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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Newsletter about the City Council meeting of January 17, 2012

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 1/17/2012 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 Pastor J. Whit Malone, First Presbyterian Church

Special Presentation:
A. Recognize Parks and Recreation Director Mack McLeod for Serving as NC Parks and Recreation Association President for 2011 - Mack has been a member of the association for 27 years. He received an award for serving as President of the NCPRA in 2011. He was commended for outstanding service and leadership as part of the association. He has served on the nominations and elections committee, the professional development committee, procedures committee, and annual conference committee.He was elected and served as the Region 8 Chair in 2006, Secretary in 2007, 2nd Vice President in 2008, Vice President in 2009, 1st Vice President in 2010, and President in 2011.He is serving as past President in 2012. He oversaw restructuring of the NCRPA Board of Directors and represented the NCRPA in legislative meeting with the NC General Assembly. The Mayor added that Mack was instrumental, a few years ago, in having the NC Parks and Recreation annual meeting here in Hickory.

B. Presentation Regarding Pink Heals Activities Held on September 22 – 24, 2011 and Recognition of Volunteers - Deputy Fire Chief George Byers addressed the Council. He talked about the volunteers  and Council who that helped make this event a success. Hickory was one of three cities in North Carolina to represent the tour. He talked about how the lives of so many people were touched by cancer. He thanked City management.

The initial application was submitted in November 2010. In December 2010, the Guardians of the Ribbon, Cares enough to Wear Pink organization announced Hickory as a host; establishing the dates of September 22 - 24, 2011. On February 9, 2011 Steering Committee formed. On February 14, 2011 the steering committee adopted a series of goals and objectives for programs, events, and to brainstorm ideas for the project, On March 1, 2011 Council approved the Pink Heals Tour 2011 program followed by a formal proclamation April 5, 2011. This event was transformed in 264 days. many area businesses volunteered at no expense. Many hundreds of thousands of people were touched about this event through media sources in our area and the Charlotte Metro Area. The group from Washington, DC spent 10 hours to drive to Hickory. The biggest success was the benefit dinner held at First Baptist Church. Over 60 individuals and businesses were involved in this endeavor.

The Steering Committee members were Darlene Huffman, Stephanie Drum, Terri Byers, Sylvia Martin, Claudia main, Mandy Pitts, Matt Hutchinson, Tom Alexander, Tom Adkins, Fred Hollar, Gerge Byers...

14 events were visited in 12 hours throughout the Unifour Area. Over 120 motorcycle riders helped escort the tour out of town. They will return sometime in 2013. This effort received an award from the United Way called "Giving from the Heart." A motorcycle was given away in a  raffle, as was a pink fire helmet. Alderman Hank Guess was the winner of the raffle for the helmet and in the picture below he is presenting the helmet to the Darlene Huffman of the Hickory Fire Department. $16,500 was raised through this project and the benefactor is a local organization "Through Healing Eyes," a non-profit organization (founded in 2003) headed by Katheryn Harlan.

The Hound can see the great heart of the Citizens of Hickory through the endeavor above. Hank Guess showed the overall good guy that he is in the presentation above. One could not help but see what a beneficial event this was from the beginning of this process to what was displayed tonight.

Consent Agenda:
A. Transfer of Cemetery Deed from City of Hickory to Jane Deitz in Oakwood Cemetery

B. Transfer of Cemetery Deed from City of Hickory to Betty Anthony in Southside Cemetery

C. Transfer of Cemetery Deed from City of Hickory to Robert Dixon in Southside Cemetery

D. Special Event Permit Application to Use Union Square for Hickory Downtown Art Crawls on Thursday, May 17, 2012 and Thursday, September 20, 2012 from 5:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

E. Special Event Permit Application to Use Union Square for Swinging Under the Stars on Sunday, May 27, 2012 from 6:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.

F. Special Event Permit Application to Use Union Square for Hickory Oktoberfest on Friday, October 12, Saturday, October 13, and Sunday, October 14, 2012 from 5:00 p.m. on Friday to 5:00 p.m. on Sunday)

G. Special Event Permit Application to Use Union Square for A Hickory Holiday! On Thursday, December 13, 2012 from 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

H. Offer to Purchase From Mildred A. Mauney to City of Hickory to Purchase City-Owned Vacant Lot Located on 2nd Street SW (PIN No. 370211573006) in the Amount of $2,000.00 - Mildred A. Mauney has presented an offer to purchase the city-owned vacant lot located on 2nd Street SW in the amount of $2,000.00. This .26-acre vacant lot is located beside Ms. Mauney’s home, and she has cared for and maintained the lot for the past 27 years. The property is zoned R-4, which allows single-family, multi-family residential or manufactured homes. The contract states that the buyer agrees to the inclusion of a restriction in the general warranty deed prohibiting the placement of mobile homes upon the property. Habitat For Humanity is not interested in the lot since they want to concentrate in Ridgeview or other neighborhoods like Green Park. Staff recommends acceptance of the offer to purchase from Ms. Mauney and authorization to advertise for upset bids. Once the property is advertised, other parties will have ten (10) days to submit upset bids.

I. Amendment to Traffic Ordinance By Changing All Parking on Union Square from Drive Entrance at 2nd Street NW Westward to Drive Entrance at 3rd Street NW from Two (2) Hours to Three (3) Hours - The Hickory Downtown Development Association (HDDA) has requested an extension of the time limitation for public parking on Union Square. They feel this would better accommodate the needs of customers and clients of the downtown business owners. This was agreed upon by the HDDA Downtown Parking Task Force on October 4, 2011, approved by the HDDA General Membership on December 7, 2011, and approved by the HDDA Board of Directors on December 20, 2011. The Traffic Division has analyzed this request and feels it would be fitting. Changing the signage along this parking area would be simple, and the signs/markings shop has already taken the appropriate steps to ensure an easy transition. Staff recommends approval.

J. Budget Ordinance Amendments
1. To budget $250 of library donations in the Library Books line item.
2. To budget $1,237 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.
3. To budget $1,000 of Appropriated General Fund Balance and budget in the Library’s Audio and Visual Materials line item. This revenue represents a grant awarded to the Patrick Beaver Library from the Hickory International Council at the end of June, 2011 to purchase materials. The award came too late in FY11 to process, therefore an amendment is necessary.
4. To budget $6,500 of insurance claim checks from Trident Insurance Company in the Traffic Division Capital Vehicles line item for damages sustained to a Traffic Van. To transfer $13,500 of Traffic permanent salaries to the Capital Vehicles line item to provide the additional funds needed to replace the vehicle.
5. To budget a $10,349 insurance claim check from Farm Bureau Insurance Company in the Water and Sewer Maintenance and Repair of Vehicles line item. This insurance claim check is for damage sustained to Water and Sewer Division truck.
6. To budget funds for the first phase of the Zahra Baker All-Children's Playground Project. This is for the purchase of playground equipment for this project. Revenues include a $102,231 donation from the Hickory Kiwanis Foundation and a $20,000 grant from KaBoom! (to be paid directly to the vendor) This project will be constructed at Kiwanis Park.

Informational Items
A. Report of City Manager Mick Berry’s travel to attend the Redevelopment and Economic Development Meeting in Chattanooga, TN on December 13 – 14, 2011 (room – $198.15; per diem - $60.86; rental car - $200.51; other expenses (fuel) - $136.25)

B. Report of Mayor Rudy Wright’s travel to attend the Redevelopment and Economic Development Meeting in Chattanooga, TN on December 13 – 14, 2011 (room - $198.15; per diem - $60.86)

C. Report of Alderman Brad Lail’s travel to attend the Redevelopment and Economic Development Meeting in Chattanooga, TN on December 13 – 14, 2011 (room $198.15; per diem - $60.86)

D. Report of Alderman Hank Guess’s travel to attend the Redevelopment and Economic Development Meeting in Chattanooga, TN on December 13 – 14, 2011 (room $198.15; per diem - $60.86)

E. Report of Alderwoman Jill Patton’s travel to attend the Redevelopment and Economic Development Meeting in Chattanooga, TN on December 13 – 14, 2011 (room - $198.15; per diem - $60.86)

The Hound: The minutes of this meeting, held in Chattanooga, can be found on this link. They were posted earlier today. We weren't privy to the happenings from this meeting, but I do find the discussions to be very interesting in an odd way even though we have to read between the lines of the subject matter.

They are talking about creating a commission for entertainment and apparently, although she was not present, the thoughts of Alder Fox are to hold some kind of conference/event that centers around this. These minutes were not voluminous, but mention is made of the HDDA being involved in this process. Once again City officials are adamant that Hickory Economic Development center around Union Square.

City Manager Berry talks about the issue of Wayfinding and makes a point that Downtown Parking Deck funds can be used for the project. Isn't it time that the Parking Deck fund was used to build a parking deck? As I stated with the Tent on Union Square, which is also utilizing this fund. This is not going to mitigate the parking issues that people complain about as the number one problem with the Union Square experience. The City does deserve a Thank You for extending the parking hours from 2 to 3 hours, which was a recommendation made over 3 years ago. If you aren't going to utilize the Parking Deck fund for its legislated intended purpose, then let's see some honest government and end this fund and a fund instituted called the "Union Square Pet Projects Fund."

In this meeting, they flat out say that a Hickory Furniture Museum won't work and I think that is ludicrous. No rhyme or reason why it won't work, but I know it would step on some toes and we see a conflict of interest in this conversation -- put the puzzle together... 

The Mayor wants to focus on population growth 25 jobs at a time -- huh?!?!?!? Government jobs are recession proof -- well we will be finding out if that is true here pretty soon. He puts a number on the percentage of growth he would like to see in Manufacturing. How about we not put a number on it and create an environment where modern manufacturing can thrive. There are already efforts under way to do just that and we don't need to limit or constrain our capacity for growth with these numbers from nowhere. If Freightliner can add 1,100 jobs in Cleveland, NC and Solstace can create 500 in High Point, then we don't need to talk about landing such projects as though it is an impossibility.

Why is this blog called pessimistic and yet we point to things that can be done, while our leaders constantly tell us what can't be done and they are lauded for their optimism?

New Business - Departmental Reports:
1. Quarterly Financial Report - GENERAL FUND SUMMARY 50% OF THE YEAR COMPLETE . We have received 60.85% of our budgeted revenues. The 5 year average is 56.28%. Warren states that this is the first time we have been ahead of the game in a while. We have spent/encumbered 49.94% of our budgeted expenditures. The 5 year average is 49.50%. Revenues over (under) expenditures = $6,107,713. The 5 year average is $4,615,523. This is good news and is due to property tax revenues. Water/Sewer Fund - We have received 47.98% of our budgeted revenues. The 5 year average is 45.45%. We have spent/encumbered 52.02% of our budgeted expenditures. The 5 year average is 46.99%. Revenues over (under) expenditures = $189,529. The 5 year average is $173,608.This is a $20 million budget, so this is on target.

The above graph shows that Property Tax Revenues have met 71% of budgeted projections. That is a pleasant surprise, which is better than what has been seen in the last five years. They didn't see this happening, because of the bad building permit numbers. The problem with the lack of building permits is that it will eventually be a drag on revenue growth. Warren stated that the tax base estimate has remained stable (level), which is good news. He says, "so far, so good." This makes up 53% of revenue in the General Fund.

Sales Tax revenue makes up 15% of revenues. This represents 5 months. The City should meet the estimate for the year. There has been a $700,000 drop from peak sales tax revenues of 2008-2009. Investments have earned $36,000 this fiscal year. 90 day CDs are earning .1%. He believes that these earnings will increase in the second half of the year.

Wells Fargo Economic Outlook for 2012 - Expect 2% GDP growth during 2012. Threading the needle between low growth and recession. Continued slow job gains - 123,000 monthly. Modest improvement in income growth - 1%. Bottom Line: A repeat of 2011 assuming Europe and/or oil prices do not "blow up." This will give households another year to reduce their debt and increase savings (hopefully) resulting in increased confidence.

(National) Local Government Outlook - New Reality Slower Revenue Growth = Slower Spending Growth. Continued decline or stagnation of property values will negatively impact the tax base. This may continue to be an issue for years. Small improvement in consumer spending. Little need for new retail construction. Single family construction "dead in the water." Industrial fixed investment will be a bright spot.

What all of this means for us: We are beginning to see some stability and predictability in the numbers. We are not seeing net growth in revenue. Building permits are still at all time lows. Increased funding for fuel costs, health insurance costs, and capital replacement costs will be challenging. Cautious approach to undertaking initiatives that create annual recurring expenses. Will continue to recommend use of cash reserves for economic development related projects.

The Hound believes that Warren's report was an excellent summary rooted in current economic realities. I do believe that Europe is going to financially implode in the near future and the games being played in the Middle East do not bode well for oil price stability. The stability in local property values can be summarized as a dead cat bounce. We are lying on a plateau awaiting the next leg down. This was talked about at the Entrepreneurial Summit last week. We have local industrial property owners that are allowing aspiring entrepreneurs free rent just to keep buildings occupied for security purposes, because of crime such as copper theft of wiring that has been going on. 

I think Warren is dead on in what he has pointed to over the last several years with the building permit numbers. The way things stand now; we have at least another decade, as it stands, before we will see any real growth in property values. The entire country is overbuilt and without job growth and commerce, you are not going to see anything pushing us towards the demand side of the equation when it comes to housing, commercial, or industrial needs. The increase in sales tax revenue is purely a reflection on inflation and is actually negative. Sure some industry might come back from overseas, but until we change the trade paradigm, we aren't going to see a renaissance in the business sector that will sustain robust growth. But, the reality is that if we do find the guts to stand up against the raping and pillaging of our Industrial Base and the Middle Class, then we can see the renaissance that can rebuild this nation.


Silence DoGood said...

I find myself wondering, using the language from the minutes from the special meeting in Chattanooga, if the members not present executed the required waivers by statute for their absence in order to conduct the meeting? I wonder too if the special meeting met the advertising requirements required by statute, just in case someone from Hickory had the wherewithal to travel to Chattanooga to listen in. And I find myself wondering how many of this little adventures out of town had transpired over the years by council members that don’t have minutes and don’t appear on the books as happening.

I find myself wondering why, when asked for a list of the 5 biggest business sectors that Hickory is looking at, the response was, “call centers, 1,000 manufacturing jobs in furniture, and that fiber optic cable is not a growth industry for Hickory right now”(emphasis added). Oh, and add in “numerous healthcare facilities” to that list as an add-on. I don’t know that I’d count a nursing home as a healthcare facility, but, ok I guess. Basically in response to a pertinent question, the response didn’t/couldn’t answer the question, according to the minutes.

I find myself wondering why, reading those minutes, Jim Frierson isn’t in Hickory running things. Insightful, knowledgeable, has a vision, knows how to get things done and make things work. Oh yeah!!!! Never mind, forget I asked that.

I’m not sure a furniture museum would work either. Now, something along the lines of Colonial Williamsburg, showing the art and craft of the furniture maker right through to the present, maybe. Include a model container ship, a few containers, some of those crank amusements so that you can raise and lower your container off or on the ship. Make it really interactive. But look at the performance of the NASCAR museum. And where would such an ‘attraction’ fit on Union Square? Because we all know that’s where it would simply have to go. It’d be another tent for certain. But who knows.

Dwight Eisenhower wrote about the significance and importance distinguishing between a plan and planning. How the plan was completely devoid of significance but the planning was imperative. I think that fits here in regard to the comment about the master plan document and coincides with what the advisor thought of the drafting of such a document. But again, when you’re marketing yourself to the corporate world 25 jobs at a time, how much planning do you need? Besides, it sounds like everything is going according to plan already.

Anonymous said...

So the Mayor believes government jobs are recession proof? Where does he find that information? Many State employees are finding themselves on the unemployment line these days. The powers that be have already told teachers all over NC to hang on this coming year. TAs and what was considered "extras" were eliminated this past spring. They have told teachers that there is no more "fluff" to eliminate, so if the budget in the State gets no better by May, well....teachers will feel the proverbial axe. Postal carriers are Federal employees, and they are feeling the axe. In this economic environment, NOBODY IS SAFE---FROM PRIVATE SECTOR TO GOVERNMENT SECTORS!!