LocalPolitics


[UPDATE] Valerie said she was “appalled” not “ashamed”. Turns out so is the Chapel Hill News.

Tomorrow night Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt will petition his colleagues to appoint a representative to participate in discussions with the County’s Solid Waste Advisory Board (SWAB) on the future of the Interlocal Agreement on Solid Waste Management.

That agreement, coordinating waste management between each municipality and the County, needs to either evolve to meet the changes in our collective waste management plans or face dissolution.

For the good of our wider community, evolution is the better alternative.

Folks might recall that I asked Council several times over the last 6 years to fill the seat set aside on the SWAB for an elected representative from Chapel Hill – even offering to fill that position myself if appointed or elected to Council. Mayor Pro Tem Jim Ward took up that task, finally, less than a year ago.

Last year the Board of Commissioners (BOCC) agreed to ship our waste to Durham’s trash transfer station (which will subsequently ship it elsewhere). Even though this decision laid the groundwork for what I hope is a temporary solution to our garbage disposal needs, the time that decision bought hasn’t been used effectively by the SWAB to plan for the longer term.

There has been no real effort, to date, to find a local or regional solution that aligns more closely to our community’s fiscal and environmental policy objectives. Instead, the County contracted a new waste management consultancy that “discovered” three increased capacity options. Last week the County proposed extending the landfills life, again, irrespective of the commitments made to the Rogers Road community.

Commissioner Valerie Foushee, reviewing her inaction in tasking County staff to work the issue over the last 6 years, said she was “appalled” by the lack of progress – a sentiment echoed by all her colleagues.

Resisting expediency, taking that deceptively easy path of delaying the inevitable yet again, the BOCC finally took the bull by the horns and agreed to forge a solution themselves (Trash Talk: The Neverending Story…Ends?).

As the BOCC and County Manager noted, their partners in the Interlocal agreement have been MIA during the last few years, and though the County preferred a collaborative accommodation, they could no longer delay.

Tomorrow night, Mark moves Chapel Hill one-step closer to being part of the solution rather than the source of the problem:

This petition responds to a request from the Orange County Board of Commissioners for Towns to consider establishing a working group to address and resolve solid waste management issues. The Solid Waste Advisory Board (SWAB) recommends that this working group be comprised of elected officials and senior staff, and that the process should begin as soon as possible.

I wholeheartedly agree and expect the Council to expeditiously move the process forward.

My first suggested action – take advantage of the provision built into the 1997 landfill extension agreement, as County Manager Frank Clifton highlighted last Tuesday, and start setting aside part of the tipping fees for eventual mitigation of landfill related problems.

Among the many other activities going on today was the Orange County Democratic Party all-precinct convention. Quite a turnout with many familiar faces.

Local heavyweights US Rep. David Price, former State House Speaker Joe Hackney and House colleague Verla Insko along with State Senator Ellie Kinnaird (who changed a tire on the way to the meeting) attended.

Price, just returned from the budget breakdown nonsense in Washington, gave a rousing call to arms pointing out that the Tea Party express was bearing down on the nation – and last night’s buffoonery was just the first in many salvos aimed squarely at middle America. Verla and Joe sketched out the dire legislative morass they face in the State house and related how the turnover in control of the House has actually brought the Democratic caucus closer.

There were 44 prepared petitions put before the convention – a long list to dispense with in less than the budgeted 4 hours. Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, who was running the proceedings, was able to work through a good chunk by getting collective assent upfront.

Though it has been a long time since I participated in a convention, I came prepared to offer an amendment to the petition calling for support of the Board of Commissioner’s [BOCC] recent plan to hold a Nov. 2011 referendum increasing our local sales tax 0.25%.

The BOCC has proposed splitting the anticipated $2.5M per year evenly between economic development and education. I asked the gathered folks to support a change in that allocation from 50/50 to 33% for economic development, which would adequately support the economic initiatives the BOCC has already laid out, and 66% to restore and support the many human service programs curtailed by the County these last 5 years.

My neighbor Tom Henkel seconded the call and an interesting discussion followed. Unfortunately, my suggested changes were completely shot down. It was great to get a strong dose of participatory democracy even if my effort was for naught. I appreciate the kind and thoughtful consideration the convention offered.

Afterwards, BOCC member Steve Yuhasz came over and graciously encouraged me to keep on pressing the BOCC to find money for human service programs. I told him I wasn’t going to give up.

[UPDATE 2]

The referendum is shelved with a margin of over 1,000 votes. Next up, the transit tax referendum.

[UPDATE 3]

Just listened to a really inept analysis of the sales tax referendum problems on WCHL. WCHL is usually ridiculously deferential to Aaron Nelson of the local Chamber of Commerce – rarely calls him out on his BS – and tonight was no exception. They left unchallenged his contention that many local folks are too stupid to understand the consequences of voting against the tax or that it was a knee-jerk reaction (disregarding the likelihood that people knew that the BOCC DID NOT promise to keep property taxes down if the referendum passed).

Further, no one, including OrangePolitic’s Ruby S. questioned the difficulty of selling the necessity of increasing the local tax bite when the BOCC was able to find $610,000 to buy a new Library site in Carrboro last week or the BOCC’s lack of political will to redirect a one-time $4.6M windfall to projects outside those outlined in the referendum.

I like the crew at WCHL but tonight’s review of the referendum – their inability to probe the supporters contentions, not entertaining any contrary viewpoints – was a FAIL.

[UPDATE 4]

10:15pm and the crew at WCHL continues to suggest that the failure of the referendum was a knee-jerk reaction “my daddy voted against taxes and so will I”. OUCH!

Elizabeth Friend, thankfully, did make a great point about needs vs. wants – we want more technology in the schools, we need to improve EMS. That the next round of discussions should center on what absolutely needs to be addressed vs. what is a nice to have that can be postponed for better times.

Finally, Fred Black made the point that the school boards haven’t set aside sufficient funds for maintenance, that the lottery contributions can’t cover the expected costs and that money will have to be found. Unfortunately, he still suggests that we need to raise additional monies instead of finding it within the current budget.

[ORIGINAL]

As of 8:25pm, 36 of 44 Orange County precincts reporting, the sales tax referendum looks to be in trouble.

Of 38,980 votes, 48.18% (18,780) are for the incremental increase and 51.82% (20,200) are against it.

I’ve been discussing the issue with folks the last few weeks and had a sense that in spite of a concerted effort by the Chamber sponsored PAC (which was running interference for the NC Realtor association), the referendum could be defeated.

I thought this version of the referendum was flawed for a variety of reasons: not using the revenue in a focused manner for economic development, not dedicating the lions share of the allocation to human services (which includes EMS), sugar-coating the measure by sending a chunk to the schools, etc. (read more here, here [ChapelHillWatch], here [CHW] and here [CHW]).

What happens if it goes down?

If the County plans to reintroduce the measure it should reassess the purposes it will be put towards – folks are looking for maximum impact not a diffuse flow of new monies.

The Board of Commissioners (BOCC) should also calibrate their rhetoric more carefully – avoiding claims like those by Barry Jacobs this evening that passing the tax would keep property taxes down – an unsupported contention.

If the Chamber or some other local entity sponsors a new PAC to sell the measure, I hope that the local media will probe the reasons why a group like the NC Realtor association threw so much money behind this year’s PAC – was it a cheap way to keep the land transfer tax off the table?

Finally, the BOCC should understand that if you plan to ask folks for more money to address critical needs because the budget cupboard is bare, they can’t turn around and plunk down $610,000 on a new piece of property or funnel $4.6M in debt savings to other purposes.

[UPDATE]

As of 8:43pm, 40 of 44 precincts reporting, 48.27% (19,576) FOR and 51.73% (20,977) AGAINST – 40,553 votes total.

Quick update on Caldwell precinct located in north Orange County near Rougemont.

I handed out Democratic party voter guides from 9:30am until 4:00pm to a steady and heavy stream of voters. With over 680 voters clocking in by 4pm, the precinct was trending towards a very healthy showing – a possible total for today of over 900+ folks. Add in the nearly 30% of early voters and the totals will be approaching 2008′s general election.

Well done Caldwell!

I’m headed to Lincoln Center in Chapel Hill for the 5-6pm shift After that it is a quick stop at the Library to vote.

If you haven’t voted yet there is still plenty of time Get out and make a difference.

In case there’s any confusion, Morgan Freeman had nothing to do with this post!

I’ll be helping the Orange County Democratic Party over at the Caldwell precinct in northern Orange County from 9:30am to 4:00pm. Drop by if you’re in the area.

Over the last week I’ve received emails asking my recommendations for the judicial races. Here’s who I’m voting for:

US SenateElaine Marshall

I know, Elaine isn’t running for the bench but since I have your attention….

A lot has been made of the apparent Democratic electorate malaise this year. We are still involved in the longest war of our country’s history. We still haven’t punished the use of torture or kidnapping as tools of war. Affronts to our Constitution, to basic human rights continue to be promulgated. Backroom deals derail chances of improving our populaces health and welfare. Billions are bilked and the public coffers milked. Spying and lying are now commonplace insults to our country’s democratic well-being. So much of the same old, same old with nary a peep from so many Democratic “yes we can change” Congress folks.

I understand that immense lethargic unease the folks that turned out in 2008 must feel. Does that mean we need to suffer with a Burr under our saddles another 4 years? Hell no.

Elaine is more than the anti-Burr choice. She wasn’t supported by the torpor inducing national Democratic apparatchik, a real win in my book. She will work to bring real change on behalf of all North Carolinians if elected. Do your part today to make that happen.

Supreme Court – Bob Hunter

Both candidates have a strong record on governmental transparency, solid experience and track records of reasonable judicial advocacy. While Jackson served as counsel under Labor Secretary Cherrie Berry during a period of time when that office was less than proactive on a slate of labor related issues, it’s not clear to me if her role allowed her to advocate for better outcomes. Hunter has the edge in experience, great endorsements and, as a Democrat, the background to work towards an equitable decision on Congressional redistricting should it land in the Court’s hands.

Court of Appeals – Gray,Elmore,Geer.

Gray and Geer, Democrats, have solid reputations, been unequivocal that politics will play no role in their courts. Elmore is a solid choice.

Court of Appeals – Instant Runoff version: Thigpen – 1st. Hammer – 2nd. Payne or Middleton or Vesper -3rd.

In other races:

Board of Commissioners – Earl McKee.

I’ve been watching Earl as he has taken on a few County issues these last 18 months. He spent 6 months attending BOCC meetings to get a feel of the office before ever standing up and speaking his piece. His first issue, challenging the expensive remodeling of an office space to serve as a Commissioners chamber, demonstrated the type of leadership he plans to bring to the Commission: he did his research, spoke sincerely and directly to the issue, stood firm on his principles while pursuing the best policy for both his rural district (District 2) and the County as a whole.

Sales Tax Referendum – AGAINST

This is a lousy year to raise any taxes – no matter how small the bite – but that is not the main reason I stand so firmly opposed to this referendum.

Poverty is on a steep uptick in Orange County. Demand for health and welfare services is at an all time high. Long needed structural shifts – from fully staffing our community health system to shifting the emergency homeless shelter burden off the IFC – are not occurring supposedly due to fiscal difficulties at the County level. Yet, when presented with $2.3M from a sales tax or $4.6M windfall from refinancing the County’s debt, the BOCC chose areas outside those vital needs.

I lobbied them to put the lions share towards addressing the needs of those struggling the most – for the 1 in 5 Orange County residents in poverty and other residents who are just treading water. $2+ M new revenue targeted effectively represents more than a life jacket – it would lift folks out of the deep end of the pool and move them on to firm ground.

Again, I appreciate the BOCC making a somewhat firm commitment to spending priorities – I just don’t support the same set of priorities.

The BOCC has been clear, as they should be, that this revenue sharing plan is a firm commitment over the next 5 years and will not change – period. The BOCC has also reaffirmed their stance that this new revenue will not replace existing revenue or cover existing expenses – it is new money for a new purpose )funds will not be freed up elsewhere that could be redirected to human services).

Given that, tomorrow, I’m voting NO for the sales tax in hopes that we will get another chance to set the priorities for that spending, that the new priority will be waited heavily towards addressing human service needs and that core needs – like improved emergency medical services(EMS) and required school facility repairs – be paid out of core budget.

More of my reasoning on voting against the sales tax below:
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Looks like I’m stuck on “law and order” mode with the latest series of posts.

The Chapel Hill Police Department is hosting an additional community outreach Nov. 4th, 4:30 and 5:30pm at Extraordinary Ventures, Elliot Rd. (INFO).

The meetings present an opportunity to comment on and improve the department’s new strategic plan. The plan’s current high level goals include:

  • Reduce crime through a strategic and data-driven partnership with our stakeholders through prevention, accountability and enforcement.
  • Foster a relationship of mutual trust through consistent, honest, and timely customer service.
  • Foster a relationship of mutual trust through consistent, honest, and timely customer service.
  • Provide a professional and nurturing work environment that promotes accountability through fair and consistent treatment of our employees.
  • Promote vehicular, bicycle, and pedestrian safety through education and enforcement.

This is round 2 of the process. Round 1, held this Spring, collected initial public input to help develop the outlines of the plan. Round 2 is an opportunity for the public to weigh in on the draft strategic plan. While this Spring’s meetings were well attended (I went to them all), the community has not responded to the call this Fall.

Trying to generate some interest in next week’s meeting I recorded the following commentary for WCHL’s Ron Stutts this morning.

`Live in North Carolina long enough and you will probably hear that when it comes to addressing an issue there is the right way, the wrong way and the Chapel Hill way.

While some folks consider Chapel Hill’s role as a progressive leader in our State as an oddity deserving of ridicule, many of the positive qualities that attract people to our community are a direct result of our willingness to forge our own way.

Progress though, even for Chapel Hill, can move in fits and starts. As our community evolves, responds to new realities, integrates new ideas, it is important that we understand that we can’t cruise on our reputation – that building a better community is an ongoing process which requires work and public engagement.

You might have heard that Chapel Hill’s Police Chief Brian Curran announced he was leaving his post after serving our community for nearly 3 decades.

Brian’s tenure as Chief was notable for a number of reasons including changing the management structure of the department to cultivate new leadership, encouraging greater responsibility by front-line staff and building better relationships between the community and law enforcement.

Brian understood that our community is different – that we expect our police folks to understand and abide by the Chapel Hill way. He strengthened the forces commitment to that way. Thank you Brian for that and your decades of service.

Setting a new direction for the department, adapting to new realities, is a work in progress. To better address these new challenges, Brian, along with his Assistant Chiefs Bob Overton and Chris Blue initiated a program of community outreach to better understand the issues our residents are concerned about today, to highlight problems in effectively and responsibility providing service and to draw upon the incredible expertise within this community.

The first round of meetings held this Spring were well attended – lots of good interactions culminating in the creation of a new strategic plan of action for our police department. From that input over twenty of our staff worked diligently to create a draft proposal incorporating key goals like fostering mutual trust, improving accountability, using a data-driven methods to determine appropriate resourcing and building relationships in our community.

Unfortunately, this round of meetings our community has not turned out to review and improve this plan of action. Whether you are concerned about specific incidents – like what happened to local barber Charles Brown – or think that the department needs more oversight in the form of a civilian review board – or even if you are satisfied – show up. Brian and his staff did their part, it is time for us to do ours. Building a better community can’t happen if you stay at home.

The next and final meeting for this phase is Nov. 4th. Two sessions 4:30 and 5:30pm at Extraordinary Ventures on Elliot Rd. More information is available on the Town’s website: townofchapelhill.org.

In listing the roll of important events this coming week, I accidentally left out one that promises to be quite interesting.

Cousins Properties Inc., which is leading the redevelopment of University Square for Chapel Hill Foundation Real Estate Holdings Inc., will host a public meeting Wednesday, Aug. 18, to discuss the long-term vision for the site and the proposed initial phase of the project. Representatives of Elkus Manfredi Architects of Boston will provide an in-depth presentation of the development plans, shaped in part by a previous public meeting on Oct. 15, 2009. The presentation will be followed by a question-and-answer session.

The meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. in Suite 133-G of University Square, next to Ken’s Quickie Mart.

More information here.

Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend this or most of the other events I’ve highlighted and will be relying heavily on our local media and hyper-local media (‘blogs) for updates.

The list as it now stands:

I ended up talking about the troubling aspects of both East54 and the Lot $5 with a native Chapel Hillian after a recent community meeting. While introducing myself they exclaimed “you’re Will Raymond? I saw you speak several years ago about the Town’s Downtown project” but, they went on, I “looked different”, even younger than they recalled.

During the recent WCHL1360 “Who’s Talking” interview (140West: RAM Development’s Money Tree, Chapel Hill Taxpayers Moneypit), I had commented to Fred Black that I was a bit older and a bit grayer but still flogging the same old issues of sustainability, diversity, fiscal responsibility, community input, etc. I started with nearly a decade ago.

Turns out, though, while I might be a bit older (and heavier), I don’t look as gray without the huge beard.

Here’s a sample from Feb. 12th, 2007, the night that version of our Town Council decided to plunge ahead with the broken Lot $5 deal.



I have been asked by a few folks who I’ll be voting for this primary season. In the most contested race, at-large County commissioner, the three candidates have unique strengths, each of which appeals to some facet of my concern for where the County is going, each of which makes the decision a bit tough.

In the Sheriff’s race, though, there’s only two candidates, one of which, former Hillsborough/Duke University Police Chief Clarence Birkhead, that deserves your wholehearted support.

I met Clarence several months ago and have had the pleasure of getting to know and support his efforts to lead our County forward. I’m convinced he will work for progressive and cost effective policy changes in the Sheriff’s department to overcome the many existing and new challenges before us.

It is certainly a time for change but not just for change sake. Here are some of the key differences I’ve noted between Clarence and the 28 year incumbent Lindy Pendergrass:
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I want to quickly respond to Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt’s comments this evening.

First, spending $8-12M on the Lot #5 project, building luxury condos and enriching a private developer, is not the same as “protecting our Town’s infrastructure”.

The Lot #5 (West 140) project is discretionary – the push to keep it going is not based on sound economic fundamentals.

Putting Lot #5 on par with filling potholes or expanding the Library is a great political speaking point – but certainly not grounded in reality – suggestions otherwise does the public a disservice.

At the same time, other probable debt-related outlays aren’t included in the analysis. Mark suggesting the lump of general obligation (G.O.) debt covers the whole gamut of obligations minimizes the challenge before us.

Beyond that bit of misdirection, Mark knows (or should know) that our Town’s current reserves are low compared to historical reserves on a percentage basis.

That $1.9M increase Mark bandied about sounds big but isn’t considering the $55M hole we’re in. No matter how hard fought the battle to get that $1.9M last year, weighed against future operational and capital demands – like trying to expand the Library – the percentage improvement in overall reserves was slightly better than negligible and doesn’t position us any better to deal with MAJOR outlays (if you use a more reasonable debt ceiling).

To use the credit card example several Council members relied on this evening, there is a qualitative difference between the following two scenarios:
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Ron Stutts and WCHL 1360 invited me to do a commentary on a Chapel Hill issue.

I chose to speak out on the fiscally imprudent idea that we can “have our cake and eat it too”.

Run this and the following four year’s budget numbers, look at anticipated impacts – funding Town retirees’ health-care, fixing Police Headquarters, meeting our clean water responsibilities under the Lake Jordan compact, the doubling in demand on our social services, etc. – and it becomes clear – we can walk away now from the discretionary Lot #5 project – at little additional cost to the taxpayer – or do the Library expansion next year.

We can’t do both.

Thanks to Ron and crew for somehow squeezing 10 pounds of commentary [MP3] into a 5 pound bag. Amazing!

Jan. 25th the Council considered two projects with major financial impacts – the Library expansion and the problematic Lot #5 private/public development project.

After discussing their options at length, they decided to postpone approval of the Library expansion pending a more thorough review of the Town’s spending priorities during the Town’s normal budget process which, by the way, kicks off Wednesday, Feb. 3rd.

This was a reasonable and prudent course of action given the serious fiscal condition of the Town, the weakened economy, continued expectations of poor revenues and Council’s touted commitment to public participation.

Unfortunately, the Lot #5 project didn’t get the same level of concern.

The Town’s debt has doubled to $55M over the last 5 years. It’s been used to fund necessary and discretionary capital improvements like the construction of the new Aquatics Center – which at about $7M was almost on budget – and the Town Operations Center – which at $52M went roughly $10M over-budget.

Supporters claim the typical household will ONLY pay $40 more a year but that $40 only covers the increased cost of operating the Library and not the cost of discharging the $16M bond debt.

The Town Manager says that as we payoff existing obligations we can issue new bonds without increasing taxes. This might be true through 2011, but as the Town’s finance director pointed out, from 2012 on the construction debt pushes our overall debt very close – maybe even exceeding – the level necessary to keep our Town’s AAA bond rating.

At that point a tax increase is certain.

The Town Manager’s analysis is also rather one dimensional – challenges like the Town’s rapidly growing unfunded retirement obligations – projected to be as much as $56M or replacing Police headquarters – $10M if Council had purchased Dawson Hall – were not considered.

So what about Lot #5? Lot #5 requires 8 to 12M taxpayer dollars and represents the Town’s greatest, riskiest discretionary fiscal liability.

Part of the sales pitch for Lot #5 was the supposed need to stimulate development Downtown.

With Greenbridge nearly built and other Downtown projects on the way it’s clear that we didn’t need a stimulus. In fact, directly across Franklin St. the University at University Square is already putting forward a much more interesting, integrative proposal which better fulfills the goals of the Lot #5 project – and at little cost or risk to our taxpayers.

Given that the cost reductions that allowed RAM Development to lower their gold-plated condo prices haven’t been passed on to the taxpayer, that the number of pre-sold units hasn’t grown in-line with those price reductions, and that the Town still doesn’t know how it plans to borrow that $8 to 12M – now is the time to drop Lot #5.

Three years out – three contract extensions granted – no significant improvement in proposal.

What does this have to do with the Library?

We can have a Library expansion – hopefully starting next year – or we can have Lot #5 – we can’t handle both.

Contact Council – ask them to pull the plug on the Lot #5 project now so that we can take on projects that are more central to Council’s charter.

More information on my website, CitizenWill.org.

Here is what I meant to say at this evening’s Council meeting.

Like a lot of my remarks, I find myself editing on the fly, so what I managed to get out in less than 3 minutes wasn’t quite what follows but I believe I made the points I needed.

The simple summary?

We can’t do the Lot #5 (140 West) project and the Library expansion together. Lot #5 hasn’t met its goals, the cost/benefit ratio is decidedly out-of-whack, the necessity quite clearly not there anymore.

Further, the Library expansion project needs to be delayed until taxpayers can bear the total cost. Beyond that, we need to request an extension from the North Carolina Local Government Commission to allow issuing bonds beyond the current deadline so when it is fiscally prudent we can move expeditiously.

Finally, public participation, once again, is barely considered.

Tonight’s remarks:

In 2010 you will be making several key budgetary decisions whose impacts will span the next decade – the Lot #5 (West 140) and Library expansion – two examples.

Lot #5 represents the greatest and riskiest fiscal liability going forward that can be safely dispensed with.

Part of the sales pitch made by some on this Council is we needed this project to kick-start development Downtown.

With Greenbridge nearly built, University Square poised for redevelopment, approval of Grove Park – which will displace the affordable Townhouse Apts. on Hillsborough St. with luxury condos – and other Downtown projects on the way it’s clear that we don’t need that supposed stimulus Lot #5 brings anymore.

It’s time to reconsider this troubled project especially given that:

1) the cost reductions that allowed RAM to lower prices haven’t been significantly passed on to the taxpayer,

2) the number of units pre-sold hasn’t grown in-line with price reductions (33 units pre-sold so far, down from the reported 2008 commitment of 35).

3) the open-ended nature of the cost of the environmental cleanup is still being underplayed,

4) the University at University Square has already put forward a much more sound, interesting and integrative proposal (123 West Franklin) for that stretch of Franklin St. than the expensive – at least to the Chapel Hill taxpayer – Lot #5,

5) still up in the air how we will borrow the money – COPs, TIFs, etc. In any case, however we borrow the $9-10M or more it will limit the Town’s ability to prudently respond in funding core needs,

6) and from what I can see in RAM’s recent missive ( RAM Dec. 22nd, 2009 letter [PDF]) no effort has been made to involve the nearby business and residential community in discussing mitigation of the type of construction-related problems that have plagued Greenbridge or even apprise their future neighbors of current developments (let alone present a coherent and consistent story to the local press).

Three years out and no significant improvement in the proposal. Three extensions to the contract granted by Council. Lot #5 should be shelved now so that the Town can take projects that are more central to its charter.

What does this have to do with the Library?

I want to see the Library expanded but now is not the time.

The memos before you [here] paint a fairly rosy picture of the borrowing in terms of adopting new debt but they don’t do a very good job in putting that increased debt in context of our already astonishing – at least by historical Chapel Hill standards – debt load.

Memo #A, in fact, disingenuously characterizes the increase to homeowners using examples of property valuations well below ($200K) the Chapel Hill baseline.

Look at the chart in Memo #A. The rate of increase in the debt load – that rapidly increasing impact on the Town’s flexibility in borrowing – running our debt right up to the debt ceiling for our AAA bond rating – starts in late 2012 and zooms steeply from there.

Of course, besides adding new debt that and anticipated G.O. additions will account for roughly several cents on the current tax rate while the real kicker is the growth in cost of Library operations – which appears to be even more significant.

Worse, the continued structural instability and weakness of our economy gets short shrift.

Now is not the time to take on a large forward liability.

Making a decision based on these figures tonight will be guaranteeing a tax increase or steep cuts or just ignoring basic obligations two years hence.

Here are my suggestions:

1) Shelve Lot #5. We can have a Library expansion – hopefully starting next year – or we can have Lot #5 – we can’t handle both.

2) The Library borrowing should be delayed until prevailing economic conditions show signs of improvement – strengthened sales tax revenues, stable fund markets which will lend money at a more favorable rate – say less than %100 of the 20 year Treasury bond ratio.

3) Have staff prepare a request to NC Local Government Commission to extend Chapel Hill’s time limit for issuing these bonds so the Council and community have adequate time to plan.

4) Use the established public budget process which kicks off next week [2/3/2010 7:00 PM Council Chambers Townhall) to discuss the Library in light of all our Town's needs – competitive staff wages, affordable housing reserve funds, the growing retirement fund deficit (Unfunded Liabilities: Pay As You Go Not Sustainable) among many others.

Last Fall many of many on Council obligingly participated in a special “emergency” meeting to acquire Dawson Hall for police and other key Town services. That urgent need hasn't gone away – the police department's facility still needs attention - why isn't that part of the rosy projections?

Our citizens deserve a diligent evaluation of the cost of the Library expansion and operations within the context of our total budget and foreseeable needs - not wants.

They also deserve to participate - not just get an agenda item 3 days before a decision is scheduled.

5) Finally, postponing tonight will give you the opportunity to carefully consider this proposal in light of all your priorities, give you time to evaluate the rosy picture drawn by these memos against your own understanding of the economy and think about how to engage the community during this weekend's Council retreat.

In addition, it buys needed time for the public to review the current proposal, attend the budget sessions, ask their questions, get their answers and finally weigh in in a thoughtful manner.

Thank you.

[UPDATE: Council Postpones Consideration]

From tonight’s Council flash report:

Consideration of Proceeding with the Library Expansion Project: The Council considered the project schedule and associated costs for expansion of the Chapel Hill Public Library. The Council delayed action and indicated its desire to discuss the expansion costs in greater detail and in the context of the entire Town budget. The Council stated it wants to know what level of funding Orange County will provide toward Library services.

Orange County provides no capital support toward the Town’s Library expenses; this includes all past and present Library construction costs, debt service for same, equipment or special project costs. County support toward Library operating expenses has remained at $250,000 since 1995 and represents 11 percent of this year’s Library operating budget. About 12,000 of the Library’s patrons live in Orange County outside Chapel Hill limits. The number of materials borrowed by these patrons was 386,000 items last year. This represents approximately 40 percent of the Library’s annual circulation.

[X-POSTED from my campaign website]

Tonight was the final Council meeting before the election.

I’ve attended every Council meeting this Fall except the special Friday morning one. I go to quite a few Council meetings in general, so attending this Fall’s during my run for office was not much of a stretch. Penny Rich and Augustus Cho usually show up to catch what’s going on directly (Augustus was there this evening, Penny was participating in UNC Healthcare’s Tickled Pink event to benefit cancer research). Watching the meeting on TV or via the Web is just not quite the same.

Over the last eight years it has been interesting to see which candidates do show up – it seems like you would want to make sure you really want the job given the time commitment, to get up to speed on the relevant issues so you can hit the ground running, to learn a bit more of the nuts-n-bolts of how the Council operates so you can fit into the process fairly quickly – yet cycle after cycle it’s only a few that show.

While the media will probably focus on the Kidzu presentation, the approval moving Glen Lennox’s neighborhood conservation district (NCD) forward, Jim – on election eve – asking the Town to enforce Northside’s NCD (which I talk about in my recent brochure) or Council letting their next incarnation decide on Strom’s replacement, probably the most consequential issue on tonight’s agenda will not get word one.

Ken Pennoyer, the Town’s director of business management, was proposing a change in the structure of staff benefits. All new employees hired after June 30th, 2010 would get a defined benefit plan covering retirement health coverage. Existing employees would retain their Town guaranteed benefit, the payout based on term of service and retirement age.

What’s the big deal?

The existing plan, which is a “pay as you go” approach paid out of general revenues, has increased from $400K to $891k in 5 years – more than doubling our current obligation. To fully fund our commitment to our retired workforce would take $32M to $56M, roughly $3+ M or more per year, for a couple decades!

While the Town has set aside $400K in designated funds over the last two years, the forward obligation makes those contributions pale in comparison. $3-4M per year is equivalent to $0.05 to $0.07 of Chapel Hill’s tax rate – an additional $150 to $210 per year on a $300K home tax bill. This unfunded liability is just one of a number of other obligations – like the $3M affordable housing maintenance fund – which has been allowed to grow and grow over the last 6 years.

Tonight is the first attempt to truly grapple with that overhanging debt to our valued retirees. There are risks inherent in moving new employees to a defined benefit plan but the alternative, scrambling to find funds each fiscal cycle to adequately maintain that obligation, is not sustainable.
(more…)

Yonni Chapman, local historian, stalwart civil rights activist, documenter of Chapel Hill’s struggles for peace, justice and equality, after a long struggle with cancer, has passed on.

I last saw Yonni Aug. 28th at the commemoration of Chapel Hill’s new Peace and Justice Plaza. We talked awhile about the possible Board of Commissioner’s decision to site the new trash transfer facility in the Millhouse/Rogers Road community.

Fighting for consideration of social justice in the decision-making process of siting the transfer facility was just one of many local issues that Yonni helped our community address. He reminded us of the historical context, stressed that we cannot move forward if we forget where we’ve been.

From Yonni’s on-line profile

Privileged white child of the sixties. Became a revolutionary in 1969 at Harvard. Moved to Atlanta to do social justice organizing. Attended Atlanta Area Tech and became a Certified Laboratory Technician. Moved to Chapel Hill area. Worked in Hematology at UNC Memorial Hospital. Chair of Employees Forum. Did grassroots organizing in Chapel Hill with Welfare Rights Organization, CH Tenants Organization, hospital and university workers, Rainbow Coalition of Conscience, Jesse Jackson Campaign, Fred Battle Campaign for School Board, African Liberation Support Committee, Medical Aid for Southern Africa, Central America solidarity campaigns, anti-Apartheid movement, etc. Attended graduate school at UNC in history. Thesis, 1995, Second Generation: Black Youth and the Origins of the Chapel Hill Civil Rights Movement, 1937-1963. Dissertation, 2006, Black Freedom and the University of North Carolina, 1793-1960. Expert Witness for UNC Housekeepers Movement lawsuit; organized campaign to abolish Cornelia Phillips Spencer Bell Award at UNC; UNC Campaign for Historical Accuracy and Truth (CHAT); NAACP/Community Church movement to establish a state highway marker to commemorate the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation in Chapel Hill; Town of Chapel Hill/NAACP commemoration of nine local leaders at Peace and Justice Plaza. Member of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). Second Vice Chair, Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP and Chair of History Committee. Cancer survivor. Proud father of Sandra and Joyce. Eagerly expectant grandpa.

I have read over 100 emails detailing concerns around moving the IFC’s Men’s Shelter to Homestead Rd. Not all emails have been positive, many have very good questions that need to be laid to rest. I’m working on another post that condenses and highlights those specific neighborhood concerns.

Here’s a letter in support of the facility from Peggy Yonuschot:

Dear Mayor Foy and Members of the Town Council:

I write in support of the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service (IFC) with respect to the proposed location of the men’s residential facility at 1315 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. I also write in response to some of the fear and hateful rhetoric about people who are homeless that has been expressed by some of my neighbors to the Town Council as well as posted around my neighborhood at mailbox locations and the Tot Lot.

My home is in the Vineyard Square neighborhood, adjacent to Homestead Park. I live within walking distance to Project Homestart (the IFC facility for women and children who are homeless), Freedom House Recovery Center and the Seymour Senior Center as well as Homestead Park playground, playing fields and aquatic center. I have a young son and we walk to swim lessons, soccer practice and the swingset several times a week. I have experienced no adverse or negative impact as a result of living in close vicinity to any of the human services providers operating nearby. I do not view the proposed location of the men’s residential facility as a threat to my family’s safety.

The shelter has to go somewhere. It is my understanding that the proposed location was chosen after an extensive search by Town of Chapel Hill staff and in consult with myriad community partners. If IFC, their community partners and other entities with the expertise and experience needed to work effectively with people who are homeless believe that this is the best possible location for this facility in our town, then we should support them.

I have every confidence that the IFC will continue to work with community partners and surrounding neighborhoods to mitigate any potential negative impact. I have every confidence that the Chapel Hill Police Department will continue to enforce existing town ordinances and other regulations that address some of the real concerns that have been expressed about locating the shelter near a park. It is my hope that you will not allow misunderstanding and fear to derail the presence of a well-managed shelter in Chapel Hill, which is a benefit to the entire community as well as individuals who are homeless.

The individuals who are contacting you to express fear and hateful rhetoric do not speak for me or my family or all of our neighbors. I invite my neighbors who are gathering to speak against the IFC and the proposed site of the men’s residential facility to consider how they might feel if it were their son, brother or father who was without resource and in need of shelter. I believe that it is by grace that it is not me or my loved one currently in need. I am grateful to the IFC for providing an absolutely critical array of services in offer of assistance to those families and individuals who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness.

Sincerely,

Peggy Yonuschot

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