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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Privatization can reduce the National Debt -- Harry Hipps

The $17 trillion and rising debt that we, as citizens of the USA have amassed is a mind boggling figure that is so large that most people can’t really relate to it. But the debt, along with the dysfunctional political system and the ideological divide we have today has nearly everyone worried about our future and what kind of country our kids and grand kids will have. I wish I had a buck for every time a heard phrases like: “We are saddling our grandkids with a debt that will make it hard for them to enjoy the lifestyle we enjoyed.” Well, spending is out of control, we are a divided nation, and there are some serious problems we need to deal with to reinvigorate our democracy and adapt to a fast changing world. But can I inject a bit of optimism here?

Rarely mentioned in the ongoing angst in the media is a simple, but overlooked fact - we have some assets! The average person has probably at some time sold some of the stuff that is cluttering up the house and garage. The garage is cleaner and easier to get around in. And a few bucks were put in the pocket. And this simple idea can work for the over sized garage that is our federal government.

According to Bob Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, in their recent book “The Fourth Revolution, The Global Race to Reinvent the State” selling public assets and businesses could virtually eliminate the debt. Amtrak lurches from crisis to crisis despite having some lucrative routes and could be sold to a private company that would probably figure out how to make it profitable. The feds own 900,000 buildings, some that are in some very expensive real estate markets and around 45,000 are unused or underused. The Bureau of Land Management has jurisdiction of around 260 million acres of land, and while no one would advocate selling our national parks, much of this land is agricultural or unused land with shale deposits that could contribute an estimated $14.5 trillion dollars to the economy by 2050. The government also has their hands in numerous businesses.

Recently, President Obama suggested selling the Tennessee Valley Authority but was immediately confronted by Republican politicians objecting to the move. One can only imagine the Gipper looking down from the Shining City on a Hill and wondering what the heck is going on here. We should seriously study whether selling the TVA as well as some other government agencies to private entities. Let them do what businesses do, try to find efficiencies and run them profitably. With the regulatory apparatus we have today the public’s interest can be managed without the cost inefficiencies that inevitably come with government run operations. And the revenue from the sale of public assets could shrink, if not eliminate that huge debt.

We Americans have a lot of work to do to retool our democracy for the modern era. The entitlement programs aren’t sustainable, health costs continually grow, and globalization and technology are both causing dislocations and offering new opportunities. The challenges are large and our dysfunctional system is slowing our response to them. Selling assets could change our fiscal situation dramatically, but would only be a temporary fix if we only use our decreasing debt burden to justify more out of control spending. But I wouldn’t write off the kids’ future just yet. There are answers if we can only find the will and the leadership.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Newsletter about the City Council meeting of September 16, 2014

I began video recording the City Council in 2012, because of my desire that the City do it on their own as any modern 21st century community began doing long ago. I had people tell me that they couldn't make it to the meetings, but they would like to see what is going on. I was also told by some council members that my summaries did not truly reflect the record, so having a video/audio recording cannot be misinterpreted.

So below is the City Council meeting. With each agenda item, you can click on the links and it will take you to that specific point in the meeting. You can always drag the marker on the video display to the point in the broadcast that you are interested in seeing.

Thoughts about the Hickory City Council meeting - September 16, 2014 

Agenda about the City Council meeting of September 16, 2014

 The Hound's Notes: Please utilize the Agenda and Thoughts links to get further details about this meeting. The Agenda link is a detailed program that comes out before the meeting. It is directly related to the Hickory Inc.'s Agenda that is put out at their website on the Friday before the meeting and I try to include notes about items of interest. I put out Thoughts about the meeting as soon as possible following the meeting. There you will get a general summation of what happened during the meeting and some commentary. Of course, the longer the duration of the meeting, the longer it takes to collect the information and thoughts. I'm not going to haphazardly throw the info out there.

(OK, I'm continuing my discussion to relate what this site and this Newsletter is all about. You can read the beginning in the Newsletter from September 2nd.)

The city erases their version of the meetings posted on Youtube, as soon as a new, successive meeting is posted on Youtube. They say the official minutes of the meeting are the ones transcribes by the clerk. We disagree. We believe that those recordings are official documents and there is no reason to take them down other than to make it harder for the public to assess what happened during meetings. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then audio and video with a 30 frame per second framerate is worth 1,800,000 words a minute and 108 million words an hour. In the name of real transparency, they should not be taking these meetings down.

People say what's the point. According to the numbers we see, not that many people are watching. I have found that and View count mechanisms are flawed and don't count the total number of people viewing the material. I have also found that people go back and watch the older videos later. The try and follow the thread of the events and the consistency related to the issue of interest they are researching. It is a lot easier to do that than to read a transcipt and easier to get a sense of what has taken place in relation to the issue.

As I've gotten older, I have learned to accept walking into a Lion's Den. There have been a lot of things that I haven't wanted to do over the years, but there was a calling to be there. I've gotten the evil eye more times than many of you have seen in a lifetime. Do you think I like it? No. But no one is going to tell me where I can and can't go when I have a right to be there. That's the way you should feel also.

 (To be continued)

Invocation by Rev. Whit Malone, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church

Special Presentations
A. Proclamation for National Rehabilitation Month to Maureen McMahon, Administrative - Director of Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit, Frye Regional Medical Center

Persons Requesting to Be Heard - No persons requested to be heard

Consent Agenda - No items were removed from the Consent Agenda 

New Business - Public Hearings:
1. Consideration of Text Amendment (TA) 14-02 to the City’s Land Development Code. Hound notes related to this subject are in the Thoughts link provided above.

New Business - Departmental Reports:
1. Acceptance of Funds from the State of North Carolina for a Building Reuse Grant on Behalf of OHM Holdings for the Transportation Insight project at Lyerly Mill.

2. Approval of New Scoring Criteria for Considering Grant Proposal under the City’s Community Appearance and Landscape Grant Programs.

Hound Notes: I think that Hickory Inc. has taken note of what I and others have said about the same people always receiving grants and they have seen where the system has been gamed. They have helped the system be gamed by creating the atmosphere where they use these grants as chips in a political poker game. As we have said all along, these grants should be promoted more and spread around better and towards people and projects that truly need the assistance. Let's hope this system moves us forward.

3. Adoption of a Resolution Approving the City of Hickory’s financing Terms for the Hickory Metro Convention Center Parking Deck.

General Comments - (From the Council)

Alderwoman Patton commented that Southern Desk would be demolished in the next few weeks, and the building at First Baptist is in the process of demolition. She commended Code Enforcement and other staff for the work that they had done over the years with Southern Desk. That is going to be a real boost to clean up that area.

Mayor Wright commented now we can talk about the progress all the way from Lenoir-Rhyne all the way to Longview. We are indeed making progress.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Most And Least Educated Cities In America -- Hickory Metro 135 out of 150

The Most And Least Educated Cities In America - Forbes - September 16, 2014

Hound Notes: The Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton Area ranks number 135 out of 150 in this study on education. When one looks into the numbers cited, they see that we are number 143 out of 150 in educational attainment, but number 65 out of 150 in quality of education. It's the same story I have been pointing to since 2008. I have seen many times where people want to throw our school system under the bus, but we are actually a bit better than average when one looks at the numbers cited. Also think about those numbers being skewed down, because the parents of the children that populate our local school system are some of the least educated people in America.

2014’s Most and Least Educated Cities - Wallet Hub - Richie Bernardo 
 An explanation for the study:
A little more than a year ago, the Economic Policy Institute also released its report on the effects of education on state finances. The EPI’s findings suggested that college degrees are supremely important in helping to resuscitate weak economies. One way to strengthen states is to attract well-paying employers “by investing in education and increasing the number of well-educated workers.”

As the fall semester commences, WalletHub analyzed the 150 largest metropolitan statistical areas in the United States to determine where the most educated Americans are choosing to settle. We examined each city across nine key metrics. Among the set are educational attainment, the percentage of workers with jobs in computer, engineering and science fields as well as the quality and size of each metro area’s universities.

What we are seeing is the Brain Drain. We educate the young people fairly well in this community, but our best and brightest leave because they don't see the opportunity to progress in this community. When we look at the numbers provided in this survey, what we see in our State, is that other cities fared very well in this study - Raleigh ranks number 2, Durham ranks number 3, Wilmington ranks number 37, Asheville ranks 40, Winston-Salem ranks 55, Charlotte ranks 73. On the lower end - Greensboro ranks 115, Fayetteville ranks 116, and we rank the lowest in North Carolina at 135.

Only 2 metro areas within 500 miles of Hickory (other than Hickory) rank in the bottom 20% of the 150 metros, when it comes to educational attainment. Those Metros are Greensboro, NC ranked at 122 (Overall rank 115) and Chattanooga, TN at  128 (Overall rank 140). Our Educational Quality is better than Charlotte's ranked at 89, Greensboro's at 88, and Fayetteville's at 95.

Hound Notes: Make of it what you will. This study lays out a case that I made several years ago. The problem is not that we don't educate our young people properly. We are educating our young people just fine. The problem is that they can't wait to get the hell out of here and go to Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham, Wilmington, or Asheville... and once they leave they aren't coming back. This community needs to learn how to think younger.

HDR Editorial - Give young people a chance to thrive - September 27, 2009 <<< Right at 5 years ago

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Thoughts about the Hickory City Council meeting - September 16, 2014

1) The Main issue of the night seemed to be the Public Hearing relating to a Text Amendments being proposed for the City’s Land Development Code. - The proposed amendments retains a business’s ability to utilize temporary out-of-doors sales, but limits such sales to properties where the businesses are located. The proposed amendments would make temporary sales an accessory use to the primary business located on a particular property. The Planning Commission considered the proposed amendments on August 27, 2014, and voted (5-2) to recommend to City Council approval of the proposed amendments.

Planning Director Brian Frazier read from the above Powerpoint slide. The proposed amendment takes into consideration temporary and seasonal sales, such as Halloween Pumpkins, Christmas Trees, and July 4th Fireworks. It will also have no effect on any Agricultural sales (exempt). This will not effect City approved events, such as the Farmer's market, Oktoberfest, etc. as long as you have a special events permit. There is also a proposed amendment to allow food trucks. Businesses having a temporary sale for their items will be fine. Circuses, Carnivals, etc. will be fine.

What will not be allowed/will be prohibited is a truck selling Black Velvet Elvis painting, furniture, carpets. Maybe they have permission from the property owner, but they aren't going to get permission from the city. If you have a privilege license and are in a structure, you are allowed to do what you want to do.

Alder Patton asked about the objections of the two people on the planning commission that voted against the proposed amendments.  Mr. Frazier stated that they believed that this was anti-business and would have adverse effects on start-ups. One commissioner stated that MDI started as a fruit and vegetable stand. One mentioned the effects on the Mall, who have tent sells and the loss of rent. This will effect small business more than large business. Alderman Seaver asked about lemonade stands? Mr. Frazier stated that, 'It depends on what jurisdiction you are in and he will leave that to the Health Department.' Alderman Zagaroli asked about someone wanting to sell rugs and working with a property owner? Mr. Frazier said that would not be allowed. Alder Patton asked about enforcement? Mr. Frazier said that they do have a planning officer and if this happened during the week she is pretty responsive. There is a concern about weeks, because no one is on duty. Alderman Meisner and Alder Patton concurred that most of the time it is going to be on the weekend. Mayor Wright made a comment about "every once in a while' schedules maybe being altered.

Larry Pope objected to the amendments. His general reasoning was that private property owners have given permission for someone to use a portion of their property and they already pay taxes. The property owner is giving that person the ability to earn a living. It can also bring business into the business that has granted permission.  He equated it to a school yard bully that wants to stop an individual from doing something that they have the right to do and they aren't breaking the law. The city does not own the property. He seeks a workable change or the ordinance should be left alone.

During the Council discussion, Alderman Meisner seemed to be worried about the Lails having a furniture store and having to pay a lot of taxes and having to compete against someone who would put furniture in a parking lot and not pay sales tax, privilege tax, or property tax. Alder Patton took the opposite view and spoke about this adversely effecting small business and start-ups. She went on to say that this should have been brought up in a work shop and not crammed in at the last minute. Meisner went on about people coming in and leaving and there are no guarantees that they are going to be around or guarantees on the product... Patton said they may be filling a need that other stores and establishments don't fill. Alderman Lail spoke of the fairness and equity issue. He talked about the visual impact... the visual scene and appropriateness for what they are trying to do as a city. These people want to be on key corridors. Mayor Wright talked about regulations that provide restrictions on how people use/misuse their property.

Alderman Lail gave an example of puppies being sold in a cage on the side of a road. Alder Patton stated that she called the police about that and took care of it today. She said that this wasn't enforceable.

The Council voted 6 to 1 (Alder Patton) to approve the amendments.

Hound Notes: Kudos to Alder Patton for being pro small business and middle class/working class on this issue. In typical fashion of late, we see the status quo from Aldermen Meisner and Lail protecting the big corporate retail businesses and property owners over the free enterprise of the the individual and what America was built on.

Like what I have seen from the Chamber of Commerce, these people haven't seen a tax or license that they don't support. They talk all day long about excessive regulation and then the first thing they do is run to local governments and lobby for more regulation. Including the Mayor, they have bemoaned the State legislature that has looked to rein in this very regulation (privilege licenses), because it has been having a negative impact on the small business individual. They can't seem to grasp it.

Alder Patton gets it right when she talks about some of the products that are provided by these temporary sales -- the sunglass salesman and she gave another example. You see sales such as these in Charlotte and other cities all the time, but oh no, "cain't be competin in Hickry."

Now, I'm not advocating someone be allowed to pull up in a van in a parking lot and start trying to sell things without the permission of the business/property owner. I'm not proposing that someone be allowed to walk down the street in a trench coat and sell fake Rolexes.

My issue is what I spoke of in the comments related to this issue on the Agenda article. Out at the Springs Road Food Lion, there are people that have a yard sale on Saturday at the top of the parking lot. They aren't in anyone's way and they aren't bothering anyone. These people are just trying to make a little side money in a stinky economy. I'm sure that if they didn't need the money, then they wouldn't be there on a Saturday. They are there for visibility, and which is better, them being there and people having access to what they are selling or people driving through a neighborhood. Oops, they'll wanna put a stop to that next.

There were also other Canards like the unfair competition versus the Lail's. People buying furniture in a parking lot aren't the same client base as those shopping in the Hickory Furniture Mart. And the Lail's aren't furniture retailers. They are property retailers. Someone isn't going to go to the Furniture Mart, because they can't buy a sofa in a parking lot. Then as for someone selling puppies on the side of a road, that is an animal control issue. I highly doubt that is legal in any form or fashion and if it is, then I would support an ordinance against that.

Lastly, if this isn't enforceable, then what are we doing here? More regulation to be arbitrarily enforced when some bigwig gets their drawers in a wad.

2) Cal Overby presented a scoring mechanism for Considering Grant Proposals under the City’s Community Appearance and Landscape Grant Programs. The scoring sheet was on a  Powerpoint slide that I will need to reproduce in the newsletter. This is a good move and will keep the grants from being gamed going forward. There has been an issue of certain individuals receiving grants multiple times and monies running out quickly in the budgetary cycle. Hopefully these criteria will address those issues.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Economic Stories of Relevance in Today's World -- September 14, 2014

Paul Craig Roberts - King World News Interview - August 2, 2014 - From early 1981 to January 1982 he served as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy. President Ronald Reagan and Treasury Secretary Donald Regan credited him with a major role in the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981, and he was awarded the Treasury Department's Meritorious Service Award for "outstanding contributions to the formulation of United States economic policy."

The Federal Reserve has decided that Banks can not use Municipal Bonds as High Quality Collateral, while allowing the Banks to hold less secure collateral. The Financial Industry has taken over the government and is setting it up so that Cities with Municipal Bonds will have an untenable situation, because when those Municipal bonds get dumped on the market, it will have a negative effect on the price of the bonds and attitude of the investors towards the bonds. When the Cities can no longer afford that debt, then the Banks can step in and take over Municipal assets, including the municipality's pension funds. 'The Banks are looting mechanisms... Capitalism can't perform by increasing GDP and real wages and has become a looting mechanism. It is discrediting itself just like Soviet Central Planning discredited itself.'

New sanctions against Russia don't make sense. They fall on Russian Oil companies and their Defense Industry. The sanctions are meant to keep the Russians from borrowing in the European Capital markets. There is no reason for them to do that in the first place. What is the purpose of these sanctions? Seems to be a Washington propaganda position. Makes Europeans more vulnerable to Washington control -- away from European independent foreign policy. Dangerous step towards provoking war.

Notice sanctions are against Russian Oil companies and not Gas companies. Europe is dependent on the Russian Gas. Without it they will collapse.Cutting off the Europeans could bring them quickly to heel.

Gold and Silver price has been taken down on a sustained level in the futures market. The Fed is worried about the dollar. Russians (and Chinese) are moving away from the Dollar payment system. Hasn't been going on long enough to effect the dollar. Don't know what the Dollar pressure is. How can something this visible and illegal be permitted to continue. Directors of COMEX (Futures market) are the Bullion Banks and players are the Hedge Funds. Heads of the COMEX see precisely the positions of the Hedge Funds. Appears that when the Hedge Funds are most vulnerable that COMEX is providing an extreme form of insider trading. Been going on for years. Nothing is being done to stop it. Naked Shorting based on Inside Information. Law is not allowed to interfere with the Looting Mechanism. No political capability to hold people accountable for these actions.

No Economy For Americans - Paul Craig Roberts - Deptember 8, 2014 - The Dow Jones stock average closed Friday at 17,137, despite the fact that the payroll jobs report was a measly 125,000 new jobs for August, an insufficient amount to keep up with the growth in the working age population.                    The low 125,000 jobs figure is also inconsistent with the Bureau of Economic Analysis’ second estimate of second quarter 2014 US GDP growth of 4.2 percent–a figure beyond the capability of the present-day US economy.                     Clearly, the economic numbers are out of sync with one another. They are also out of sync with reality.                     One of the reasons the stock market average is high is the massive liquidity the Federal Reserve has pumped into the banking system since 2008. Instead of going into consumer inflation, the money went into stock and bond price inflation.                         Another reason for the artificial high stock market is the multi-trillion dollar buy-back of their own stock by US corporations. Many of these corporations have even borrowed from the banks in order to drive up their share prices with heavy purchases, thus maximizing executive bonuses and the values of stock options for board members. In effect, they are looting their own firms by loading the companies with debt in order to drive up executive and board incomes.                 The stock market’s rise is not because consumer incomes and real retail sales are growing. Real family median incomes have been falling, and real retail sales, at best, are flat.
Let’s look at the composition of the pathetic 125,000 new jobs, and then we will examine whether these jobs are real or make-believe. (Keep in mind that payroll jobs include part-time jobs and that the number of payroll jobs is not the number of people employed, because many Americans make ends meet by working two and even three jobs.)                         As I have reported for many years, the US economy no longer is capable of creating goods producing jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics August payroll jobs report shows zero manufacturing jobs. I read the other day that the US now has four or five times more people on food stamps than in manufacturing jobs.
The jobs of the New Economy are in lowly paid, nontradable domestic services–the jobs that characterize a Third World Economy.               Perhaps reflecting the collapse of retail sales, retail trade lost 8,400 jobs in August... (The rest at

The U.S. National Debt Has Grown By More Than A Trillion Dollars In The Last 12 Months
- The Economic Collapse Blog - Michael Snyder - September 14th, 2014 - The idea that the Obama administration has the budget deficit under control is a complete and total lie.  According to the U.S. Treasury, the federal government has officially run a deficit of 589 billion dollars for the first 11 months of fiscal year 2014.  But this number is just for public consumption and it relies on accounting tricks which massively understate how much debt is actually being accumulated.  If you want to know what the real budget deficit is, all you have to do is go to a U.S. Treasury website which calculates the U.S. national debt to the penny.  On September 30th, 2013 the U.S. national debt was sitting at $16,738,183,526,697.32.  As I write this, the U.S. national debt is sitting at $17,742,108,970,073.37.  That means that the U.S. national debt has actually grown by more than a trillion dollars in less than 12 months.  We continue to wildly run up debt as if there is no tomorrow, and by doing so we are destroying the future of this nation.                      The chart that I have posted below shows the exponential growth of the U.S. national debt over the past several decades.  Anyone that would characterize this as "under control" is lying to you...

As the chart posted below shows, our total debt bubble is now more than 25 times larger than it was just 40 years ago...

Debt Rattle Sep 12 2014: The Fed Has A Big Surprise Waiting For You - The Automatic Earth - Raúl Ilargi Meijer - September 12, 2014 - The topic of potential interest rate hikes by central banks is no longer ever far from any serious mind interested in finance. Still, the consensus remains that it will take a while longer, it will take place in a very gradual fashion, and it will all be telegraphed through forward guidance to anyone who feels they have a need or a right to know. Sounds like complacency, doesn’t it?                           Now, it seems obvious that the Bank of Japan and the ECB are not about to hike rates tomorrow morning. In Europe, dozens of national politicians wouldn’t accept it, and in Japan, it would mean an early end to many things including Shinzo Abe.                         But the Bank of England and the Fed are another story. Though if the Yes side wins in Scotland next week, the narrative may change a lot of Mark Carney and the City. That leaves the Fed. And it’s important to realize and remember that, certainly after Greenspan entered the scene, speaking in tongues, the Fed has become a piece of theater. The Fed is about perception. About trying to make people believe something, and make them act a certain way that they choose for them.                           That’s why after the Oracle left they pushed first a bearded gnome and then a grandma forward as the public face. The kind of people nobody would perceive as a threat. Putting a guy who looks like second hand car salesman in charge of the Fed wouldn’t work.                          Not when a big financial crisis looms, and then continues on for a decade and counting. That makes keeping up appearances the no. 1 priority. That’s when you want a grandma, or you’d lose your credibility real fast. You need grandma for your theater, for the next play you’re going to stage.                       That market volatility today is at record lows is part of a big play, or a big scene in a play if you will. And the goal is not to make markets look good, as many people think. Making markets look good, making the economy look good, is just an intermediate step designed to lure everyone in.                          You make people believe you got their back. All the big investors. Because they make tons of money, while they thought maybe the crisis could have really hurt them. Even the public at large feels you got their back. Because they don’t understand what the sleight of hand is.                 The big investors understand, but you got them believing you will play that hand forever, or let them know well ahead of time when you intend to fold. The big investors think you will skim the public, but not them. They think you’re all on the same side. And the public thinks you’re healing the economy, and saving their jobs and homes and pensions.                    When rate hikes are discussed, like I did two weeks ago in This Is Why The Fed Will Raise Interest Rates, most people have similar initial reactions. ‘They can’t do that, it would kill the economy, or at least the recovery’.                             But the truth is, there is no recovery. It’s just a scene in a play. And the economy is completely shot, it only appears to be left standing because the Fed poured oodles of money into it. Or rather, into a part of the economy that it can control, that it can get the money out of again easily: Wall Street banks. And Wall Street equals the Fed.                     Charles Hugh Smith, in What If the Easy Money Is Now on the Bear Side?, notices that there are hardly any bears left in the market, and that shorts are disappearing as a source of revenue for bulls. Interesting, but he doesn’t yet connect all the dots. CHS thinks big money managers can make ‘the play’, that they can fool the rest of the market and unleash a tsunami that will bury the bulls. (The rest at

America's Poor Have Never Been Deeper In Debt - Zero Hedge - Tyler Durden - September 13,2014 - Ever since the Lehman bankruptcy, one of the main reasons given by the perpetual apologists about why i) the so-called "recovery" has been the worst in US history and ii) the Fed has been "forced" to conduct 6 years of wealth transferring policies, boosting the stock market to all time highs and creating a record wealth split in US society between the super rich and everyone else (one that surpasses even that seen during the roaring 20s) is that the US consumer, scarred by the economic crash, has been rushing to deleverage and dump as much debt as possible.
There are two problems with that story:
  • First, as we first pointed out in 2012, US households are not deleveraging, they are defaulting, a huge difference which goes to motive and intent, and shows that instead of actively paying down debt households are instead loading up on as much debt as they can, which at some point they simply stop servicing (for a detailed analysis of this disturbing trend, read our series on the student loan bubble).
  • Second, when it comes to the poorest quartile of US society, some 14 million people, it is dead wrong. In fact, as the Fed's triennial Survey of Consumer Finances, released last week showed, America's poorest have never been more in debt!
As usual, the full story is one of nuances. As Bloomberg reports, as a result of the first point - mass defaults - US household debt has indeed declined on an average basis. Indeed, average debt burden for all families stood at about 105% of pretax income in 2013, down from about 125% in 2010 and the lowest level since the 2001 survey...

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Agenda about the City Council meeting of September 16, 2014

 This Agenda is about the Hickory City Council meeting that took place on the date listed above. City council meetings are held on the first and third Tuesdays of each Month in the Council Chambers of the Julian Whitener building.

At right of this page under Main Information links is an Hickory's City Website link. If you click on that link, it takes you to our city’s website, at the left of the page you will see the Agenda's and Minutes link you need to click. This will give you a choice of PDF files to upcoming and previous meetings.

You will find historic Agenda and Minutes links. Agendas show what is on the docket for the meeting of that date. The Minutes is an actual summary of the proceedings of the meeting of that date. You can also look in the upper right hand corner of the front page of the Hickory Hound and (will soon) find the link to the past history of Hickory City Newsletters.

Here is a summary of the agenda of the meeting. There were a couple of important items that were discussed at this meeting and the details are listed further below:

Please remember that pressing Ctrl and + will magnify the text and page and pressing Ctrl and - will make the text and page smaller. This will help the readability for those with smaller screens and/or eye difficulties.

City Website has changed - Here is a link to the City of Hickory Document Center

City Council Agenda - September 16, 2014

 The Hound's Notes:   

1) The Notes pertaining to the individual items are below.

Invocation by Rev. Whit Malone, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church

Special Presentations
A. Proclamation for National Rehabilitation Month to Maureen McMahon, Administrative - Director of Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit, Frye Regional Medical Center

Persons Requesting to Be Heard

Consent Agenda:
A. Approval of a Resolution to Declare 8,114 Surplus Discarded Library Materials so that these Materials may be given to the Friends of the Library to be sold at the Friends October 2014 Book Sale and/or at the “Corner Book Store” at Patrick Beaver Memorial Library. - The sale of donated and discarded books is the primary fundraising activity of the Friends of the Library and discarded library materials comprise a significant portion of their inventory. The sale of these items ultimately benefits the library, and is an appropriate means of disposing of unneeded materials. - Public Notice advertised on August 29, 2014 in a newspaper having general circulation in the Hickory area.

B. Request to Amend the Speed Limit Ordinance for Pebble Creek Subdivision to be 25 mph Throughout the Entire Subdivision. - The Traffic Division has received all necessary paperwork from residents within the subdivision in regards to the Traffic Calming Guidelines and have found the residents to be in compliance with the guidelines. Currently all roadways within the Pebble Creek Subdivision (6th Street NE, 5th Street Court NE, and 30th Avenue Court NE) have the default speed limit of 35 mph. Staff recommends amending the speed limit in the Pebble Creek Subdivision including (6th Street NE, 5th Street Court NE, and 30th Avenue Court NE) by lowering the speed limit to 25 mph.

C. Approve the Acceptance of a Grant to Assist in Funding the Purchase of Bulletproof Vests for Police Officers. - The Bureau of Justice Assistance/Bulletproof Vest Partnership program has approved the purchase of 45 vests in the amount of $31,075, ($14,874.73 in Federal Funds and a
required Local match of $16,200.27). The City of Hickory local match has been placed in the Police Department’s annual operating budget. Life expectancy of each vest is approximately five years. The Police Department recommends acceptance of this grant to receive up to 50 percent funding to purchase bulletproof vests for police officers.

D. Approval to Acknowledge Receipt of a T-2C Buckeye to the National Naval Aviation Museum Standard Loan Agreement. - The City of Hickory/Hickory Regional Airport has on loan from the National Naval Aviation Museum (NNAM) certain retired aircraft and artifacts located at the Hickory Regional Airport and on display by the Hickory Aviation Museum. The Hickory Regional Airport has participated in and has had on loan property from the NNAM for over fifteen (15) years. The Hickory Aviation Museum has received a T-2C Buckeye aircraft to add to its display at the Hickory Regional Airport from the Department of Navy, and it is now being added to the City’s loan agreement with the Navy. Staff recommends the acknowledgement of receipt and addition of aircraft T-2C Buckeye to the current Loan Agreement with the National Naval Aviation Museum.

E. Approve the Acceptance of the 2014 Justice Assistance Grant in the Amount of $23,359. -  City of Hickory has received notification to receive $23,359 under the 2014 Justice Assistance Grant Program (JAG). The JAG program is a formula-based grant through the Office of Justice  Programs/Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) that utilizes Uniform Crime Reporting statistics of all law enforcement agencies to determine eligibility for direct federal grant awards. There is no match required. Hickory Police Department recommends using grant funds from the Justice Assistance Grant to purchase equipment for the Special Operations Team and medical equipment for each officer. Hickory Police Department recommends acceptance of the 2014 JAG Grant in the amount of $23,359.

F. Approval of a Community Appearance Grant for Non-Residential Property for Property Located at 107 and 109 Government Avenue SW, owned by Rahe Bryce, LLC, in the amount of $4,800. - City Council created the Community Appearance Grant program in 1999 to provide economic incentives for property owners to improve the general appearance of their property. The Community Appearance Commission reviews applications for the grant program and forwards a recommendation of approval or denial to City Council. The grants are designed as a reimbursement grant in which the City of Hickory will match the applicant on a 50/50 basis. The maximum grant amount from the City of Hickory is $5,000. The applicant, Rahe Bryce, LLC has provided two bids for replacement of the storefront windows and doors of the two tenant spaces on the front façade of the building. The bids quoted $9,600 and $10,550.40, qualifies for a $4,800 grant. The Community Appearance Commission unanimously voted, at their August 25, 2014 regular meeting, to recommend funding of the requested grant in the amount of $4,800.

Hound Notes: Apparently this is the building where Berndt's is located.

G. Approval to Apply for Brownfields Area-Wide Planning Grant from the US Environment Protection Agency in the Amount of $200,000. - The Brownfields Area-Wide Planning Grant provides grants of up to $200,000 to develop a plan for a small area that contains multiple known or suspect Brownfield sites. These plans will typically focus on a neighborhood or district. The plan will focus on the cleanup and reuse of one or more catalyst sites. The City’s grant application would focus on an area in the vicinity of US 70 between US 321 and South Center Street. Grant funding will result in the completion of a comprehensive small area plan for the redevelopment and eventual cleanup of the project area. This will include extensive community involvement to ascertain the concerns and issues most important to neighborhood residents and business owners. Funds will be used to conduct market analyses to determine reuse options for properties in the area. The plan will discuss needed land use changes and infrastructure improvements necessary to spur redevelopment and cleanup of Brownfield sites. There is no required match to apply for the grant. Staff recommends that City Council authorize staff to apply for the Brownfields Area-Wide Planning Grant in the amount of $200,000.

Hound Notes : A rumor was given to me that Hickory Inc. is getting ready to (want to) make something happen at the Old Sky City Complex. Now, given that the track record on the Hound is only about 90%, there's a 10% chance that this isn't what this is all about. You also have the old Joan's Fabric Building right here in this foot print. Please remember that across the street from all of this, that Catawba Mall was sold to the people that own U-Haul and the German Schnitzel House was also sold.

H. Special Events/Activities Application for Christmas Tree Lighting in Downtown Hickory, Mandy Pitts, Communications Director and Brand Manager, City of Hickory, Friday, November 21, 2014 from 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at The Sails on the Square in Downtown Hickory.

I. Special Events/Activities Application for Hickory Youth Council/Stand Up Speak Out, David Leonetti, City of Hickory, Thursday, October 2, 2014 from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Union Square.

J. Budget Ordinance Amendment Number 6.
1. To budget an $800 Friends of the Library donation in the Library Supplies line item to purchase prizes for the Senior Bingo program.
2. To budget a $90 donation from Mountain Recycling in the Historic Preservation Commission line item. The funds are from recycling the old historic sign post.
3. To transfer $2,202 from General Fund Contingency to the Economic and Community Development Non-Asset Inventory line item. This transfer is necessary for the purchase of a decibel meter in order to enforce the city industrial and commercial noise ordinance.
4. To budget a $500,000 North Carolina Department of Commerce Building Reuse Grant in the Economic and Community Development Incentives line item. This grant is for OHM Holdings, LLC to use toward the redevelopment of Lyerly Millfor Transportation Insight. The City of Hickory and the Western Piedmont Council of Governments made application to the Department of Commerce on behalf of OHM Holdings, LLC. The City of Hickory will be the pass-through agency for the grant.

New Business - Public Hearings
1. Consideration of Text Amendment (TA) 14-02 to the City’s Land Development Code. - The proposed amendments to the City’s Land Development Code retains a business’s ability to utilize temporary out-of-doors sales, but limits such sales to properties where the businesses are located. The proposed amendments would make temporary sales an accessory use to the primary business located on a particular property. Hickory Regional Planning Commission considered the proposed amendments during an advertised public hearing on August 27, 2014, and voted (5-2) to recommend to City Council approval of the proposed Land Development Code text amendments. Staff concurs with the recommendation. This public hearing was advertised in a newspaper having general circulation in the Hickory area on September 5, 2014, and September 12, 2014.

New Business - Departmental Reports:
1. Acceptance of Funds from the State of North Carolina for a Building Reuse Grant on Behalf of OHM Holdings for the Transportation Insight project at Lyerly Mill. - The City of Hickory and the Western Piedmont Council of Governments made application to the Department of Commerce on behalf of OHM Holdings for a Building Reuse Grant in the amount of $500,000. The City of Hickory will be the pass-through agency for the grant. The grant award is based upon the creation of 50 new jobs on top of the base of 167 full time jobs at the time of the grant and for the rehabilitation of the building known as Lyerly Mill. The reuse of this 38,250 square foot building located at 56 3rd Street SE, which was originally constructed in 1930, will be for the new corporate headquarters for  Transportation Insight, LLC. The total amount of eligible investment in the building is $3,525,347 which qualifies the applicant for the full $500,000 for a total project costs of $4,025,347. This is not the full investment in the overall project, but merely reflects what is eligible for the grant. The Department of Commerce will reimburse 50 percent of eligible expenditures up to the total grant amount. Staff requests acceptance of the NC Department of Commerce Building Reuse Grant in the amount of $500,000 for OHM Holdings, LLC to be used toward the redevelopment of Lyerly Mill for Transportation Insight.

2. Approval of New Scoring Criteria for Considering Grant Proposal under the City’s Community Appearance and Landscape Grant Programs. - Since the Community Appearance and Landscape Grant program’s inception in 1999, grant proposals have been reviewed based upon a few broad eligibility standards that afford the Commission little to no opportunity to judge the merits of each individual proposal. The Community Appearance Commission has experienced a high volume of grant requests, which has resulted in the exhaustion of all grant funds within the first few months of the fiscal year. The Community Appearance Commission recognized this as being a problem, and has developed a set criteria that would be utilized in scoring all grant proposals that come before the Commission for review. The intent of the scoring criteria is to provide the Commission with a clear set of items to review proposals against, and to help ensure the most worthy projects are funded to ensure public funds are expended in the most prudent manner. The Community Appearance Commission unanimously voted August 25, 2014 approval of the grant scoring criteria.

Hound Notes: What needs to happen is that a grant recipient should be eligible for a City grant one time in five years and if people find ways to game the system, then Hickory Inc. needs to be proactive about stopping such practices. Grants should be promoted better and they shouldn't be tools of political capital for the local Powers That Be.

3. Adoption of a Resolution Approving the City of Hickory’s financing Terms for the Hickory Metro Convention Center Parking Deck. - The Hickory Metro Convention Center is owned by the City of Hickory, and the City will be financing the parking deck project. A public hearing was held on September 2, 2014 to provide citizens and City staff an opportunity to discuss the upcoming financing for the parking deck project. Request for bank proposals were submitted to First Citizens, Bank of America, PNC Bank, BB&T, and Wells Fargo. The City of Hickory received one financing proposal from BB&T. A Resolution was prepared to disclose the financing terms proposed by BB&T. The financing amount shall not exceed $3,000,000, the annual interest rate shall not exceed 2.94%, and the financing term shall not exceed fifteen years from closing. The City has selected the semi-annual payment schedule with payments being due in April and October of each year. The City intends that the adoption of the Resolution will be a declaration of the City’s official intent to reimburse expenditures for the project that is to be financed from the proceeds of the BB&T financing. Staff recommends adoption of a Resolution approving the City of Hickory’s financing terms for the Hickory Metro Convention Center Parking Deck Project.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

My personal Obamacare Insurance Fiasco - September 10, 2014

I received a bill from Catawba Valley Medical Center Group on Monday and I knew something had to be up. I've had Blue Cross Blue Shield Individual insurance for over 10 years. I went and looked at my bank account and found out they stopped drafting the money in May.

In December, I knew I needed to do something. It looked like I couldn't keep my old policy. In the middle of looking into the Affordable Care Act policy, the government decided to allow people to keep their individual policies. Well, you could keep it, but they didn't put a price tag on it at that time. My premium to keep my old policy was going to rise 17% and it was costing enough already.

I went to a local provider and filled out the paperwork and the agent attempted to get me into the system. He's actually cross his fingers and had a ritual to superstitiously get the exchange to accept my information and submit the policy. It took a week for the information to go through and I delivered a check a couple days before Christmas.

So I had an Obamacare insurance policy. Well, I apparently had one for 4 months. Looking back on it, I kept getting a bill each month for the same amount I was paying for the policy. I figured it was a glitch and they would get it straightened out. Eventually, I stopped getting those notices and the last time I looked they were still drafting my account.

Well, to be honest, I'm not living and breathing to look at my bank account. I've got a general idea of how much money is there and since it hasn't been growing over the last several years, it is depressing to look at, so I only check it when I need to and lately I haven't needed to. I haven't looked at it in detail anyway... let's put it that way.

So, as I said, because I received this bill I had to look at my account in detail and to my surprise the last time BCBS drafted my account was in April. So, I've been without insurance from May to Present and didn't even have a clue...

The following is my call to BCBS to find out what was going on... and apparently the left hand (Obama's exchange) doesn't have a clue (or relation) to what the right hand (BCBS) is doing. You should listen. It is quite entertaining.

and I already had concerns -  The Health Care Fiasco on a personal level - November 27, 2014