For the last four years, a contingent of Havelock officials has ventured to Washington, D.C., in large part to ask for financial support from legislators for various city projects.
This year the group took a different approach. They went up to update the legislators on the progress of projects and to thank them for supporting city efforts.
"I think it sort of took them by surprise," Havelock Mayor Jimmy Sanders said of the reaction of area legislators. "They said that that’s something that they don’t hear very often."
Sanders said the group, which included commissioners Will Lewis and Danny Walsh and City Manager Jim Freeman, showed legislators progress made on the Church Road Bridge replacement project, planned development of a park along the banks of Slocum Creek, and plans for the Slocum Road-U.S. 70 interchange.
"We thanked them, because there’s no question that their involvement was critical," Sanders said.
The group spent two days in Washington, meeting with U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, (D-N.C.), U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones, (R-N.C.), U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, (D-N.C.), staff members of U.S. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and others in a trip organized by the city’s lobbyist, the Franklin Partnership.
The city has paid the lobbying firm $45,000 for 12 months to help push for assistance with city projects. Prior to that, the lobbying firm Marlowe and Company had been hired for $42,000 a year for the four previous years for the same purpose.
The trip to the nation’s capital cost $4,700.
Sanders said the expense has paid off for the city.
"Hindsight is really 20/20, and this is one where we really look smart in looking back," he said. "This was really one of the best decisions that the city has done in a long time."
He cited the Church Road Bridge replacement, which he said had been a long process with the N.C. Department of Transportation, but with help from the legislators, was pushed through with additions that included sidewalks and street lights. He said that has since cleared the way for progress for the proposed Slocum Creek park nearby.
He also pointed to the Slocum Road-U.S. 70 interchange.
"The overpass into Cherry Point is about a $20 million project," Sanders said. "If we did not have the lobbyist in Washington, I am very certain that it would not be as far along as it is. It might not even be funded at all.
"It’s going to be built in 2015. The rate that we have been able to accelerate this is almost unprecedented. It’s definitely been a positive thing for the city of Havelock. Having somebody in Washington day after day advocating on your behalf is very, very helpful."
Lewis also said the lobbyists helped the city get $8 million in loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help with the city’s sewer pipe relocation project, which will allow the city to expand its sewer capacity.
"That $8 million would not have happened had we not been working through Washington D.C. like we do," he said.
A similar loan will help the city construct a new city hall building.
Walsh said the trips and lobbyists put Havelock a step ahead of other cities.
"There’s an awful lot of cities out there that never do this, but they don’t have a new bridge going in. They don’t have an overpass going across the Slocum Road. They don’t have a new city hall funded at the lowest interest rate in town. They don’t have an $11.8 million pipeline going across Cherry Point," Walsh said. "None of this happens without this trip. We’ve tried to get that bridge since 1972, and when we went to Congressman Butterfield and Congressman Jones working together across the aisle, it got done in just a few years. The Slocum flyover was just a fantasy until we went to Congress and showed them how many people were getting hurt there."
As for last week’s trip, Freeman said some of the discussions revolved around improving employment opportunities for military spouses in the area. The 2005 Base Realignment and Closure pointed out that the lack of employment opportunities military spouses was a low mark for the area around the air base.
"You’ve got to create the jobs to begin with and you have to make sure the individuals are trainable for places like call centers and things of that sort," Freeman said. "If you can bring that into your community, those are plusses in terms of the upcoming BRAC. If we already had that in place before the BRAC came, that would be a plus in terms of the quality of life issues that BRAC may be looking at."
The group spent nearly three hours with Dennis Hertel, a former six-term congressman from Michigan who served on a previous BRAC commission, discussing strategy to protect Cherry Point against a possible BRAC within the next couple of years. Part of the trip included a Pentagon visit with the staff of John Conger, acting deputy under secretary of defense for installations and environment.
"We need to know what we have to do to BRAC-proof ourselves," Walsh said. "And the man looked right at us and said you’ve already done the majority of what nobody does, and that is you have come up here to see us before you’re already on the list."