CC167: Council Pay Increased, Amtrak, 3-Unrelated, Budget

FLASH!

Public input sessions on the move to reconsider the status of the 3-unrelated rule.

–June 18, Monday, 6:30 pm, Eppes Recreation Center, 400 Nash St., at Thomas Foreman Park Multipurpose Room

–June 20, Wednesday, 6:30 pm, Recreation and Parks Department Building, 2000 Cedar Lane, Jaycee Park Auditorium

–June 27, Wednesday, 6:30 pm, Greenville City Hall, 200 West 5th St., 3rd Floor Gallery

Councilmember Blackburn requested staff provide historical information on the reasons why this rule was put in place about 20 years ago and the planning principles that supported that decision.

FLASH!

Due a reporting error by a large Pitt County non-profit to the state government, Pitt County cities and the county have to return a large amount of sales tax they have received from the state. The city’s part is 29,691 per month for 30 months and has been included in the budget we passed last night.

FLASH!

Thanks to the Stallings Family, Greenville Little Leagues, and the Cal Ripken Foundation for their roles in significantly upgrading the recreation opportunities for our citizens.  I detailed their contributions in the last newsletter.

CONTENTS

–Mayor and Councilmembers Pay Raised

–Amtrak

–Reflections on the Budget, on Your Tax Money

Tax Rate

Sanitation Fees

Other Fees

My Concern About the Fund Balance–"Rainy Day Fund," Savings Account

Pay Increase and Benefits Decrease

The Budget Committee

Kicking the Can Down the Road, Questions, Other Concerns

VIEW LAST NIGHT’S COUNCIL MEETING–2 ways

FIRST WAY ON TV

●See it for a few days on GTV-9. The schedule is found on the city webpage

(www.greenvillenc.gov). It will be played for several days at 1 am, 12 noon, and 7 pm.

SECOND WAY ON THE CITY WEBSITE

● Go to the city webpage (www.greenvillenc.gov<

http://www.greenvillenc.gov>)

● On the home page, go to "Useful City Links", and click on "City Council Meetings & Agendas".

● Scroll down to the meeting date in which you are interested and click on "video".

● Scroll down and click on the agenda item in which you have interest. So, you do not have to sit through the whole meeting to see Council action on your item of interest.

MAYOR AND COUNCILMEMBER PAY RAISED

In a split vote last night, the City Council raised the salaries of Councilmembers in these amounts:

Mayor–200 per month

Mayor Pro Tem–150 per month

Councilmembers–100 per month

I objected to adding this to the budget we passed last night for the following reasons.

1–This addition to the 2012-13 budget and the 2013-14 budget plan came without any airing of this before the public. The budget process has taken months. We have had four Budget Committee meetings, numerous Council meetings on the budget, and a public hearing Monday night.  At no time during these budget meetings did raising the Mayor, Mayor Pro Tem, and Councilmember salaries come up. This addition to the budget was brought up last night, at the last step in the budget process and after the public hearing.  I believe any increase in elected official salaries, if it happens, should come after airing the issue before the public, most definitely not at the last minute in a budget process.

2–In my opinion, elected officials should not raise their own salaries, and I would never support doing that with our Council.  In other words, if salaries are raised, it should be implemented for a future Council, not the one that passes the increase.

3–I made the point that these are austere times and not the time to do this.

In the public meeting last night, Councilmember Joyner said that in private conversations I had agreed to raising the salaries if everyone else agreed.  In private conversations about salaries, I have noted that Council salaries have not been raised in years and said that I think that any such proposed change should be fully aired before the public, and, if passed, implemented for a future Council. Elected officials should not raise their own salaries.

Prior to about 3 minutes before last night’s meeting, no one had ever brought a specific proposal about Councilmember salaries to me for my thoughts. About 3 minutes before last night’s meeting began, Councilmember Joyner called me aside and told me 5 things he was going to suggest adding to the budget. I told him that we should not be bringing things like a salary increase at the last minute.  We barely had time to get back to our seats before the cameras began to roll.

In Monday’s meeting of this week, which included a public hearing on the budget, there was no indication of a change to the Council salaries. If Councilmembers felt this is important, it should have been brought up at least Monday night, if not in some of the prior meetings on the budget.

Last night, when Councilmember Joyner made the motion, I then moved that we "divide the question," that is vote on the Council salaries in one vote and on the rest of the budget in the other vote.  No one seconded my motion.  I wanted to be able to vote against the Council salary increase, but vote for the rest of the budget.

While I have some concerns about various aspects of the rest of the budget (as I will explain below), I was prepared to move forward together and vote for the total budget that was proposed Monday night and on which the public had opportunity to provide input Monday night.

Given the late addition of an increase in the Council salaries and that I had to vote on a budget that included this, I could not support this budget.

VOTING FOR THE 2012-13 BUDGET and 2013-14 PLAN:

Blackburn, Glover, Joyner, Mitchell, Smith

VOTING AGAINST THE 2012-13 BUDGET and 2013-14 PLAN: Mercer

Mayor Thomas votes only in case of a tie and did not express an opinion.

AMTRAK

In 2009 the City Council passed a resolution calling for passenger rail service to Greenville and noted a NC Department of Transportation’s Rail Plan which identified a need for such service between Raleigh and Greenville by 2050. However, the DOT’s Plan did not identify resources to accomplish this.

In this past Monday’s meeting, the City Council approved another resolution, which essentially reaffirmed the 2009 City Council resolution. I appreciate the support of the Mayor and Councilmembers to continue emphasizing mass transit for our citizens. It is my understanding that New Bern and Morehead have also passed such resolutions, as a way of continuing to highlight this issue.

Amtrak officials have contacted city staff about meeting, and discussions will be held on June 26 about connecting Amtrak to Greenville. City leaders have long requested passenger rail to Greenville. While this is certainly desirable, a more likely possibility in the foreseeable future is a seamless shuttle service to Amtrak stations, which Amtrak calls their "Motorcoach Thru-Way Service."

Indeed, this shuttle is the type of service Winston-Salem has as Amtrack does not come through Winston-Salem.  It does come through High Point, so Amtrack provides shuttle service and picks up passengers at Winston-Salem’s Mass Transit Center and other locations in the city and takes them to High Point.

In 2005 a DOT study recommended implementing passenger rail service from Raleigh to Wilmington via Fayetteville and Goldsboro in phases as funding becomes available.  Despite this focus on Wilmington, we should continue expressing our interest in passenger rail to Greenville.  As we continue to grow our population and have a good local mass transit infrastructure, I think we will become more desirable for passenger rail.

REFLECTIONS ON THE BUDGET, ON YOUR TAX MONEY

Following months of work by staff and Councilmembers, the City Council has passed a budget for Fiscal Year 2012/13 and a financial plan for 2013/14.  As I indicated earlier, despite some concerns, I was prepared to vote for the proposed budget presented to us Monday night.  I voted against the budget last night because it included an increase in Council salaries.

I would like to summarize some of my thoughts about other aspects of this budget.

TAX RATE

In my years on the City Council, I have never voted for a tax rate increase–in fact, I have voted to lower the tax rate in the past in order to maintain a revenue neutral tax rate. For the current budget passed last night, even though it meant 2.1 million less operating money for the city, I supported not increasing the tax rate. In general, I think if a government is prudent with taxpayer money, there is no need to continually raise taxes.

SANITATION FEES

As has been well publicized, sanitation fees are going up to recoup more (though not yet all) of the cost of providing these services.

While I agree in principle that we should work toward having these enterprise funds fully recoup their costs, I also think that we need to avoid, where possible, the "rate shock" that comes with making all the increases at one time. An earlier proposal put the rate increase even higher, and I argued against that. I am pleased that, as a Council, we agreed not to raise the fees any higher than we did.  Last night the budget that was adopted included fees of 11.75 for curbside and 40.80 for backyard.  I am glad the lowered fees were included.

Going forward, we need to get clear about what level of service the public wants us to provide in terms of sanitation. Once we are clear about that, we can explore all the options, public and private, of offering the service. The goal is to provide the level of service citizens want at the lowest possible fee. In this week’s meetings, I requested staff to give information about various service options in a report coming in September.

OTHER FEES

Fees for people outside Greenville who use our various services are going up, and I supported that.  We have to continue thinking about this. As Greenville continues to develop as a regional hub, as the place to go for various activities for much of eastern NC, we need to make sure that the burden of providing those activities and services do not fall inappropriately on the shoulders of Greenville residents. At the same time, we want to make sure our city is welcoming to visitors.

There are various ways to accomplish this general goal of not unduly burdening city taxpayers, without hurting our attractiveness, and we need to examine more closely this issue in the coming months and years.

MY CONCERN ABOUT THE FUND BALANCE–"RAINY DAY FUND," SAVINGS ACCOUNT

The federal government is broke. The state government is broke. Many local governments around the country are broke. Despite misinformation you may have heard in the last campaign about the city budget, your city is not broke. In fact, your city government at the beginning of 2012 was in very good fiscal shape, thanks to the prudent fiscal policies of previous Councils. Going forward, I have concerns.

One good indicator of a government’s fiscal health is its fund balance, which serves as a savings account or "rainy day fund" to handle emergencies or other pertinent needs. The previous Council handed over to this current Council a healthy fund balance. It is not good policy to dip into a fund balance without very good reason.

On fiiscal matters, I am proud to have served on Councils which have delivered to the current Council a healthy balance sheet with a solid rainy day fund.

I am concerned that the current Council is dipping into our fund balance to the tune of 150,000 in the fiscal year 2012-13 and 1,240,000 in the fiscal year 2013-14 plan in order to balance the budget. That is a sevenfold-plus increase in the second year. The previous Council did not use the fund balance to balance our budgets.

With directions from the Council, our staff, under Wayne Bowers and now under Thom Moton, has always presented a conservative budget, that is, a budget where we try to estimate expenses and revenue so that we can end the year well within our budget. I want us to monitor our expenditures carefully through the next two years and, hopefully, we will not have to actually dip into the fund balance to cover the expenditures we have budgeted.

Any group of elected officials can do lots of popular things if they spend down a healthy rainy day fund or go into unwise debt. I don’t want us to do that.

PAY INCREASE AND BENEFITS DECREASE

GUC and the City Council, by policy, must devote the same percentage to pay adjustment. Both boards agreed to a pay adjustment of 2.5 percent, plus 100,000 for addressing specific pay issues. The city has significantly decreased (by 25 percent) the 401K contributions made by the city for employees for at least the two-year budget cycle.

While there was some discussion about a higher pay increase, I supported the more modest increase. Unlike the state government (to take just one example) which is broke and has not provided pay increases, prudent fiscal policy by previous Councils has put us in a position where we can provide a modest increase. We recently did a pay and benefits study to make sure we pay our staff at market rates and we want to do all we can to maintain that, so that we don’t create inequities in the future that will have to be painfully addressed.

In addition, the pay increase was approved only for the first year; this will be reconsidered in the second year.

I do object to making the pay adjustment automatic, across-the-board. I prefer to have any funds we devote to pay be based on merit in order to give incentive for excellence.

THE BUDGET COMMITTEE

Adopting the budget in any year is likely to be the single most important decision any City Council makes because it sets the focus and priorities for the next year. This year’s City Council appointed a Budget Committee consisting of three people (Mayor Thomas, Rose Glover, Max Joyner) to work with the staff to develop a budget for the City Council to adopt. I did not support this method for the following reasons:

1-Because the budget is central to the direction the City Council wishes to go, I believe it is absolutely essential that all Councilmembers have a "hands on" approach in developing the budget from start to finish.

2-Using the Council as a whole means that 7 heads look at the details and share in the discussion which, I believe, enhances the process.

If what the Budget Committee is doing it important, then every Councilmember needs to be at the table. If what the Budget Committee is doing is not important, then there is no need for such a committee.

However, since this ad-hoc committee (Thomas, Glover, Joyner) was approved, I felt that all Councilmembers should have a chance to be present at meetings and expressed that sentiment when the committee was formed.  Five meetings were set without consulting the schedules of all Councilmembers.  Due to this I was able to attend only one of the four Budget Committee meetings held.

In future years, as I did this year, I will work for a process where all elected officials have the same opportunity as any elected official to provide meaningful input to the budget.

KICKING THE CAN DOWN THE ROAD, QUESTIONS, OTHER CONCERNS

While it is often politically popular to spend money to give everyone what they want, when elected officials do this they are often creating problems and kicking them down the road. I have expressed my concern about using our rainy day fund to balance our budgets going forward.

Here are some other concerns/questions:

–Infrastructure is critical to positioning the city for economic development.  I am pleased to see an approximately 50 percent increase in street funding, although we have to try to increase this in the future.
I am not pleased that the total capital investment, which includes our investment in parks, for a two year period is only 1.73 million. Although I don’t think it is generally good practice, there have been and may continue to be some capital improvements that go on outside the planned budget process. Despite these other expenditures, we have over 20 million in unmet needs.  We need to gradually address these park and other needs throughout the city in a balanced way and, ideally, in the context of a rational budget planning process.

–We established a Building Major Repair Fund, to set aside money for these obvious expenses, rather than wait until they are upon us.  However, I am disappointed that we are starting this Fund only in the second year.  The Vehicle Replacement Fund, another forward thinking and prudent fiscal policy, is being reduced 20 percent from what it needs to be.

–Unfortunately, our business license fee system is structured in a way that penalizes smaller businesses compared to larger (e.g., big box stores) businesses.  No changes are proposed for the first year.  The proposed budget in the second year calls for a modest shift in this structure so as not to overly tax smaller businesses compared to the very large businesses.

–I have already expressed my deep concern that we spent a quarter of a million dollars--added to a previous 534,841 expenditure for the Dream Park–without waiting two months and three days to find out if we would be successful in the second round of the state grant process.

–While I support public libraries, I think we have to make sure that the city’s role in funding Sheppard Memorial Library follows best practices of such library funding around the state (many such libraries are funded by counties) and does not fall inordinately on the backs of Greenville taxpayers. I think it is also in the long-term interest of the library to make sure the funding formula is rational, fair, and sustainable. As a matter of information, the city pays 2 dollars for every 1 dollar paid by the county. Given that city taxpayers are also county taxpayers, city residents pay more than two-thirds of the local tax funds for library support.

–We are paying 200,000 for an efficiency study. While there is benefit to having outside experts look closely at our operations, I hope we can get the efficiency study done at below this budgeted price.

–As everyone knows, I am very disappointed that our City Manager, Police Chief, and Public Works Director resigned. The expenditures to pay for the process of hiring new people is significant. Here are some of those costs:

City Manager Search Consultant: 13, 865 professional fee plus up to 6,932.50 reimbursement for consultant expenses, and plus travel expenses for candidates.

Police Chief Search Consultant: 25,000 fee plus up to 3,440 consultant travel expenses, and plus travel expenses for candidates.

Public Works Director: advertising expense of 5,800 and travel of 3,000.

None of the above "costs" include disruption to the organization from these resignations or indirect cost of staff time engaged in the search processes.

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I have a vision of Greenville as a vibrant business, educational, health, and cultural leader in North Carolina; a powerful economic center with many biotech, green, ecotourism, and other industries; a beautiful, walkable, bikeable, inclusive, safe city with a dynamic uptown; and a city famous for its towering oak trees, flowered parks, clean air, and healthy citizens who know their neighbors. A beautiful city, serving our region, does not just happen. We must act today to make sure our city is a place where we and our children and our grandchildren will enjoy living, working, and serving. –Calvin

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CC NEWSLETTER
This email newsletter is sent periodically to anyone who has expressed interest in my views on local and other issues, regardless of where they live. Please let me know of any factual errors in this newsletter. The city maintains an excellent and informative website (
www.greenvillenc.gov), where City Council meeting videos, upcoming agenda items, government services updates, city cable channel programming, and other information can be readily accessed. This mailing will provide, among other things, my commentary on controversial and/or important issues. I intend for it to be useful, without overwhelming anyone’s mailbox. This newsletter is separate from a regional newsletter, posted about once every couple of months, where I discuss efforts to promote, for economic and quality of life purposes, nature-based eco and other sustainable tourism in eastern North Carolina. I also produce an occasional newsletter about religion-related academic and/or cultural events in the area. I write a column for the Greenville Times (www.mygreenvilletimes.com), a free newsprint magazine covering Greenville and Pitt County that is published monthly and distributed in high traffic locations in Greenville and Pitt County. Encourage the retail businesses you patronize to carry this popular magazine. To access some archived columns, google "Calvin Mercer Facebook" or go to www.facebook.com/MercerCalvin. My website is www.CalvinMercer.com. Expenses for this newsletter are paid for by the Calvin Mercer Campaign.

Ex-staffer sues NC Democratic Party over sexual harassment scandal

The sexual harassment scandal that caused havoc in the North Carolina Democratic Party (NCDP) weeks ago resurfaced on Thursday when the former staffer who made the original allegation sued the party.

Adriadn Ortega, who was fired from the NCDP in November 2011, alleged that now former NCDP Executive Director Jay Parmley sexually harassed him. Ortega charged that his firing was retaliation for voicing complaints about Parmley’s alleged sexual harassment of him. The NCDP made a financial settlement with Ortega, and everybody signed non-disclosure agreements in an effort to keep the issue out of the press. (More)

See related:

David Parker NC Democratic Party Sexual Harassment Scandal