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Harold’s Blog: State of the Town

 

From the blog of Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht, covering the week through January 1, 2012. Photo of downtown Cary by Hal Goodtree.

Cary, NC – Happy New Year!

This was a holiday week so there is not a lot to report except for the State of the Town Address.

During the week I did talk to the town manager, staff members, and the Mayor Pro-Tem about minor issues. In addition, I talked with a consultant that will be facilitating at the council/staff retreat on January 13th.

I was also interviewed by the local newspaper about the death of Thomas Griffis. While I did not have the honor or pleasure to know or work with Mr. Griffis, I do know he was a council member in the days when planning for Cary’s future was crucial. Without the careful planning of the 1960’s and 1970’s Cary would not be the great town it is today.

State of the Town Address

The State of the Town Address is now available for public review. I started writing the address during the Thanksgiving holidays and passed it to staff for fact checking in mid-December. It was taped on December 22nd (see http://media.townofcary.org/stateofthetown2012.htm).  I will give it live at Glenaire on January 7th and again at the Chamber’s Eye Opener Breakfast on January 25th. I will modify the address slightly for each audience. Here is the text of the last version of the state of the town:

I am very proud to have called Cary my home for more than three decades. Here my wife and I, along with many other Cary citizens, are extremely fortunate to have realized the American dream: We live in a beautiful place where we can raise our families, work in satisfying jobs, and enjoy the good things that life has to offer. Because Cary continues to be a place where dreams are lived, it also continues to be recognized as one of the most desirable destinations in the country.

In fact, in 2011 Cary was the safest community in the state, in the Southeast, and, again, one of the safest in America.  We have the healthiest of 100 US Housing markets, one of the top 5 most inventive cities, and one of the top 4 small cities for quality of life. Cary was recognized as being in the top 5 small cities for economic potential while remaining home to the best company to work for – SAS Institute. I am also proud to note that Cary is the second biggest brain magnet in the US, meaning that it attracts some of the most educated citizens in the world.

We continue to have the best town manager and staff in the state. And I am honored to be a part of a council that is committed and dedicated to working together serving the public. A united council and excellent staff, willing to put in countless hours of service, has helped Cary thrive and prosper. This is a significant achievement especially during these continued uncertain economic times.

2011 was another good year for Cary and I am proud of what we accomplished, and we start 2012 on very solid ground.

Cary remains in a healthy financial position despite the continuing significant, negative financial impacts of the recession. Even so and once again, we have been able to maintain the lowest property tax rate in Wake County with the highest quality of life.

This year like last year, we issued no new debt due to the economic uncertainty. Our debt remains well below our self-imposed 15% limit. Our reserves remain in excess of our 4 month minimum. And our operating costs are very low as Cary operates with 8.3 employees per 1000 citizens compared to the average of 11. These aspects, combined with others allow us to have the highest bond rating possible with all three national agencies.

We all know that residential growth is much slower than in previous years due mostly to these continuing tough economic times.  That said, people are continuing to come to Cary. Cary was on pace to issue more single family permits in Wake County than any other jurisdiction as of November.  Our growth rate is sustainable, remaining close to our targeted 3% and 140,000 people now choose to call Cary home.

Our community continues to attract jobs and we are poised for future economic growth and success. Some of the jobs announced in 2011 included 117 new jobs at Lord Corporation, 200 new jobs at Research in Motion, 70 New jobs at Biologics, and 500 New jobs at SAS. The town continues its strong partnership with the Chamber, aggressively pursuing bringing more high paying jobs to Cary. This influx of jobs has allowed our unemployment rate to remain about half of the state and one of the lowest in the region at 5.7 % as of October.

Cary continues to look for ways to get the highest return for tax dollars invested. Our past investments in our three major sports venues – the Cary Tennis Park, USA Baseball National Training Complex, and Wake Med Soccer Park – generate millions of dollars in economic benefit each year. These three special facilities have had an economic impact of over $31 million in Wake County since they have been in operation. Almost 3 million people have come through the gates as either players or spectators. Based on events and programs anticipated, another 1.5 million people are expected to visit the venues during the next three years.

This year we celebrated the opening of the Cary Arts Center. This is the first of many investments in downtown Cary, which will not only generate economic benefit but provide a great service to our citizens. This year we purchased the historic 19th century Jones-Foy house across from the Cary Arts Center, which we hope will be refurbished to provide service amenities. In addition, we purchased the old Cary Theater on Chatham Street and allocated funding for an adjacent three story building to enhance visits to the theater by our citizens and to provide private office opportunities. We also purchased the Indian Bazaar building, adjacent to the theater, to be renovated as shops and/or restaurants. Money was also appropriated to help improve the façade on that entire block as part of our downtown streetscape. Our Land Development Ordinance was amended to allow more flexibility in downtown development. Through bold visioning, careful planning, and sound investment, our downtown will transition into a vibrant destination and this will, in turn, create many economic development opportunities.

One of Cary’s strengths is providing excellent core services and making sure we invest in our infrastructure, not only for today’s citizens but for tomorrow’s as well. This year we began construction of the Western Wake Wastewater Treatment Facility, which will provide much needed sewer capacity to Apex, Morrisville, and Cary. When this facility comes on line it will serve as many as 230,000 citizens in Wake and Chatham counties; supplying us well into the future.

Our water treatment plant, which we share with Apex, is at about three fourths capacity. Planning has already begun for the next expansion even though conservation efforts will provide enough water capacity for several more years. In the meantime we are exploring ways to improve and protect our water quality at Jordan Lake, our main water source. By using an aeration system we could create better circulation in the lake improving overall water quality.

Aquastar, the Town’s new automated water meter system, will be completed later this year. Not only will this system help detect leaks but it will provide information that can help our citizens with water usage and payments.

Cary’s fire department remains one of the best in the state. All of our firefighters are certified to provide medical assistance as first responders. We continue to hire the best of the best and train in emergency response. Our new fire station at Mills Park Drive, which went out to bid in December, will aid in reducing response times in western Cary when it is online in 2013 and it will include a district office for the Cary Police Department.

As I mentioned, Cary is ranked as the third safest community in the nation for municipalities our size, thanks in large part to the excellent work of our police department. While crime statistics for 2011 show an increase in property crimes, violent crimes dropped 7 percent. Members of our excellent police force continue to look for new and innovative ways to get involved in our communities and help make us even safer. This includes outreach events such as child safety talks, home security surveys, community watch talks. In 2011 Project Phoenix was launched. This program is designed to partner with our apartment property managers and residents to educate, network, facilitate the exchange of information, and reduce the fear of crime in and around our multi-family housing communities. Participating communities must meet several crime prevention requirements and include a Drug and Crime-Free section in their lease.  Education and improved communications between our police and property managers, coupled with this lease section, allows managers to evict residents who commit, or whose guests commit, crime on or near their properties. So far, more than thirty apartment communities have signed on with Project PHOENIX. And let me say that if I had friends or family looking for an apartment, I’d only let them consider one that is PHOENIX certified.

Cary’s park system is recognized as one of the nation’s best. In addition to the venues mentioned earlier and dozens of existing parks, the planning for a new trailhead  park has begun along  Old Reedy Creek Road, which will provide parking and access to trails within Lake Crabtree Park, and the Black Creek Greenway. Speaking of greenways, eight new greenways will be expanded or created to add to our existing 60 miles of greenways – all helping to make Cary one of the most recreationally friendly towns in America.

Entertainment continues to expand in Cary with performances of all types at the Booth Amphitheater. And with the addition of the new Cary Arts Center Theater there will be even more opportunities in the coming years.  In fact, the arts center is nearly fully programmed after being open less than a year.

Cary continues to be one of the environmental leaders in the state. In 2011 SPRUCE, our beautification and litter reduction program had hundreds of volunteers spend hours planting, spreading mulch and removing hundreds of pounds of litter along our highways and roads. To enhance the SPRUCE effort the town launched Adopt a Spot. This new program allows a group to adopt an area, keep it litter free, and beautiful. I was honored to kick off the first Adopt a Spot at Cary High School this past September.

The Town also took other majors steps toward being more environmentally aware in 2011. Energy efficiency enhancements were made to five Town centers like the Town Hall Campus, including LED street lighting. The town will see a proposal from staff this year to provide LED street lighting town wide. If implemented, this would result in substantial savings. An electric vehicle charging station was added at the Cary Arts Center. Idle reduction batteries were added to police and utility vehicles. A hybrid trash truck has will soon be in operation to add to the existing hybrid vehicles already in use. This spring solar panels will be installed at the South Cary Water reclamation facility, with more panels to be installed on the Herb Young Parking deck in 2013. And our sustainability manager continues to look for ways to make us more environmentally friendly and obtaining funds for these initiatives.

C-Tran, the Town’s bus system, experienced significant ridership increases this year. In addition, several new bus shelters were added to the fixed routes. C-Tran is a major part of the plans to expand regional bus service. The half cents sales tax, if approved in Wake County, will result in a doubling of bus transit services by 2017 including express commuter routes to and from Raleigh and other destinations.

When I first took office as mayor four years ago the economy, both nationally and locally, was flourishing. Today there is global financial uncertainty and our nation’s economy continues to struggle with unemployment, debt, foreclosures, and gridlocked governing bodies. Cary is fortunate in that we have been somewhat insulated from these problems but we do have our challenges. These challenges require us to make difficult decisions in the days, weeks, and months ahead and to work together to maintain the high quality of life that our citizens expect; a quality of life which has earned Cary national recognition.

As we move forward into this year we will once again be faced with an increase in demand for services and amenities from an increasing number of new residents while dealing with reduced revenues. It is extremely important that we continue to invest in our future now while keeping taxes low. First and foremost making sure that there is water, sewer, fire and police protection, and parks to serve our population at the highest level of service we can afford, we must remain committed to enhancing our downtown, understanding that investments now not only prevent future problems but create economic development opportunities.

This year we will have to face many tough and complex questions that will need to be answered in a thoughtful and careful way. For example, we must ask what to do with almost $90 million of delayed capital projects. Are these projects still needed?  Which ones are the highest priorities? How do we pay for them?  When do we pay? Do we take on more debt? Which projects can we afford to move forward with now? What happens to service levels for those that continued to be delayed?

Our ability to be successful as a Town is also being challenged as more and more legislation is introduced that will tie our hands and erode our authority at the local level. It is becoming increasingly important to our future that each and every council member, supported by Town staff, work hard to protect our town’s ability to decide what is best for our citizens.

While focusing on existing and past issues we must understand that the world around us is constantly changing. We must change, too, by capitalizing on the innovation and talent of our community. We need to become more technical and reaffirm the title as the “technology town”. While we have already taken some steps in this direction we must do more. Smart phone technology is here to stay and we must be integrated with it and other social media.

In closing and as I begin my second term as Mayor, I have to say that I’ve never been prouder to serve you and to work with my Council colleagues to keep Cary the place you want it to be.  Our quality of life remains one of the best in the nation, and we continue to move forward despite the worst recession since the Great Depression.  All that Cary has become and all that Cary will be is rooted in the values, vision, and commitment of the wonderful, talented people who have come from all over the world to call Cary home.  And by continuing to work together, we can fully achieve our bright and promising future.

From Staff – CTP Lighting, Biennial Survey

Information from staff this week included additional lighting at the Cary Tennis Park. There will be two additional poles and 5 fixtures with LED lighting.

Staff also notified the council and public about the beginning of the Town’s biennial survey.  Consultants will start contacting more than 400 Cary residents asking them to state their opinions on how well their government works for them.  Topics will include solid waste, taxes, safety, quality of life, customer service, communications, street repair, and recreation programs.  The scientific poll will be conducted via telephone throughout the month of January, with citizens being asked to spend about 25 minutes answering about 60 questions.

Emails: Bio Solids, Rezoning, Traffic, Tax Decrease

Emails from citizens this week included a complaint about the proposed bio solids at our new waste water facility, a complaint about a proposed rezoning near Southbridge, a complaint about DOT putting in a turn lane on Holly Springs Road, a complaint about several issues related to DOT intersections and school bus stops, and a recommendation to refund the town’s surplus in the form of a tax decrease.

Next Week

Next week will see the pace pick up for me and the rest of the council. We will have a transportation work session on Tuesday which should be interesting. I also have a potential meeting with Chatham County mayors on Wednesday but that has not been confirmed. And as I mentioned, I will be giving the State of the Town on Saturday.

Well that is all for this week. My next post will be on Sunday, January 8th. Please feel free to email me with a comment. Email all Town of Cary questions or comments to Harold.Weinbrecht@townofcary.org. Email personal comments to augustanat@mindspring.com.