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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Newsletter about the City Council Meeting of December 2, 2008

This newsletter is about the Hickory City Council meeting that I attended this past week. City council meetings are held on the first and third Tuesdays of each Month in the Council Chambers of the Julian Whitener building.

At the bottom right of this page under main information links is a Hickory's Local Government link. If you click on that link, it takes you to our city’s website, at the bottom of the page you will see the future dates for meetings scheduled for this year.

At the top of the page, if you click on the “Documents” link, 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.

Here is a summary of the agenda of the 12/2/2008 meeting. There were a couple of important items that were discussed at this meeting and the details are listed further below.

Invocation by one of the Reverends from the Frye Medical Center

Consent Agenda:
Social Items - Request From the Hickory Downtown Development Association for the Use of Union Square for “Hickory Hops 2009” on April 18, 2009 From 8am to 11:00pm. Proclamation Declaring November 18, 2008 as “Charles D. Dixon Day” in the City of Hickory. Transfer of 2 Cemetery Lots in Oakwood Cemetery From Norma Luther Groteluschen. Appropriate $54,276 from the Transportation Fund to Catawba County for the remaining Human Services Equity.

Business Items - Accept Grant from the U.S. Department of Justice in the Amount of $3,272.50 (to assist in buying 11 Bullet Proof Vests - 50% reimbursement). Approved Property Tax Refund to First Citizens Bank Leasing Department in the Amount of $1,043.72. Approved Neighborhood Stabilization Program Letter of Intent to NC Department of Community Assistance for HUD Neighborhood Stabilization Funds – Should the city receive this funding, the area identified for use of funds is the Ridgeview Community in SW Hickory as identified by Habitat’s Neighborhood plan for this area. The amount requested is $527,696.

Approved Certificate for Royal Cab to Operate One Taxicab. Approved purchase of property from Geraldine Shuford and Joyce Brown located at 745 3rd Street Place SW in the Amount of $48,500.00. Approved Change Order #1 to Beam Grading and Construction, Inc. for the Construction of the Blue Sky Court Habitat Subdivision Water and Sewer Project in the Amount of $803.88. Approved Purchase Contract with MA/COM Incorporated to Upgrade the City of Hickory’s Radio System addressed at the 11/18/2008 City Council Meeting.

Budget Ordinance Ammendments- Budget a $4,000 Library donation for the 2009 Big Read Program. Budget $587 of Miscellaneous Insurance Claims for damage to a gate at the Hickory Airport. Budget $250 of Airport property rental revenue toward the purchase of new tables. Accept a $1,000 Ridgeview Recreation Council donation from Tenet Health Care and budget.

Transfer $1,812 from the General Fund to pay taxes owed on the Terry Miller property purchased by the City in FY07-08. Transfer $11,000 from the Street Division Construction Materials line item to pay invoices. Appropriate $3,649 of Fire Dept-Catawba Reimbursement Funds to the Hickory Rural Fire Dept Departmental Supplies line item. Transfer $6,087 from the General Fund and $231 of Water and Sewer Fund to pay the Employment Security Commission invoice.

Transfer $41,639 from the General Fund to pay costs associated with a penalty against the Solid Waste Transfer Station from the North Carolina Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources. Transfer $8,750 of General Fund needed to pay N.C. Realty for the costs of right of way negotiations for 16 properties located on 35th Ave. Ln. NE that are petitioning for curb and gutter. Transfer $500 from Engineering Seminar Registration Fees and $275 from Training Meals and Lodging to cover the Stormwater Engineers travel expenditures for the remainder of the fiscal year.

Police Department: Transfer $27,555 from the General Fund appropriated to the “Governor's Crime Commission Gang” of One two-year Grant Project- this will pay 25% with the state kicking in the other 75%. Appropriate $1,131 toward Officers time spent when accompanying involuntary commitment patients. Appropriate $95,402 from the General Fund to provide funds to enhance and bring current licensed applications to personnel in the field to enhance work performance and provide better service.

Infrastructure: Transfer $57,650 from the General Fund Appropriated to the Grace Chapel/US 321 Connector Road Project. The total contract is $115,300 with a 50/50 shared cost with Caldwell County. To budget a total of $1,542,685 ($250,000 Appropriated from the General Fund, $250,000 appropriated from the Water and Sewer Fund , and $1,042,685 Proceeds from Financing) for the Police Department's new M/A Com System Equipment expenditure. This system was discussed and approved at the last City Council Meeting.

Informational Items:
Mayor Wright’s Travel to Orlando, FL from November 10 – 16, 2008 to attend the 2008 NLC – Congress of Cities & Exposition cost totaled $979.50. Mayor Wright’s Travel From Orlando, FL to Hickory, NC and Return to Orlando, FL on November 13 & 14, 2008 to attend the Economic Development Announcement of the MDI, Inc. Expansion – airfare cost was $624.50 (This flight was cancelled and the flight voucher will be used on a later flight)

New Business - Public Hearings:
1. Voluntary Non-Contiguous Annexation of the Property of Brian and Tammy Frazier Located at 2713 24th Street Court, NE

2. Proposed Ordinance Amendment to the Hickory City Code Chapter 18, “Motor Vehicles and Traffic”, Section 18-183 – “Pre-towing Notice; Appeal; Removal Without Notice”
The proposed changes shall read: If the owner or person entitled to possession of the vehicle does not remove the vehicle, but chooses to appeal the determination that the vehicle is an abandoned or nuisance vehicle, such appeal shall be made to the Chief of Police or his or her designee in writing. Such an appeal must be made within ten days following receipt of notice of such action and shall be filed with the police department. During the appeal, further proceedings to remove the vehicle shall be stayed until the appeal is heard and decided. Further, a new provision is to be added, to read: Upon failure of the vehicle owner or person entitled to possession to appeal within the prescribed time, the determination that the vehicle is an abandoned or nuisance vehicle shall be considered final. These changes will enable the Hickory Police Department Code Enforcement Unit to resolve citizen complaints of junked and nuisance motor vehicles in a more timely manner, while affording the vehicle owners an appeal process.

3. Proposed Ordinance Amendment to the Hickory City Code Chapter 20, “Nuisances”, Section 20-3 – “Investigation; Notice of Abatement” and Section 20-4 “Removal by City”
Currently the due process procedures authorize the City Manager, upon learning of alleged public nuisance conditions, to investigate the alleged conditions through a code enforcement officer. Upon receipt of the officer’s report, the City Manager holds a hearing to determine whether there is a nuisance. Under the proposed amendment, the Chief of Police (or his or her designee) would direct the investigation and conduct the hearing. Chapter 20, Article 1, Section 20-4 of the Hickory City Code states that after fifteen (15) days of an order to abate a nuisance has been received, the City Manager may cause such condition to be removed or otherwise remedied by having employees of the City go upon such premises and remove or otherwise abate such nuisance under the supervision of an officer or employee designated by the City Manger. Under the proposed amendment, the Chief of Police or his or her designee would direct the removal of a nuisance instead of the City Manager. The proposed amendments would make the investigation, hearing process and possible abatement of nuisances by the City more efficient for those persons cited for maintaining the conditions as well as for the Code Enforcement officers involved in the cases.

The Hounds View: We need an Ombudsman to look out for the rights of the citizens. This should be an elected official that will resolve complaints such as these nuisance issues. I have no doubt that Chief Adkins is an alright guy; but this centers too much power in his hands, it centered too much power in City Manager Berry's hands, and the city shouldn't be involved in such trifling matters unless it is a last resort.

The prophet side of me can see more petty neighbor disputes now being sanctioned by our city, because when neighbors get mad at one another they will be looking to call the city over picky and petty alleged nuisance issues. Eventually we will see a few situations of assault or worse brought about by getting the police involved in these matters. Why can't we have neighbor and neighborhood civility anymore?

4. Approval of the Economic Incentive Development Agreement with Merchants Distributors, Inc
MDI is requesting economic development incentives from the City of Hickory in the form of a property tax grant for machinery and equipment, totaling approximately $1.89 million over a ten year period for an investment of approximately $50.5 million and 200 jobs with an average annual wage of $51,000. These economic incentive grants will be used in the expansion of their Hickory distribution facility and would be 75% of the real and business personal property taxes with the maximum annual amount totaling $189,375 a year for ten years for a business personal property and property tax grant upon implementation of the expansion. Caldwell County has agreed to a similar incentive package of 75% for twelve years and the State of North Carolina has awarded MDI with a Job Development Incentive Grant for the 200 jobs. This project meets and exceeds the minimum requirements of the City of Hickory Economic Development Assistance Guidelines.

Ms. Surratt said there was a 180 job guarantee over 5 years. If they haven't met this target after 5 years, then the incentive amount will be reduced on a sliding scale based upon the jobs created.

The Hound on Economics : This deal looks good on the surface and it had to be made, but let's not pretend that there are any guarantees here in these trying economic times. The company has a lot to lose if this deal goes south. Thank goodness MDI is taking a chance.

As far as the PR points, I am getting a little sick of seeing exaggerated numbers. We all know that these are not $51,000 jobs. It is alright to say that they are going to pay $12 to $20 an hour. The other part of that money encompasses benefits (Insurance, 401k contributions, etc) and FICA. Very few of these jobs will be $50,000+ jobs.

Just tell the truth and say, "the average person is going to make about $30,ooo from one of these jobs." I think that is great and substantial and anyone would be happy with that kind of job.

Hound Economics 101 : We are going to need more progress like this. The averages say that this deal will create 40 jobs in 2009. That is a thin drop in a deep bucket. Unemployment numbers were released yesterday, Catawba County has an 8.3% unemployment rate. We have 75,518 people in the Catawba County Workforce presently and 6,265 people are currently filing for unemployment. To get back to 5% unemployment we have to find a net-plus of 2,489 more jobs.

Yesterday on the radio the Mayor said we have created 1,400 jobs this year. That's great, but it is obvious that we have lost alot more than we have gained. Some of these numbers get fuzzy because Hickory's numbers have gotten tangled with other counties, but we will look at Catawba County's numbers.

The Unemployment rate was 6.1% in January and now it is 8.3%. Look at this:
75,241x .061 = 4,590 people Unemployed in January
75,518 x .083 = 6,265 people Unemployed in October

That means that we are a net-minus of 1,675 jobs through the first 10 months of this year. The Mayor wasn't clear on his 1,400 jobs created number, but if he was saying Catawba County, then that means we lost 3,075 jobs in the first 10 months this year. (12/5/2008 - edited to represent numbers posted by the St. Louis Fed)

The Unemployment Numbers should hold the line the next few months, because of the Holiday Retail Season. This temporary retail help will be laid off at the end of December and with the upcoming minimum wage increases, in my opinion we are going to see a sharp spike in Unemployment rates. I will be shocked if we aren't seeing 10% Unemployment numbers for January, which will be reported around March 1, 2009.

It's going to be a bumpy ride. Should we throw our hands up in the air and play the blame game or should we roll up our sleeves and get to work. What I am saying is that we need to be prepared when things turn around. That is how we will get ahead of the curve. We are 1.3% worse than the State and 1.8% worse than the Federal Average. Wouldn't it be nice to be on the other side of those averages.

Maybe if we start preparing and planning better, then we will be in a better position the next time it rains.

Link to Unemployment Numbers Spreadsheet: (edited to reflect St Louis Fed numbers)


Anonymous said...

I'm confused. Did Mayor Wright, or did he not, spend $624.50 to fly back to Hickory from Florida to have his picture taken at the announcement of the MDI expansion?

James Thomas Shell said...

The money has been spent. The ticket was not used. Mrs. Patton took his place at MDI's press conference. The city has a voucher for that money that will be used in the future for flight transportation.

I hope that explains it.

Anonymous said...

Ok..I thought that's what you meant, but wasn't sure. Now I wonder why he thought he needed to spend that money to fly back.