Harold’s Blog: 2021 Budget, Face Coverings, Legislative Updates and More

Cary, NC — This was an important week as Cary approved its budget for fiscal year 2021 which will take effect on July 1st.

Monday – Discussing Budget & Fenton With Council & Staff

Monday started with calls to council members to hear of concerns or questions about the agenda for the Thursday meeting. Most questions were on the budget and the Fenton development. Later Monday I met with key staff members via WebEx to go over the agenda. We talked in detail about council member’s questions about the budget. Our meeting concluded after about half an hour.

Monday evening I had my one-on-one phone call meeting with the town manager. Our conversation focused on council members’ concerns with the proposed budget. At this point of the week, only four council members were in favor of the budget.

Wednesday – Face Coverings Required in NC

Wednesday the Governor issued a statewide executive order requiring face masks due to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases. Here is a good summary of the order from a Charlotte TV station:

“Face coverings will be required for all employees and customers of retail businesses and restaurants as well as workers in manufacturing, construction, meat processing and agriculture settings.

There are exceptions including people with medical conditions and children under 11, people who are at home and people who are walking or otherwise exercising outside when not within six feet of others.

Citations related to this order can be written to businesses or organizations that fail to enforce the requirement to wear face coverings. Operators of businesses and organizations are entitled to rely on their customers or patrons’ statements about whether or not they are exempt from the face covering requirements, and businesses and organizations do not violate this Order if they rely on customer or patron statements.

Law enforcement personnel cannot criminally enforce the face covering requirements of this Order against individual workers, customers, or patrons. However, if a business or organization does not allow entry to a worker, customer, or patron because that person refuses to wear a face covering, and if that worker, customer, or patron enters the premises or refuses to leave the premises, law enforcement personnel may enforce the trespassing laws.”

The enforcement of this order will be a challenge to every law enforcement agency. It is important for everyone to understand that data has shown face coverings make a very significant difference in the transmission of the virus. It is also important to understand that face coverings mostly prevent you from spreading the virus rather than protect you from the virus.

So, while some might not care about themselves, please care for others and wear a face covering. For all that are wearing face coverings, thank you for helping keep all of us safe.

Thursday – Council Unanimously Approves 2021 Budget

Thursday the council held its last regularly scheduled meeting of the month. The agenda included six consent items, three public hearings, and two discussion items.

The Public Speaks Out portion of the meeting had speakers wanting a facemask requirement and a speaker wanting to defund the police.

The Public Hearing for the Land Development Ordinance Amendment which impacted downtown property owners along Chapel Hill Road, Walker Street, and Harrison drew a few comments. Mostly the speakers wanted to protect their property values and potential property values.

There was a discussion item for purchasing two properties on Jodhpur Drive. These properties have structural flooding, so the town has agreed to purchase them under Policy Statement 35. The property owners agreed with the recommendation based on tax assessed value.

This was approved unanimously by council and staff will now proceed with demolition of the structures and natural restoration of this flood-prone area with trees and other vegetation. Many of the properties built in Cary before 2000 have a risk for flooding because there were not ordinances in place to prevent structures in vulnerable areas.

Our last discussion item was the fiscal year 2021 budget. Council members were having one-on-one conversations up until meeting time on the budget. No one seemed happy with the budget and everyone was willing to sacrifice and compromise. As a result, the budget was passed unanimously. Here are some of the highlights:

  • The property tax rate remains the same at 35 cents per hundred dollars (the lowest in Wake County – it has been that way for over a decade)
  • No merit increase for Cary staff
  • Solid Waste and Recycling fee remains the same
  • Utility Rate reduced 4%
  • $6.1 million from General Fund because of COVID-19 related issues
  • Capital Expenditures of $111,678,075 for:
    • $7.1 million for street improvements
    • $3.9   million   for   facility   maintenance   needs   involving painting, security, extension of WIFI, minor renovation, internal roads and parking lot resurfacing and HVAC and roof replacement
    • $1.85 million for maintenance at Cary’s three sports special venues
    • $1.75 million for sidewalk improvements
    • $1.0 million for intersection improvements
    • $1.0 million to continue ADA accessibility improvements to Town facilities
    • $735,000 for improvements to Koka Booth Amphitheatre
    • $590,000 for greenway resurfacing and pedestrian structure repair
    • $400,000 for park renovations
  • Total Capital including Utility is $143,713,838
  • Total Budget including Operations, Capital, and Utilities is $427,649,070

Details on the budget can be found at https://www.townofcary.org/home/showdocument?id=25001. After a closed session, the council meeting was adjourned. The total time of the meeting was around three hours.

Friday – Updates on Legislation, Public Safety, Federal Funds

Friday I participated in a meeting of the North Carolina Metro Mayors. This was our last meeting for a while as the legislature has left for a few weeks. Here is the Executive Director’s summary of that meeting:

Update on Governor’s Office

Executive Order 147 was issued on Wednesday and delays the reopening process, keeping NC in Phase 2 until July 17.
The EO also includes statewide face-covering requirements for both employees and customers in a variety of settings such as retail businesses and in transportation.

EO 147 FAQ

Briefing with DHHS Secretary Cohen

Hold the date – July 10 at 11 AM – Secretary Mandy Cohen will provide a briefing/update for the Coalition. Beau will circulate an e-mail with details once we nail it down.

General State Legislative Update

Quick Overview and Future Schedule:

The legislature adjourned in the early morning hours on Friday, completing the bulk of their work for the legislative session. The legislature will hold mainly skeletal sessions until July 11. The legislature remains “in session” so the Governor will have to address legislation that has passed in a limited period of time.

The Governor has 10 days to veto or sign legislation (or let become law without his signature) when the General Assembly is in session (this includes “skeleton” sessions when they are officially in session, but not really conducting business), but 30 days to act if they are out of session.

Between now and July 11 the legislature may take up anything, but we expect it to be limited to veto overrides.  They may also take up legislation related to masks.

The adjournment resolution states that the legislature will adjourn on July 11 until a date certain.  They will return on September 2 to mainly address additional COVID funding and adjourn on September 3 sine die.

Overall, it was a good session for the Coalition.  We were able to keep negative legislation at bay and while we did see some transit cuts (supplanted by generous federal funds), given the economic and pandemic crisis we are in, our cities fared very well.
Transportation

DOT Budget/Governance H77

Last session, we were able to increase and restore SMAP to its recent high point of $32m.  Due to the financial crisis at DOT and the economic crisis due to the pandemic, the DOT budget bill included a cut of all SMAP funds this year.

Fortunately, the state funding was supplanted by federal CARES Act funding. The Cares Act allocated $277M for urban transit (SMAP is $32m) and $93M for rural transit (state funds are $18m).

Both the House and the Senate have acknowledged that it is a one-time cut based on the federal funding that was received.  Both chambers have stated their full intention to restore the money in the future.

The bill has been sent to the Governor and we expect him to sign it.

Education & Education Bond Act H1225

This bill would authorize the issuance of $3.1 billion in general obligation bonds if approved by a majority of voters in the 2020 general election and includes $1.5B for transportation.

It passed the House with strong bi-partisan support but did the Senate did not take the issue up. We will re-visit this issue prior to the legislature returning in September and potentially offer a position of support.

Public Safety

Fire Fighter Separation Allowance-in Coronavirus Relief S805

Last week, a motion was made on the House floor to re-refer the bill back to the House Appropriations Committee to handle a worker’s compensation issue. On the floor there was mention of adding the fire fighter special separation allowance language.

While we are always supportive of our fire fighters, this expense is onerous and our cities are concentrating on maintaining the bedrock retirement too – the LGERS program (including increases in employer contribution, even during an economic crisis).  Our team and NCLM worked to ensure the language was not added to the bill and it did not make it in the bill, or any other legislative vehicle.

Economic Development

Various “Re-Opening Bills”

A wide variety of reopening bills that addressed a number of different types of entities reopening such as bars, playgrounds, amusement parks, arcades, etc. moved back and forth at the legislature. Almost all votes broke largely along party lines and will almost assuredly be vetoed by the Governor.

One exception is H806 dealing with the reopening of gyms. The gym reopening language was previously included in H594.  The House attempted to override the Governor’s veto of that earlier bill this week and failed.  However, House Democrats stated on the floor they would support the measure if the provision that would require the Governor to go to the Council of State to close facilities was removed.

The bill sponsors made changes and the conference report for H806 does not include the Council of State provision or infringe on the Governor’s ability to RECLOSE gyms after the bill reopens the them. The measure received bi-partisan support in both chambers and passed with a vote of 75-31 in the House and 35-11 in the Senate.  It is not clear how the Governor will handle this bill – or if the Democratic Caucus would support or override a possible veto (more than 15 D’s voted FOR IT in the House).

Local Revenues/ Local Control

Coronavirus Relief Fund/Additions Revisions H1023

  • This bill increases from $150M to $300M the amount to counties for COVID relief.  Of that $300M, counties must distribute 25 percent to municipalities within their county ($75m of statewide $300m).
  • The bill does not prescribe how the money is to be distributed in terms of municipalities within the county.
  • Municipalities must have a plan to spend the funds developed by September 1, 2020.  If not, funds would be returned to the county.
  • The bill has been sent to the Governor.

Foreclosure Prev./Rental and Utility Assistance 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
    • $28M of the $100M 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 – eligible for water/sewer, electric and gas.
  • The bill ended up stalling out, but there were great attempts made to add the language into large COVID recovery bills.
  • That option is still on the table when the legislature returns.  Rep. John Szoka (R-Cumberland) helped spearhead this effort.
  • If you are interested in offering support and discussing this issue with Rep. Szoka, please let us know and we help facilitate a call.

Federal Funding Update

FEMA eligibility for COVID

  • State guidance has been issued on the use of CARES Act funds that have been distributed by the General Assembly.
  • You must apply for FEMA reimbursement before you apply for CARES Act money.
  • FEMA requires a 25 percent match and CARES Act money can be used for that.
  • We understand that this can be administratively burdensome, but it is being done this way to try to stretch the federal dollars as far as possible.

Update on Congressional Funding for Local Govts

There has been no further action in Congress, but there is continued conversation on another round of federal aid, likely in the last days of July and early August.  Keep talking to your Congressional delegation about the need for additional aid directly to municipalities.

This meeting concluded after 30 minutes.

Get in Touch

Emails for this week were drastically different from the previous two weeks including several very kind emails. Emails included:

  • Demands for mask requirement in Cary (Done! -Thanks Governor)
  • A complaint about dying trees at Veterans Freedom Park (some will have to be replanted in the fall)
  • Requests in defunding our police (I am not supporting this)
  • Requests to help and support our police (I am supporting this)
  • A congratulations on passing the budget unanimously (It was not easy, and it takes a special council to be willing to sacrifice and compromise as much as this group does. I am blessed to work with such great professionals.)
  • A complaint about protestors and police blocking Academy Street.
  • A complaint about the lack of youth sports this fall.
  • Several very kind emails and cards thanking me for my service. And one I would like to share from a 15-year-old:

“You open this card wondering what it entails. Will it include name-calling complaints, complaints, or will it be the fuel to continue your fight for what is best for this community? Thank you for not giving up. You are a hero because you are continuing to climb the mountain set before you. Heroes are not always liked by the complainers. Abraham Lincoln was on the opposite side of half the country but kept on fighting. MLK and Gandhi were put in jail but could not be shackled down. Julius Caesar was stabbed by his Senate. Yet they are all remembered as heroes. You are a hero as well. Anyone is who does not bow down under the pressure of exhaustion and keeps fighting is a hero. Remember that. There are good people out there. I may not have seen that much of the world yet or been beaten down by public outcry, but I still believe that there is enough good in the world to offset the bad. So, I thank you again for being part of the good and continuing to make Cary a better place. …”

WOW! Holy Cow! What a motivational letter! Thank you so much! I needed that! And thanks to all the others who sent in kind words. They really meant a lot to me.

Next week is a holiday week so my schedule is very light with only staff meetings. Enjoy the 4th!

Well, that is all for this week. My next post will be on Sunday, July 5th. Although I have Facebook and Twitter accounts those are not the best means of communicating with me. Please send all Town of Cary questions or comments to Harold.Weinbrecht@townofcary.org and email personal comments to augustanat@mindspring.com.


From the blog of Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht.

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