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.

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!