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Friday, August 24, 2012

Newsletter about the City Council meeting of August 21, 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 8/21/2012 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

***This is a preliminary release of the Newsletter regarding the City Council Meeting from August 21, 2012. I just wanted to get this out there for those who may be interested in hearing the meeting. Highlights, Commentary, and other additions will be coming tomorrow.

Invocation by Rev. Bud Zehmer, Pastor, Church of the Master United Church of Christ

Special Presentations:

A. Hickory High School Senior Anne Orgain is working on her Gold Award for the Girl Scouts and her project surrounds distracted driving. She will show the Distracted video and expand on her project. (2:20) - Ms. Orgain also stated that she will be creating a blog related to the subject matter.

Distracted Driving Video Contest Winners Announced

B. Presentation and Administration of Oath of Office, City Clerk Debbie Miller (9:00)

Consent Agenda:
A. Transfer of Cemetery Deed from City of Hickory to Lewis McCrain and Donna Powell in Fairview Cemetery

B. Award bid to James River Equipment in the amount of $130,370.44 for a John Deere
524K Rubber Tire Loader. - Staff recommends acceptance of the bid and award of John Deere 524K Rubber Tire Loader in the amount of $130,370.44. The current loader in use by the Distribution Division was purchased in 1991. This equipment is being replaced as a component of the Public Utilities Department’s normal Capital Replacement program. Funds for this unit are in the budget for FY 2012-2013.

C. Award bid to Southern Truck Service Inc. in the amount of $138,692 for the purchase of one cab and chassis to use with a new rear packer unit. (Exhibit VII.C.)
This truck is used to service the 95-gallon rollout carts at residential homes on a daily basis, along with yard waste and junk. Funds for this unit are in the budget for FY 2012-2013.

D. Award bid to Advantage Truck Center in the amount of $444,861.96 ($222,430.98 each) for the purchase of two front loading refuse trucks. - The City uses these trucks for collection of refuse with our dumpster service. These units are operated daily in the commercial side of the Solid Waste Division. The two units being replaced are #3519 and #3721. Funds for these units are in the budget for FY 2012-2013.

E. Citizens’ Advisory Committee Recommendations for Assistance through the City of
Hickory’s Housing Programs - The following request was considered by the Citizens’ Advisory Committee at their regular meeting on August 2, 2012:
 Callie Singchanh was approved for recommendation to City Council for first-time
homebuyer’s assistance to purchase a house located at 3344 Treadwell Lane SE, Newton. She had requested $7,500 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. Funds are budgeted for these items through the City of Hickory’s Rental Rehabilitation Program income received in FY 2010 and/or program income received through the City of Hickory’s Community Development Block Grant Program.
Each of the following applicants is being recommended for approval for assistance under the City of Hickory’s 2011 Urgent Repair Program. This program provides qualified low income citizens assistance for emergency-related repairs not to exceed $5,000.
 Johnny & Deborah Hollar, 820 9th Avenue Place NE, Hickory.
 Martha Walker, 444 8th Ave SE, Hickory.
The Citizens’ Advisory Committee recommends approval of the above request.

F. Request approval to accept the 2012 Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) in the amount of $26,658. - City of Hickory and Catawba County have received notification of approval to receive a combined allocation of $42,364 under the 2012 Justice Assistance Grant Program (JAG). The JAG Program is a formula-based grant through the Office of Justice Programs/Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) that utilizes Uniform Crime Reporting statistics of all law enforcement agencies to determine eligibility for direct federal grant awards. Cities and counties are required to submit joint applications for the available funding. Catawba County is eligible for a direct award of $15,706 and the City of Hickory is eligible for a direct award of $26,658. There is no match required. The City of Hickory has agreed to serve as lead agency in the grant application process.

G. Grant Project Ordinance
To budget a $2,946,043 State Grant from the High Unit Cost Grant Account of the Water
Infrastructure Fund offered by North Carolina Department of Environmental and Natural
Resources Division of Water Quality. This project includes construction of approximately 25,100 linear feet of 8-inch PVC sanitary sewer lines serving three subdivisions Eastwood, Random Woods, and Sherwood Forest Subdivisions. No City funds are required for this project.

H. Special Event/Activities Application for Sails in September Music Mini-Series Fall 2012, Mandy Pitts, Communications Director/Brand Manager, with the City of Hickory, the following dates, September 7, 14, 21 and 28 at The Sails on the Square, from 5:00 pm until 8:30 pm.

The above item was removed from the consent agenda so that Mandy Pitts could speak about the bands that will be part of this series (This is discussed at the 12:55 minute mark of the above recording). Folk music, Blues music, Country were genres she mentioned.

I. Approval of a Proclamation recognizing and expressing support for the 11th Anniversary of 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance, September 11, 2012 Day of Service and Remembrance.

J. Budget Ordinance Amendment
1. To budget a $1,000 donation from Wells Fargo Advisors in the Parks and Recreation Special Events line item. This donation is for the Little League team to purchase tee shirts, visit the batting cage and to pay for hotel accommodations for three families at the State tournament.

2. To appropriate $230 for the month of July 2012 of Local Government Revenue and budget 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 appropriate $2,990 of General Fund Balance (Funds reserved from the State of North Carolina Un-Authorized Substance Tax revenue) and budget in the Police Department's Non-Asset Inventory ($2,495) and Departmental Supplies ($495) line items. This amendment is necessary to pay for equipment including a scale transmitter/digital recorder/covert AC adapter/hidden camera and VCR for the Criminal Investigative Division (CID). Funds are made available to the Police Department from the State and remain in General Fund Balance until appropriated.

4. To budget a $5,184 check from Caldwell County Railroad Co. in the Traffic Division Railroad Signals Maintenance line item. This revenue represents Hickory's share of signal maintenance reimbursements received from the NCDOT for the Railway-Highway Grade Crossing Signals at 2nd Ave. NW and Old Lenoir Rd.

5. To appropriate $407,768 of General Fund Balance and transfer to the Fire Department Multi-Year Adequate Fire and Emergency Services (SAFER) Grant. This transfer from the General Fund to the Multi-Year Grant Fund is necessary to budget the local match for year 4 staffing in the grant project and is for accounting tracking purposes only. When funds are entered into the multi year account a reimbursement reverts back to General Fund Balance. This Grant was awarded by the Department of Homeland Security to fully staff a 2nd Ladder Company and runs from 04/30/09 – 04/29/14.

Informational Items
To discuss holding the regular City Council Meeting of September 4, 2012, at the SALT Block Auditorium, and after the meeting adjourns, there will be a Town Hall discussion related to the September 18th ballot referendum, where citizens will have an opportunity to voice their opinion to fellow citizens on this issue. (15:30)

The Hound: The Mayor and the Council are fully in charge of this process. He says they are open to any suggestions and are very receptive to any suggestions. Alderman Lail talked about time frames and when the meeting will end and stated that he didn't know what that would be. It was suggested that there would be a 2 minute time limit per speaker. I don't like the idea of separating yes and no people to speak at different podiums. I don't think that will work well and is not natural. And Eric Millsaps will not be the moderator. This was made known to me before this meeting began. I liked what Alder Fox stated when she said this is not about us. It is about every citizen. We need to have a framework and it needs to be put out in advance.

New Business - Departmental Reports:

1. Quarterly Financial Report - Warren Wood Presentation (26:40) - These numbers are unaudited and unadjusted, but they should be very close.

The following numbers include 4 years of the Great Recession.

$1.6 million won't go into the General Fund. Much of this surplus will go towards the funded Capital Plan. The fund balance will be around 23%, which is still good. Alderman Lail asked about reflection of extra sales tax collection, which may show some resurgency.

Mr. Wood stated that he didn't know whether those water-sewer revenues are sustainable. He hopes so.

Most of these graphs are related to property tax revenues, which is 50% of the City's budgeted revenues. The increase in the revenues over the last decade is not even covering additional necessary expenses incurred by the city. The numbers above show a tapering off of revenues due to the lack of building development in the community.

Two of the last three revaluations have had a negative impact on revenues. Also seen an incremental decrease in the collection rate, which has fallen from 96.6% to 95.9%.  Every .1% costa the city $23,000 in lost revenue. Warren stated that this is the lowest he has ever seen it.

Warren also talked about Code Enforcement demolition of commercial properties, which is causing some loss of revenues. Code Enforcement will be doing a presentation in September. There is a loss from lack of depreciation of equipment and machinery in companies who are not replacing equipment.

$30 million in 2009-10 is from construction at Catawba Memorial Hospital. This shows that we have been collecting around $50 million in revenues over the last four years. When you have $50 million in permit values, it leads to a drop in collection (tax base). When you get to $70 million, then you hold even. When you see over $75 million, then you start to see growth in the tax base. That is what is leading to the decline.

The range for the last four years is $20 to $30 million in value

The above chart shows why we have seen the drag on revenues. We need to double what we did this past year. Below is what the city is proposing that we do to change this.

Alderman Lail asked a very good question about laying population trends per capita against the rtax base. It doesn't seem to be a lack of infrastructure. It seems to be a lack of demand. Warren stated that he had done that before and at one point in time we were in the top 5. Alderman Lail said he would like to look at that and look at age banding, because we are losing a lot of our younger folks.

The above graphs show ways that the Inspiring Spaces initiative could possibly be funded. Warren stated he isn't recommending any of these, but they are options. Alderman Lail stated that the sales tax would be unpredictable and very risky to go after, because it would be difficult to navigate through the General Assembly. Manager Berry stated that the Inspiring Spaces initiative looks out over a number of years. This is about looking at the "sense of the scope of the process." When it comes to public/private partnerships, the city will look to sponsorships and partnerships.

The Hound wants to say that Warren does a great job of thinking forward within the context of today's realities. I fully support Mr. Wood as a great economic thinker, especially within a bureaucratic structure. I can make statements as a Blog communicator that Warren can't make as a City official, but I believe that I am 90% on the same page he is in thinking about Hickory's Economic realities and trends.

2. *Approval of a contract with Land Design for preparation of the Inspiring Spaces plan for capital improvement project related to city rights of way and public spaces in the amount of $198,000 and a total project budget of $204,000. An Inspiring Spaces Plan will be for improvements in Hickory’s public spaces along rights of way, including pedestrian connectivity, providing aesthetic features in key locations such as fountains, other water features and public art, greenways, installing wayfinding, identifying ways to enhance key corridors such as Hwy 127, Old Lenoir Road, Highland Avenue, Main Avenue, Highway 70 West and other areas with streetscape improvements such as improvements to travel ways, landscaping and lighting upgrades, gateway upgrades and façade improvements on key city facilities. These improvements will help foster economic development. Within the contract, the plan will be broken into three distinct phases:
• Phase 1 is the Master Plan and the fee for that portion of the project is $126,000
• Phase 2 is the Implementation and Report Phase with a fee of $62,000
• Phase 3 is preparation of an Executive Summary document that is easily producible for a cost of $10,000
• City miscellaneous costs have been budgeted at $6,000

After each phase, the contract calls for the City to issue a written Notice to Proceed to the Consultant. This gives the City a few checkpoints to ensure that the project is on track. The total budget for the project should also include an amount for incidentals such as supplies for public meetings, travel for the tour, and meals for the committee, and color copies of documents, advertising, and other miscellaneous supplies. A total of $6,000 should be included in the budget along with the cost of the contract. *Staff is requesting two readings to be held on August 21, 2012 for approval of this contract.


Andrea stated that City's have more of a responsibility than health, safety, and welfare. You have to involve the community. Andrea strongly emphasized that this is a city wide initiative and it is not just about Downtown... every major corridor. "We" have spent some time in Downtown lately, but this is an important project that works on increasing the appearance and functionality of our streets and public spaces...

Taking extra steps to make sure that private investment happens... protecting quality of life and attracting investments.

This plan thinks about what it is like to traverse across the city... Driving, walking, or riding a bike.

The Hound has no problem with this. I never have. Andrea states that this will not be about Downtown, but will be a citywide initiative. I believe we should all take her word on that. I look at what Conover has done with the Conover Station as a good thing and think we need to implement that sort of forward thinking. 

We have to invest in this community. The problems we have seen with Union Square development have been problems with process and investment. The Private part of the Public-Private partnership will be the key to the success of this plan and that is what has been the problem with Union Square. In the reports of the City's visits to these other communities that is what they were told. And yet they completely ignores that when it came to the structure on Union Square. Hickory Inc. has constantly put public money into Downtown without thought of return on Investment or setting benchmarks. 

I understand the desires of many in this community to rapidly move forward, but the plan and the process are important to ensure that the city isn't throwing money at fruitless, ill-conceived endeavors. I look above at those "four phases" and don't believe that the structure Downtown ends up like it did if that process had been followed.

It is a matter of whether you trust the will of the people. I don't think many on City Council trust the will of the people. I hope that the executives in the Whitener building have learned from what has happened over the last several years. I have not said anything I have said with the intent of it being a personal affront. I have no misguided ill will towards the people at City hall. Why would I ever want to be a thorn in their side? 

It has just been my opinion that there could and should have been a better way to go about things. Not my way. The people's way. Many of the ideas that I have formed and evolved towards come from talking to people. There are many people in this community that have unbelievable ideas, but they don't have the resources to implement them....  And there are plenty of people who have resources, but choose not to listen to others with great ideas because they have Bob Etheridge syndrome, "Who're You?" 

Successful endeavors do not come from manipulating processes. They come from listening, learning, convincing people and winning them over. Ah-Hah!!!

Budget Ordinance Amendment
1. To transfer $204,000 of General Fund Contingency to the Public Buildings Other Professional Services line item. This amendment is necessary to pay Land Design, Inc. for the contract and design of the preparation of the Inspiring Spaces Plan. This plan is for capital improvement projects related to city rights of way and public spaces. Other areas for streetscape improvements include travel ways, landscaping and lighting upgrades, gateway upgrades and façade improvements on key
city facilities. It will take approximately 7 months to complete the plan with implementation of the plan to occur over 5 to 10 years. The cost of the Inspiring Spaces Plan is $198,000 with an additional $6,000 for project incidentals for a total cost of $204,000. *Staff is requesting two readings to be held on August 21, 2012 for approval of Budget Ordinance Amendment No. 3.
*Formally appoint Messrs Frank Drendel and Benny Yount to the Inspiring Spaces Committee.

Closed Session Per NC General Statutes 143-318.11(a)(1)(4) to consult with the attorneys
regarding the following: (Action on these items, if any, will occur in Open Session)
1. Approval of Closed Session Minutes of August 7, 2012 – NCGS §143-318.11(a)(1)
2. Discussion of Economic Development – NCGS §143-318.318.11 (a)(4)

This followed the discussion above and Council gave Unanimous Consent.

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