What's Up In Carrboro?

I feel like we've been neglecting Carrboro lately. What's been going on there besides the proposed tax hike, the the great Hanger debate, and random shootings?

Issues: 

Total votes: 246

Comments

Thanks, Alex, for answering my question to Mike Nelson.

Mark K., could you please speak to Chapel Hill's side? Here we have two communities, Chapel Hill and Carrboro, together about half the size of Durham, and we have to have two separate multi-million-dollar public works facilities? In your opinion, were efforts to build a joint facility as diligent as they could have been?

Is there any way that the town of Chapel Hill would (re)consider allowing Carrboro to lease use of its public works station?

Jeff while I appreciate your quest for understanding what's going on with the towns' public works facilities, I just want to remind you that no-one is obligated to read this website or to post to it. This applies even moreso for busy elected officials. We are fortunate that so many of them chose to participate here, but they do so as private citizens with no obligations.

If you really want an answer, I suggest filing a petition with the appropriate board(s) to ensure a thorough and proper response to your concerns.

Thanks, Ruby. I'm aware of these difficulties, but Mark K. is a very frequent user of OP (isn't he one of your sponsored thread starters?), and for now I'll solicit his response here in the most accessible forum.

For Lease: Excellent public works site close to a major air transportation hub with access to main thoroughfare. Close to newly developed Pricey Office Research Campus (PORC). Recently vacated by previous tenant who left it in excellent condition. Good terms negotiable!

Although I posted once earlier, I don't visit the "what's up with Carrboro" thread very often.

Short answer is probably yes, it is too late. Alex's description of the process seems accurate. I believe those discussions first occurred before I was elected. If you want more information I suggest you call the manager's or the mayor's office. I'm sure though it was never a situation that Chapel Hill refused to allow Carrboro to use the facility -- as your question implies.

Also, I find the tone of your initial question and especially the tone of your answer to Ruby to be quite off-putting. I won't be responding to similarly phased requests.

If you really want/need a quick response feel free to call or email me. Like Mike's, both my number and email are public record.

Thanks, Mark.

I'm not sure which tone you were talking about, or why it deserves particular mention, as opposed to say Ruby's reference to her fellow blogger as a "wingnut" (don't know what happened there to "Try[ing] to criciticize ideas instead of people"), notwithstanding the fact that I usually find her politics and tone preferable to Melet's.

If I occasionally choose to use this forum as a kind of press conference for posing questions, it's my risk that I won't get answers, or that I'll be accused of vague things.

I am active here and elsewhere because not enough people ask tough questions on some issues. I appreciate your forthright responses.

Yeah, John, looks like we're talking about two separate figures--The $400k (as I explained above) related to the Revolving Loan Fund is unrelated to the proposed increase. I didn't pick up on the idea that you were using the figure for illustrative purposes.

The $423.314 figure represents the combined increases in personnel costs throughout the organization, reflecting market adjustment (it's worth noting, that our market studies do not merely address the structure, but address competitiveness based on comparison of positions and duties), pay-for-performance implementation and increases(correction:3.5%, Not 3.0.), full annualized costs of previously approved positions coming on-line in October of last year, and increased benefit costs (maintained at current levels). There are no new positions. The remainder, $298,037, represents the combined total of the change items discussed above as well as replacement items throughout the organization.

As an additional note, the Board recently approved a new vehicle replacement policy to get more life out of our fleet, while maintaining compliance with ISO standards--The replacements reflect the new policy. Whew! Your calculator melted yet?

Cheers,

Alex

Mr. Zaffron,

I appreciate you addressing my specific concerns.

First of all, the $400,000 dollar increase we have been discussing. Are we talking about two different sums? The N&O article linked in the initial post mentioned a:

"$423,314 to boost the personnel budget for pay raises and higher employee and retiree health insurance costs."

I agreed that "perhaps a raise for town employees is overdue...we as citizens should make sure that these raises go more to those trying to support families with less than $40,000 incomes, rather than those making more like a hundred grand."

This implies a raise targeted more heavily toward such personel as the Fire and Police departments, making our town more attractive to those who are willing to risk their lives to protect our community.

I made no issue of the funding increases for the technical side of these departments, either. I just wanted a public explanation, which you have begun.

I then added to put this item of tax increase in perspective by considering the fact that "400,000 dollars is a lot of small business loans."

I am even more delighted to hear our Revolving Loan Fund is working so well, as you mention

"The $400,000 figure you refer to is the balance available in our Small Business Revolving Loan Fund. It uses no local current local funding."

This program, then, has certainly been of great value to our community, and I support its continuing development.

Are not the $423,314 in tax increases for raises a separate issue from the fostering of more local business?

It is unfortunate that earlier administrators hired a dishonest or ignorant surveyor for the 1998 topographical analysis. Again, thank you for illuminating the unavoidable value of this additional expenditure.

I am glad that we can at least count on your vote for restraint in the new air-conditioning unit for the board room. Keeping the servers temperature controlled is a judicious use of money. Too bad the paper did not mention this mechanical purpose.

I realize there is much more that I must study on the technical aspects of our town's operation and eagerly look forward to helping my community be as open and accountable as possible.

John Sanford

Sorry, I got focused on Jeff's question without answering John's, so I'll go through those item-by-item:

The proposed amount for employee raises is based on a figure of 3% across the organization to be distributed on a basis combining an across-the-board market adjustment combined with pay-for performance. This figure is in line with other local governments of similar size, and is based on a biennial market study in which our pay and benefit structure is compared with similar jurisdictions. In order to maintain the health of the organization, our pay and benefits structure must be competitive with similar employers to retain our valued employees and recruit qualified applicants for open positions.

The hazards of not doing so were starkly evidenced a few years ago, when our police and fire departments experienced a crisis in recruitment and retention: Both were raided by other jurisdictions offering superior pay and benefits, and no qualified replacements were could be attracted, resulting in a dangerous manpower shortage in these critical services. In order to resolve this situation, we had to employ a radical (and expensive) restructuring of the compensation packages in these departments. We ain't doin' that again.

The $400,000 figure you refer to is the balance available in our Small Business Revolving Loan Fund. It uses no local current local funding. (there may have been a small local match at the outset) This is a self- sustaining fund that was established in the late '80s through a federal grant of $250,000 and is not part of the general fund. It has grown to its current level due to judicious management by Economic Development Director James Harris and the Downtown Development Commission. This fund is perhaps the single most effective tool that the town has used in our economic development efforts, resulting in the vibrant downtown you see today. Just a few of the businesses that are graduates of this program are: Weaver Street Market, Acme, Tylers, Cat's Cradle,

Crazie Mae's, and many others.

Yeah, the proposed AC unit for the Board Room is expensive, and I personally don't see it's criticality, so I'll probably recommend we cut that one. The other is for the Server room in which the Town's computer systems are located. The unit is undersized and unreliable. As any SysAdmin will tell you, server racks generate a LOT of heat, and if improperly cooled, one can quickly fry over $100,000.00 of hardware.

The topographic update has nothing to do with telecommunications. Accurate topo data is critical to effective stormwater management and site engineering. The current topo data was taken in 1998. A subsequent contractor conducting orthophotography found the information to be riddled with errors.

Attempts to rectify the situation, or recover the costs with the original contractor were unsuccessful as they were no longer in operation. Correction of this data is necessary to prevent costly mistakes in engineering and stram buffer location.

The parking lot improvements are for an as-yet undisclosed location (It's still in negotiation) to replace the parking located on the South Greensboro street lot. This was space on a yearly lease which was bought out from under the Town by a private developer who has declined to renew the lease.

Nearly all of the equipment for Police and Fire are replacement items. Fire equipment must be replaced on a schedule approved by the Insurance Services Office in order to maintain the town's rating. Lack of compliance with these standards results in higher homeowner and renter insurance rates in the jurisdiction. Never mind the obvious safety implications of running emergency services with clapped-out vehicles and equipment.

The additions are, 1) mobile laptops in police cruisers to provide instant access to criminal and driver records. This is quickly becoming standard equipment nationwide and is considered by the Chief to be an important officer safety enhancement. 2) $14,000 for the local match to leverage a $140,000 grant for a quick-response fire pumper. $14,000 to get $140,000 of equipment to enhance public safety? --Duh.

For the wireless, see our discussion on the Wireless Carrboro string.

That's it for now--The band's winding down and I've gotta get back to work.

Cheers,

Alex

Jeff,

I thought this issue was discussed in the last Mayoral campaign. If not, here's the deal: Staff discussions were held with Chapel Hill shortly after they purchased property to accomodate public works and the new transit operations center to explore possibilities for cooperation in this area. This was not a discretionary move, as the property on which their current operations center is based is leased from UNC, and the lease is expiring shortly.

After evaluating the needs of both communities, it was determined that the size of the property was sufficient to serve the needs of Chapel Hill's current and anticipated operations and the transit facility, but would not have the capacity to house facilities large enough to provide services to both towns. So, in short, we did seriously explore the idea, but it simply wasn't practical.

Cheers,

Alex

Can anyone explain why Carrboro is planning to build its own new public works station, instead of having negotiated use of Chapel Hill's?

Mike Nelson, You're a reader here. Could you offer us some insight into this issue?

And Mark Kleinschmidt, from Chapel Hill's perspective, could you tell us whether it's too late for Carrboro to negotiate use of Chapel Hill's new public works station? (This could save Chapel Hill a little money, and Carrboro as much as seven figures several-fold.)

Mark, as usual, there's many trade-offs in any budget. The $266K was well above the Technology Board's request for strategic enhancements in Chapel Hill's IT. Was the $266K a better investment than the $250k? Hard to say as there is/was no clear ROI on either request.

I can't help but feel a little deja vu vis-a-vis the parking lot debate.

Do you remember the Rosemary parking lot proposals? The parling deck was supposed to be a magnet for community functions. Several critics pointed out that the design suffered from several flaws, like a poor layout that didn't maximize parking or the fact that the roof top gardens would be hellishly hot in the summer (very unattractive) or that the public space was poorly laid out and not easily traversable (public space that people traverse is utilized at a higher rate ) , etc. ad nauseum.

All the proposals I've seen so far smack of that same obtuse optimisim. For instance, the recent bump in the road as far as the underground lots and the quick assurance this could easily be dealt with.....

Of course, now that I know some of the decision makers ;-) I do have more confidence in the process.

But, to rephrase something Cam has said about UNC/North, what is the compelling reason for doing the lots in the 1st place?

And couldn't we leverage other spaces (low cost housing on the roof of Rosemary lot for instance) or provide other incentives to attract private development? If we do develop these lots, why is it better to build underground/aboveground parking on the same footprint versus asking owners of all the under-utilized after-hours parking to open their lots up (for which the town might offer some compensation - maybe monthly cleanings???).

John Stainback, the parking lot 2&5 consultant is exceptional. If only he was just telling us what we want to hear. We heard from scores of consultant applicants and interviewed 4 as a committee. We picked Stainback because of his willingness to talk straight with us. This has not been an ass-kissing experience. Some of the consultants we interviewed clearly were of that ilk. We've learned a lot more from him than "you have a healthy downtown." Also, John's experience has been extremely valuable. Because he has such a great reputation amongst developers, he's been able to craft a team of specialists who would ordinarily wouldn't give our project a second look because of its size.

I agree with you on the consultants, Terri. Especially since so many of them either

A) tell us what we already know (eg: " you have a healthy downtown"); and/or

B) are idiots (eg: that guy who wrote the LUMO).

Where do they find these people?

So many organizations rely on consultants to tell them what they don't want to hear fromn their own employees/constituents. I should know - I was a consultant!

I'm not sure I agree that there's a lot of pork in local town budgets, but I do think there are line items that are curious. For example, in the proposed Chapel Hill budget there is $45,000 allocated for GIS aerial photography updates even though there is no one in Chapel Hill who really manages GIS (that staffing proposal is on the reject list). Whiile the $14,000 required to make the special olympics staff person full time is on the cut list, they are spending $266,000 on an out-of-state consultant on the parking lot project. As an outsider I question these decisions, but as an outsider, I don't have all the data. The parking lots are not a very big priority for me (I'd like Chapel Hill to go back to 1970 size), but I do think if development is a town priority, that we should at least use local or state consultants instead of sending our tax dollars out of state.

I don't know much about the Carrboro budget, but I have reviewed parts of the Chapel Hill one at various times and none of the expenses cited in the comment above sound at all extravagant to me. In fact, I find it kind of shocking to hear the term "pork barrel spending" in reference to one of the most democratic municipalities in the state.

Would you rather have your government cutting corners? I wouldn't. That just leads to even more inefficiency. The Town provides critical services to it's residents, and most of them greatly appreiciate it.

The tax hike seems largely futile, seeming to stem more from the local government's desires than from a genuine necessity.

Perhaps a raise for town employees is overdue. However, considering the fact that the budget is asking for almost a half-million dollars from us, we as citizens should make sure that these raises go more to those trying to support families with less than $40,000 incomes, rather than those making more like a hundred grand. 400,000 dollars is a lot of small business loans.

Does it really cost twenty thousand dollars to replace two air conditioning units in the town hall? I was not aware that they were even disfunctional. Ceiling fans, window units? Alternatives exist.

Another twenty thousand dollars for updating 'topographic information for Geographic Information System programs.' This seems ridiculous. Twenty thousand dollars is someone's job. Does a town this small really need such precise data? If it is simply to streamline telecommunications, shouldn't the telecommunication companies foot most, if not all, the bill?

Again, another twenty thousand dollars for improving a parking lot? If it is the gravel one behind weaver street that they are mentioning, this is again of dubious urgency and should be a shared financial responsibility.

I would also like to hear from the police and fire chiefs explicitly why they need improved machinery, though if these vital services require such improvements and we can afford the costs, then of course they should receive the funds.

Compared to the expenditures so far, five thousand dollars for wireless internet seems reasonable, but I would want an actual study about the value of this. Many Carrboro residents do not desire or have the ability to use this service, yet must pay for it. Perhaps this would draw some novelty cutsomers and visitors from elsewhere in the county and the Triangle, but really, how many?

Most of this smells like pork barrel spending and is the result of a government that simply wants to see its own power displayed in odd little projects than in the cautious and deliberative spending of other people's money.

Keep an eye on this, I will.

-John Sanford

I would like to learn more about Alderman Herrera's request that the state allow Carrboro to extend voting rights in local elections to immigrants with permanent resident status. Does anyone know what happened with this? Was it included in the town's list of issues to discuss with our legislative delegation?

Here's the Daily Tarheel story.

http://www.dailytarheel.com/vnews/display.v/ART/2004/04/08/407542c60a342

Have we ever talked about Carrboro's wireless initiative? http://www.tocwireless.net/ Wish the other Orange Co municipalities would follow suit.

Terri

 

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