CHAPEL HILL- Interim County Manager Michael Talbert told Orange County Commissioners on Tuesday that progress toward a Rogers Road community center will have to be put on hold.
“Today we received bids on the community center. Unfortunately the bids came in substantially over budget,” said Talbert.
Commissioners authorized $650,000 to build a new facility, but the initial project bids ranged from $1.3 million up to $1.6 million dollars.
Talbert said the project would have to be redesigned, but he offered no timeline for when that might happen.
“The county is committed to this project,” said Talbert. “We will begin working immediately with the architect to redesign this project to get it within budget and move forward to rebid the project at some future date after we can come back with a redesign.”
That wasn’t the only setback for Rogers Road residents at Tuesday’s meeting of the Board of Commissioners.
The board had planned to approve an operating agreement with the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association (RENA) for the community center, but commissioners pulled the agreement off the agenda, saying a slew of last minute changes required further review by the county attorney.
Despite the delays, Board Chair Barry Jacobs said the commissioners remain committed to the project.
“The Board of County Commissioners has done nothing to delay this, so we’re going to try to deal with things that were unanticipated, that came up that could delay it and try to keep things moving forward as expeditiously as we possibly can,” said Jacobs.
The operating agreement is tentatively scheduled to come back to the board for a vote on October 1.
Funding for the community center is part of a remediation plan for the neighborhood that’s lived with the landfill for 40 years. Commissioners on Tuesday reviewed the final report from a multi-jurisdictional task force charged with creating a plan to extend sewer service to the neighborhood as part of that remediation.
Under the plan, Carrboro, Chapel Hill and Orange County would split the roughly $5.8 million dollar bill to bring sewer service to 86 homes in the area.
The plan is making its way through the three jurisdictions, with both Carrboro and Orange County officials waiting to see if Chapel Hill will extend extra-territorial jurisdiction to the area, as attorneys say that’s the only way the town can invest money in the sewer project.
With the community center on hold and funding for the sewer plan still uncertain, Commissioner Mark Dorosin urged his fellow commissioners to take action to show their support for the remediation plan.
“There is a perception now in the community that the towns are more committed to this than the county,” said Dorosin. “I don’t believe it is true, but I believe it is unfortunate.”
Dorosin put forward a motion to commit the board to future funding for the sewer project, but the motion failed to garner support from any other commissioners.
Jacobs said board members were acting on the advice of County Attorney John Roberts.
Roberts cautioned the board against any action on the remediation plan while the EPA is investigating claims by RENA that the county engaged in environmental racism against the largely African-American community.
“I think it is legally risky to expend funds in this area when the EPA could come in and say, ‘Oh that’s very nice and irrelevant. You need to expend more funds to do X,Y and Z,’” Roberts told the board.
Dorosin, who acted as RENA’s attorney in the EPA complaint before stepping aside in July, said he disagreed with the attorney’s advice. He worried that the board’s silence sent a signal to the community that the remediation plan was losing momentum.
But Renee Price, who co-chaired the task force that developed the sewer plan, said her support for the Rogers Road neighborhood was unwavering.
“In our responsibility as commissioners, we have not forgotten that neighborhood,” said Price. “I’ve been there numerous times. I actually take it as an affront to say that I’m not committed.”
County commissioners will take up the issue of the remediation plan November 21, when the board meets with elected officials from Carrboro and Chapel Hill at the annual Assembly of Governments.