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 6/2/2009 meeting. There were a couple of important items that were discussed at this meeting and the details are listed further below.
Invocation by Deborah McEachran of the First Presbyterian Church
Proclamations - Recognizing Mark Sinclair’s Retirement as Executive Director of Catawba Science Center and Proclaiming 6/6/2009 as “Mark E. Sinclair Day” in the City of Hickory. Recognizing Ric Vandett For His Years as an Educator in the Hickory Public School System. Declaring 5/21/2009 as “Roger D. Bradford Day” in the City of Hickory for His Loyal 30+ Years of Service to the Salvation Army Advisory Board
Cemetery Lots - Transfer in Oakwood Cemetery From Peggy C. Wardell, Widow to Howard J. Spry and wife Nannie Mae Spry. Transfer in Oakwood Cemetery From Madeline Leslie Brown Fromme and husband, Lewis Steven Fromme to Winfred Scott Bedington and William David Bedington. Transfer in Oakwood Cemetery From Harriet Ann Suther Litaker a/k/a Harriett Ann Suther Litaker to Eva Mae Cantoni.
Resolution – Cancellation of 7/7/2009 City Council Meeting. This meeting in July has traditionally been cancelled by the City Council due to Independence Day.
Approval to Apply for Twelve Bulletproof Vests Through the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant - Consideration for the Hickory Police Department to apply for 12 bulletproof vests. The City would receive up to 50% reimbursement for each vest purchased. The estimated cost for each vest is $650.00 with a life expectancy of five (5) years per vest.
Write-Offs for Fiscal Year 2008-2009 in the Amount of $247,850.19 - A list of accounts to be written off follows and is submitted for Council approval in conjunction with the annual audit for FY 2008-09 as required by law. The city is continuing to pursue collection. Collections from the NC Debt Setoff Program for Calendar Year 2009 have exceeded $32,000.00 so far.
Approval to Participate With Catawba County for the Purchase of 800 MHz Portable Radios Through the Assistance to Firefighters Regional Grant - Catawba County is hosting a grant for the purchase of 356 800 MHz portable radios to be used by public safety agencies in Catawba County. The Hickory Fire Department will purchase 10 portable radios. The Catawba County Public Safety Information Committee has elected to pursue the purchase of portable radios through the Assistance to Firefighters Regional Grant through the Department of Homeland Security. Catawba County Public Safety Information Committee has coordinated the grant proposal and if awarded, the 10 portable radios would cost $1,250 which is a 5% share cost of $25,000.00. Hickory will be the owner of the radios purchased.
Apply for the 2009 Education and Technology Smoke Alarm Canvassing Grant for 200 Smoke Detectors - will be installed in targeted residential areas within the City of Hickory. The targeted areas were chosen by population, layout of the neighborhood, housing make up and past fire experience within the neighborhoods. This project will reach approximately 150 homes consisting of single and multi-family dwellings. Personnel will visit each home providing basic fire education, materials, install alarms and conduct home safety surveys. There is no charge for the detectors.
Approval of the Town of Mooresville Bulk Water Sale First Amendment Agreement - The City of Hickory and the Town of Mooresville entered into a Bulk Water Sale Contract on 7/1/2003 to provide water system interconnection for Mooresville to meet North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources requirements for reliability. Mooresville designed, constructed and donated the infrastructure to Hickory at no cost for Hickory to include as a part of the water system. Renews the original contract as requested by Mooresville, which will include a 5 year extension to 7/11/2014 with provisions for 2 additional 5 year extensions. This renewal will allow Mooresville to purchase up to 1 million gallons of water per day at the then current outside water rate.
Approve Contract With Hickory Sand Company, Inc. for Construction of the Cripple Creek Outfall Replacement Project in the Amount of $2,250,000 - The Public Utilities Department has been pursuing completion of this important outfall replacement project since the late 1990’s. The outfall is approximately 100 years old and serves as the main sanitary sewer collection line for Downtown Hickory, a large portion of NW Hickory and portions of NE Hickory. The Public Utilities Department has reported 24 overflow events from this line in the past 5 years. City Council awarded the bid to Hickory Sand Company at the 5/19/2009 City Council meeting in the amount of $2,250,000. Funding has been applied for through the Clean Water Management Trust Fund 5 times since the 1990’s. In July 2008 the City was awarded a $1,162,000 grant, which was based on covering 50% of the projected cost at that time. The City also applied for funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 in which the City was awarded $1,938,000.00. Half of the ARRA amount, ($969,000) will be principle forgiveness and the other half will be a zero percent interest loan to be paid back over a 20-year period. The project includes replacement of approximately 14,300 linear feet of 21-inch clay pipe with 24-inch PVC and/or Ductile Iron pipe. The total estimated cost is $2,850,000 including construction costs, contingencies, engineering and construction inspection. Budget a total of $3,100,000 in the Cripple Creek Outfall Replacement project.
Approve Frequency Reconfiguration Agreement With Nextel - This allows Nextel to occupy the radio frequencies currently used by the City of Hickory and the City would then change to another set of allocated frequencies in which Nextel would pay for the change. In 6/2007 the City of Hickory entered into a Planning/Funding Agreement with Nextel which estimated the planning cost for this project and detailed the cost that Nextel agreed to pay in the planning phase. These changes will allow the City to upgrade the current radio system to be compliant with future FCC requirements. The rebanding agreement with Nextel does not cost the City any funds. The City benefits by receiving new mobile radios and new handheld radios free of charge paid for by Nextel. 2 readings are held at this meeting. There was a proposed second reading under Departmental reports and the council unanimously approved it.
Approve Contract With M/A-Com/Tyco Electronics for Rebanding Services - The Rebanding Services Contract with Tyco Electronics/M/A-Com is to perform the actual rebanding operations to change the City to another set of allocated radio frequencies, which Nextel has agreed to pay. This will greatly enhance interoperability for public safety and will be compliant with future FCC requirements. 2 readings are held at this meeting. There was a proposed second reading under Departmental reports, but the contract was not ready at this time.
Budget Ordinance Amendments
Budget a $25 Library donation from Julia Nan D. Fanjoy to honor Quest Book Club with a book for the children’s room. Budget a total of $1,100 of International Springfest donations in the International Council expenditure line item. Donations were received from Wind River Financial-$500, United Arts Council of Catawba County - $500, and Russell D. Woy, Jr. -$100. Budget a $1,729 insurance claim check from Trident Insurance Company. This insurance claim is for damage sustained to police vehicle on 04-17-09. Transfer $78,270 of Water and Sewer design budget for the Cripple Creek Outfall Replacement project to the Water and Sewer Fund Balance.
A. Alderwoman Hoyle’s Travel to the NLC – 2009 : Annual Congressional City Conference in Washington, DC From 3/13–18/2009; hotel - $1,425,55; registration - $965; per diem - $272; mileage - $57.20; airfare - $402.50; Other - $30
B. Alderwoman Hoyle’s Travel to the 2009 NC Black Summit in Raleigh, NC From 4/23–25/2009: hotel - $231.98; registration - $125.00; per diem - $17.00; mileage - $179.06
C. Alderwoman Fox’s Travel to the 2009 Transforming Local Government Conference in Corpus Christi, TX: From 5/12–15/2009 – hotel - $479.55; per diem - $132.00; airfare - $522.90; registration - $450.00
D. Alderwoman Hoyle’s Travel to the NCLM Elected Officials Committee Meeting in Raleigh, NC From 5/11–12/2009: hotel - $71.88, per diem - $59.50; mileage - $194.70
New Business - Public Hearings
1. Fiscal Year 2009-2010 Budget Ordinance - The Proposed 2009-2010 budget - Pursuant to NC General Statutes §159-12(b), a public hearing shall be held before adopting the budget ordinance. This public hearing was advertised in a newspaper having general circulation in the Hickory area on May 22, 2009. Copies of the budget ordinance were filed for public inspection in the Office of the City Clerk, Patrick Beaver Memorial Library and Ridgeview Library. The recommended budget is also posted on the City’s web page, www.hickorygov.com. Pursuant to NC General Statutes §159-13(a), the City Council is required to adopt a balanced budget before July 1, making the appropriations and levying taxes for the budget year. City Manager Berry stated that there will be an increase in the budget of 2.29% from $82.9 million to $84.8 million. The key numbers are in the General fund where we are only seeing a 1.19% increase. Operating funds will increase 1.96%. The city is in a strong financial position. The city has designated $2.5 million for the Clement Boulevard project and $1 million for fuel over the baseline budget. The Clement Boulevard project has been moving forward. about $700,000 have been spent on the Clement Blvd project. The Cripple Creek Outfall Replacement project and the Northeast Waste Water Treatment plant are other highlights of this budget.
The city is eliminating 3 vacant positions (through attrition) currently and has eliminated 71 positions in the last 5 years. That is a 10% decrease in workforce through attrition. The city is adding Sanitation Operator to bring the process in house. Staff salaries have been frozen and benefits have been kept and kept in line (5% increase in Healthcare Insurance costs).
The property tax rate will stay at $.50 per $100. There will be a 4% increase in utilities and that will amount to $2.08 on average per household. Solid Waste removal will go up $1 from $10 to $11. Manager Berry believes this (Solid Waste fees) has been maxed out and will stay at this rate for the foreseeable future.
Future Issues: The city has seen one building permit this year. That does not bode well for upcoming budgets. Manager Berry is forecasting an increase in Sales Tax revenues. The State Budget is effecting the local budget. Manager Berry says that we are seeing unprecedented growth from Economic Development.
Public Services Director Chuck Hansen was asked, by the Mayor, when the Clement Boulevard Project would be completed? He stated that this was the first year that the money had been allocated in the budget. DOT and the Railroad have been hurdles. He is looking for it to be completed by winter.
The Hound says Kudos to the city on this budget and other budgets over the last several years. The city has been excellent in its resourcefulness of managing capital and resources through 8+ trying years. I would love to see what they can do with a budget if we ever move into a positive business cycle.
2. Voluntary Contiguous Annexation of the Property of Moore’s Ferry Associates, LLC Located Off 42nd Avenue Drive, NW - A petition was submitted by Moore’s Ferry Associates, LLC for voluntary contiguous annexation for property located off 42nd Avenue Drive, NW, which is immediately adjacent to the Moore’s Ferry development. The property is currently being developed as a 23 lot two-family (46 total dwelling units) residential subdivision and is located in the City’s extra-territorial jurisdictional (ETJ) area and zoned R-3 Residential. The current tax value of the property is approximately $320,134.00 and if annexed, the raw property alone would generate $1,600.67 in additional tax revenues. Other townhomes immediately adjacent to the subject property have an average tax value of $250,000.00 and if similar homes are constructed in the proposed subdivision, an approximate future tax value of the entire development could be as much as $11,500,000, increasing tax revenues to $57,500. Staff determined the petition meets the statutory requirements for voluntary annexation and adequate public services and infrastructure are available. The council unanimouly approved.
New Business - Departmental Reports:
Adopt Ordinance Declaring Property Unfit for Human Occupation and Authorization to Remove or Demolish Structure Located at 990 C Avenue, SE, Hickory - The structures located at 990 C Avenue, SE, Hickory were inspected by Code Enforcement Officer Bobby Baker and were determined to be dilapidated; exceeding 50% of the tax value to repair, and also posed an imminent threat to health and human safety. This case was opened on January 27, 2009 and the Order to Abate was issued on February 11, 2009. The property owners, Mr. & Mrs. Thia Lo have attempted to relinquish ownership through foreclosure with RBC Centura, but RBC Centura is not interested in ownership or liability of the property. Numerous violation notifications have been sent to both the owners and RBC Centura. The property owners have indicated they have no intention or funds to abate the violations and no longer consider the property their responsibility. Notice of Intent to Abate violations were sent to the property owners on 2/10/2009. Code Enforcement Officer Baker met with the property owners on 2/11/2009, 3/30/2009, 3/31/2009 and 4/30/2009 explaining the violations and the abatement process. These structures are unoccupied and are creating a blight in the neighborhood along with providing shelter for vagrants. The community surrounding the property has petitioned to abate the violations. Staff Attorney Dula has reviewed the case and concurs that proper procedures have been followed. J.W. Grading, who is currently under contract with the City for demolition will prepare an estimate for demolition and therefore will become a lien against the property. Sgt. Reed Baer made the presentation and showed pictures of the above and stated the positions of the parties above and the city. As of 5/15/2009, the grass has grown to 3 feet high, it is obvious that vagrants have been occupying the property, there are cracks in the foundation and structure, and it has become an issue with members of the local neighborhood. Estimates are $5,434 for demolition and a lien will be put on the property for restitution of funds used by the city.
The Mayor asked if the city will accumulate more liens. He inquired about the relations between the property, the property owners, and the bank and whether there might be some alternatives. Alder Patton also inquired about the procedures. Attorney Crone stated that the property still belongs to the property owners subject to the liens of the bank and the liens of the city (subject to costs accrued by the city in maintaining the property). Alder Fox further inquired and Atty. Crone stated that the city could take action to enforce the lien and ultimately become the owners of the property. Alder Fox stated that we could sell it to someone that might want to build a house on the property. Alderman Lail says it is a good idea to perfect the lien and move the process into foreclosure. Atty Crone said that we should find out how much the bank is owed. Alderman Lail said that we should send the bills to the bank. There was a lot of posturing about the position that adjacent property owners were in. The Mayor says that there could easily be properties that both the owner and the bank would want to disavow. The last thing that we would want to do is become involved in is auctioning the property -- The Environmental Issues and the sinkholes and alike. The Council unanimously approved.
The Hound knows this issue and it is all about people being under water on their mortgages. We are going to see a lot more of this and this city better be careful about swooping in on these properties. Can you imagine our city flipping properties. That is what Alder Fox is asking us to get involved in.
Flipping Properties is like musical chairs. You don't want to be holding that mortgage when the music stops. Unfortunately, this situation is one that will probably be repeated many times over the next several years. It is happening all over the U.S., out west and in Florida. When you lose your job and you're in the hole, then it is a lot easier to walk away from your obligation.
There is no easy solution to this problem. The banks are basically insolvent. Their cash is tied up and they cannot afford to take back these properties. They would drowned under such circumstances for sure. I also don't believe that any judge is going to force a bank to take back property that it wants nothing to do with. These are the definition of Toxic Assets and this country is proliferated with them. We should not hold banks completely responsible for a game the federal government stirred the pot on (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac).
After the meeting, I talked with Mayor Wright about this and I believe he has a good grasp of this point of view. Unfortunately, this city may have a lot of property to maintain in the near future, but I wouldn't be swooping in on the mortgages until I had i's dotted and t's crossed.
Photo Provided by Pat Appleson Studios:
4. Approval to Reject All Bids for the Northeast Wastewater Treatment Facility Upgrade - The Public Utilities Department began the process of upgrading the Northeast Wastewater Treatment Facility (NEWWTP) in 2004, which is vital to the continued mission and goal of Hickory Public Utilities to protect the area’s natural resources. The upgraded facility will allow for the future nutrient discharge limits and improve the current discharge quality into Lake Hickory. The upgrade is estimated to cost approximately $28 Million. All bids received for this project as designed exceeded the Planned Budget that City staff had developed. Bids received were approximately 25% above the engineer’s estimate. To pursue the project as bid would require additional rate increases and upset the long term financial plan for the entire utility system. Staff is currently working with the engineers to re-scope the project with a focus on simplification, reuse of some existing infrastructure and reduction of cosmetic enhancements. Modification of the design of the project will be necessary in order to modify the plans enough to realize bid prices within the original project budget amount. Staff recommends rejection of all bids. The Council unanimously approved rejecting the bids.
5. Approve Wastewater System Operations Contract With the City of Claremont - The Wastewater System Operations Contract with the City of Claremont is to provide for operation maintenance and management of 2 wastewater treatment plant facilities and 5 collection system lift stations in the City of Claremont. Claremont approached the City of Hickory regarding these operations who currently contracts with a private company. To minimize their operational expenses and to provide long term solutions for operations of this infrastructure, the City of Claremont desires to enter into a contract with the City of Hickory. The contract will allow Hickory to expand our services with the longterm goal of Claremont’s system being connected to the Hickory-Catawba Wastewater Treatment Facility which will improve operational expenses by including more customers. This contract will be a 5 year initial term with the option to renew. The original contract payments will be: Years 1-2 $314,000.00, Years 3-5 $372,333 plus any increases in electric, telephone, telemetry and annual rate adjustments based on Rate Model Projections approved by Hickory City Council. Claremont will be responsible for all Capital Expenditures. This contract will require hiring additional staff for the wastewater treatment facility operation and maintenance mechanic duties, which will be funded through revenues of this contract and will be hired after 7/1/2009 when Hickory assumes operation, maintenance and management responsibility of the wastewater treatment facilities and lift stations. Staff recommends approval. Kevin Greer made the presentation and went over the above information. Hickory will truly be the operator. Claremont will own the system and be responsible for enforcement issues. The city is excited about the project, this helps to further the goal of being a regional provider, this will help with economies of scale, it's another revenue source that is coming in, 2 additional staff will have to be hired, and all of this is covered in the projections. Manager Berry stated that this makes a lot of sense for them (Claremont) and for us. It is basically right up the stream from the Catawba Plant. This plant should eventually go away. More users will equal reduced operational costs. This is good for strategic interests, this is a partnership/relationship that will make both parties comfortable moving forward , and the city has done its due diligence in development of this contract.
Alderman Seaver asked if Claremont had all of the sewer lines (they needed)? Mgr. Berry stated that is part of what needs to happen. The state would like to see this plant eventually go offline. Eventually Claremont will bring some money to bare. It might take 4, 5, or 6 years for that to happen. Mr. Greer says that the contract requires Claremont to study the feasibilty of connecting to the Catawba Plant. Alderman Lail asked about whether Claremont was on the hook to do what State regulations requires or may become? The answer was yes. We have a 90-day provision to walk away from the contract should issues occur? Yes. We don't have to help them with collections? No. Are there any capacity issues? No. The council approved the motion unanimously.
The Hound understands that this is an excellent way for this community to consolidate it's interest on the water issue. We are now bonded as a regional force that Raleigh will have to deal with on water issues should we ever go down that road again.
It is nice to see the drought is finally over - Hallelujah. I hope that this city will look towards forward notions, when it comes to water issues. We will see droughts again in the future. I hope that we have learned valuable lessons from the experience. Let's work together to come up with manmade solutions to mitigate some of these conditions, when they happen in the future.
The Hound doesn't normally discuss issues involving city committee appointments, but tonight we had a great civics lesson in my opinion. Their were many appointments to these committees made tonight. Alderman Lail addressed an issue involving the Public Arts council. He stated that they have been having trouble forming a quorum. He wants to add an at large position to that committee so that it might help in forming a quorum. He said he doesn't believe this is against the ordinance. Alder Patton stated that she would rather look to see if this is an issue of attendance. Alder Fox says she tries to read the attendance. She says she would like to know if they aren't there for some reason and it is their (the council members) responsibility to make sure that their appointees aren't a problem. Alder Patton espoused a point of view that she would like to know the reasons why they can't be there (in attendance).
Alderman Lail said he was against making a decision based upon a person wanting to be involved. The decision should be made on a solid policy basis. Atty Crone said that they had a motion on the floor, do they have a second. This was confusing because i thought the Mayor said he seconded it, but Alderman Seaver did second the motion. The vote was 5-2 to approve. Alder Hoyle opposed and asked if we were going to do this with all of our boards. This has nothing to do with the person. It has to do with the stability of the process. Alder Patton said she knew someone that would like to serve on the boards and commissions, but she doesn't want to add to the numbers.
Attorney Crone said that he hadn't looked at the ordinance and he doesn't think it will require an amendment. Manager Berry said if it is an ordinance, they don't know what the status of it is at a public hearing. Alderman Lail said it is an ordinance. This was approved by the council.
Alderman Lail stated that there are provisions in the ordinance to remove commission members that fail to attend a certain number of meetings. Atty Crone says that the motion will bring back a directive or an ordinance that adds an at-large member.
The Hound thinks this was ridiculous. Mrs. Patton and Mrs. Fox were going down the right path. It is the council members responsibility to make sure that their appointee shows up to these committees. But is that really the issue or were these the issues that need to be discussed on this subject.
It seems to me that we have way too many Commissions, Committees, and Councils: Brownfield Advisory Group, Community Appearance Commission, Community Relations Council, Hickory International Council, Hickory Regional Planning Commission, Historic Preservation Commission, Library Board, Parks & Recreation Commission, Public Arts Commission, Recycling Advisory Board, Youth Council, HBC 2030, and the new Small Business Task Force Council.
That is 12 of these sub-organizations and the youth council doesn't really count in this discussion. I do understand that HBC and the Small Business Groups are supposed to dissolve at a point in the future. I am sure that some of these committees are considered more prestigious than others and therefore it is easier to fill the positions. I just feel that if you were to consolidate these down to maybe 6 groups, then you would have every position considered to be prestigious.
I think the whole process needs to be re-addressed. In my perfect little Sim-City version of Hickory, you would have 6 committees with 6 members and a Chairman decided amongst themselves. They would not be representatives of wards or nominated by the Alders. They could be nominated by anyone, but to be elected to the board, they would have to achieve a super majority of 5 out of 7 votes by council members and the Mayor.
It would be the council's responsibility to make sure that this is a diverse group that fulfills cultural and socio-economic parameters. I also think there should be term limits of 2 years that alternate for each seat on the committees. These people could serve on another committee, but we don't need people to be entrenched in positions that might skew their personal vested interests against the needs of the citizens of Hickory.
In the last (nearly) year that I have been witnessing these sessions, it seems to me that Council Members and the Mayor are having a hard time finding people to fill all of the available positions. I ask why we are stuck to following a policy that appears to not work for all commissions?
Some people in this city will say, "Because that is the way that we have always done it." I would ask, have we always had this many commissions, committees, and boards. I truly believe that we have seen layers added that really did not need to be added.
Council Attorney Crone should have put a stop to these actions this evening. This issue was befuddling in the way that it was presented, addressed, and handled. It did not make sense to be voting on something that Alderman Lail admittedly stated was a curve ball. Attorney Crone should have said he was not prepared for this, slowed down the process, and told the Council that he would get back to them at the meeting two weeks from now. What's the rush?
In the meantime, the city council should really think about addressing this issue in an effective way from the ground up. Quit putting band-aids on everything.
Photo Provided by Pat Appleson Studios:
Ryan Edwards of WFG Investments, Inc.wanted to inform followers of the Hound of an event going on this coming weekend – June 6 – Saturday at 7am. The 4th Annual Charity Chase Half Marathon will be taking place and starting on Union Square. This year there will be 450 runners – 120 more than in the previous years – representing 11+states. Various organizations volunteer their time and the proceeds are donated back to those organizations (non-profits). We are excited at the tremendous numbers this year and the opportunity it provides Hickory – as of last week there were 30+ rooms booked at the Crowne Plaza for this event. My wife is the founder and director of the race – Amanda Edwards.
The Mayor made a motion to proclaim 6/16/2009 Tabernacle Christian School's Women's Basketball Team Day for winning the National Championship. It won Unanimous Approval.
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