Smiley added that a long-term debt strategy needs to be developed during the city’s next two-year budget cycle that will begin in January. The City Council also needs to prioritize future capital projects in the city, he said.
“A long-term debt strategy will enable us to take on new debt as we pay off old debt,” Smiley said. “The city will be paying the same amount in debt service but we will have access to funds for projects. We need to prioritize these projects and rank them. That way we have a plan on where to spend money when new funds become available.
“But I think the city is doing really well as a whole,” he said. “We are growing and I think we will be able to sustain that growth with some work.”