Sunday, June 29, 2008

FY2009 Budget

I’m thankful I have a lot of patience – it’s a result of having six children I’m sure. I don’t know I could have made it through this year’s budget process if I didn’t. ;-) Council needed a total of six – yes six – worksessions (including a couple at 7:00 in the morning) to comb through FY2009’s proposed budget and make adjustments/cuts that at least a majority of council could agree upon. Council “officially” approved the budget at Thursday night’s council meeting.

Some of the highlights of the FY 2009 adopted budget are:
A revenue neutral tax rate of 33 cents – the LOWEST tax rate of any municipality in Wake County.

$15 million for Cary Elementary renovations and conversion to the Cary Community Arts Center.

$35 million for the Downtown Cary Streetscape project.

$8 million for Cary Parkway road improvements (previously only half was funded).

4.5% operating budget increase – whittled down from staff recommended 7.8% ($4 million decrease).

$30 million worth of Downtown projects postponed including the Harrison Ave. Extension, Hwy 54 widening from Maynard to Maynard, and the Walker Street extension/tunnel.

One council member, who shall remain nameless, believes Cary is spending too much on downtown at one time – even after council removed over $30 million worth of capital improvement projects downtown from the FY2009 budget in an effort to trim the fat. Yours truly believes downtown is finally getting its fair share. For years Cary’s capital improvements and investments have focused on our new growth areas. In other words, the nice and new always went to the nice and new. How much exactly? Over the last ten years, Cary has spent $310 million on parks, recreation, or transportation projects throughout the town. Only $12 million of that amount was spent downtown. The folks who have dealt with the effects and impact of growth longer than anyone else are the ones who have benefited the least from it.

For years we have seen increased neighborhood decay, businesses pack up shop and leave, and crime rates steadily increase downtown. Continuing to ignore these issues would only lead to more of the same. A town with an unhealthy downtown – and I’m not saying that’s the case yet – is an unhealthy town. Cary’s investment in downtown will encourage significant private investment and a revitalization movement that will, over time, transform downtown into a destination place - a place folks will want to live, work, and play. Cary must invest in downtown, we can’t afford not to.

The streetscape project – In retrospect – was probably the wrong title to give this project. The name leads one to believe it’s solely a beautification effort. That simply isn’t the case. For example, this project spends millions on road improvements downtown. I am sure those of you who have visited downtown know just how bad of shape the roads are. It also spends millions on drainage and storm water control measures, traffic control measures, upgrading and relocating utilities, and increased lighting for greater public safety. Unfortunately the project does cost $35 million. If we could make the same improvements for less we would – but we can’t.

Cary has been planning these improvements since our adoption of the Town Center Area Plan (TCAP) back in 2001. Sentiments from folks I have heard from are that Cary has planned, planned, and planned enough. It is time to stop planning, and start doing.

The council member who voted against the budget also stated we should focus more on public private partnerships, incentives, or the economics of downtown redevelopment instead of investing in the streetscape project. Good points. However, a few months ago when I recommended council reduce or eliminate impact fees downtown to help provide economic assistance (like he recommends) for folks to redevelop – he said “NO”. I don’t get it. (actually, yes I do, and I think you do too)

In the end I believe we have a very good budget. Is it perfect? No. But a very wise person told me that if you can get a budget that everyone is 80% satisfied with, you have a good budget. That means everyone didn’t get everything they wanted, but that priorities were addressed, and folks got what was most important. I believe that to be the case with Cary’s FY09 budget. Just as folks have had to tighten their belts and adjust their budgets in an uncertain economy, Cary has done the same.

I am proud of the work that council did on this budget. I am very proud of our town staff as well. Town Manager Bill Coleman, Budget Director Scott Fogleman and his staff, and numerous other staff members all did a tremendous job responding to council’s concerns, and exceeded our expectations – at least six of us anyways.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Give Me the Keys, I'll Drive!

On Friday, June 20th, 2008 President George W. Bush visited North Carolina for a fundraiser for Charlotte Mayor, and candidate for North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory. I had the honor and privilege of serving as a driver in President Bush's motorcade. I drove the staff support vehicle - fifth in line to the President's limousine.

When I first got the call offering me this opportunity, I thought it was a joke. I always assumed they had people for this. Well, as it turns out, the White House sometimes allows individuals associated with the organization or candidate the President is coming into town to visit the opportunity to participate in the motorcade as a "thank you".

I arrived at the airport, and after going through security checks and briefings from Secret Service we were tasked with organizing vehicle position so that once Air Force One landed, we could orderly and quickly fall in line behind the President's limousine. I must admit I became a little nervous watching secret service members - especially those on the tactical team - readying their weapons in preparation for the worst. The amount of firepower these folks have at their disposal is truly amazing however, and I am confident that anyone who attempted to cause us harm would quickly have a new home address....six feet underground.

Once the President was in his limousine, our motorcade began, and we didn't stop moving until we reached our destination in Raleigh. It was great to see all the folks who turned out to watch the President drive by, hoping for that slim chance to catch a glimpse of the man, or to just snap a photograph. Hundreds of folks cheered and waved American Flags, held up signs of support, and we even saw a few "Congratulations Jenna and Harry!" signs. Too cute.

Once we left the fundraiser, our motorcade did make an unscheduled stop. The President decided he wanted to visit with some of the folks who had gathered on the side of the road. Talk about excitement! You never saw so many reporters run so fast in your life! (they were in the rear of the motorcade LOL....) Secret Service immediately went into action and secured the area so Bush could spend a few minutes with these folks safely. It was a sight to see. Can you imagine the President of the United States not only driving through your neighborhood, but also stopping to say "hello"? How cool is that?!

After we arrived back at the airport, the President climbed the stairs back into Air Force One, turned and waved goodbye before stepping inside, and he was off.

This was one of the most exciting experiences of my life - something I will remember forever. Many Thanks to the McCrory campaign for giving me this incredible opportunity.
To see more pictures, please visit my facebook page.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Can't We All Just Get Along?

Fighting to be board chair
By T. Keung Hui

Rosa Gill, chairwoman of the school board, has got a coup d’├ętat on her hands.

As noted in today’s article, Gill faces opposition in her bid to be re-elected to a one-year term as chairwoman on Tuesday. Even though Lori Millberg won’t comment, she’s cited by other board members as being Gill’s challenger.

It’s leading to some interesting bedfellows. For instance, Ron Margiotta is backing Gill despite their many public tiffs. “I believe Rosa has done a good job in reaching out to the community,” Margiotta said. Margiotta cited the meetings that Gill has held over the past year with local officials. For instance, he cited how Apex Mayor Keith Weatherly, a frequent critic of the school district, praised Gill for meeting with the mayors and legislators. Margiotta also called Gill a “healer” and said “there isn’t a dishonest bone in her body.”

The rumors have also had Patti Head considering another run for chairwoman. But Head said she has no interest in being chairwoman again after having held the job for two years.
However, Head didn’t comment on whether she’s interested in being vice chairwoman, the job now held by Beverley Clark. Horace Tart said it’s been floated to have Millberg as chairwoman and Head as vice chairwoman.

Read the rest HERE

I have to ask, Why don't they compromise and let Ron Margiotta be chair? Works for me.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

June 12, 2008 Council Meeting

Mayor Harold Weinbrecht was absent from our meeting Thursday evening due to a death in his family. Our thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family.

Mayor Pro Tem Julie Robison was tasked with running our council meeting, and I must say she did a great job. She even called me prior to our meeting just to check in and see if I had any concerns. I really appreciated that.

Cary received yet another award at our meeting – the 2008 Cary Chamber of Commerce Water Conservation Award. And while the town has been, and will continue to be a leader in the state regarding water conservation, it is really our citizens who deserve this award. It is through their sacrifices that we have been able to conserve as well as we have. Way to go Cary citizens!

One issue that received quite a bit of discussion was whether or not to construct a sidewalk on Rock Pointe Lane. Believe it or not this is a very complicated topic, and I will address this issue in greater detail with its own post.

Council also discussed whether or not we should join Climate Communities, a national advocacy organization seeking new federal resources (ie. millions of taxpayer dollars), tools and incentives to support local government action to combat climate change. I recommended the Town not join Climate Communities, and instead recommended we join ICLEI. ICLEI is an organization whose mission is build, serve, and drive a movement of local governments to advance reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and achieve tangible improvements in local sustainability. In other words, ICLEI helps local communities become more environmentally friendly through changes in development and operational practices – things that Cary can actually do. I am glad my council colleagues felt the same as I, and believed this to be a good compromise. It passed unanimously.

Council also extended our sheltering agreement with the SPCA for another 90 days until we decide whether or not we will continue to stay with the SPCA, or switch to Wake County. We also agreed to form an ad-hoc advisory committee to help us study and make recommendations on developing a spay/neuter ordinance. Personally, I prefer coming up with incentives instead of legislation to encourage folks to spay/neuter their pets, but I believe the goal of addressing the animal overpopulation issue to be an admirable one. It is always better to be proactive instead of reactive.

One thing that has really surprised me is the amount of citizen interest in both of these issues. So much so that I have had to create a new folder on my computer just to store all of the emails and information I have received on this topic (over 100 different emails and documents). To put this in perspective, I have received a grand total of 5 emails regarding the town’s budget and tax rate. Seriously.

Council also “officially” created two new advisory boards – a new environmental advisory board, and a citizen issue review commission. Appointments for the environmental board were postponed however since council has not had enough time to interview all the applicants who received votes from members of council. There has also been a little heartburn regarding one of the Mayor’s selections, but I will wait and allow the process to run its course before I decide whether or not publicly addressing the issue is warranted.

That's it on the council meeting, thanks for reading!

Friday, June 13, 2008

He Keeps Going and Going.....

I'd like to take a minute to introduce you all to the hardest working candidate on the campaign trail this year - Duane Cutlip. Duane is running for NC House District 39.

When I say Duane is the hardest working candidate this campaign season, I'm not kidding. The guy is everywhere. If he's not canvassing neighborhoods and speaking directly to voters about his vision for North Carolina, he's introducing himself to folks at any number of social or civic events. He's also utilizing the Internet to deliver his message to younger voters. I swear every time I turn around, there's Duane. Duane has made it his goal to meet every voter in his district. I am confident that if he continues to campaign as he has been, he surely will. Energizer Batteries needs to give him a call - he makes that little pink bunny look tired. He keeps going and going.....

Duane is a successful small business man, a proud husband and father of two lovely girls. He is a man of honesty, integrity, and common sense. But what impresses me the most about Duane is his unbelievable work ethic. Many candidates for office talk the talk. Duane walks the walk. I honestly can't imagine how many pairs of shoes he's gone through already. ;-)

Please visit Duane's website to learn more about him and his vision for North Carolina. You'll be glad you did. District 39 needs a representative who will work hard for all North Carolinians. I promise you won't find a harder working individual than Duane Cutlip.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

NCGOP State Convention 2008

The North Carolina Republican Party's State Convention took
place at the Koury Convention Center in Greensboro this weekend. I was honored to participate as an official Wake County Delegate. On a related note Wake County had the greatest number of delegates present at the convention. Go Wake!

The convention began Friday afternoon. Friday's activities were mainly ceremonial and informational. Convention officers were appointed, and a report from the credential's committee was presented, debated, and approved. Auxiliaries such as the Women's/Men's Federation, Young Republicans, and College Republicans all spoke to the convention. The presentation that stood out to me the most however was from Charissa Lloyd of the College Republicans. She is a very impressive young woman who spoke to her real life experiences about being a Republican at college - typically (but not always) a liberal institution. The future of our party is in good hands thanks to strong individuals like Mrs. Lloyd, the College Republicans, and Young Republicans.

Friday evening's dinner featured Katon Dawson, South Carolina Republican Party Chairman, as our guest speaker. After dinner I attended the hospitality suites of Congressional Candidate BJ Lawson, and Candidate for Attorney General Bob Crumley. It was a great evening of food, fun, and fellowship.

Saturday morning was hands down the highlight of the convention for me. I had the great pleasure of meeting and speaking with Governor Mike Huckabee. While I wholeheartedly support John McCain for President of the United States, Governor Huckabee was in fact my "first" choice. He is a man of integrity, honesty, and honor. He is truly a gentleman. Men like Governor Huckabee don't come around very often - they broke the mold when they made Mike. (see photo)

Afterwards convention delegates heard from all the candidates for statewide office including U.S. Senator Elizabeth Dole and Republican Candidate for Governor and Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory. I have heard Pat speak a number of times, but this was hands down the best speech I have ever heard him deliver. He had the place rocking! His recognition of N.C. Senator and former opponent Fred Smith was appreciated by many. It is so awesome how after the primary election was over with, all the former opponents have come together to support our party's nominee. It's a shame the Democratic candidates for Governor have been unable to do the same. U.S. Senator Richard Burr also spoke to the convention.

Saturday's lunch featured Governor Mike Huckabee as our guest speaker - and it's a good thing for Robert Pittenger he was there. Robert began choking on his food and couldn't breathe. Well, Before anyone could do anything to help, Governor Huckabee had his arms around him performing the Heimlich maneuver. Told you Mike was a great guy!!! ;-)

Saturday afternoon was our business session. We elected our National Committee man and woman, as well as at-large delegates and alternate delegates to the national convention. We also approved our amended party platform and resolutions. Afterwards delegates to the National Convention - of which I am one - had our first meeting. We elected State Party Chair Linda Daves as our Delegate Chair. She's awesome. The evening's dinner featured Congressman Robin Hayes as our guest speaker.

Sunday Morning we had our Chairman's Prayer Breakfast which featured Reverend Bill Miller as our guest speaker. Mr. Miller was also the Convention Chair, and I must say did an awesome job. Not only was he firm but fair, he was also entertaining and made great efforts to educate everyone in attendance on proper parliamentary procedure. Afterwards I loaded up and headed home.

In this delegate's opinion the convention was a great success. I was very encouraged to see that all Republicans in attendance - no matter who they supported during the primary season - put their differences aside, came together, and worked hard towards unifying our party. We are, after all, only as strong as our weakest link. United we stand, divided we fall.

I can't wait until the National Convention. :-)

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Road Trip!

Tomorrow morning I leave for the NCGOP State Convention in Greensboro. I'll be there until Sunday afternoon. Featured guests include Governor Mike Huckabee and Senator Elizabeth Dole. I'll fill ya'll in when I return!