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Friday, July 23, 2010

Newsletter about the City Council meeting of July 20, 2010

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 7/20/2010 meeting. There were a couple of important items that were discussed at this meeting and the details are listed further below

Invocation by Chaplain Robert Ford of Frye Hospital.

Special Presentations:
A. Recognition of Alderman Danny Seaver’s Retirement From Hickory Public Schools With
Thirty-Four Years of Service in Education - The Mayor pay tribute to Alderman Seaver for helping others. He has served on the Council since 1998, he was born in Kingsport, TN, and is married to his wife Elaine Seaver and they have three children. He attended Appalachian State and received his Masters from Lenoir-Rhyne and Mathematics from the University of Georgia. He began teaching Math at Hickory High School in 1997. He has been a teacher for 34 years. He has been an advisor to the Key club for 27 years at West Caldwell and Hickory High.

B. Presentation by Amanda Edwards Regarding the Success of the 2010 Charity Chase
Half Marathon and to Thank the City of Hickory for Its Support - Amanda is the founder of this 13.1 mile event that is organized by a small group of volunteers. The goal is to have an event to raise money to give back to the community. This was the fifth annual event. The event has grown from 218 participants to over 600 participants from 13 states and 3 countries. $13,600 were raised and given to local charitable organizations. Over its existence, over $43,000 have been given to charities. Here is a link to the organizations's Facebook page. She also presented a plaque to thank the city for its help and cooperation in coordinating this event.

The Hound believes that this is a great event in the city and Ms. Edwards has a lot to be proud of. We need more spirit life this from our people. People are to be admired who take it upon themselves to just make things happen.

C. Presentation of Retiring Members of Volunteer Boards and Commissions - Hickory City Council honored 28 citizens for serving on one of its 13 Boards and Commissions.

Consent Agenda:
A. Transfer of Cemetery Lot in Fairview Cemetery From Larry Kimble Wiles to Adam Shawn Conley

B. Transfer of Cemetery Lot in Fairview Cemetery From Larry Kimble Wiles to Terry Lee Reinhardt and Linda Rebels Reinhardt

C. Proclamation Declaring June 20, 2010 as Salvation Army of Greater Hickory “Kent and Melody Davis Day” in the City of Hickory

D. Renewal of Taxicab and Other Passenger Vehicles For Hire Franchises

Company - Taxicabs / Other Passenger Vehicles For Hire

Select Car Service - 0 / 1
Yellow Cab - 10 / 3
Mile High Enterprises dba Hickory Hop - 0 / 4
Diamond Cab of Hickory - 3 / 0
Total - 13 / 8
Annually, these companies apply for a renewal of their taxicab and other passenger vehicle for hire franchise. The fee for FY 2010-11 is $22.50 per vehicle. A total of $472.50 (21 vehicles) has been collected.

E. Approve Vacant Building Revitalization Grant “Operation No Vacancy” to Countywide Insurance Agency, Inc. for Property Located at 536 Highway 70, SW in the Amount of $10,032.00 - Countywide Insurance Agency, Inc. has applied for such a grant in the amount of $15,200.00 to assist in the demolition of a building located at 536 Highway 70, SW and plans to spend approximately $30,400 for demolition. The Redevelopment Committee reviewed the application and voted to recommend approval of a reduced grant in the amount of $10,032 due to the impact on the City’s tax base and the fact that no building plans have been submitted to the develop the site.

F. Approve Vacant Building Revitalization Grant “Operation No Vacancy” to El Tio Food Systems, LLC for Property Located at 1180 Lenoir Rhyne Boulevard, SE in the Amount of $25,000.00 - El Tio Food Systems, LLC has applied for such a grant in the amount of $25,000.00 to assist in the renovation of the exterior of the facility to attract a retail or restaurant tenant by replacing the roof, landscape improvements, and replacement of windows, doors and exterior lighting. The applicant plans to invest approximately $53,000.00 for said renovation with an additional investment of $100,000 to the interior of the building. There is no end user identified at this time. The Redevelopment Committee reviewed the application and voted to recommend approval of $25,000.

G. Adopt Resolution in Opposition of Collective Bargaining by Local Governments - Adoption of this Resolution opposes efforts at the state and federal level that will force local governments to participate in collective bargaining with public safety employees and other work units. The City of Hickory operates under the council-manager form of government while using professional practices for hiring, compensation and workplace policies. Should the current laws change allowing Congress to mandate or the General Assembly to permit local government employers to recognize and collectively bargain with local government employee units, it would be highly disruptive to the efficient and timely provision of government services.

H. Approve Budget Amendment to the Brownfield Assessment Grant Program - The City of Hickory received two (2) $200,000.00 grants in 2007 from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) to conduct brownfield assessments. The Budget Amendment request is to the existing professional services agreement with Hart & Hickman, PC in order to allow for the completion of additional Phase 1 and Phase 2 Environmental Site Assessments and Redevelopment Planning Activities due to strong demand. The amendment to the contractual budget will increase the expenditures of “professional services” in both the Hazardous Substance and Petroleum Substance budgets by $36,300.00 each. The USEPA has approved this budget amendment request.

I. Resolution of Intent for Petition of City of Hickory to Close 16-Foot Alley Adjacent to City-Owned Property Located Behind Bank of Granite Building Between Main Avenue, NW and 1st Avenue, NW (Authorize Public Hearing for August 17, 2010)

J. Budget Ordinance Amendments
1. To appropriate $300 of General Fund Balance and budget in the International Council line item. The International Council received a $300 of Springfest Donation too late in the fiscal year to budget; therefore funds rolled into General Fund Balance. A total of $300 is being appropriated from General Fund Balance and budgeted in the FY10-11 International Council line item.

2. To re-appropriate $15,000 of General Fund Balance and budget an additional $5,500 of General Fund Balance in the Library Department's Capital Improvements’ line item. Friends of the Library committed $15,000 toward the Patrick Beaver Library conference room addition; however funds rolled into General Fund Balance at year end and therefore a re-appropriation is necessary. An additional $5,500 appropriation is necessary to fund the entire cost of the conference room addition.

3. To appropriate $15,000 of Miscellaneous Multi-year Grant funds and budget in the Fire Department part time salaries and FICA taxes line items. The Fire Department received a 2009 Fire Prevention and Safety Grant from the US Department of Homeland Security for a smoke and carbon monoxide detector residential program. Part of the program allocates $15,000 for a part time position to assist in the delivery of these products.

Informational Items:
A. Report of Mayor Wright’s Travel Expenses to 2010 Town Hall Day in Raleigh, NC on June 16, 2010; registration - $20.00

New Business - Departmental Reports:
Staff Update on Branding and Marketing Project - This project is currently underway with the assistance of the City’s Business Development Committee and is in the process of interviewing firms to develop a comprehensive branding and marketing campaign. Some of the key elements that will be focused on will be research of the public regarding attitude, perception, opportunities and challenges of the City’s image; emphasis on delivering the message via visual, printed, media, etc.; development of strategies and tactical plans of the message; working with local portal development team on the message and defining how the core message is expanded to existing Economic Development Corporation and Convention and Visitors Bureau initiatives.

Mandy Pitts and Alan Jackson made the presentation to the Council. Five things were discussed. I) What is branding and marketing?
  • A) More than a logo - Part of the Wayfinding Program
    B) Finding out who we are through statistical research

    a) Active Adults? Professionals? Entrepreneurs? - Research need to confirm good fits for the community
    b) Who are our competitors and what is our niche
    C) Creating Awareness to various audiences

    a) Economic Developers, Visitors, Residents, Those looking to relocate, and more
  • D) Developing a multi-year plan of action

    a) To regularly communicate various messages to various groups through different mediums
    b) Set measurable goals for progress.

II) Results of successful branding and marketing - McKinney, Texas has a similar Metropolitan population to our own (pop. 128,000). One year after their introduction of a marketing campaign they have seen a 22% increase in hotel/motel tax revenue, 17% increase in sales tax revenue, a $1 billion increase in new investment, 5 million square increase in new property, and McKinney is now #5 on Money Magazines best places to live (July 2010). McKinney officials stated that the successes came through repackaging what they had, figuring out who others thought they were, and addressing the right audiences.

III) How this connects with other economic development (branding and marketing) initiatives that are going on?

A) Wayfinding - Logo Developed after interviews with more than 60 stakeholders. Creates signage to guide visitors and residents to destinations.
B) Collaboration of public and private organizations committed to create a webportal to showcase all facets of the community. Anything you need to know will be packaged in one spot.

IV) The business development committee and where they are in this process - A seven member team looking at opportunities for how we can grow businesses in this area. Bringing in new businesses, as well as trying to expand the businesses that are already here. Create more jobs and new opportunities.

A) 10 Recommendations - The number one recommendation during from the Business Development Committee was "Core Strategic Branding." What is Hickory and how are we packaging it to the outside world.

B) Community Efforts that support branding and marketing - The Catawba County Chamber of Commerce Inter-City Visit, the Economic Development Corporation and Convention and Vistors Bureau, and the Google Initiative. Alan stated that we all know Hickory from the inside. Now we need someone from an outsider's view to come look and tell us their ideas about how we should structure and brand the city.

V) How can Hickory City Council help us throughout this project.

A) Three City Council Members serve on the interview panel with the BDC, EDC, CVB, and city staff. Council Unanimously consented to Alder Patton, Alderman Meisner, and Alderman Guess forming the council member particpants for this group.
B) Timeline - Interview four firms week of August 2. Recommend a firm at the September City Council meeting. Selected firm begins work in October.

2. Quarterly Financial Report - Presented by Assistant City manager Warren Wood. There is still activity going on. The final numbers will come with the audit this fall. Warren stated that it was a turbulent year and action was taken early on to to offset losses that they anticipated throughout the year. Things have leveled out as far as revenues, but we aren't seeing any growth. In the General fund the city recognized a $3.8 million loss. This was generally attributable to sales tax revenue dropping off and sales tax revenue dropping off dramatically. Together these two sources of revenue encompassed $1.5 million of the $3.8 million loss that had to be made up.

Adjustments in expenditures to make up for $3.8 million shortfall
1) Continued Hiring Freeze - first initiated in January 2009. 36 positions are now vacant.
2) Froze Contingency Fund
3) Reorganized some Departments
4) Began the process of bringing some contracted services in-house - particularly landscaping
5) Cut Off purchase orders two weeks early
6) Travel requests approved by manager's office
7) Retirements incentives offered - generated 20 retirees that will help in the upcoming year.

The General Fund Revenues should be 94.73% (5 year average), but is currently 89.34%. That is a significant swing to make up. Expenditures should be 94.36% (5 year average), but with savings the amount expended is currently 91.9%. The net impact means that the City has spent approximately $55,000 more than it has taken in. The Water and Sewer fund has also followed the same pattern as the General Fund.

Catawba County revaluates "Real" property (land and buildings) every 4 years. This will go into effect on January 1, 2011.

Currently 53% of Hickory's "Real" tax base is residential. 47% is commercial and industrial. The numbers are shown in the chart below. The estimate shown, in the below calculations, shows that we will see a 1.85% drop in revenues associated with Real estate in the City of Hickory. That would mean an approximate $350,000 drop in revenues.

The Potential Impact - With residential values increasing slightly and commercial/industrial values decreasing more significantly, any increase in property tax rate would have the impact of shifting more of the property tax burden on residential property tax payers.

With the numbers presented, adopting a revenue neutral tax tax rate would mean increasing the tax rate. Depending upon appeals, adopting a revenue neutral rate would mean an increase of 1 to 2 cents.

The Hound can't say enough about Warren Wood's management of the budget. He has done an excellent job and the paring that has taken place will help the city grow, if the economy recovers. And the recovery happens, this city is poised to recover faster than others.

I know that they get antsy when someone starts talking about dipping into the Undesignated Fund Balance. I understand the cushion. I think Warren performs a great financial presentation and I understand why he always tries to throw that hope in there that the economy is going to pick up.

But, I don't work for the city, so I can give you my view. We are in a general malaise and there will be bounces along the way down. Tax revcenues will remain stagnant, but they won't fall because inflation will increase prices and thus sales tax, but people will continue to reduce consumtion so it will balance out.

I don't see how the county is going to appraise properties at an increase. The people that I know that have looked into selling their property are getting offers below their valuations from four years ago. He is correct about commercial and industrial. Look at all of the empty buildings throughout town, especially Highway 70 west, which has some huge empty buildings that were occupied up until last year.

So, as you read here last year, your property tax rates will have to rise. The key is new modern industry and jobs. If and when this ever happens, then we could turn into a boomtown again, but it will take a willingness to take chances, be innovative, original, and entrepreneurial to make that happen.

3. Update Regarding Parks & Recreation Master Plan - Staff will review a fact sheet containing usage and cost information related to the City’s decision to close the Ridgeview and George Ivey swimming pools, requested by Mayor Wright during the June 15, 2010 City Council meeting. Included are the circumstances related to the pools closing and the cost estimates from two (2) companies to repair both pools. Staff recommends City Council ask its Parks and Recreation Commission to study and recommend the role and type of aquatic recreation the City should provide.

Newsletter about the City Council meeting of July 20, 2010 - Addendum on the Hickory City Pools

***Attorney Crone gave an update on Electronic Gaming Establishments - The State of North Carolina passed a ban on electronic gaming set to take effect in December 2010. There will probably be some litigation involved that may delay the enforcement. Atty Crone and City Atty Arnita Dula have reviewed what is happening in other juridiction. Presently there are 15 other juridiction in North Carolina that have enacted Ordinances concernin Electronic Gaming type establishments.

They are fairly in five areas concerning the definition of Electronic gaming. Other aspects are minimum distances between establishments, location near other types of institutions (church's and schools), hours of operation, and limitation on the number of terminals (machines).

Attorney Crone recommended discussed a couple of other issues, including discussions about the above subjects to get some consistency on the issue Alderman Meisner asked about grandfathering of legislation. Atty Crone also mentioned Moratorium and priviledge licence possibilities. In the discussion it was brought up that the State has chosen to ban these machines, instead of allowing them and taxing them. Mayor Wright stated that he would be disappointed that if in the mean time someone said that it was easier to locate the machines here than somewhere else. He stated that he is getting feedback that they are not good tenants and they are not going to allow it. Alderman Lail stated that the Moratorium seems attractive until the State decides, because this thing could turn a couple more times. Atty Crone mentioned that there would be a time limit. Alder patton asked and Atty Crone stated that he would try to get the information out and be ready for the next meeting.

The Hound believes that this shows that the city should have gone ahead and passed the ordinance that was prepared the June 15th meeting

***Alderman Guess at the end of the meeting brought up the subject that he stated he has heard at neighborhood meetings. The issue of Landlords and Tenants. We hear about the conditions that tenants live in and the issue that they have with landlords. It appears that many time the police department has to intervene and rectify the situation with thoose tenants. He asked Manager Berry to appoint the appropriate staff necessary to take a look at the issues and concerns that the people and the community have with regards to landlords and tenants, just like we're doing with the pools and come back with some recommendations... Most of the issues deal with the tenants and once they are in there it takes some time to get them evicted. And generally that falls upon the burden of the police department. Hopefully there is something we can do that will help in that type of situation.

Manager Berry stated that City Council looked at that issue a year and a half or two years ago. They will certainly revisit that again. It's not easy. It is a very difficult issue to deal with. You have federal housing laws. Mayor Wright added that it is frustrating for other tenants to have a bad tenant and you can't get them out. Alderman Guess stated that it seems like a revolving door and there must be some kind of way to stop that revolving door. It does put a burden on the police department....

Alder Fox asked if he was talking about tenants or absentee landlords? Alderman Guess said he thinks it is both. Alder Fox stated that they have looked at the landlords and that's a problem ... Manager Berry stated that they would be glad to revisit it again, but there is no silver bullet. To do what other cities have done (That they've looked into) was going to be a costly, burdensome program. Alderman Guess said that he has heard that some communities require a background check on tenants.

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