Cary, NC — This week was once again dominated by issues related to COVID-19.
Monday – Stay at Home Order Discussions
Monday afternoon I had my weekly one-on-one meeting with the town manager. We talked about the Wake County Stay-At-Home order, that was scheduled to expire later in the week and be extended, and the impacts on the upcoming budget.
The Wake County Mayors held a tele-meeting on Monday night. Most of the discussion was on whether municipalities should sign on with the county’s Stay-At-Home order which was going to be extended. At the time of the call, the county only had one exemption in their drafted extension. Complaints from some of the mayors included fairness to businesses and the need to allow drive-in worship. There was also the ongoing complaint about no gathering versus the gathering of ten which the state allows.
Tuesday – Changes Made in Extended Wake County SAH Order
Tuesday I talked with a Wake County commissioner about the draft for the extension of the county Stay-At-Home order. By this time most of the mayors’ issues were included in the draft. The order, which was proclaimed later in the week had the following changes:
- Will start at 5:00 PM Thursday, April 16th, and extend through April 30, 2020.
- Allows all businesses to open for on-line and telephone sales with curbside pick-up.
- Allows gatherings up to 25 people for funeral services.
- Establishes operating requirements for faith institutions and organizations.
- Provides additional guidance for defining essential businesses in Wake County.
Wednesday – CAMPO Meeting & Governor Cooper Conference
Wednesday I participated in the CAMPO (Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization) Executive Board tele-meeting while listening to the Governor’s news conference. The CAMPO meeting had 6 consent items, 3 public hearings, and 2 discussion items. The committee approved selection methodology for Bonus Allocation funds, a prioritized list of projects for the NC 540 bonus allocation funds, and a prioritized list of projects in each transportation mode.
In staff reports, NCDOT Division 5 (our division) reported that traffic was down 30% to 50%, and vehicle sales were down significantly which would have about a $200 million impact on their budget. He stated that current projects will continue but there were already operational cutbacks such as mowing and litter collection. He believes there will be no new contracts.
The Governor’s news conference focused on the new normal and how to get the economy going again. He stated that relaxation of restrictions will depend on testing availability and hospital situation.
Thursday – Mayors Talk Gathering Size Limitations
Thursday I joined a tele-meeting of the Wake County Mayors Association. Our discussion focused on the differences in the State’s Stay-At-Home order and the county’s Stay-At-Home order. The main difference discussed was the gathering of ten versus the gathering of zero. Most of the mayors believe that zero is unrealistic and unenforceable.
Friday – $464,000,000 State Budget Shortfall
Friday I participated in a meeting of the North Carolina Metro Mayors. The meeting included some eye-opening numbers such as a state budget shortfall approaching a half a billion. Here is the summary from the Executive Director:
- Congress has passed three rounds of legislation related to COVID-19
- The most recent one (CARES Act) included funding for local governments with the primary vehicle for those funds being CDBG.
- The Act strictly limits the funds to be used for costs associated to the COVID-19 response.
- Currently, there is a debate in Congress regarding additional funding for small businesses and as a part of that debate they are considering more flexible funding to local governments as well (as well as hospitals and SNAP).
- The small business funding is urgent since the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) has run out funds and there is talks of adding $250B to this popular small business forgivable loan program. As part of that effort the US House has added $53B for local governments to go through CDBG with less restrictive rules, including using it to replace lost revenues.
- A letter from the Metro Mayors has been sent to Sens. Burr and Tillis requesting that direct local aid be provided for lost revenue to local governments.
- This could be the last opportunity to get additional funding for local governments in the near future and it is especially important that as our state and local restrictions are eases that local governments are in a healthy financial position and able to help our economy rebound.
- We encourage you to look at the Metro Mayors letter to our US Senators and the NCLM ACTION ALERT – and place a call to our US SENATE to request their help on local funding.
NC Legislative Schedule
- The legislature will reconvene on April 28 as originally planned.
- When the legislature reconvenes, the building will only be open to members, staff, and credentialed press.
- Votes will be held over multiple minutes instead of the usual 5 seconds in order to limit the number of members in the Chamber at one time.
- The legislature plans to only take up legislation related to COVID-19.
- It is unclear at this point what the final legislation will look like as the House has been the only chamber meeting remotely to discuss policy items and the type of budget the legislature will be working with for these measures has not been announced.
- We do expect whatever is voted on to be consensus legislation with bi-partisan support and for the session to be very brief.
- The legislature will come back later in the year (likely late July or early August) to deal with the budget and other pressing legislation.
- The legislature is waiting to take up a budget due to a significant amount of under collections making it unclear at this point on the amount of money they will be working with to craft a budget.
- Current forecasting shows (source – NC Office of the State Controller- Cas Watch):
- $2.5B revenue shortfall (preliminary projections)
- $1.7B in unreserved cash (mainly due to no budget being passed last year)
- $1.1B in rainy day funds
- $848M in written funding requests
- Currently resulting in $464M budget gap
COVID-19 Working Groups
House Select Committees have been meeting remotely focusing on four topics (Health Care, Education, Economic Support, Continuity of State Operations).
It is important to remember that while bipartisan, these are House only committees so the work being generated reflects the interest of one chamber, although we are hoping to see consensus with the Senate.
- Economic Support Working Group – Chairs Jason Saine (R-Lincoln), Julia Howard (R-Davie), Michael Wray (D-Halifax)
- Small Business Emergency Loans (Bill Draft/Summary) Makes funds available ($25M) to Golden Leaf Foundation NC
- RapidRecovery Loans for entities to provide emergency loans for businesses of 50 or fewer employees. (Similar to recovery loans after hurricanes).
- Unemployment Benefits/Taxes (Bill Draft/Summary)Waives the accrual of interest on individual and corporate income and franchise tax returns due on or before April 15 from April 15 until July 15.
- Affirms flexibility in administering the State’s unemployment compensation laws as provided in EO 118 and 131.
- Education Working Group – Chairs Craig Horn (R-Union), John Fraley (R-Iredell), Ashton Clemmons (D-Guilford)Education Omnibus (Bill Draft/Summary) – The majority of the bill deals with various waivers related to student testing, school report cards, low-performing schools, and Read to Achieve. It also makes modifications to the Educator
- Preparation Programs (EPPs) and extends licensure requirements for teachers and school administrators. The bill was for discussion only and will be voted on at the next committee meeting.
There have been a lot of questions and discussions surrounding the school calendar and Rep. Horn said during yesterday’s meeting that they simply are not there yet in terms of a solution since it is such a complex issue. Members and staff working diligently on the issue and getting as much input as possible from all stakeholders.
DOT Funding Crisis
- There was a State transportation funding crisis before COVID-19 due to MAP Act settlements and expenses related to weather related disasters.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this crisis due to historically low levels of gas tax and vehicle sales tax – the primary tax revenue for DOT.
- We anticipate know that the STIP will be amended to accommodate this GROWING SHORTFALL
- The General Assembly will no longer be able to ignore the glaring funding holes within the Department and we expect something to be done by the legislature to address this.
- Payments were delayed to cities for public transportation (SMAP funds).
- It should have been released to cities beginning Monday (April 13). If not, please contact Beau.
Testing for First Responders
- On March 30, Governor Cooper sent a letter to law enforcement saying that first responders will be given the same priority for testing as health care workers.
CARES Act – Byrne Grants for Law Enforcement
- REMINDER: MOST police departments are eligible for the Byrne Grants as part of the CARES Act. Even though funding is based on a distribution formula, it must still be applied for to receive funds. Please check in with your police chiefs to see whether your city is included in the distribution and they have applied.
Congressional funding for small businesses
- See the earlier discussion the FEDERAL UPDATE.
- Urge Congress to support funding for small businesses and local governments.
NC Retail Merchants Call
- The NC Retail Merchants Association has asked to speak to the Coalition members. Be on the lookout for a call to be scheduled for early next week (see their attached letter).
- This will be a good opportunity to discuss the re-opening of businesses and how to navigate social distancing with our state’s retail community
Local Revenues/Local Control
Governor’s Executive Order (131) – Retail Businesses
- This EO was the first time that local governments were pre-empted by an Order regarding social distancing requirements for retailers. The Governor established state-wide standards for retail businesses THAT ARE OPEN (it did not preempt local decision on WHICH businesses can be open).
NCLM funding request
- NCLM put together a letter that was sent to all legislators regarding the needs of cities and towns.
- Specific items of need in the NCLM letter include:
- $60M each month to municipalities for April, May, and June to offset anticipated lost sales tax revenues.
- $50M in interest-free loans to aid with cash flow challenges.
- $100M in new grant funds to help local government water and wastewater utilities meet cash flow needs.
- Allow for continued collections on property taxes for vehicles even as vehicle registrations are deferred and delayed.
- Clarify state Public Meetings Law so councils can meet remotely. (This could potentially be included in upcoming COVID-19 CONSENSUS legislation).
- Approve and incorporate the NC FIBER Act into relief package.
- NCLM Annual Budget SurveyPlease make sure that you take the time to respond to the NCLM budget survey (it is being coordinated through city budget officers). It is a powerful source of information that we can use in advocating for cities to the General Assembly.
- President’s Plan/ Governor’s Plan
- Be thinking about opportunities and ways to engage as the conversation around re-opening of the economy continues.
- Reach out to your local business community and communicate with your local chambers and county health officials to chart your local path forward as we look to phasing in the business activities as part of the “new normal.”
The meeting concluded after about 40 minutes.
Town Manager’s Report
The town manager, Sean Stegall’s report for this week included:
Manager’s Message to Council
In facing times of economic downturn, the uncertainty creates an opportunity for leadership to approach the line. Chief Strategy Officer Susan Moran has shared that COVID-19 is much like the emergent response to a hurricane. The parallel organizations of the Emergency Command Center (EOC) and the Operational Framework Team (OFT) met virtually today and discussed how the last 1 ½ weeks the organization was facing the eye of the hurricane, and now we are approaching the second hit of the hurricane. In preparing for the second hit staff is committed to being courageous and inventing rather than copying from others forging the response path.
I anticipate there will be lots of experimentation accompanied by mid-course corrections ahead of us because none of us have every lead through a pandemic. One redirection occurred today when I asked staff to arrange for a business item be added to a Virtual Town Hall meeting on April 30. When planning for the Town Hall meeting business items were not originally on the agenda but it has become increasingly apparent that business decisions will be needed between now and the end of April. You can expect more information about this item and the meeting logistics next week.
Our primary commitment will continue to be the health of our residents and staff. As such, there was a press release earlier today announcing that all parks, recreation and cultural resource events through May 31 have been canceled. Full refunds will be issued for any registered camps, classes, facility reservations and ticketed Town events canceled due to COVID-19. There will be a separate announcement about May public meetings later.
As always to support each of you during these uncharted territories I will be accessible to answer any questions as they arise. Due to the support of such a supportive Council I am confident we will make it to the other side of the storm.
Operational Framework & Update
Some common feeling themes shared by staff working from home this week is they feel restless and tired of working from home. Despite the unease Russ share that the reoccurring personal theme was pride. Our employees are proud of the work they are accomplishing remotely.
This week’s Operational Message to staff continued to provide encouragement and clarity, The messages provided transparency on crafting the FY2021 budget, sick and vacation leave, upcoming open enrollment, and future Council meetings. There are still many areas where questions still outweigh answers, but it the questions that guide our next operational step.
The weekly operational report brings a close to the week’s activities outside of the Emergency Command Center (EOC). Please take a moment to review the weekly operational report.
Included below is a summary-level overview of the operational activities continuing to take place during this health emergency.
- Building permit application submittals continue to be steady. On average, building inspectors performed 209 inspections per day this week, which is similar to previous weeks.
- Beginning this week, all Certificate of Occupancies are now being issued by email. Moving this formally paper process to email continues to provide better service to the development community not only now but in the future.
- Fenton is scheduled to remove the remaining trees along Cary Towne Boulevard in early May.
- At the Development Review Committee meeting this week, the applicant for the Cary Towne Center redevelopment project submitted the first development plan associated with the project. This development plan is for the preliminary changes for the site between Maynard Rd and Belk. Staff will be reviewing this plan over the next few weeks.
- The Citizen’s Convenience Center has seen an increase in visitation and materials as citizens staying home have been “spring cleaning.” A social distancing sign was installed to remind citizens of the six feet social distancing order.
- Cary dodged a bullet during the storms on Monday. Public Works responded to 7 downed trees and tended to 18 signalized intersections that either lost power or went into “flash” mode. Facilities staff spent Monday and Tuesday walking and riding greenways clearing debris and mud.
- All corrective actions required in the notice of violation received for underground storage tanks have been satisfied. NC Department of Environmental Quality has inspected and confirmed all issued are resolved and the inspection is closed.
- Cary’s wastewater treatment plants utilize thermal biosolids drying facilities at SCWRF and WWRWRF to produce Class A, exceptional quality biosolids for beneficial reuse as a fertilizer and soil conditioner. The final product, known as Enviro Gems, is pelletized and marketed for sale to a vendor for use in agribusiness applications. The SCWRF produced 3,835 dry tons in 2019, its highest production year on record. The WWRWRF produced 2,178 dry tons in 2019.
- Ted continued work on several key projects, including Academy Park, Harrison/Chatham, Higgins Greenway, the old library site, downtown park and the Cary Towne Center redevelopment.
- The Chamber is planning a virtual event to discuss the current development landscape and process. Ted will participate in this event, anticipated to occur over the next week or two.
- HR continues to implement new regulations from COVID-19 legislation, in addition to implementing the healthy rewards program and the redesign of open enrollment for the coming year.
- Legal continued their review of the proposed amendments to Chapter 12, Emergency Management Ordinance, which is slated for Council consideration at an upcoming council meeting.
What’s the EOC & OFT All About?
Earlier this week, during a Town Manager’s Office staff meeting, representatives from the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and the Operational Framework Team (OFT) gave a behind the scenes perspective of the two groups, the purpose of each, and how important bridging those two worlds is for the Cary organization during this unprecedented time. Participants found the discussion incredibly helpful and so we decided to record the conversation for larger viewing. The video provides great context around the role of the EOC, OFT and how Cary’s culture has played an important role in how we operate today.
NCDOT Trinity Road Grade Separation Project
NCDOT indicated this week they plan to move forward with the environmental analysis for the Trinity Road grade separation project and are planning a virtual public meeting to receive public input on two proposed conceptual alignments. Cary has been working on a proposed hybrid alignment (third option) that incorporates WakeMed soccer park programming, access and parking, redevelopment potential for the area and future connections with Fenton. Staff submitted this hybrid approach to NCDOT this week for their consideration.
NCDOT Great Trails Plan
The Great Trails State Plan is a plan to create a network of shared-use paths and limited on-road connections that will support low-stress travel between cities, town centers, state parks and recreation areas across North Carolina. The project will include a statewide existing conditions analysis, national best practices review, comprehensive public and stakeholder engagement, development of a statewide non-motorized network and prioritization methodology. Development of an implementation plan with defined goals, strategies, action steps and funding resources is needed. Stakeholder meetings are beginning with each NCDOT division and a public outreach effort that includes a survey is available. Please consider taking this 10-question survey.
COVID-19 Assistance Legislation
Staff from Finance, TMO and the EOC continue to monitor and develop strategies around COVID-19 legislation. As part of those efforts staff developed a letter to encourage assistance for local government operations. It was developed and will be circulated with the assistance of Cary’s Washington DC lobbyist, The Ferguson Group. The letter will be circulated to our North Carolina Congressional delegation and the White House intergovernmental affairs team. Given the size, scope and unique nature of the pandemic. There will continue to be amendments as well as procedural guidelines developed by the Treasury and other federal agencies. Specifically, the issue of direct federal support for communities to help offset lost tax revenues will continue into the fifth coronavirus federal response package. Cary is preparing for that process in conjunction with the preparation of our own budget discussions.
Active Capital Projects in Cary
In addition to emergency and essential services to mitigate the pandemic, staff continue to make progress on current work projects and initiatives. While we have been highlighting (and will continue to highlight) individual projects in the Weekly Operational Report, we also wanted to provide staff and Council with an overview of all active capital projects. Using the Catalog as the primary tool of our projects, we have pulled a list of 72 active capital projects.
Additional Information of Interest
I’ve found the following articles to be particularly interesting this week and wanted to share with you for your reading pleasure:
- Risky Business, National Conference of State Legislatures
- Leadership in a crisis: Responding to the coronavirus outbreak and future challenges, McKinsey & Company
Get in Touch
Emails from citizens this week included a request to not allow utilities to dig at this time to prevent loss of internet service which is crucial since most everyone is working from home. Here is the staff’s response:
“… Cary requested all utility companies to cease work in Cary right-of-way (unless authorized) on March 20th. This notice applied only to installation of new facilities in Cary right-of-way. Utility companies may continue to respond to calls for repair or maintenance of existing facilities and to pull and splice fiber. Most utility companies have been receptive to this request and continue to work within the limits of our request but the final decision is made at a state level. I informed … I would contact Duke Energy to discuss this project and propose doing this work at a later time but ultimately the decision comes from a state level and all I can do is ask they follow Cary’s request. …”
Almost all the other emails from citizens were requests to open the government. Most were from Oneclickpolitics which appears to be a conservative social media organization. Quotes from the emails include:
- The constant perpetuation of the fear of grave sickness and death must be lifted to return communities back to a state of functioning.
- I urge you to re-open our state’s schools and businesses by May 1.
- I implore you to allow healthy individuals to return to work so that our jobs, our economy and the well-being of our citizens are not destroyed.
- Every prediction they have made has been wrong, yet the decisions still seem to be based on these guesses. We need to get back to work before there is nothing to go back to.
- C’mon. Clearly the virus is an order of magnitude or two less deadly than projected. Admit it and end this farce. Don’t keep ruining jobs and the lives just to save face.
- This is ridiculous being held hostage like this with a quarantine when we are not sick.
- Fear of this virus deaths compared to the other deaths occurring and will occur is mind blowing. Any decision, people are going to die and it’s just a fact.
- Moving in a direction with less restriction stops the death of the many more people adding to this horror of actual Covid patients.
- It’s pretty worrisome if any jurisdiction in N.C. is pushing for anything stricter. Given all our hospitals never had any capacity issues, many half-full, and many layoffs of nurses. All doctors outside of emergency and hospital workers are not working.
- We clearly do not have a large problem with the actual virus… rather we have a significant issue with the ramifications of massive stay at home orders.
- I’ll just go to the next county or state makes no difference to me. Govern the town of Cary.
I very much appreciate the opinions and points of view from all sides, especially those that don’t cut and paste a message from a social media post. It is extremely sad to me that in this time of national crisis there are some that are politicizing the moment, including the left and the right. Now is the time for unity and not party politics.
The new infection numbers for Wake County from April 11th through April 18th are 53, 14, 20, 14, 38, 11, 11, and 7. The last three days have been encouraging. This is the first single-digit increase I can remember in weeks. Social distancing is working. Please keep practicing guidelines so that we can get that number down even lower.
Next week’s activities include staff meetings. A monthly meeting of the Wake County Mayors Association (outside the COVID-19 meetings we have been having twice a week), a PSA taping, a virtual Chamber Eye-Opener breakfast with Dr. Walden on the Corona economy, and a North Carolina Metro Mayors meeting.
Well, that is all for this week. My next post will be on Sunday, April 26th. Although I have Facebook and Twitter accounts those are not the best means of communication with me. Please send all Town of Cary questions or comments to Harold.Weinbrecht@townofcary.org and email personal comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.