Cary, NC — This week included a birthday, the final budget proposal, and a unity walk in Cary.
Monday – Cary Likely to Remain Lowest Tax Rate in Wake County
Monday I was able to get a haircut for the first time in a couple of months. This is a big deal for many of us since hair salons have been shut down for months due to COVID-19. It was interesting having a haircut with a mask.
Monday I had my weekly one-on-one with the town manager. We are still meeting virtually since town hall remains closed. We mostly talked about the proposed budget and its goals.
Monday evening the Wake County mayors held a tele-meeting. During the pandemic, we have been meeting weekly instead of monthly. Our topics included changing our holiday party in December from a guest list of close to 150 to only including the mayors plus one. We made this choice because we believe that we will still be abiding by the rules of the new normal at the end of the year.
The mayors also talked about tax rates and revenue-neutral tax rates. It appears that only Raleigh and Holly Springs will remain revenue neutral leaving Cary with the lowest tax rate in Wake County again for the 12th consecutive year. It appeared to me that municipalities matched levels of service to the tax rate while Cary matched the tax rate to the levels of service our citizens expect. That is the main reason Cary will likely not be revenue-neutral.
Tuesday – Chalk Art, Mayton Inn & Pipeline News
Tuesday was my birthday, so I took the opportunity to visit my daughter in Beaufort, North Carolina.
Town Manager Sean Stegall informed the council on Tuesday of three significant events.
Mayton Inn Sale Closed
The first was that the Mayton Inn sale has closed and the deed was filed on Wednesday. The new owners issued the following statement:
“The Mayton Inn was purchased by Academy Park Hospitality, LLC. The partners include a number of downtown developers and investors including Bill Zahn, George Jordan, Steve Knier, Jordan Gussenhoven & Grant Yarber. Two additional partners in the group are Craig Spitzer & Craig Shipley who are the founders of Early Bird Night Owl, the operators of the Durham Hotel in downtown Durham. The partners share the belief that The Mayton will play a vital role in the future of downtown Cary, the downtown Cary Park and other future development that is taking place in the downtown area. The Early Bird Night Owl partners will manage and operate The Mayton. Current plans are to reopen the restaurant as soon as possible and for no to limited disruptions of service during the transition and while renovations take place.”
Dominion Energy Steps Away from Proposed Site for Pipeline
The second was that the Dominion Energy will not build a pipeline at the American Tobacco Trail. They notified NCDOT that they are no longer interested in that easement. The news comes following a meeting the Town had with Dominion last week to share concerns over the project and to offer assistance in reducing impacts to the area. Dominion will run its new pipeline within roadway rights-of-way somewhere in Chatham County, with at least portions being within Cary’s corporate limits. We do not have these plans and will not be provided to us for 30-45 days. However, it seems highly remote that this alternative could have the negative impacts of the former proposal. Once they have their exact proposed routing in place with NCDOT, Dominion plans to hold a public meeting to ensure citizens are aware of their new plan.
Cary Police Team Up with Students for Chalk Art Event
The third event was how the town turned criticism about chalk art at the fountain into something positive. Here is an excerpt from Chief Dezomits: “Deputy Chief Shawn Anderson and Captain Kat Christian reached out to the organizer Ella Green, a Cary High School student after we received information through social media monitoring calling for people to come to a “decorate the fountain” event in downtown Cary. Not knowing what that may entail, we worked to identify the student via Instagram and make contact with her. We learned that Ella and her Father, Mr. Bill Green had helped clean up after the protests in downtown Raleigh and Ella was moved by that experience and wanted to do something to spread positive messages. She indicated she would like to gather her fellow students from Cary High School’s Idea Club and place positive messages around the downtown Cary fountain with water-soluble chalk. …”
Wednesday – Chamber Discusses Commercial Real Estate
Wednesday I participated in the Chambers Economic Development meeting remotely. This meeting was about commercial real estate markets. The panel of speakers included John Hogan, Highwoods Director of Leasing, Moss Withers of Lee and Associates, and Tom Huff of Capital and Associates. Topics included the current state of the market, transitioning back into the office, reconfiguring the office, and technology and the future.
My biggest take away from this panel discussion was that Cary is positioned well for economic recovery and may see gains in new business as a result of the recession.
Thursday – Final Work Session for the New Budget
Thursday the council held its last work session on the budget. Six of seven council members were in attendance while council member Smith attended remotely. Several citizens and dozens of staff members were also attending remotely. Some of the discussion points included:
- Cary citizens overwhelmingly approved $225 million in bonds last fall despite knowing it could increase taxes 7.5 cents.
- Thirteen scenarios were evaluated, and priorities remained as: Safety, Service, Maintenance, Investments in the future, financial stewardship, and Imagine Cary Community Plan continuing to drive town goals.
- Pandemic revenue impacts are currently at $11 million with losses in property tax collection rate, sales taxes, PRCR fees, permits and inspection fees, utility late fees, and interest income.
- Cary had a HUGE rainy-day fund and will use $22.7 million from the General Fund balance. $6.1 million address the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic such as staff overtime.
- This budget will hold steady on the utility rate, solid waste fees, development fees, and staffing and employee salaries.
- This budget will allow several things to move forward such as the downtown park and all other bond projects, pandemic funding of $2 million, major private developments, and land acquisitions for potential future facilities.
- To help citizens and businesses with impacts of the pandemic, there will be no utility rate disconnections or rate increases, keeping inspection services at pre-pandemic levels, and relaxing restrictions where it makes sense.
- A credit rating agency made the following statement about Cary’s finances as a result of the pandemic: “We view the town’s management as very strong, with strong financial policies and practices under our FMA methodology, indicating financial practices are strong, well embedded, and likely sustainable.”
- The biennial survey showed the best overall performance thus far by staff, and the second highest quality of life mean earned since 2004.
- Cary provides best-in-class services and amenities to its community.
- Services will cost more every year, due to inflation, without changing the fundamental levels. These increases will be minimized through rigorous expenditure management by having an elite workforce and through technology driven efficiency enhancements.
- Wealth creation via rising property values will exceed on an annualized basis the increasing costs of funding our operations which translates to a positive return on investment for our citizens.
- This budget provides for continuity at existing levels, acknowledges the many remaining unknowns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and provides funding to address those, and keeps us on track with bond project priorities that keep Cary, Cary.
- The proposed budget has a tax rate of 35 cents with revenue neutral at 30 cents. This is the lowest tax rate in the region.
- Solid waste fees remain unchanged with an 85% recovery rate. The remaining 15% is covered with property taxes.
- Utility rates remain the same with $765,000 allocated for watershed protection.
- There will be no merit or additional staff positions.
- The five cents over revenue neutral: 2 cents for pandemic-affected revenue loss and mid-year needs, 1 cent supports increase in debt service for existing debt and provides mid-year funds for emerging needs, 2 cents for capital investments.
- Proposed tax rate: Median home value grew from $323,000 to $381,140 meaning an additional $204 annually in taxes.
- A public hearing for the budget will be held on June 11th.
- Budget adoption is scheduled for June 25th.
- Our worksession concluded after about two hours.
Friday – Meeting Recap of the NC Metro Mayors
Friday I participated in a meeting of the North Carolina Metro Mayors. Here is the Executive Director’s summary of that meeting:
Update on Governor’s Office & Executive Orders
Yesterday, Governor Cooper issued EO 143, to “address the social, environmental, economic, and health disparities in communities of color that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.” It establishes a task force that will be chaired by Secretary Sanders from DOA.
Executive Order 142 was issued on Saturday that extends the moratorium on utility cut offs and implements an evictions moratorium.
It is noteworthy that during the Governor’s press briefing yesterday, the conversation has seemed to shift back to the dialogue to hospitalizations and availability of beds rather than positive tests or symptoms (overall testing and testing availability is growing dramatically – a powerful tool).
The Governor has also indicated that as data is evaluated over the next few days, there is contemplation of easing Phase 2 and entering a “Phase 2.5” that could open additional businesses such as bars and gyms.
A number of lawsuits have been filed by various businesses over the Governor’s Executive Orders. All of the litigation that has been brought against the Governor has been consolidated in the North Carolina Business Court.
General State Legislative Update & Schedule
- The legislature met for another full week of work. There was a lot of committee work and legislation passed, but slow going on major issues.
- The session feels different, less dramatic, due to a lot of pre-negotiations between the House and the Senate majority leaders before convening.
- One of the larger pieces of legislation that moved this week dealt with the reopening of gyms and fitness centers (more detailed information below).
Most of the legislation that moved this week had appropriations tied to it. That is a definitive signal that there is no intention of a passing one large budget bill as would normally be the practice. Budget issues will be taken up through individual pieces of legislation instead (“mini” budgets).
Mini budgets that passed this week dealt with small ticket items. We expect larger funding bills dealing with DOT and DHHS funding to surface in the coming weeks.
Nothing new to report legislatively.
We are hearing from some of our cities that DOT is not honoring or extending contracts with cities for traffic signal management. This is undoubtedly related to NCDOT’s funding shortfall – and we are hopeful that more flexibility will be issued for federal CARES Act funding.
If so, DOT would be appropriated $300 million that the state has set aside in reserves for DOT, so that may offer some relief. Be on the lookout for communication regarding this DOT contract topic and please feel free to contact Beau directly if you are also seeing this problem with traffic signal contracts.
Nothing new to report
Fitness Facilities – House Bill 594
- The bill would allow gyms and fitness centers to reopen at 50 percent capacity and includes a fourteen-point plan for facilities to follow for safely reopening.
- The bill was heard in the Senate Commerce Committee this week. DHHS opposed the legislation, but it passed the Committee unanimously on Thursday.
- It will be heard on the Senate floor early next week and then go to the House for an up or down concurrence vote.
- The Governor is likely to veto the measure. Similar legislation dealing with bars (H536) was sent to the Governor last week and no action has been taken yet – we expect he will veto the “bar bill” on Sunday, the deadline for his action or it becomes law.
- While this bill and the “bar bill” (H536) clearly preempt the Governor and local authority to restrict these select businesses, there would remain an open question as to whether the state and local public health directors would still have the authority under public health statutes to close individual gyms (or any business for that matter) if they deem it an “imminent hazard” to public health.
- It is also noteworthy that the Governor is considering a “Phase 2.5” that could include some restricted use opening for fitness centers and bars – this could happen as soon as next week.
Farm Bill – S315
- The conference report for this bill removes the controversial provisions related to hemp and shooting ranges being defined as agritourism.
- The bill passed both chambers this week and has been sent to the Governor.
- It is unclear what action the Governor might take. Environmental activist groups are asking the measure to be vetoed due to a provision related to hog lagoons.
Workforce Housing Loan Program – H1208
- The bill includes a $20M appropriation from the General Fund for Workforce Housing Loan Program. (Example of a “mini” budget bill).
- The bill passed the Senate Appropriations and Rules Committees this week.
- It has been placed on the Senate calendar for next Thursday (June 11).
Local Revenues/ Local Control
Foreclosure Prev. Grants/Rental & Utility Asst. H1200
The bill includes a total of $200M appropriated from the federal CARES Act funds.
- $100M for foreclosure assistance program for traditional home mortgage
- $100M rental and utility payment assistance
$20 million of the $100 million in Rental Assistance funds to be used by the Housing Finance Agency to administer utility assistance grant fund. The money would go directly to utilities (up to $1,800 per household) on behalf of specifically qualified individuals.
- Citizens would be eligible for both grants, up to $6,000, if they meet certain income thresholds.
- We expect the bill to begin moving next week.
- Please review the bill. Beau will be in contact about a potential letter of support to legislators.
Waste Water Public Enterprise Reform – H1087
- The bill establishes a process for identifying distressed public water and wastewater systems.
- It appropriates $9M to establish the Viable Utility Fund within DEQ to be used for assisting public water and wastewater systems to become self-sustaining.
- This provision was included in last year’s budget and regulatory reform bills. While this bill specifically focuses on more distressed water systems, it is worth noting that discussions on regionalization of systems is stemming from this legislation.
- The bill passed the House Appropriations Committee this week and has been referred to House Rules.
Update on Congressional Funding for Local Governments
- Mayors and municipal leadership are continuing to reach out to members of Congress regarding flexibility of funding for the CARES Act and additional federal aid.
- The events of the last week and a half have taken some of the energy out of Congress’ work on this and it appears that the idea of any aid coming to municipalities in the very short term seems to be waning.
- Both sides of the aisle seem to support increasing the flexibility of funding from the CARES Act ($150M still remains in reserve at the state level for local governments), but that would not amount to much if divided between 540 municipalities and 97 counties…
- The Town of Carrboro has been in contact with Sen. Tillis’ office. His office is collecting revenue loss data and is specifically interested in:
- 90-day snapshot of revenue projections vs. actual revenue (March—May 2020)
- A two-year lookback (over the same time period) of revenue projections and actuals.
- Beau suggests including the projected revenue loss for FY21 as well.
- Please consider sharing this information with Kyle Sanders in the Senator’s office –Kyle_Sanders@tillis.senate.gov
Our meeting concluded after about 30 minutes.
Saturday – Joining Hundreds in Downtown Cary for the Unity Walk
Saturday I participated in a Unity Walk held in downtown Cary as part of the ongoing protests against racial injustice ignited by the killing of George Floyd. I was joined by council member Bush, Morrisville Mayor Cawley, and police chiefs from Cary, Morrisville, and Apex. There were about 300 to 400 participating.
It was a very emotional walk which had comments and prayers at various stops. We started at the fountain with prayers and comments from several pastors. Then we marched to the Cary Theater and heard emotional comments from the Morrisville Police Chief. The march continued to the police station where there was a washing of feet (see John 13:1-17) which is a symbolic ritual of humility, cleansing, and unconditional love.
There were also comments made at the police station from several religious leaders. The next stop was at the entrance to town hall where I provided remarks followed by the Apex Police Chief. In my remarks I announced that I signed the Mayor Pledge from the Obama foundation. I stated that we will review police policies on force, engage with the community, and report back to them on September 1st. After about three hours, the march completed back at the fountain. Our community, state, and nation are hurting.
Racial injustice protests have been going on since I was a child in the 1960’s. While there has been changes since that time, tragically the mindset that skin color makes someone different from others remains. Until we truly embrace what our constitution says — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” — we will not reach our true potential as a nation.
Town Manager’s Report
The town manager, Sean Stegall’s report for the week included the following:
Manager’s Message to Council
As always, it was wonderful being able to see (and hear) you last night at the budget work session. I hope you found the meeting informative and productive; please continue to reach out if you have additional questions as we want to continue to be responsive in sharing information of value to you. I can’t say it enough – this Council is truly special. Thank you for your commitment to Cary citizens of today and tomorrow.
In addition, please take note of Public Safety Director Allan Cain’s COVID-19 update this evening in which he will share an update on Lazy Daze 2020.
Operational Framework & Update
This week our Department Directors began their weekly meeting reflecting on the recent tragic events surrounding the death of George Floyd, protests locally and nationally, and subsequent response to riots. They recognized that many people – including many in our organization – are hurting.
The conversation continued in staff meetings this week, and over 300 employees tuned in to a Rap Session facilitated by Tru Pettigrew on Wednesday. The Rap Session was a forum where employees could share their feelings and/or learned how fellow colleagues are coping with these recent events.
There was lots of learning, educating, and understanding for our organization this week.
The weekly operational report brings a close to the week’s activities outside of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC).
Included below is a summary-level overview of the operational activities continuing to take place during this health emergency.
- The application period for board recruitment is underway.
- PRCR, in coordination with the EOC, has reopened the gates at the Cary Tennis Park and WakeMed Soccer for the first time in 12 weeks.
- Everything Monogrammed has applied for a sign permit on the property of the Mayton Inn. Planning staff will work with both businesses to submit a building permit and a master sign permit before moving forward.
- Wegman’s on Davis Drive is in the final stage for trade inspections. Plumbing and electrical inspections are in the final stages. The mechanical inspection has had a few snags with fire dampers and gas piping installation. Wegman’s goal is to obtain a temporary certificate of occupancy/stocking permit by early next week.
- The Development Pulse report for May is now available.
- Two Creeks Road reopened to traffic this week after substantial completion of the culvert improvement project, which was undertaken because the creek was overtopping the road. The road has been closed for five months and finished slightly ahead of schedule. Minor additional work, including handrails and landscape, will occur in the next several weeks.
- The Stormwater IoT team continues to work out points of connection, dashboards and analytics for the stormwater IoT project in Walnut Creek Watershed, where all sensors have been in place for a few weeks.
- Legal continues to work with the Fenton developers and their legal team on pending updates to the Development Agreement related to financing and timing of capital improvements that will need approval at an upcoming Council meeting. These changes have no increase to the Town’s funding participation.
- Ridership on GoCary routes has been increasing, especially during midday service (10 AM –5 PM). In an effort to allow for social-distancing on trips, GoCary is planning to increase service to every 30 minutes on Routes 3, 4, 5 and 6 from 10:30 AM to 5 PM beginning Saturday. Sunday service will remain a 60-minute service.
Boards Hosting Virtual Social Events
The Information Services Advisory Board held their first social event on June 1. Five members participated, along with Council Liaison Lori Bush and Staff Liaison Nicole Raimundo. The board decided to hold another social for the members who were unavailable to attend. The next board social event will be the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources board on June 8.
New Traffic Signal Operational
Thursday morning, contractors working for Cary placed the traffic signal at Weston Parkway and Sheldon Drive into full operation. This culminates nearly six months of effort to install the traffic signal, fiber optic cable extension and remove vegetation for sight line improvements. T&F will continue to monitor for further safety improvements at the signal.
NC Legislative Update
There are two housing-related bills circulating in the Generate Assembly that may be of interest to Cary. The Workforce Housing Loan Program(H1208) includes a $20M appropriation from the Workforce Housing Loan Program general fund. This bill has passed the Senate Appropriations and Rules Committee and will be placed on Senate calendar next week. Additionally, the Foreclosure Prev. Grants/Rental & Utility Assistance bill(H1200) includes a $200 million appropriation from the federal CARES Act Funds.
Of the $200 million, $100 million is for the foreclosure assistance program for traditional home mortgages and $100 million rental and utility payment assistance. Citizens would be eligible for both grants, up to $6,000, if they meet certain income thresholds. The bill is expected to begin moving next week. Cary will continue monitoring all activities of the General Assembly.
Additional Information of Interest
I’ve found the following articles to be particularly interesting this week and wanted to share with your for your reading pleasure:
Get in Touch
Emails from citizens this week include:
- Dozens of complaints about policing in America
- Requests to defund our police department (I will not support this)
- Concerns about trees at the Veterans Freedom Park
- A request to prevent 5G technology because of health risks, privacy, national security and budgetary impacts (State and Federal governments have authority for Communications companies, not Cary)
- Complaints about the Cary EMS merger
- A request to open up gyms (Cary doesn’t have authority to override the Governor’s mandates)
- A request to know my plans to prevent marches in the Carolina Preserve neighborhood. (the police department plans for safety matters, not the mayor)
- Next week’s activities include participating in a charity golf tournament, staff meetings, a Wake County Mayors Association meeting, the first regularly scheduled council meeting of June, and a meeting of the North Carolina Metro Mayors.
Well, that is all for this week. My next post will be on Sunday, June 15th. 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.