Saturday, December 13, 2008

Week in Review 12/8/08 - 12/13/08

This week’s work can be summed up in two words – schools and pools. And unfortunately it has nothing to do with teaching a child to swim.

Council held two worksessions this week. The first was a two-fer. We began the worksession with a financial update from our interim town manager Ben Shivar and members of our budget staff. In a nutshell, while our town’s financial status remains healthy, Cary is feeling the effects of a struggling economy like everyone else. We have been and will continue to take steps to reduce expenses and trim the fat to ensure that no matter how long this recession lasts we can weather the storm.

Afterwards council discussed the hotel/meals tax revenue allotted to Cary ($10 million) and qualifying tourism projects proposed by our town staff. The potential projects/investments we discussed were:

Partnering with Triangle Aquatics Center (TAC) to construct an indoor recreational and leisure pool and diving well. Est. cost $14.3 million

Press boxes, stadium additions, locker rooms, concessions and turf at Wake Med Soccer Park. Est. cost $5.8 million

The addition of locker rooms, dormitory space, offices, and an indoor batting cage at USA Baseball. Est cost $3.2 million

A clubhouse and pavilion at the Cary Tennis Center. Est cost $1 million

An office addition, restrooms, and theatrical equipment at Koka Booth Amphitheater. Est cost $1 million

Downtown Performing Arts center. Est cost $60 million

For those of you who may not be aware, the hotel/meals tax is a county wide tax on hotel stays and restaurant meals to generate revenue for tourism type projects that can draw visitors to Wake County. Unfortunately for Cary, the county along with Raleigh (go figure) determines the distribution of these funds – the clear majority of which goes to Raleigh (go figure again) to pay for the convention center…in Raleigh.

Cary contributes roughly 20% of the total hotel/meals tax revenue collected in Wake County. The Cary-Morrisville area generates roughly 35% of this revenue. Yet Cary receives only 5% in return. Morrisville receives nothing, nada, zip, zilch. And if that’s not enough, to rub more salt into the wound, years ago Cary used to have its own hotel/meals tax…until the county decided it wanted that revenue. The county essentially stole Cary’s idea and has been (insert derogatory remark here) us ever since.

Back to the worksession - Unfortunately councilmember Adcock was absent resulting in 6 of us – an even number – deliberating. You can see where this is going right? Needless to say, a majority of council couldn’t decide on whether to partner with TAC, or reinvest in USA Baseball, the Soccer Park, and Tennis Center (the improvements to Koka Booth Amphitheater as well as the Downtown Performing Arts Center were ruled out pretty quick). Three of us wanted to partner with TAC – and three of us wanted to use the funds for baseball, soccer, and tennis. 3 ½ hours later we left this worksession without making a decision…which also by the way made Councilmember Adcock the most popular person on council once she returned from her trip. ;-)

On Wednesday council held another worksession with our public art advisory board to review four art options for the proposed Cary Elementary fly tower (for history on this topic read earlier posts HERE and HERE). Council ultimately decided to instruct the design team and architect to bring back options that focus on architecture instead of applied art. The option was left open that the fly tower could include art, but the primary focus must be on the architecture.

After our worksession council members Adcock, Smith and I met with a concerned parent who lives in the MacGregor Downs area to discuss the proposed school reassignments.

Our council meeting this week included a number of important topics – a rezoning for a proposed office development at Piney Plains near Crossroads, the White Oak Baptist Church rezoning and annexation, approving the Animal Issues Task Force recommendations, and final discussion and decision on the hotel/meals tax revenue.

Now you would think that after having already discussed the hotel/meals tax proposals at length at our worksession that this discussion and decision would go fairly quickly right? Wrong. The good news however is that we did finally make a decision – the bad news is that it wasn’t the decision I had hoped for. I, along with councilors Portman and Robison supported partnering with TAC to complete the vision for aquatics in Cary. I believed this to be the best investment of all the projects before us. Total project cost: $14 million. Minus $10 million in hotel/meals tax money = $4 million investment for Cary. The private sector (TAC) has already built the $20+ million competition venue. Result = $34 million aquatics center in Cary for a $4 million town investment AND no operating loss. TAC would manage and operate the facility. The original aquatics center proposed by the town would have cost Cary taxpayers over $23 million and was projected to lose anywhere from $300,000 - $500,000 a year.

After this motion failed another motion was made to use the hotel/meals tax money for the improvements to USA Baseball, Wake Med Soccer Park, and the Cary Tennis Center. Even though I preferred to use the funds for aquatics, I supported this motion as I believe that all of the projects brought before us were good choices. Then again, if we weren’t getting hosed by the county there wouldn’t have been the need to even have this discussion. But hey, how about that convention center eh?

A number of concerned parents came to our council meeting to speak at the Public Speaks Out portion of our council meeting regarding WCPSS’ proposed reassignment plan. The annual school reassignment fiasco is hands down the most frustrating part of being a member of council. Council has the ability to help Cary citizens regarding an number of quality of life issues. But in regards to schools we are almost powerless. It breaks my heart to see so many families endure such turmoil year after year. Regardless, I promise to continue to represent Cary families and fight for neighborhood schools, increased opportunities for parental involvement, choice, and stability for all our children.

Today I had the honor of riding in the Cary Jaycees Christmas Parade. Which reminds me – MERRY CHRISTMAS and HAPPY HOLIDAYS CARY!

And finally, today is December 13th. Exactly one year ago today I was sworn in as a member of the Cary Town Council. I know it sounds cliché but it seems like just yesterday. My service on the council thus far has been one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences of my life. I can’t thank you all enough for the opportunity to serve you, the citizens and business owners of Cary as your representative on the Cary Town Council. It is truly an honor and a privilege.