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Monday, October 24, 2011

Newsletter about the City Council meeting of October 18, 2011

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 10/18/2011 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. Cindy Jordan, Community Clergy Member

Special Presentation:
A. Recognition of Assistant Parks and Recreation Director Donna Andrews In September, 2011, the North Carolina Recreation and Park Association (NCRPA) bestowed upon Donna its second highest honor, The Meritorious Service Award. - Mac McLeod presentation… Mac stated that he was putting on his hat as the President of the North Carolina Recreation Park Association for 2011. Back in September at their conference Donna Andrews was bestowed with the second highest meritorious service award. During 32 years of service, Ms. Andrews has touched and impacted the lives of thousands of children and adults. She has spent her entire time with one department and started out as Recreation Center Supervisor and now serves as the Assistant Parks and recreation Supervisor. She is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the entire department. She is responsible for the creation of programs such as Girl’s Soccer, Girl’s Volleyball, Track, Lacrosse, Wrestling, Fall Baseball, Adult Soccer, Adult Dodgeball, Adult Co-Ed Kickball, and Adult Co-ed Volleyball. As a member of NCRPA, she has served as the Region 8 Chair and hosted the annual conference in our hometown bringing in Kay Yow as the keynote speaker. She is a member of the Asheboro High School Sport’s Hall of Fame and a 1977 graduate of NC State’s Parks and Recreation program. She played Volleyball and Basketball at NC State under Kay Yow. She was the first Female athlete at NC State to receive an Athletic Scholarship.

The Hound thinks it is awesome that we have public servants such as this representing the City of Hickory.. I believe that we have plenty of people like this working for the City of Hickory and I hope that my critical opinions on some matters do not convey that I don't understand the Human Resources that represent the City.

B. Presentation of the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 2011 - Paula Hodges of Martin-Starnes and Associates (MSA) first came to the podium for the presentation. She stated that the audit opinion of Martin-Starnes 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 Where MSA did not agree with the City’s financial statements. This clean opinion tests the internal controls in compliance as in relates to compliance with State and Federal program funding.

Ms. Hodges stated that stated that there were no areas of non-compliance as it relates to Federal and State Grant Funding. This year Hickory has implemented a new reporting standard called the Fund Balance Standard. This new standard has changed some terminology and also the way that some of the funds are presented.

Deanna Rios, Hickory’s finance director, next came to the podium. This report is based on activities "government wide." The City of Hickory has received an award for its accounting management practices for the past 15 years. The Basic Financial Statements report Government Wide Financials; 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. The Basic Financials shows Net assets reported were $201 million, which is up (a little over) $5.3 million over the last year. Unreserved Fund Balance increased by $750,000 from 2010, which is better than last year’s $600,000 deficit. Ms. Rios stated that we are holding steady in light of this economy, which is a positive. Assets exceeded liabilities by $201.3 million or $5,033 per citizen, governmental fund balances are adequate, but not excessive, the city has $5.45 of current assets for each dollar of current liabilities. The City has $4.73 of total assets for every dollar of total liabilities. Ms. Rios praised city staff for helping in this process.

Alderman Lail stated that he, Mayor Wright and Alderman Guess along with staff met with the auditors and asked questions and met privately with 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. Alderman Lail and Mayor Wright praised the staff at all levels.

The Hound thinks the Finance Department should be commended for its care in making sure that the city's ledgers are kept above board. Ms. Rios once again presented a cut and dried realistic picture. She stated that the numbers show that we are better off than we were a year ago, because money was put in the bank. The City is in a solid financial position even in a time of flat tax revenues. I continue to personally push to see the City take some risks to create growth. One needs to separate Accounting from Finance. We need to see some investments that will create cash flow towards new revenues.

The City will have to continue to be creative and thrifty with its finances over the next several years. Manager Berry even spoke about the issue of costs being cut about as much as they can be cut. Alderman Lail made a statement during the Warren Wood' Quarterly Financial report that some services might have to be cut back. The Chickens that I have spoken of are coming home to roost and we are starting to see the City coming around to the fact that the cutting days are over. We're going to have to start growing.

Consent Agenda:
A. Landscape Grant for Non-Residential Property Owned by Mayberry Partners, LLC Located at 910-950 Tate Boulevard SE in the Amount of $2,500.00 - The property located at 910-950 Tate Boulevard SE is owned by Mayberry Partners, LLC, and it is their desire to improve the visual appearance of the property by removing the existing landscaping materials and replacing them with new materials. This also includes the creation of new planting areas along Tate Boulevard SE. The applicant provided two bids in the amounts of $11,258.00 and $12,368.00. Since both the estimates are in excess of $5,000.00, the request qualifies for the full $2,500.00 grant. October 18, 2011 On September 27, 2011, the Community Appearance Commission unanimously voted to
recommend funding in the amount of $2,500.00.

B. Transfer of Cemetery Deed from Jeannie Poovey Jandrew and husband, David Jandrew to David Meriwether and wife, Roseann Meriwether in Oakwood Cemetery

C. Recommended Attendance Policy for Business Development Committee - In 2010, City Council appointed a Business Development Committee (BDC) consisting of seven (7) members representing business and economic sectors of the City of Hickory population. The guidelines state how members will be appointed with terms on an even and odd year schedule, but no attendance policy was initiated. At its October 5, 2011 meeting, the Business Development Committee unanimously approved an attendance policy which simply states: “Should a member miss 3 consecutive meetings, Hickory City Council will appoint another member to take the place of absent member.” The BDC and Staff recommend acceptance of the attendance policy as presented.

D. Citizens’ Advisory Committee Recommendations for Assistance Through the City of Hickory’s Housing Programs
The following requests were considered by the Citizens’ Advisory Committee at their regular meeting on October 6, 2011:
Natalia Villanueva was approved for recommendation to City Council for first-time homebuyer’s assistance to purchase a house located at 706 13th Street SE, Hickory. She had requested $6,500 for assistance with down payment and closing costs. The First-Time Homebuyers Assistance Loan is zero interest, no payments and repaid upon sale, refinance or payoff of first mortgage.
Betty Phillips was approved for recommendation to City Council for first-time homebuyer’s assistance to purchase a house located at 350 8th Avenue Drive SW,
Hickory. She had requested $6,500 for assistance with down payment and closing costs. The First-Time Homebuyers Assistance Loan is zero interest, no payments and repaid upon sale, refinance or payoff of first mortgage.
Kenneth & Carole McEahern, 1823 1st Street NE, Hickory, was awarded a City of Hickory’s Housing Rehabilitation Loan. The Citizens’ Advisory Committee
recommends approval for assistance not to exceed $10,000.00 for repairs to her home. Assistance would be in the form of a 3% interest loan for a 10 year period.

Each of the following applicants is being recommended for approval for assistance under the City of Hickory’s 2010 Urgent Repair Program. This program provides qualified low income citizens with assistance for emergency-related repairs not to exceed $5,000.
Lillie Carroll, 1661 B Avenue SE, Hickory, The Citizens’ Advisory Committee considered these requests at their October 6, 2011

E. Application for the Use of Union Square by Hickory Downtown Development Association for “A Hickory Holiday!” Event to be held on Thursday, December 8, 2011 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

F. Application for the Use of Union Square by City of Hickory for the “Christmas Tree Lighting in Downtown Hickory” Event on Friday, November 18, 2011 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

G. Budget Ordinance Amendments
1. To appropriate $90,652 of Water and Sewer Capital Reserve to the Water Plant Maintenance and Repair of Buildings line item. This appropriation is necessary to pay Utility Service Company, Inc. for full maintenance of the F Avenue Water Storage Tank. The contract maintenance includes visual inspections, physical testing for coating and structural integrity, tank interior cleaning and disinfection and interior/exterior painting. In addition Utility Service Company, Inc. also performs mechanical repair to lights and indicators as necessary.

New Business - Public Hearings
1. Amendment to Hickory City Code, Chapter 2, Section 2-1, Regarding Residence Requirements for Firefighters, Police Officers and Department Heads - Staff requests amendment of Chapter 2, Section 2-1 of the Hickory City Code regarding residency requirements for City of Hickory police officers and firefighters for the purpose of simplification and to update outdated terminology. The section referring to department heads was added in the 1990’s and does not require any changes. In order to simplify and add certainty to the residency requirement, the City Manager’s Office recommends that the residency requirement for police officers and firefighters be changed from “within 30 minutes commuting distance” to “within 30 miles commuting distance.” It is also recommended that the word, “should”, be changed to “shall” in this section of the Code in order to remove any doubt about the requirement. Finally, Staff recommends deleting the reference to being “connected to the City telephone exchange” in this section of the Code as this is outdated terminology. After this minor change, close to 100% of the City’s public safety employees will be in compliance with the new “30 mile commuting distance” requirement. Those few employees who will not be in compliance will be grandfathered. All public safety employees who are currently in compliance will be required to stay in compliance, and all public safety employees who are hired in the future will be required to be in compliance and remain in compliance as well. This public hearing was advertised in a newspaper having general circulation in the Hickory area on October 6, 2011.

New Business - Departmental Reports
1. Branding and Marketing Update -  The Business Development Committee (BDC) selected North Star Destination Strategies to develop a comprehensive branding and marketing campaign for the City. North Star identified “Hickory. Life. Well Crafted.” as the brand concept and strap line. The BDC and Staff have developed an initial implementation plan for Council consideration and input -

Alan Jackson the Chairman of the Business Development Committee addressed the implementation of the Branding Marketing Process. He stated that this was a continuation of the workshop that was held on September 1. He stated that a refined Logo and a slogan doesn’t do anything for us. This is all about the process of Branding and who we roll it out to. Everyone has been working on developing plans, programs, and projects and taking the brand that Northstar helped develop and helping lead to business development.

This is a one to two year plan…. We can’t pull the trigger on every project and idea, but some are more important than others.

Hickory Marketing and Economic Development Engine: The first goal is to appoint a Brand Manager. This person is responsible for the “Hickory, NC Life Well Crafted” branding and marketing initiative. This is to be done by the second quarter of 2011-12 and the responsible party is City management.

The next goal is to identify consumer “touch points” and brand them. How anyone comes into contact with Hickory. This will be done through social media, e-newsletters, telephone greeting employee identification, the regional webportal, publications, and any place where the city interacts with internal and external customers. This should be done in the next nine months ( the fourth quarter 2011-12/June 2012). The responsible parties are the Brand Manager, City Staff, the Business Development Committee, and Community Partners.

Then develop a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) and hire a firm to assist with creativity of the brand for not only the city, but community and private partners. The firm will be respoinsible for decveloping ads, ad placements, designs of new products, and materials for the brand. This should be done by the fourth quarter of 2011-12. The responsible parties will be the Business Development Committee and Hickory City Council.

Then develop a presentation to infiltrate “Hickory, NC Life Well Crafted” within the community and beyond. Create a program to present to area leaders, the community, and to educational institutions, civic, non-profit, and private organizations. Then form a “Life Well Crafted” Team, which will be a team made up of the City of Hickory. Tourism Development Authority (TDA), Catawba County, the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), the Chamber of Commerce, and other partners promoting the brand. This will also be completed by the fourth quarter of 2011-12. Then purchase promotional items to help with spreading “Hickory, NC Life Well Crafted” message. In addition, work in tandem with the TDA, EDC, and other partners on promotional items. The responsible parties will be the Brand Manager and the community partners. The Brand Manager will Implement a graphic identity by developing templates for stationery, envelopes, media releases, business cards, fax cover sheets, e-mail signature, memorandum, forms, and other documents that represent the City of Hickory. The Brand Manager and the BDC will meet with stakeholders that were interviewed at the beginning of the branding project as well as share with Neighborhood College Graduates and city advisory boards.

City management, the Brand manager, Public Services, and the NCDOT will utilize the Wayfinding Project as part of this mission by placing the “Well Crafted” brand on the Wayfinding signs. The Brand will be placed on City Vehicles, sidewalks, water towers, city facilities, and banners throughout the city. The City will evaluate current events (races, walks, cycling, arts, concerts) and festivals and incorporate brand application where it is applicable and investigate new events to showcase the Brand. The City will develop programs throughout the community to promote the Brand. The Brand will be blended with ongoing advisory board programs and projects such as working with the Public Art Commission on the bench project and the Community Appearance Commission with beautification awards.

Alan spoke about the visibility and consistency of how Hickory is perceived by visitors or people looking on the internet throughout the world. The mission is that the Community will control the message of what they want projected. The Business Development Commission in this presentation is looking for approval of the City Council, a revenue source, and to develop a budget to present to City Council by November 15.

Manager Berry talked about the budget, funding, and costs related to this program. The revenue component is from resources that are already generated. He announced Mandy Pitts as the Brand manager. He stated that going through this process that they all knew that mandy was the right person. He talked about the hiring freeze that he called a selective hiring freeze and stated that there were a number of vacant positions that are fully funded, but not currently filled. They are taking one of those and are in the process of recrafting that position into a new position that will take over many of Mandy's current duties.

The Hound thinks what Alan said at the start is the most important statement he made. "He stated that a refined Logo and a slogan doesn’t do anything for us." Remember The All-American City Campaign? It was all about the slogan and the logo and the banners. Remember when I stood up about that and I was shouted down by some, because they said it would attract businesses to the area and create jobs. Remember those days when unemployment was 7%.

We don't have any more time or resources to commit to cutesy. We can't afford any more "Google Holler" type mistakes. We have this brand about "Life.. Well Crafted." Some people aren't going to get that, but it is about the craftsmanship in the area. That wasn't about Image. It was something that was ingrained in the people who created furniture, textiles, and other manufactured commodities in this community. The woodwork, the upholstering, the art of furniture and fabric and the attention to detail that was woven throughout this community. We once were committed to Excellence. Somewhere along the way we lost some of that edge and the overarching emphasis became a goal towards cutting costs, cutting corners, and maximizing profits at the expense of quality.. That's the reason why local furniture producers thought they could offshore their manufacturing capacity to China. Where has that gotten us?

I think Mandy Pitts is a great Public Relations representative, but even though some will get angry with me for asking a question, Were there any thoughts given to putting this Brand Manager position out for public view and inquiry to ascertain if anyone else had any ideas that might be innovative and worthy of consideration within the capacity of this Job Description. I mean a Job Interview process is not a bad thing is it? And with public positions isn't there supposed to be a process of "Public Notice?" Can the City just create and fill a position without a hiring process?

These are my concerns, but I do think Alan is a bright person and he has conveyed to me lately his desire to see action. I'm all in with that and I think that is the right attitude to have and that he is a very good facilitator, delegator, and coordinator from my experiences in observing him. In the end this effort has to be about improving the local business climate and growing jobs. If this thing is to work, it will have to move forward eventually of its own volition fairly soon. Artificial contrivances and fluff will just move on to more artificial contrivances and fluff. Words have to mean more than words. You have to feel them. Are the sum of these words greater than the words themselves. Here's to a professional directing this "Branding" effort into something meaningful.

2. Quarterly Financial Report - Warren Wood delivered this presentation. This is a report on the first three months of the fiscal year. For the first quarter, the City is .6% below budgeted revenues compared to the 5-year trend (19.8% vs 20.4%). Warren stated that given the current economic conditions that is a good number.

Expenses in the General fund are slightly above the 5-year average (26.25% vs 25.25%). Warren stated that we are a percent higher, but we still have our selected hiring freeze in effect and will start making ground up on that. The bottom line for the General Fund is that the city, when looking at the 5 year average in revenues over expenditures, The city has spent $1.27 million more than collected and it should be $722,000. One key thing to look at is how money is distributed from the State from Power Bill Money to maintain roads. These is a cash flow issue. Warren states that without this being the case the numbers would have looked better.
Looking at the water-sewer fund, which makes up 25% of the budget, he stated the numbers are running ahead of the 5 year average as far as revenues go (20.34% vs 20.26%). Expenditures are running ahead of where it should be (32.9% vs 26.2%). Finance has moved monies ahead into capital reserve faster than they normally would have at this point of the year, however, when that extra money is taken out the numbers line up the way that they should. He stated that the city has spent $1.3 million more than it has collected so far in the Water-Sewer fund. The 5-year average should have been $750,000 more than collected.

Warren once again went into the Building Permit issue and stated that there have only been 3 building permits issued so far this fiscal year. (The Hound: I’m not going to reiterate this information. You can Google “Warren Wood” +”Hickory Hound” + City of Hickory +quarterly financial report and see how this issue has not improved over the three years that I have been reporting this information). The most concerning issue is the lack of construction activity.

This quarter we saw 8 Residential Construction Permits granted. Alderman Meisner asked if this was units and warren answered yes and this includes the ETJ. Overall there have been 131 permits issued in Hickory and its ETJ. The value of those permits is less that $11 million, which does not bode well for future Tax growth. We have been seeing a 1 to 2% increase in growth related to new construction, but we may not see that this year.

Switching Gears, the City’s fund balance declined by $600,000 in 2009-10. This year it increased by $750,000. What was lost last year has been recouped. The city has a cushion with the fund balance. The City looks to have a fund balance goal that is 25% of its operating budget. The current balance is 27% of the operating budget. This has been accomplished by discipline and focus on control of expenditures. Revenues have not exceeded budget. We have not had financial problems. We have had budget difficulties and they will continue over the next couple of years. Cash Flow has not been an issue, because difficult budget decisions have been made. It is going to be difficult to expand services without recurring/expanding revenues. Alderman Lail interjected that at some point in time it will be difficult to continue the current level of services. Warren stated that that is where strategic investment and economic development opportunities are going to be important.

New Economic Development Opportunities are going to depend on spending cash reserves versus adding to the operating budget. Sometimes that is difficult for people to understand, when you are cutting staff and having a hiring freeze. The operating budget is sitting over on its own and the capital reserves are used for strategic investments.

Some of the opportunities include the airport, Multijurisdictional Business Parks, Redevelopment of Abandoned/Vacant Buildings, and development of City Owned Properties. This ties back into building and permitting.

The Hound thinks that Warren's presentation meshed perfectly with the presentation of the Comprehensive Annual Budget Report. In my opinion, the most honest assessment of the year is going to come during the first couple of quarters, because as the year rolls along, the City staff is going to have to start looking for more reason to justify the Mission of City Management.

City Manager Berry and Alderman Lail made statements of admission that conveyed a sense of anxiety. Manager Berry spoke about the need to find tax base revenue streams and Alderman Lail spoke to the possibility of the City possibly needing to cut back services. Asst City Manager Wood spoke to the issue of the lack of city building permits, which keeps tax revenues stagnant.

I have spoken about the problems associated with the airport. Warren spoke to possible opportunities at the airport. I think there is a lot more work to be done to realize these opportunities than many people with the City Government understand. There have been associations that have been squandered and there are plenty of bridges that have been burned. There are a lot of fences that will have to be mended and that is going to take years of hard work and accountability. That goes for a lot of the business climate with relation to the way that things have been administered. There is going to have to be an attitude of "How can we help you," when it comes to the business climate in Hickory. And some of that Unreserved Fund balance is going to have to be used to move some of these issues forward. Good to see that City Management is coming around to that realization.

One last word is to say that I think Warren Wood and the Finance department are doing an excellent job with the cards they have been dealt. It is not up to them to shape the mission. I have seen what is happening in Conover and what is starting to happen in Newton. There is a new culture forming in Catawba County and it relates to Action. Action means Risk. That doesn't mean we need to become gunslingers, but we definitely need to assume some risks. I also think that Hickory needs to coordinate with the communities around it. The worst investments that can be made are to be late to the dance and start creating redundant infrastructure. That isn't about bureaucratic structure. It is about openness, communication, and coordination. Can Hickory do that? I don't know.

Citizens requesting to be Heard -
Reverend Cliff Moone addresses the Mayor about City Politics at City Council

Hound Note -
This took a long time to get out, because it is chock full of information that will have a lasting impact on this community for some time to come. I spent at least 16 hours putting this together over the last week, so that I could convey it to you as logically as possible. I do this while committed to full time employment and personal obligations at the same time that I am feeling a bit run down. So please use this information and get involved in the process of our governance. Don't feel that you don't count, because you can be a difference maker. Thank you and God Bless. Peace To You.


harryhipps said...

The branding slogan is very good for a slogan. Question is: is putting the lipstick on the pig going to make her look good enough.
I hope we are getting to the point where we are ready to live out the State's motto: to be rather than to seem. We need creativity, energy and ideas to recast what Hickory really is, rather than a feel good slogan.
If this leads us to an honest look at where we are and real changes in direction, it could be a focal point. If we just slap it out there and hope the world flocks to our door, it will be stuck in the proverbial drawer and we will drift on.

Anonymous said...

And Harry hits the nail squarely on the head again!!! Unfortunately, and Harry probably agrees, I think the latter if much more likely than the former.

Silence DoGood said...

Frankly, I think it's like trying to sell a house. A little paint, a little panache, and you gingercake it up to make it attractive. Never mind that the sill plate is eaten through and through by termites and the north wall is leaning in at such an angle that it would cause the Captain of the Titanic to sweat.

All show, no substance. That is what I'm talking about. I think substance and quality counts for much more than show. Show endures in the short term. Substance lasts much longer. So, Harry is absolutely right in that regard. If you have both look and substance, well that's great. But of the two, I and most people if you asked, prefer substance over look.

One is shallow and meaningless. The other is substantive and enduring.