Friday, June 12, 2009

Week in Review 6/8/09 - 6/12/09

I'm posting a bit early as this weekend I will be busy as a delegate at the NCGOP State Convention.

Council held our third and final budget worksession this past Tuesday evening. Highlights (or lowlights depending on how you look at it) from the meeting included:

Old Cary Elementary School’s restoration and renovation into the Cary Community Arts Center will remain on schedule.

Downtown Cary Streetscape project delayed one year due to the economy and concerns over mounting debt service and lower than expected revenues to the town.

Open space funding of $5.8 million from the utility and general fund approved - $10 million in COP (certificates of participation) bonds delayed.

The proposed Downtown Manager position will not be filled this year. The Planning Department will take on a more active role in this regard until funding becomes available to fill this position.

And council denied Cary EMS’ request for $5,000.00 in non-profit assistance by a vote of 5-2. Mayor Weinbrecht and I voted to approve EMS’ request.

I was very pleased to see council reconsider our earlier decision to delay old Cary Elementary. Of all Cary’s planned capital projects, this particular project – in this council member’s opinion – is by far our most important. Not only is old Cary Elementary one of our town’s most treasured historic resources, but it is also in dire need of repairs. One needs look no further than the leaning front porch roofline to see what I mean. The longer this project waits, the further the building will continue to deteriorate, and the more expensive this project becomes. We may also discover that due to the economy and increased competition that construction bids come in lower than expected.

Given my passion for old Cary and our downtown it was very difficult for me to support delaying the downtown streetscape project. However given the town’s financial outlook and economy the choice….well, we really had no choice. We could either move forward with this project and raise taxes, or not. I voted not. Raising taxes in a down economy is the LAST thing government should do (are you listening NCGA??) Hopefully next year the town’s financial outlook and the economy improve enough to where we can bring this project back. Until then the council will review this project and our plans for downtown to see if their may be better phasing options and/or changes that may be made to better achieve our goals downtown.

What really surprised me at our budget worksession however was the decision to NOT grant Cary EMS $5,000 in non-profit funding. For those of you who may be unaware, Cary EMS is a non-profit entity and is not funded by Cary. They do receive county and private funding. Cary EMS “rents” space from Cary Firestation #5 so they can position an ambulance in the western Cary area to better serve our citizens. Cary EMS requested $5000 from Cary to help offset these costs. I believed this to be a no-brainer – given all that Cary EMS does to serve and save the lives of our citizenry I felt $5000 was the least we could do to help. We are after all granting over $130,000 to other local non-profits like the Carying Place, Kids Voting, Triangle Family Services, and Child Care Services Association. Unfortunately I was in the minority.

After our worksession council went into closed session to discuss and review the performance of two town employees. I can’t say much given that this was a closed session discussion but FWIW council only has the authority to hire and fire 3 town employees. We weren’t discussing the town manager. The rest is up to you to figure out. ;-)

Our council meeting was held on Wednesday this week due to local high school graduation ceremonies. The council meeting went rather quickly as there was not much on our agenda. Meeting highlights included council’s adoption of an annexation moratorium in Chatham County until September, agreement to direct our town staff to review Cary’s open house signage restrictions and report back to council to see how we may be more flexible in allowing folks to better market their homes in these tough economic times, discussion and decision regarding Cary’s high efficiency toilet (HET) rebate program, and council held another budget public hearing.

A number of folks spoke during the budget public hearing regarding their concerns over potential delays in the downtown streetscape and old Cary Elementary projects. I was very encouraged to see so many come out in support of our efforts downtown. While streetscapes will unfortunately be delayed, the majority of folks I have spoken to have been very understanding given the economic climate and are pleased to see that Cary will at least continue to move forward with old Cary Elementary.

At the request of citizens who are having difficulties selling their homes in this economy I sponsored the request to have our staff reevaluate our sign ordinance pertaining to open house signage to see if we can become a bit more flexible. Currently our ordinance only allows folks the opportunity to advertise their open houses with signage twice a year. Yet some folks are having upwards of 4,5,or even 6 open houses. Now I don’t know what the magic number should be, I learned a while back its better to identify the issue and allow the professionals time to work their magic before getting more specific, but I am optimistic that we can find a way to allow folks a bit more freedom without compromising the visual landscape throughout town that our citizens value so much.

I voted against adoption of an annexation moratorium in Chatham County (again) for a few reasons. 1) Chatham County has no development moratorium in place so why should we be expected to? 2) I believe the moratorium largely responsible for Cary and Chatham’s inability to come to agreement on a joint land use plan thus far, and 3) Given the comments from some Chatham County Commissioners I doubt we ever will come to an agreement.

Thursday evening Mayor Weinbrecht and I attended Cary High School’s graduation ceremony at the convention center in downtown Raleigh. This was extra special for me as our son Whitt was one of the graduates! I was also pleased that this year’s graduation had air conditioning. Previous graduations were held in Reynolds Coliseum which has no air conditioning. A suit and tie in June is bad enough – a suit and tie in June with no A/C is criminal. Congratulations to all our area graduates and CONGRATULATIONS WHITT!!!

This weekend is the NCGOP State Convention which will be held at the convention center in downtown Raleigh (seems like I was just there). I will try to post an entry on the convention’s activities early next week.

That’s about it for now. Thanks for reading!