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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Newsletter about the City Council meeting of October 19, 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 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.

Here is a summary of the agenda of the 10/19/2010 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.

Invocation by Rev. Karla Woggon of the Episcopal Church of the Ascension

David Eckhelberger a Boy Scout from troop 250 of St. Luke's United Methodist Church introduced his scout troop that attended this city Council meeting as part of a Citizens in the Community Merit Badge process. The troops subsequently introduced themselves and young Eckelberger introduced the scout leaders.

Special Presentations:
A. Presentation of Beautification Awards by the Community Appearance Commission Presented by Leroy Harris, Chair of the Community Appearance Commission - Awards were handed out to various businesses and residences throughout Hickory including the Adopt a Spot (Adelaide Shuford) award to Maria Winkler-Hymans of 6th Street Cir. NW, a landscaping award to Wyke’s Cleaners, a residential landscaping renovation award to Dr. Jerry and Sandy Froedge of 3rd St., NE, a special award To the Salt Block, an award for the disc golf Park at Glenn Hilton Junior Memorial Park on 6th St., NW, a to Brenda Cline of 18th Avenue Court, NW, and to Gary Ekland of 3rd St., NE.

B. Presentation of Proclamation to Mr. Jerry Thomas, Weatherization Coordinator of Blue Ridge Community Action Declaring October 30, 2010 as “National Weatherization Day” in the City of Hickory - The North Carolina weatherization assistance program was established in 1976 to provide a variety of resources through community action agencies. This program was established to help Catawba, Burke, Caldwell, and Alexander counties to help those in need. This program focuses primarily on the elderly, disabled, and families with children. Trained evaluators and staff perform home inspections testing for gas leaks, carbon monoxide, and other health and safety issues for residents who live at or below the federal poverty level. The goal is to keep North Carolina citizens warm in the winter and cool in the summer and safe all year. October 30th is proclaimed as National Weatherization day in the City of Hickory.

C. Presentation of the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 2010 - Brian Starnes of Martin-Starnes Associates first came to the podium for the presentation. He stated that the opinion letter is an "Unqualified Opinion" and that is what is expected from the local Government commission. There were no exceptions in this report to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). There were no findings in internal controls and there were no questions of about dollars that are received from State and Federal funding.

Mr. Starnes stated that in a broad view that the City of Hickory has very good standards when it comes to its accounting practices. He stated that we are in a terrible economy and the Western part of the State is in a much more difficult situation than the rest of the state. Through all of that, the City of Hickory was still able to add to the total fund balance even though revenues were generally less than they were the year before. He stated that the citizens should be proud of the fact that the city tightened its belt and cut spending. The city has not diminished its financial stability.

Mayor Wright stated that he, Ald. Lail, and Ald. Guess along with staff met with the auditors and asked questions and met privately with a member of the audit firm to ask specific questions outside of the influence of the city staff about how the audit went. They were very pleased with the results and not surprised. Mayor Wright praised the staff at all levels.

Deanna Rios, Hickory’s finance director, next came to the podium. This report is based on activities "government wide." Governmental activities include transportation, public safety, and recreation which rely mostly on taxes. Business activities include water, sewer, and sanitation which rely on fees and charges. Net assets reported were $196 million, which is up $4 million over the last year. Ureserved-Unreserved Fund Balance was down over $600,000 from 2009. Ms. Rios stated that we are holding steady in light of this economy, which is a positive. Assets exceeded liabilities by $196 million or $4700 per citizen, governmental fund balances are adequate, but not excessive, the city has $5.09 of current assets for each dollar of current liabilities. The City has $5.78 of total assets for every dollar of total liabilities. Ms. Rios praised city staff for helping in this process.

City Manager Berry stated that Ms. Rios was being very gracious and he praised Ms. Rios and her staff for doing the heavy lifting in this auditing process. The City of Hickory has received an award for its accounting management practices for the past 14 years. Mayor Wright stated that many cities in our State no longer attempt to obtain this award and this says a lot for the City of Hickory's commitment to try and do things right. Brian Starnes added that the checklist involved in this process takes 2 to 3 days to complete. Less than 10% of the units in North Carolina receive this award. Mayor Wright stated that the city of Hickory is proud to use local firms they give something back to the community.

The Hound thinks the city should be commended for its care with city finances. Ms. Rios painted a cut and dried realistic picture. She stated that the numbers show that we are holding steady. The City is in a solid financial position even in a time of diminishing tax revenues. I would personally like to see growth, but I have to concur with what Ald. Patton stated at the end of this meeting, when she stated that the League of Municipalities believes that we will see tough times for the next two years.

The City is going to have to be creative and thrifty with its finances over the next several years. That does not mean that no money should be spent. It means that the city is going to have to be open minded and creative about how it utilizes resources. These times should not punish citizens who are the collateral damage of this negative economic situation.

D. Presentation of the 14th Consecutive Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting to the City of Hickory by the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada for its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. (Part of the Process listed above was the recognition of this award for the past year).

VII. Consent Agenda:
A. Request From the City of Hickory for Use of Union Square for the Christmas Tree Lighting in Downtown Event on Friday, November 19, 2010 from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

B. Approval to Accept a Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant in the Amount of $7,537.50 to Purchase Twenty-five Vests - The Hickory Police Department desires to accept a Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant to assist in the purchase of twenty-five (25) vests. The grant is a 50% grant and the total cost of the vests will be $15,075.00 with a 50% match from the City in the amount of $7,537.50. Funds are budgeted for the purchase of these vests. Staff recommends approval to accept said grant.

C. Approve Fire Hydrant Grant Application From BCL, LLC Located on Highway 70, SE - BCL, LLC, owners of Paramount Automotive, plan to build a 13,250 square foot showroom and offices on Highway 70 SE. The cost of construction is estimated to be $2,000,000.00 and will employ approximately thirty (30) new employees. The City’s Economic Development Assistance guidelines state that City Council may provide matching grants of up to $5,000.00 for documented costs of additions to public utilities within public rights-of-ways associated with the opening of a new business or expansion of an existing business. BCL, LLC is seeking a grant in the amount of $5,000.00 to install a fire hydrant, driveway bore and approximately 400 feet of 12” pipe at this site. Funds will be provided on a reimbursement basis. Staff recommends approval.

D. Citizens’ Advisory Committee Recommendations for Assistance Through the City of Hickory’s Housing Programs - The following applicants are being recommended for approval for assistance under the City’s First-Time Homebuyer’s Assistance Program:
Nou Soua Chang & Mai Thao Down Payment and Closing Costs 3301 Treadwell Lane, SE Up to $10,000
Ying Lee Down Payment and Closing Costs 3295 Treadwell Lane, SE Up to $7,500
Luciana Shawnte Eskridge Down Payment and Closing Costs 531 3rd Street, SW Up to $6,500

Applicant, Shirley Shuford of 507 3rd Street, SE is being recommended for assistance under the City’s Housing Rehabilitation Loan Program to increase her 2002 loan amount by $4,075.88 for a new heating system. Her current loan amount is $15,924.12 and has een making timely monthly payments. Funds for the above are budgeted through the City of Hickory’s former Rental Rehabilitation Program income received in FY 2009 and/or Program income received through the City’s Community Development Block Grant Fund. The following applicants are being recommended for approval for assistance under the City’s Housing Rehabilitation Loan Program:
Linda Fraser Amount Not to Exceed $5,000 236 11th Street, SW
Lois Tse Amount Not to Exceed $5,000 339 11th Street Place, SW
Funds for the above are budgeted through the City’s Community Development Department funding received in FY 2009-2010.

E. Budget Ordinance Amendment No. 7
1. To budget $554 of Local Government Revenue in the Police Department Overtime line item. This revenue is payment from Catawba County Mental Health for a portion of an Officers time spent when accompanying involuntary commitment patients.
2. To budget a $1,149 insurance claim check from Penn National Insurance Company in the Police Department Maintenance and Repair of vehicle line item. This payment is for damage sustained to a Police vehicle on 09-20-10.
3. To budget a $586 insurance claim check from Allstate Insurance Company in the Police Department Maintenance and Repair of vehicle line item. This payment is for damage sustained to a Police vehicle on 09-15-10.
4. To appropriate $2,167 of General Fund Balance and budget in the Police Department Departmental Supply line item. This appropriation is necessary to purchase a K-9 Bite Suit and training supplies for the K-9 unit ($1,178) in addition to a tracking system for the investigation division ($989). $2,167 represents a
part of the remaining Police State Reimbursement balances from previous years (1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009) that have been rolled into Fund Balance at year end, therefore an appropriation is necessary.
5. To appropriate a $2,700 of General Fund Balance and budget in the Patrick Beaver Memorial Library budget. The Lyerly Trust donation was received prior to the end of FY09-10 however the usage for the funds was undecided at that time. Funds rolled into Fund Balance at year end, therefore an appropriation is necessary. Funds will be budgeted in several Library line items to pay for downloadable books, book club and towards construction on the new meeting room.

New Business - Departmental Reports:
1. Final Report on 2007-2010 Brownfield Assessment Grant Program - The 2007-2010 Brownfield Grant cycle has ended. The Planning Department has completed a full inventory and prioritization of sites on a community-wide basis. There have been nine (9) Phase 1 assessments conducted and six (6) Phase 2 assessments. This also includes the performance of two (2) redevelopment plans. This presentation will highlight the completed actions of the assessment grant.

Brian Frasier, the Planning Director for the City of Hickory, came to the podium and made the presentation involving the Brownfield projects and the process involved. Back in the fall of 2007 the City was granted two $200,000 Brownfield assessment grants of non-or suspected contaminated sites in Hickory and it's ETJ. The City has completed environmental site assessments (ESA) on over 125 sites. Nine Phase 1 assessments have been completed, 6 Phase 2 ESA's have been completed, and two redevelopment plans have been completed.

ESA phase 1 grants include the Piedmont Wagon building, the former Hollar hosiery, the former Regal Manufacturing building, the former Lyerly Mill, S&W Chemical, Moretz Mill, the old Hutto’s store, Bumbarger property, and the former St. Stephens elementary school property.

ESA phase 2 property grants were provided to the former Hollar hosiery, the former Regal Manufacturing building, S&W Chemical, Bumbarger property, and the former St. Stephens elementary school property.

Mayor Wright interjected by speaking about the Hutto’s building that is now a Verizon store at the corner of 127 and 29th Ave. next to Walgreens. Paraphrasing, He stated that the owner had said that working on similar projects has shown to be much easier in Hickory than in other communities in this area. In one city they have worked on a similar project for over two years and here in Hickory the project has been streamlined to the point that it only took three weeks to move this project forward.

Redevelopment site planning activities have been completed on the Piedmont Wagon property and the Hollar Hosiery property. This is also known as Phase 3 of the ESA process. The process included aerial photography involving GIS and this process involved artist renderings of before and after graphics of what the properties will look like in the plan for the future on those sites. This has been kept well within the city's budget designated for these projects.

Mr. Frazier went into the various costs related to this project. Basically the costs are small in the initial phase and only becomes more expensive when chemicals have been utilized on the properties that have contaminated sites. The Hutto's property involved a phase 1 assessment that cost $3500 and that helped to jumpstart the property and there were no environmental liability issues involved with that property.

The Bumbarger property involved a phase 1 caused of $3500 and a phase 2 cost of $19,000, because of the history of the surrounding area involving automotive garages and former gasoline stations, and former dry cleaner. Holler Hosiery involved a phase 1 cost of $3800, a phase 2 cost of $35,400, and a redevelopment cost of $20,700. The site will also need some remediation. The main problem with the site is that pesticides were used on the site before.

The Regal Manufacturing building involved a phase 1 cost of $3000 and a phase 2 cost of $30,000. Part of the cost was to remove old drums that contained contaminated soil at no cost to the owners. The Piedmont Wagon building involved a phase 1 cost of $3200 in a phase 2 cost of $24,500. Redevelopment plans came in well under budget at $7200 and there has been a lot of interest in the site for mixed-use development. The former Moretz Mill costs $4500 for a phase 1 assessment. The property owner has cleaned this property up, but because of the economy they have not allowed a phase 2 assessment to be done. Brian stated that he hopes that in the near future that owners will allow a phase 2 assessment to take place, hopefully with the grant next spring, if Hickory is awarded the money.

The old S&W chemical building involved a phase 1 assessment that costs $4500 and the phase 2 assessment costs $35,000. Some supplemental sampling was done at the request of DENA they cost an additional $4200. The site will need some minor remediation. For a site that is as old, the site is relatively clean and it is so that it will become the future site for maintenance and administrative offices for Greenway transit. The city came in $10,000-$12,000 under budget on this project.

Ald. Fox stated that there is a lot of excitement brought forth by this project. Given the down economy, it puts us in a positive position with these properties particularly in areas that need revitalization and it puts us in a positive position. Ald. Patton stated it gives a leg up to the properties that need that redevelopment. As a member of the Brownfields committee, she thinks that this is a wonderful program that helps property owners redevelop properties and have reassurances.

Ald. Seaver asked about what phase 1 and phase 2 involves? Mr. Frazier stated that phase 1 involves the paper trail of where the property is located, who owns and has owned the property, and who is the responsible polluting property. Phase 2 involves testing involving testing for noxious gases, air quality, groundwater monitoring, and soil tests. Any future grants would require applying for a remediation grants to actually clean up the property. Federal guidelines require that a municipal government or quasi-government entity must own the property and have deed in hand at the time of that remediation.

Ald. Seaver asked if a lot of the testing was done in-house? Mr. Frazier stated that the city had farmed out the testing to Hart and Hickman, because the city just does not have that environmental engineering expertise, but the city office received some administrative services and cost reimbursement through this grant. Mr. Frazier stated that working with Hart and Hickman out of Charlotte was a true pleasure and in his over 20 years of experience they were the best consultants that he ever worked with.

The Hound can see that these Brownfield sites have been interwoven into the redevelopment of the troubled areas of this community. It is heartening to see that priorities have been given to several sites that are frankly an embarrassment to this community. I agree with Mr. Frazier that it is good that Code Enforcement cracked down on the former Huffman Hosiery site. Coming down L-R Boulevard it has stood out like a mangled thumb. I know that Houston Harris put a lot of time, energy, and due diligence into the Granary and made that building a success. He had no guarantees and had to shoulder the load. He even met some red tape along the way that cost him some money, when it should not have.

In the end it is up to property owners to take an interest in making sure that their properties are up to code and do not become blighted. It is understandable that there are issues related to the economy, but some of these properties have become an anathema to this community and our heritage.

In many cases, these buildings were built by craftsman utilizing old school construction techniques that have proven to stand the test of time, unlike some modern structures. But, when these foundations and buildings are not taken care of, then like anything else they will deteriorate and structural problems will develop. When this happens and the owner refuses to do anything to care for the property, then it is best to raze the property and create open space.

I do not live in a world of Sunshine and Lollipops. I know that there are interpersonal and business relationships that play a major role in the accountability process when it comes to this issue. Some people in this community have been shown to be considered a little more equal than others when it comes to the accountability issue. I certainly wish that realism would endure in this equation, because it is time to put external forces to the side when it involves the integrity of the decision making process. Put up or shut up time is coming soon, when it comes to moving forward on the redevelopment issue, because eventually you have to understand that people who always find an excuse to not fix their situation are most likely not ever going to ever fix their situation without some extensive prodding and should this community be held hostage to that mindset?

Comments by Council

Ald. Guess's closing statement about the Zahra Baker situation was about how as a leader in the city he is very proud of how the city has treated the situation. He thanked the Police Chief Tom Adkins and the fire department and other city staff for the efforts that they have made during this time. The Mayor added that he appreciated how the city is represented has represented itself during this time and avoided him and speculation and sensationalism.

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