State of the Town

state-of-the-town-cary-2013

Cary, NC – Every year, the Mayor of Cary delivers a State of the Town address. Here is the revised and amended text of that address for 2013, provided by Mayor Harold Weinbrecht. Photo by Hal Goodtree.

2013 Cary “State of the Town” Address

Cary’s  “where better living begins”. It has been our community’s unofficial motto for decades and couldn’t be a more accurate phrase even today. Despite the recession Cary remains one of the greatest places in America to live, work, and raise a family.

Money Magazine once again listed us as one of the top places to live in the US. Accolades from other publications in 2012 include: Cary as the 2nd best place for business and careers according to Forbes; the #1 real estate market to watch from Inman News; the 5th most frugal city according to Coupons.com we came in 7th among cities with the most college-educated residents based on research by the NY Times and  6th in cities for staying young says RealAge.  And Fortune noted that Cary is the home of the #1 multinational workplace in the world – SAS Institute (Fortune, November 2012).

Cary remains the 7th largest municipality in North Carolina and we now have more than 143,000 citizens. Our town limits cover over 56 square miles, which is roughly the size of Walt Disney World.

Of course, it’s not our size that draws people to our town. It’s our many outstanding attributes. There are the obvious features such as having a moderate climate, being centered between the ocean and the mountains, being strategically located between three major universities: Duke, NC State, and the University of North Carolina; and being positioned next to a major employment area – the Research Triangle Park.

And then there are the unique reasons that put us head and shoulders above the rest.

First and foremost, Cary is consistently ranked as the safest community in North Carolina as well as the Southeastern United States, and we are among the very safest in the nation.  We stay safe not only because of our excellent police department but also because of our active and effective community policing model, which involves citizens at the grassroots level.

Another thing that sets Cary apart from our neighbors is that our town is about 70 percent residential with beautiful, tree-lined streets throughout our well planned neighborhoods. We also have the lowest tax rate in Wake County for the 5th consecutive year to go along with the highest quality of life. We continue to budget conservatively ending each year in the black.

Cary’s people are diverse, highly educated, involved, and active. Less than five percent of our population was born in Cary with eighteen percent  born outside the US. Our largest minority population is now Asian at about 10 percent. Two-thirds of us have a Bachelor’s Degree or greater with one-fourth having a Master’s degree or greater.  All this leads to the blessing of also being an affluent community, with an average family income of around $109,000 a year.

Our citizens take an active role shaping our town by volunteering for advisory boards, task forces, and other formalized groups. In addition, there are hundreds of citizens in groups assisting police, fire fighters, and our parks programs.

Your Town government continues to be managed by the best town manager in the state leading over 1100 public servants committed to maintaining our high quality of life. And I am privileged to lead a Council that is committed and dedicated to serving the public. Our strong Council-staff working relationship combined with the willingness to put in countless hours of service has helped Cary thrive and prosper. This is significant especially in an era of partisanship and divisiveness.

The Council also has a very strong relationship with our chamber of commerce which celebrated 50 years of community service this past year. Together we have worked to bring high paying jobs and keep our existing businesses thriving. Our efforts have kept Cary’s unemployment rate low at about half of the state and national averages, currently at around 5.6 percent. Cary remains committed to aggressively pursuing corporations looking to relocate. In the past ten years we have seen a 36 percent job growth. Even in the height of the recession we became the home to major corporations. We remain a town with big name employers that include SAS, ABB, Lord Corporation, Deutsche Bank, John Deere, Kellogg, Siemens, and more.

Our downtown revitalization led to several changes this past year. The downtown theater, called The Cary, is under construction and should be completed by end of this year. A private four diamond boutique hotel at Academy and Park streets was approved in October.  The hotel will have 45 rooms and is expected to start construction in the middle of this year. The historic Jones house, across from the Cary Arts Center, is being restored under the Secretary of Interior Standards for Historic Structures and is anticipated to be leased to a private operator of a coffee shop in the spring. Most of the block between Academy and Walker and Walnut and Park, which will include the downtown park, was purchased and preliminary plans are now under citizen review.

Cary continues to grow responsibly with a population growth of 2 percent during this past year. Our housing market continued to get better as inventory shrank and permits for construction increased. For five consecutive months we issued over one hundred single family permits. This hasn’t happened since 2009. In the past year approximately one fifth of all Wake County single-family home permits were issued in Cary. We also saw healthy activity in multi-family development in 2012 which included projects at Searstone, Weston, Stonewater, Harrison Pointe, Bradford, and Tryon Place.  Non-residential permits increased as well. Overall permits continue to improve but are still not at pre-recession levels.

In 2012 Cary citizens overwhelmingly approved three General Obligation Bonds totally 80 million. These bonds are the least costly financing option available and will allow several delayed projects, critical to maintaining our quality of life, to start moving forward immediately. The $6.5million fire station bond will allow the building of a new fire station to replace fire station #2 on Maynard Road. Construction will begin this year and be completed by the end of 2014. The $15.8 million parks bond will allow seven major park projects to move forward including the downtown park, Bartley Park, Carpenter Park, Mills Park, Panther Creek Greenway, White Oak Creek Greenway, and sports turf fields which will allow more playing time. The $57.7 million Transportation bond will allow for traffic signal upgrades, intersection and street improvements, new sidewalks, the Carpenter Fire Station Road bridge, Green Level West Road and Walnut Street improvements, bicycle facilities, and streetscape improvements on Academy Street. The bonds will require a two cents tax rate increase beginning in July of this year and another two cents tax increase beginning in July of 2015. Even so, I anticipate Cary will remain with one of the lowest if not the lowest tax rate in the county.

We remained in a strong financial position this past year. The combination of our low debt levels, strong reserve levels, low operating costs, and low employee to citizen ratio has allowed the town to maintain the highest bond rating possible with all national bond rating agencies. Our debt service total remains around 11 percent of our operating budget which is well below our debt ceiling of 15 percent. Reserves are $19 million in excess of our 4 month minimum. Our sales tax revenue has continued to be better than budgeted and has moved close to pre-recession levels.

Our three sports venues– WakeMed Soccer Park, USA Baseball National Training Complex, and the Cary Tennis Park– continue to provide economic benefit. As a NCAA Championship City the town hosted various NCAA Championships in soccer, baseball, cross country, and tennis which brought in over six million dollars in economic benefit.

Cary’s nationally accredited parks system continued to have great participation this past year. In addition to over 10,000 people visiting the Cary Arts Center each month, the town inaugurated the downtown performance series in 2012. These well attended performances included comedy, jazz, bluegrass and other local artists. The Koka Booth Amphitheatre was once again a great success drawing national and international artists.

Many parks capital projects moved forward in 2012 and included the expansion of the WakeMed Soccer Park Stadium and several greenway projects.  Our greenway system now totals over 65 miles .

The Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Resources Comprehensive Master Plan and the Public Art Master Plan were updated last year with tremendous citizen input. These plans will guide the town in providing new parks and open space, community centers, greenways and cultural arts facilities.

Our police department received accreditation for the 20th consecutive year this year earning the gold standard. The department was the first agency in North Carolina to earn reaccreditation under the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies new assessment standards. The Police Department received the Accreditation with Excellence Award.

Our police department continues to create and improve programs that keep us as one of the safest places in the nation. One example is Project Phoenix, which is a no crime tolerance and education program for apartments. It continued to gain participation, and data show that it’s having a significant impact.

The Town Council voted unanimously to end Cary’s Red Light Camera program this past year. Our reasons included questions or concerns about the enabling legislation for the program, recent engineering modifications at intersections to improve safety, significant increases in staff time to address system problems and associated citizen complaints and recent concerns over improper ticketing of legal left turns.

We did see several enforcement policy changes this past year especially regarding animals. Chickens and bee keeping are now allowed in Cary. Feral cats can now be trapped, neutered, and returned rather than exterminated. And dogs are not allowed to be tethered.

Your Town government continues to increase its focus on a number of sustainability initiatives with emphasis on cost effectiveness, environmental benefits, and quality of life benefits. The first Strategic Energy Action Plan was adopted by Council in June and includes an energy reduction goal with an associated energy management plan for Town operations. It has short term and long term goals and addresses operations of water and wastewater facilities, the town fleet, and buildings and streetlights. The overall goal of the plan is a 13 percent reduction of energy use from the projected 2020 “business as usual” energy estimate for Town operations. These reductions in energy are estimated to result in a yearly savings of approximately $1.5 million and a reduction of 7,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent yearly.

The Town’s volunteer-based beautification and litter reduction program, called SPRUCE, continued to have increased participation in 2012. Thousands of volunteers participated in dozens of events to keep Cary clean, green and beautiful. Over nine tons  of litter has been  collected in 2012 through litter sweeps and Spruce/Adopt a Spot. Hundreds of trees were given away or planted.  Numerous landscape projects” resulted in over 600 flowers and shrubs planted in our Town.  350 tons of mulch, “play safe” fiber for our play grounds, and leaf compost was spread in town parks and greenways. A new program under Spruce, called Adopt A SPOT, experienced growth in its initial year in 2012. And I would urge any and all groups and organizations to find an area in town that they would commit to keeping green and litter free.

The Town continued its efforts to be a pedestrian friendly community with the construction of approximately 8,300 feet of sidewalk to close existing gaps in our sidewalk network along Old Apex Road, Castle Hayne Drive, Queensferry Road, Kildaire Farm Road, Kingswood Drive, West Chatham Street and Bissett Drive.

On the utilities front, the Western Wake Regional Wastewater Management Facilities that will serve Cary, Apex, and Morrisville made great progress in 2012. All eight major construction contracts are now underway, and on schedule. Construction is expected to be completed within two years.

And on the water side of utilities we continued to experience less per capita usage in 2012 as people conserved more. Nevertheless, expansion of our water facilities will be needed to match our growth and plans for this expansion are about 75 percent complete.  If all goes well, the expansion should be online around 2017 and will move our treatment capacity from 40 million gallons a day to 56 million gallons a day, which should serve our population until 2030, based on current estimats.

During the past year our population continued to grow and change. Over 4,000 of our citizens became retirement age and our community became more diverse. We are fortunate to be a community that embraces our diversity and celebrates it with events like Diwali, Eid, Kwanza, Christmas, and the Jewish Cultural Festival.

And we added communications tools for citizen engagement to match the diversity of our citizenry including two more Twitter feeds, a new YouTube channel, and the Town’s first four Facebook pages.  This is in addition to the dozens of subscriber email lists we offer as well as RSS feeds and live streaming of Council meetings on our award-winning website.

As we enter into 2013 we will continue to be challenged with an increase in demand for services while experiencing reduced revenues. With the passage of the bonds we will be investing in our future while working to keep our taxes low. We will remain focused on making sure there is water, sewer, fire and police protection, and parks to serve our town at the highest level possible. Maintaining the momentum to revitalize downtown will remain important, understanding that our investments will not only create economic opportunities but prevent future problems.  We must work hard to protect the town from legislation that may restrict our ability or erode our authority to govern at a local level because as citizens, we know what’s best for our community.

The most ambitious long-range planning effort in our community’s history will begin this year. This plan, The Cary Community Plan, will be a strategic guide that expresses the values and aspirations of our community. It will set forth the long-range vision for development, transportation, housing, the environment, economic development, and other related topics for the next two decades. For the plan to be effective it will need everyone in the community that cares about the future of Cary to be involved. So I urge each of you to participate.

This year we will continue the monumental task of leveraging technology to increase citizen engagement with your Town government.  I expect a number of new recommendations will be coming from the super Cary technologists that comprise the Technology Task Force that will enable new services for our citizens. Potential new services may include an online greenway map, reporting issues or concerns with a new mobile app, tools to engage, educate, and get feedback, C-Tran mobile services, improved online park fields status updates, easier online program enrollment, and much more.

In closing, Cary remains a town with a high quality of life and I am truly honored to be its mayor. It draws delightful, talented people from all over the world to live here, work, and raise a family. We are blessed to have the best staff in the state, an excellent chamber of commerce, great businesses, a professional Council that puts its citizens above partisanship, and a citizenry that is active, engaged and cares about its town. And if we remain committed and dedicated to our community, our potential is virtually unlimited.

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