March 2009

One local dude, Kirk Ross, definitely abides.

March 23rd, he celebrated the 2nd anniversary of the Carrboro Citizen, a hyper-local newspaper he bootstrapped online and migrated, partially, off-line to real, physical print.

Strangely, it feels like only a moment ago I posted on the kick-off of this growing outlet (a reverse of the sad trend at the McClatchied N&O).

Kirk recently posted this rumination on the genesis of the ‘Citizen and why he pioneered the melding of online and print presentations.

Two years ago amid this maelstrom, The Carrboro Citizen published the first issue of the first volume.

Robert Dickson and I started this paper in part because we saw an opening in the market and in part because we thought Carrboro and surrounding environs should have a locally owned and focused paper. But mostly we started The Citizen because we believe in newspapers.

To be honest, when we started that was a pretty lonely place. Some of the better business minds in the area were quick to point out that we were daft since print is a dying part of the information industry. Our contention was then, and is now, that print may be shrinking, but it is hardly dying. Having the opportunity to start from scratch, post Internet, provided us with the chance to incorporate a lot of hard-learned lessons.

So yes, we’ve got blogs and Twitter and Facebook and Flickr and, according to the N.C. Press Association, operate the third-best website in the state for papers our size.

But all that and the print product too would be worthless without the one thing that gives purpose to our endeavor: journalism. It is quality work, solid reporting and good storytelling that empties the racks each week. Technological advances can enhance that, but not replace it.

The other anniversary? Kirk nailed the big 50!

Congratulations Kirk on both your public service and your ability to abide a Lud-icrous rock-n-roll life!

I’m at the roll-out of tonight’s UNC explanation of the tardy (a year late) Tischler-Bise Carolina North fiscal impact study.

The classroom at the School of Government is fairly packed with elective and governmental staff folks (about 45 from all three governmental bodies – Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Orange County). Beyond a smattering of media folks (Daniel with the Chapel Hill Herald, Jesse with the Chapel Hill News), there’s a handful of concerned citizens.

Other than those “required” to be here (if at least for no other purpose than to say they were there), some of the “usual suspects” include Penny Rich (former candidate Town Council), George Cianciolo (Chapel Hill planning board), Scott Radway (former planning board member), Joe Capowski (former Council member), Terri Buckner (former Tech board member among other civic posts) and myself.

Further comments follow as comments on this post.

I haven’t said much about the fluffy TischlerBise fiscal impact study commissioned and worked on jointly by UNC’s administration, our local governments and TischlerBise’s consultants.

Fluffy? Like previous UNC commissioned analysis – notably the previous Carolina North and Orange County Airport Authority economic justifications – the upside is mostly in intangible (i.e. hard to measure, hard to hold accountable for) benefits and the downside – in hard currency – mostly downplayed, low-balled.

Carolina North could be a great asset to the local community but UNC cannot shift millions of dollars of costs onto the shoulders of local residents.

No matter how the consultants twisted the numbers it is clear that Chapel Hill will take a significant financial hit as Carolina North – the question now is how much?

There’s a preview session setup for Council this evening at UNC’s School of Government (open to the public in case you are interested in seeing some consultancy sleight of hand):

The consultants who prepared the fiscal impact analysis for Carolina North will present their final report to the public March 31. The presentation will begin at 7 p.m. in the Wicker Classroom (2603) at the School of Government on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Free parking is available after 5 p.m. in the School of Government parking deck, with additional paid parking in the N.C. 54 visitor’s lot and the Rams Head deck. Chapel Hill Transit service is available via the RU, G, S and V routes.

My estimate?

At least $15-20 million over the next 10 years or, roughly, 3 to 4 cents per $100 valuation per year of additional tax burden (on-top of our contributions via North Carolina State taxes).

Made a quick trip to Hillsborough to submit my application for an informal review of my tax revaluation (we took a %35 whack , $327,697 to $442,912 or an $115K increase!).

I definitely wasn’t the only concerned citizen.

A crowd of folks were milling about the assessor’s front desk when I entered at 4:30. From 4:30 on, as I sat downstairs sipping a cup of Femenino coffee (??) at the Weaver St. North, I watched a steady stream of concerned taxpayers – identifiable by the tax forms clutched in their hands – make their way upstairs.

It will be interesting to see how the tax story shakes out this year.

I’ve asked our Town Council numerous times over the last 9 months not to rely on the “automatic” escalation of tax revenues that comes from Chapel Hill’s properties being valued higher more quickly than elsewhere in the county.

A prudent strategy but fiscal prudence hasn’t been a strong suit of the current elective crowd.

If you use Firefox you might have noticed that Citizen Will has been flagged by Google as a possible “bad site” around 11:26am this morning.

This is an error on Google’s part and they have been notified. It appears an old version of a WordPress (the blogging software I use) plugin triggered the alert. Strangely enough, the code flagged was actually there to remove possibly malicious comments submitted by others causing problems.

In short, CitizenWill is safe and, hopefully, Google will lift their ban ASAP.