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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Newsletter about the City Council meeting of November 1, 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. David Roberts II, Pastor, Morning Star First Baptist Church

Consent Agenda
A. Approval of Bullet Proof Vest Grant for Hickory Police Department in the Amount of $13,650.00 - The Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Act helps states and units of local government equip their law enforcement officers with armor vests. This grant will pay up to 50% of the cost of NIJ approved vests purchased by the Hickory Police Department. Thirty-Nine vests have been requested at an estimated price of $700.00 for each vest. The 50% that is not paid for by the grant will be paid from the Police Department’s budget. The total amount of the award will be $13,650.00. Staff recommends approval.

B. Approval of Tax Refund as Recommended by Burke County Tax Collector’s Office to Terry Stokes in the Amount of $711.56. - Terry Stokes paid taxes in 2010 for an aircraft sold in late 2009 and is requesting a refund. The records have been checked and verified by the Burke County Tax Collector’s Office. Staff recommends approval.

C. Change Order No. 5 to Contract with Pizzagalli Construction Company in the Amount of $60,039.00 for the Northeast Wastewater Treatment Plant (NEWWTP) Upgrade Project - The NEWWTP Upgrade Project was initiated in July, 2010 at a cost of $21,569,382.50 for a complete upgrade of the facility. The current contract amount for this project is $21,997,896.50 which includes previously approved Change Orders Nos. 1 – 4. This project was established with a contingency fund in order to address unforeseen expenses that may arise, and Change Order No. 5 consists of 11 items that were unforeseen during design and project bidding. The two most costly items are the electrical conduit material and routing at the oxidation ditches ($36,560.00) and the modifications to the Air Handler Unit support frame ($5,006.00). The revised contract total to date will be $22,057,935.50. Staff recommends approval.

D. Budget Ordinance Amendments
1. To budget a $1,190 insurance claim check from Trident Insurance Co, Inc. in the Police Department Maintenance and Repair of Equipment line item. This payment is for lightening damage to the firing range equipment on 08-21-11.
2. To transfer $39,639 of personnel related line items from the Planning and Development operational budget to the Code Enforcement operational budget for a position which moved from Planning to Code Enforcement.
3. To adjust the Hickory Rural Fire District budget to reflect anticipated receipts of rural fire tax revenue as identified by Catawba County and budget within the Hickory Rural Fire District budget.
4. To transfer $13,650 from the Police Department Uniforms line item to the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant project uniform line item. The City received a Federal Grant award from the Department of Justice in the amount of $13,650 to pay up to 50% of the costs of approved vests. The local match is $13,650 and is funded from the Police Department uniform operational line item.
5. To appropriate $34,391 of Transportation Fund Balance and transfer to the Block Grant/Vision 100 Agreement – Aviation Fuel Farm project Construction and Miscellaneous line items. The project budget is $343,906 with 90% Federal funding ($309,515) and 10% local match ($34,391).
6. To transfer $2,014 of Appropriated General Fund Balance to the Grace Chapel Road/Highway 321 Connector project to pay for additional surveying, legal preparation and exhibits. This work is necessary prior to preliminary discussions with Merchant Distributors Inc. (MDI) on an agreement to exchange City owned land for Right of Way owned by MDI.
7. To transfer $10,762 of Appropriated General Fund Balance to the Police Department Justice Assistance Multi Year Grant. The Police Department received a direct grant award of $37,161 and recommends using the grant to fund a soundproof interview room ($8,128), a camera security system upgrade ($33,035) and a door locking security system ($6,760). An additional $10,762 is necessary to fund the total expenditures planned within the project. Therefore a transfer of $10,762 transfer is necessary and represents Police Federal Reimbursement balances from previous years that have rolled into Fund Balance at year end.
8. To decrease General Fund Balance Appropriated by $59 and increase the transfer from the Multi-Year Governor’s Highway Safety Program Project Grant by $59. This amendment is necessary to close the Grant project and return $59 of unused funding back to the original funding source.
9. To decrease General Fund Balance Appropriated by $1 and increase the transfer from the Justice Assistant Grant- Recovery Project by $1. This amendment is necessary to close the capital project and return $1 of unused funds back to the original funding source.

New Business - Public Hearings
1. Approve Dedication of Right-Of-Way and Deed Transfer - US 321 to Grace Chapel Road (New Farm Road and Extension of Alex Lee Boulevard) Right- Of-Way Dedication (City Property) and Property Exchange with MDI Management, Inc. for Right-Of Way Dedication by MDI - This request is for approval of dedication of right-of-way shown on plat titled, “Right-Of-Way for the City of Hickory in Caldwell County” dated September 15, 2011 by Western Carolina Surveyors, PA. The plat dedicates right-of-way from the City and MDI Management, Inc. for a new road (New Farm Road) from the existing eastern end of New Farm Road (located just east of the existing commercial shopping area) to Grace Chapel Road and the extension of Alex Lee Boulevard to the new section of New Farm Road. In exchange for land for right of-way for permanent drainage easements and temporary construction easements from MDI, the City will deed Tract 1 (3.811 acres) and Tract 2 (25.236 acres) to MDI Management, Inc. MDI Management, Inc. will be dedicating 12.202 acres of useable land for right-of-way. A majority of Tract 2 is in very steep topography and drainage area which is not easily developable, but can be used as open space with land MDI owns for future economic development. Due to time constraints, staff is requesting two readings on this matter. This public hearing was advertised in a newspaper having general circulation in the Hickory area on October 21, 2011.

Chuck Hanson made the above presentation. Timeline wise, the DOT is working to advertise the project for construction to be contracted by the end of the year to be built in 2012. The right of way for private property was purchased by Granite Falls and Caldwell County. The project received unanimous consent of the Council Members present.

2. Approval of Resolution Supporting Urban Progress Zone Re-Designation Within the City of Hickory - This request is for approval to designate the City of Hickory as an Urban Progress Zone, applicable for one year. State Legislation was passed in 2006 that created a new tax credit program, Article 3J Credits, which provides three (3) types of tax credits to eligible taxpayers who undertake the qualifying activities of creating jobs, investing in business property, and investing in real property (tier 1 only). To qualify for the credits, businesses will need to meet the 2011 3J Wage Standards that apply to Tier 2 counties. Qualifying wage for Catawba County is $592/week or $14.80/hr. Incentives include $1000 credit per job for businesses creating jobs in zone (5 job minimum) and a 7% credit for investing in machinery and equipment, with a $0 threshold. The areas designated as the Urban Progress Zone must meet the poverty level threshold, which means 20% or more of its population is living below the poverty level.

Todd Hefner made the presentation of the above information. The zone was determined by using the 2000 census. Using the current census will expand the applicable properties available to obtain these credits. Alder Fox asked about how word was going to be gotten out to advertise that these credits were available, because most businesses would not know about this. Mr. Hefner stated that "you would be surprised how many businesses do know about this and ask if they are located in the area. Their accountants let them know about it. Two companies are Fiserv and Plastic Packaging." Alder Fox continued by asking how out-of- State companies find out? Mr. Hefner responded that the City makes companies aware when they inquire about the area. Asst City Manager Wood asked if this was listed on the Website and Mr. Hefner affirmed that it is. The Credits received unanimous consent of Council.

Departmental Reports:
1. Request for Second Reading – Approve Dedication of Right-Of-Way and Deed Transfer - US 321 to Grace Chapel Road (Read Above)

2. Approval of Proposed Changes to the Vacant Building Revitalization and Demolition Grant Program, Which Includes Grants of 15 Percent of Eligible Project Costs Up to a Maximum of $30,000 - The proposed guidelines make a number of changes to the program to ensure that the level of city incentive is more in line with the scale of the project. Eligible project activities has been expanded to include interior improvements while decreasing the reimbursement percentage from 50% to 15%, which would account for the increased number of eligible activities. The program will continue to provide funding for the demolition of buildings within an eligibility area. These costs could be reimbursed at 35% up to a maximum of $20,000. The proposed guidelines also re-institute an eligibility area for the grant program, which will be called an Urban Revitalization Area. Building over 10,000 square feet located within the area could be eligible for grant funding. The building size criterion was added to ensure that projects receiving funding would be of significant scale. Smaller buildings would remain eligible for Appearance and Landscape Grants of up to $5,000 and $2,500 respectively. Applicants would also need to identify end users for at least 50% of the building square footage and any change to the end user would need to be approved by City Council. Also, the Business Development Committee will review applications and make a recommendation to City Council instead of the Redevelopment Committee.

Enacted in September 2008, 15 grants awarded. One was not completed, meaning 14 companies received these grants. Just over $250,000 paid to 14 recipients, the program was halted in February 2011 to revisit program guidelines, and new program guidelines will address staff and council concerns. Companies receiving these grants were Superior Storage (next to WHKY), Hickory Auto Parts (Aiken-Black), Hickory Mechanical - Safe Harbor, Verizon on 127 (former Hutto's), Flooring Liquidators (321 and Main Ave. SW).

Vacancies Have continued to increase. Multi-tenant retail vacancies have increased by 17% over the past year. Stand alone buildings have been more steady. The total square footage of stand-alone buildings in the Revitalization Area has decreased. The Hickory Mechanical Building would have been demolished, most likely if not for these grants.

Proposed Changes 1

Proposed Changes 2

Previous projects have not increased the tax base significantly. These projects did likely help stem declines in the tax value that would have occurred, if buildings continued to deteriorate r been demolished.

Within the Urban Revitalization Area there are 51 stand alone buildings over 10,000 square feet in the area. 78% of the vacant buildings over 10,000 square feet, in the area, were bult before 1975. These are most likely the type of buildings to qualify and be approved for funding.. This will help to develop anchor type buildings that are able to stabilize a block and spur additional investment. It eliminates some of the smaller retail and office spaces, but  they are still eligible for other grants. This area is also the most likely to be eligible for Revitalization Area Tax Incentives and Appearance Grants.

The new proposal will cover the interior as well as exteriors of buildings. More activities will be eligible for funding of the program. The threshold will rise to $75,000 from $35,000, because of the addition of authorized improvements eligible for grants. Staff recommends that proposal require an end user be proposed for 50% of the buildings usage. Staff has found that the most successful projects had an end user stated. This should address the concerns of Council that this may incentivise businesses to move across town. The Business Development Committee will supervise redevelopment applications going forward to mitigate problems that formerly put staff in awkward position of judgment in determining eligibility.

Mr. Leonetti talked about the BDC's recommendation of adding multi-family buildings to the fund in the form of allowing functionally obsolete Old Warehouses to be allowed to obtain some of these grants for conversion of these properties into residences. Alder Fox asked about the map below relating to Highway 70 Southwest and it looks like this has all been put into one Urban Area. Mr. Leonetti talked about the residential properties not being part of this program. Alder Patton talked about some of the properties that have already been upgraded in that area.

The Hounds Overall View about this meeting is that it was encouraging to see the discussions about revitalization. It is obvious to see that this is something that Alder Fox is highly focused on. I believe that her focus on the appearance of the City is important to the marketability of the City and we need to worry about the whole City and get out of the seemingly inferred mentality of denial by some that we can cordon off whole section of the City and label them economically non-viable.

I certainly believe in the Free Market, but this is not a "Free Market" issue. This is a Social Issue. This is an Eco-System issue. This is a planning and progress issue. This goes back to this era of economic consolidation that most of us see. What is happening is that when you allow the community to continually address properties as economically non-viable in the context of "Laissez Faire" economics, then you see a wave of momentum build where more and more properties within the city become non-viable. Eventually this non-viability will attack areas that the Developers thought would never be touched, because it is destroying the social viability of the community. 

If people can't make a living in the community, then they are going to leave the community. If people are subjected to living in areas that are allowed to become dumps, then they are going to leave the community. If businesses don't have a viable marketplace, then they will leave the community or will not enter the community to do business.

Certainly this is a complex issue. Alder Fox was asking Todd Hefner if businesses knew about the Urban Progress incentives. I will bet you that only the connected know about these tax breaks and grants. The same people always get this stuff. Warren Wood asked if the U.P. information was on the City's website. I have already talked before about the lack of functionality of the City's Website. It isn't about the pictures on it or the colors. It is the fact that it is clunky and there are parts of it that are completely non-functional. Once you get off of the main page of the website it is mundane, lacks interactivity, and is not user friendly. As far as technological progress, Hickory - the center of the region, has the electronic functionality from at best the 1990s. And honestly, it makes me think this is done on purpose.

But overall, I think the presentations were very good. I like the idea of repurposing the warehouses and turning some into residences. It makes me think of the mixed use property philosophy discussed during Hickory By Choice and some of the Mixed Use properties I have seen in places such as Charlotte, Mooresville, and Wilmington. Instead of building the communities from scratch, as they were done in those places, why not repurpose, revitalize, and rebrand some of these old warehouses. It is risky to a certain extent, but the payoffs could be huge.


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