Harold’s Blog: Week 10 of Closures, Virtual Meetings and COVID Updates
Cary, NC — This week was a typical week for being in a State of Emergency.
Monday – Meetings on Budget and Upcoming Tax Rate
Since this week had a regularly scheduled council meeting scheduled for Thursday, I attempted to contact council members to hear of questions or concerns about the upcoming agenda. I contacted all council members and there were no questions or concerns. The agenda was very short so the meeting with staff to go over the agenda lasted about five minutes.
Monday night I participated in a meeting of the Wake County Mayors Association. Most of the discussion centered on upcoming budgets and projected tax rates. Almost all municipalities will not propose a revenue neutral tax rate. We all agreed to send a letter to our congressional delegation about federal funding. Here is the letter I co-authored:
Federal Delegation of Wake County North Carolina
Attn. Senator Burr, Senator Tillis, Congressman Holding, Congressman Price
The Wake County Mayors Association consists of the mayors of the twelve municipalities in Wake County, North Carolina representing over 1 million residents. We unite to advocate for the needs of our communities and region.
Given the current pandemic, our municipalities are experiencing unprecedented challenges. Our cities and towns have been part of the ongoing battle against this virus and we have so much more to do as we fight to protect both the health of our citizens and the economy. We urge you to act in support of the stakeholders you represent by passing new dedicated and flexible direct funding for North Carolina county and municipal governments that can help us meet ongoing needs and mitigate loss of revenue. We also ask that you amend the CARES Act to allow the state and local funds in that legislation be flexible to allow “lost revenue” related to COVID-19 as an eligible use of Coronavirus Relief Fund dollars, and rectify the provisions under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which excluded government employers from the paid leave tax credits.
You have voted to provide critical support funding for our business communities, and we are grateful. Now is the time to help your local governments which are the closest to the citizens and are responsible for our first responder heroes including firefighters, police officers, and EMS. Strong and decisive action is needed and direct financial assistance to our municipalities is critical now if we are to avoid a reduction in services to our shared constituents. We want our municipalities to be a part of bringing our economy back rather than being a drag on the local efforts to recover. Over one million of us are counting on your help in our time of need. Please don’t let us down. …
Our meeting concluded in about half an hour.
Wednesday – Low Revenue Puts Transportation Projects in Limbo
Wednesday I participated in a meeting of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s (CAMPO) Executive Board. The agenda included 2 consent items, 2 public hearings, and 2 discussion items. The public hearings included an amendment for the FY2020-2029 Transportation Improvement Program and the FY 2021, and the Recommended Wake Transit Work Plan.
CAMPO staff reported that Wake Transit Work Plan’s sales tax is down at least 70% which will have a significant impact on the projected revenue not only for this fiscal year but also the next five fiscal years. This equates to millions of dollars of funding. As a result, only high priority projects will be funded at the beginning of the fiscal year which begins on July 1st. The remaining projects will be placed in a que and be funded as sales tax revenues allow.
Under discussion items, staff talked about impacts of COVID-19 on SPOT and LAPP projects. Basically, what has started or what is an essential project can continue otherwise everything else has been postponed. SPOT projects are big ticket items that are planned over ten years. LAPP projects are smaller projects funded every year. LAPP projects are being told to stop unless they are already underway. NCDOT representatives stated they are below the cash floor and is not sure when they can reimburse municipalities for projects. CAMPO staff said additional project delays are likely. The meeting concluded after about an hour.
Wednesday afternoon I participated in the Governor’s news conference where he announced that the state was moving into the second phase of opening. He shifted from Stay-At-Home to Safer-At-Home for at least five weeks. Openings include gatherings of 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors, restaurants at 50% capacity, personal care and grooming at 50% capacity, swimming pools at 50% capacity, and overnight and day camps with safety rules in place. What remains closed are bars, night clubs, gyms, indoor entertainment venues, and public playgrounds.
Friday – Metro Mayors Talk Reopening Procedures
Friday I participated in a meeting of the North Carolina Metro Mayors. Here is the Executive Director’s summary of that call:
Update on Governor’s Office
COVID-19 Phase II Reopening – Phase-2 Executive Order and info
- Phase 2 begins today (May 22, 2020) at 5:00 p.m. today. The Order is currently scheduled to remain in effect until June 26.
- This order was a more modest approach than what was originally planned. This decision by the Governor and his team was due a continued but modest to increase in the actual number of positive cases. The Governor did note that, while the number of cases has increased, so has the number of tests and the resulting percentage of positive tests has not risen.
- In accordance with previous orders, the Governor stated that this latest Executive Order provides a floor for restrictions and local governments can enact stricter rules if local leaders and health officials so choose.
The EO Phase-2 info website contains a helpful information and FAQ
State Legislative UPDATE
Overview and Schedule
- The Legislature returned Monday for the first full week of the regularly scheduled short session.
- Both chambers are working very quickly and say they are determined to not take up any controversial legislation.
- The Majority Party in the Legislature is not satisfied with the steps forward provided by Governor Cooper’s Phase 2 Executive Order. We can expect more legislation to be introduced surrounding the Phase 2 order.
- Senator Gunn (Burlington/Alamance) introduced 2 outdoor dining bills; both would allow 50% of indoor capacity to be new outdoor seating in addition to the already permitted 50% indoor seating capacity in Governor’s Executive Order that takes effect today.
- Budget – House is working on putting together budget numbers with Senate, whether something will pass remains to be seen due to financial situation and the fact that they were unable to enact a budget last year.
- Due to our poor financial situation stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic and the commitment to avoiding cuts to teacher salaries and any major cuts to education, everything else in the budget is up for discussion and on the cutting table.
- Everyone should remember that the Legislative Building and Office Building is open at 50% capacity and entrance requires a temperature check. A lot of members are not there and continue to participate remotely. If you are interested in coming to the legislature, please contact our team and our lobbying team well be happy to help coordinate a visit.
NC DOT Audit & Budget Status
NC State Auditor, Beth Wood, presented the findings of her office’s audit of the NC Department of Transportation.
- Found that NCDOT overspent their budget by more $700M
- It is NOT just a short-term problem, but also a systemic issue that dates back to the previous 3-4 administrations.
- The State Budget Office does not have the software the interconnectivity needed to monitor DOT expenditures.
While COVID problems, storms and Map Act settlements have borne much of the blame for the terrible financial situation at DOT, the Auditor stated that these are only part of the problem.
Next week, NCDOT Secretary Eric Boyette and some senor members of the department leadership will present to a joint legislative hearing. The hearing next week will likely be the kickoff for conversations about establishing an oversight committee for NCDOT annual spending plans. Every option and consideration is on the table to assist in stabilizing the agency:
- Stabilizing gas tax revenue
- Reallocation of funds
- More manpower for oversight – both legislative and State Budget Office.
We encourage you to look at the allocation of transportation dollars you receive, what it means to your city, and what it means for getting people back to work. (i.e. SMAP provides x-x-number of employees getting to their jobs each day).
If Congress provides spending flexibility, there is a $300M reserve fund in the state coffers that would be transferred to NCDOT to help shore up some of their financial problems.
Nothing new to report.
Outside Dining – Restaurants/Bars (HB536) and Brewery/Winery (HB902) – attached
- These bills are currently not availableonline since they were for discussion only in Senate Commerce this week.
- Bill introduced by Sen. Gunn would allow a city to authorize outdoor dining in public streets or sidewalks and would not require city approval on private property. CITIES ARE ALREADY working on plans to use sidewalks and even contemplating closing some streets and adjacent open space for outdoor dining.
- These bills would allow up 100 people or 50% of indoor capacity (whichever is less) to be setup as outdoor seating (recent EO only allows 50% of seating capacity inside a restaurant).
- Both bills seem to have sections that seem to challenge both executive and local authority in this Pandemic
- We expect these bills to be very popular and move quickly in Committees to start as they are seen as “JOB SAVERS” for the very hard-hit hospitality industry.
Local Revenues/ Local Control
Nothing new to report.
Update on Congressional Funding for Local Governments
Funding under CARES Act – North Carolina received $4B. Three counties and one city received direct funding from Congress, but the General Assembly controlled the remaining funds and left the 600+ local government bodies with only $150M to share.
The $150M went directly to counties. If you are having any trouble working with your county officials, please let Beau know. We are asking for spending flexibility with the current funds that were already allocated to states from the CARES Act. It is likely that there will be new legislation to provide this flexibility.
The HIGHEST priority in our advocacy effort should be to press our Congressional for additional aid from Congress. Remind them cities did not receive ANY direct aid from the CARES Act (although there was some help in earlier COVID bills – including CDBG, FEMA Fire aid and DOJ law enforcement funds for SOME cities)
Last week the Democratically controlled U.S. House passed the Heroes Act (a huge $3 TRILLION package). However, there is no chance of it passing in Senate. This is just a jumping off point for negotiations.
There has been an increase in efforts around the SMART Act . This bill is singly focused JUST on helping cities, counties, and states with direct federal aid ($500B) and is designed to have broad appeal in both parties and chamber of Congress. It could easily form the basis for a compromise bill – IF the US Senate will allow it to move on their “busy calendar.”
Below are attachments that serve as examples as to how local communities are lobbying on the federal funding issue:
Wake County Mayors Association Letter – attached in WORD format
JOINT Statement from NCLM, NCACC and Metro Mayors
JOINT Statement from “Big 7” State & Local Associations
PLEASE make time to reach out to your Congressional delegation – they are home over the holiday and need to hear from us over the next two weeks! If you do send a letter or make a call, please let Beau know. JOINT communications with nearby mayors and county commissioners can make an especially powerful impression on members of Congress…
Our meeting concluded after about 40 minutes.
Town Manager’s Report
The town manager, Sean Stegall’s report for the week included:
Manager’s Message to Council
Week 10 of our Town Hall closure is drawing to a close, and while it would be easy to feel drained, I am personally energized about the progress we’ve made and the work ahead, especially after our time together last night and the impressive work of our staff this week. Our employees continue to adapt and create new ways to keep their colleagues and our residents connected despite the pandemics’ many challenges.
While I know each of you values his near-nightly update, please pay special attention to Public Safety Director Allan Cain’s COVID-19 message tonight for information about our annual Independence Day Celebrations as well as plans for Town facilities in June.
Enjoy your holiday weekend,
In observance of Memorial Day, Cary services will be unavailable on Monday, May 25. Parks will remain open, but all Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Resources facilities will continue to remain closed, as they have throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s Memorial Day Remembrance event at Veterans Freedom Park has also been canceled. Read the entire press release.
Operational Framework & Update
On Monday, May 18, the department directors re-entered Town Hall for the first time in nine weeks. Upon entering the building each director went through a health screening and COVID-19 Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) tutorial before entering Council Chambers for a director’s meeting.
The directors were instructed to begin thinking about best practices for reintegrating staff back into our facilities. Public Safety Director, Allan Cain, introduced directors to the work ahead by reviewing a draft plan. The directors left the meeting with an assignment to familiarize themselves with OSHA’s Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19, and the next step in bringing people back will be a departmental risk assessment.
The weekly operational report brings a close to the week’s activities outside of the Emergency Operations 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.
- No new rezoning cases were submitted for June. This is the second month in a row without any new cases submitted. The number of building permit submittals remains steady with currently over 270 building permits submitted and under review. Cary currently has over 750 platted single-family lots that have yet to start construction, which is about a year’s worth of inventory.
- The redevelopment plan for Cary Towne Center continues to progress. A comment review meeting was conducted on Wednesday to discuss feedback on the initial project plan for Belk and the associated parking lot. Utilities staff met with the design team on Thursday to discuss phasing plans for the full redevelopment of the site.
- Ted is working with the Cary Chamber on a variety of new company expansions within Cary.
- Staff met last week to discuss potential inquiries to expand outdoor dining and sales as part of the state’s Phase 2 Reopening. Draft guidance has been developed for talking with businesses and property owners. Information will also be posted directing inquiries to 311 to better track interested businesses during this time.
- Cary Transit staff has provided planning expertise and assistance to the Town of Apex. This week they held a successful public hearing to move forward on limited bus operations in Apex.
- A commuter rail study kicked-off this week by GoTriangle.
- Cary continues to participate in the five subcommittees organized for the Jordan Lake One Water (JLOW) initiative. At this time, JLOW would like to outline the managed approach concept for use with elected officials engaged in the effort. Details about how JLOW might work organizationally, legally and from a funding perspective will require significantly more concurrence before moving forward.
- PRCR continues to attend webinars and learn more about how other organizations and areas of the country are handling aspects of returning to work and interacting with the public in all types of park venues and programming.
FY20 Third Quarter Report
The FY20 Third Quarter Report is now available on our website. Q3 did have 2.5 months of pre-COVID operations. This report covers those updates, including launching 311 as a service, construction updates on major capital projects, and a financial check-in. Many thanks to Lana Hygh for leading the creation of these reports over the past year!
2019 Water Quality Report
The 2019 report was published this week and is available for citizens online or by requesting a paper copy by dialing 311. The annual report provides results of over 50,000 tests conducted last year and shows, once again, that Cary’s water meets or exceeds all federal and state water quality standards.
Additional articles highlight how we continue to make our system more resilient and prepared to serve our communities water needs well into the future. Providing high-quality, safe and reliable water and services takes a dedicated staff. The report proudly shares several awards Cary and many individual team members honored at the NC AWWA and NC Water Environmental Association Conference, as well as Cary’s 16th consecutive year of the Partnership for Safe Water Director’s Award.
Dynamic Left-Turn Pilot Update
NCDOT is piloting a first-in-the-nation design of a dynamic left turn intersection at Cary Parkway and Tryon Road that is intended to improve the traffic flow of a busy Cary intersection. The unique design will vary the number of available left-turn lanes using a dynamic signal phasing to reduce delays. The design includes a pair of LED-powered overhead signals that activate or deactivate the rightmost left-turn lane depending on the time of day and traffic conditions.
NCDOT and Cary Traffic Management Center have been monitoring the operations of this dynamic left turn intersection since it became operational in February. Early results indicate some compliance issues by motorists using both left turn lanes when they were supposed to be using only a single lane, so additional signage and markings were installed to improve the design and usability. With additional signage improvements, compliance is improving but some motorists continue to use the closed lane during off-peak times of the day.
Official crash data has not been collected, but Cary is aware of two crashed that occurred related to this left-turn movement. NCDOT and Cary will continue to monitor operations to see if there are additional gaps in the design and education that could improve compliance and safety. Regional Transportation Alliance (RTA) supported this pilot project and provided funds for a traffic consultant (VHB) to conduct a before and after study to determine the impact of the design on operations and safety.
The after-study was initially expected to be conducted approximately three months after the initial installation; however, that study has been delayed due to the significant reduction in traffic (approximately 50%) in Cary due to COVID-19. Once normalization of traffic volume is realized, Cary staff will coordinate with NCDOT to complete the after-study. NCDOT has created this short, instructional video to illustrate how the design works.
Kildaire Road & Cary Parkway Improvements
Last fall, staff designed and implemented a landscaping plan at the intersection of Kildaire Farm Road and Cary Parkway. Currently, we are working to finish the landscaping installation to include perennials. Cary’s own staff provided the design and installation services for the medians. Special thanks to Amy Mackintosh, Jeff (JT) Rise, and Dennis Stanley for their efforts on this project.
Proposed Gas Line Along American Tobacco Trail
As you might have seen in this morning’s Daily Briefing there has been media attention surrounding a proposal to construct a gas pipeline between Cary and Durham. Even though the route study is ongoing the proposed route could follow the American Tobacco Trail.
While this might be a surprise to some of you, the proposal has been developing for nearly two years.
Here is a resource with historical communications shared via the Council Weekly Report about the proposed gas line.
April 12, 2019 – Weekly Report to Council
A new 12-inch gas line is being proposed within the American Tobacco Trail (ATT) corridor. NCDOT notified Wake County who alerted us due to Cary operating the 4.67-mile corridor in Chatham County. We recently received the PowerPoint presentation of which we have provided the most critical slides with information on the proposed gas line. Cary staff is planning to work with County and NCDOT staff on the proposed project. Paul Kuhn is contact for Cary.
October 5, 2018 – Weekly Report to Council
PSNC/NCDOT Gas Line Proposed Along American Tobacco Trail
NCDOT has been contacted by PSNC to install a new gas line within the right of way owned by NCDOT to serve the growing population. This project is preliminary and NCDOT has only granted surveying approval in order to gather more information. The survey limits are from Morrisville parkway heading north through Chatham County to Massey Chapel Road in Durham County in the corridor along the American Tobacco Trail.
The public may see flagging along this corridor. There is not significant tree cutting anticipated, however there may be some trimming done to the underbrush to allow the surveyors to have the proper line of sight. We have added information about this project to our website.
A link to information about the proposed project on Cary’s website here. Deputy Town Manager Russ Overton, Director of Transportation & Facilities Jerry Jensen, and myself will be meeting with representatives from Dominion Energy next Wednesday, May 27. Going forward Jerry Jensen will lead our efforts and gathering additional information on the gas line project.
In a staff email to council we were notified that Cary plans to cancel Fourth of July celebrations this year. I agree with this operational decision and cannot see any scenario where Cary can safely have a Fourth of July celebration this year. A press release will be sent out early this coming week. Many other towns have also cancelled Fourth of July celebrations. I am not sure if there will be any in the region.
Get in Touch
Emails from citizens this week included:
- Complaints about Wake County’s proposal to integrate Cary EMS into Wake EMS.
- A question about when the library will open. (Wake County has them closed indefinitely. See http://www.wakegov.com/libraries/services/Pages/remoteresources.aspx for the most current information.
- A complaint about utility payment software
- A concern about Dominion Energy’s pipeline under the American Tobacco Trail. (We have concerns too and staff will be meeting with representatives early this week)
- A thank you to Public Works for their continued excellent work including yard waste collection.
- A request to open Cary Tennis Park (Staff is working on plans)
- Several requests to ease restrictions beyond what the state has mandated (Unfortunately, I do not have that authority)
- Next week is a holiday week so activities will be limited. Scheduled activities include a meeting of the Wake County Mayors Association, participation in the Chambers Eye Opener Breakfast, and a meeting of the North Carolina Metro Mayors.
Well, that is all for this week. My next post will be on Sunday, May 31st. Although I have Facebook and Twitter accounts those are not the best means of communications with me. Please send all Town of Cary questions or comments to [email protected] and email personal comments to [email protected].
While the physical Wake County Library facilities are closed, on-line check out of digital books is available at:
Log in using your library card number and pin, then select ‘Download Library’ on the menu to the left side of the page. Adobe Digital Edition (Free to download) is required to read books on a PC. The ‘Overdrive’ app is needed for a smart device.
Select your book, download and enjoy.