With all the furor over Chapel Hill Councilors voting to give themselves (since rescinded) health benefits most citizens don’t have and, even more amazingly, benefits even town part-time employees don’t have (see Pulp Healthcare Benefits Recission Story and Pulp Healthcare Benefits Heavy Lifting Story ), Councilor Laurin Easthom has sleuthed around and found the source of discontent. It’s the vaunted and powerful Chapel Hill Republican lobby which has the enviable record of having no registered Republican holding a local office at least since Reconstruction, if then.
In a guest editorial in the local real estate advertiser, Ms. Easthom showed true Orange Progressive leadership. She didn’t explain why she thought she was owed free health care. She didn’t explain why she thought using the consent agenda process to stop public debate was okay. (All she had to do was ask Mayor Kevin Foy to remove the healthcare item off the consent agenda before the vote and there would have been discussion.) She didn’t explain why holding office in Chapel Hill has been shape-shifted from public service into public gain.
Ms. Easthom believes that the healthcare item “has been completely overblown”. She goes further, “Some of those who have been the most outspoken, and continue to criticize and continue to threaten to put out petitions on items other than health care, are Republicans.” For Ms. Easthom, “[t]he fire was indeed started, but I think it is continuing to be fueled by a group of individuals who would love nothing more than to “stick it” to the council and pave the way for their candidates next year to run. It just makes me want to run more.”
Unfortunately, Ms. Easthom failed to note that Chapel Hill elections are non-partisan.
After six years as an Carrboro alderman in which his most famous act is to ask for less meeting time, Alderman John Hererra steps into his first big issue other than addressing the concerns of “my people”, Hispanic immigrants. The “big issue” is turds on his lawn from his neighbor’s dogs. Alderman Herrerra found his sole slathered in pungent poo after mowing his lawn.
Rather than actually talking to his neighbors, and asking them to treat him fairly, he chose to use his progressive generalissimo powers as Alderman to force the law on his neighbors. So on 17 June 2008, he spoke at the BOA meeting. “I love dogs. I love animals, but I don’t like to step in poop!” He asked for a Carrboro pooperscoop law to help rid him of his manure minefield.
Always willing to tell others how to live, the Boa unanimously voted to spend staff time writing a pooperscooper ordinance. Mayor Mark Chilton advised all town residents, “Careful walking in the meantime.”
In related business news, stock in Sparky’s Polishes went up sharply in early trading.
No word on whether the Boa will enforce federal pooperscooper laws.
Showing the true backbone of progressive leadership, the Chapel Hill Councilors voted on 17 June 2008 to rescind their vote last week to give themselves health benefits most citizens don’t have and, even more amazingly, benefits even town part-time employees don’t have. See Pulp Heavy Lifting Healthcare Benefits Story.
In keeping with fair and open government, Mayor Foy refused to let a petition organizer (equipped with over 500 signatures within one summer vacation week) speak out about the issue at Monday's meeting, pleading the press of heavy local developer approvals on the agenda.
According to Mayor Foy, council work is demanding and limits some members to part-time jobs without health insurance. Raising the “pre-existing condition” concern that affects every Chapel Hill citizen and not just Councilors, Mr. Foy said “Then what do we do [if they get a pre-existing condition]? Have a bake sale?”
The Pulp has reported for several years on the growing presence of gangs in Orange County. See Pulp Gangsta Story. The Orange Progressive response of Chapelboro leaders and their political surrogates has been denial. When confronted with confirmation of local gang existence by word from local Federal Bureau of Investigation officials, the response has been silence and inaction. See Pulp Gang Presence Stymied Story.
The local media (aka “steno pool”) has climbed into the lap of local leaders echoing the recent official position of “Gangs? What gangs??” These incredible statements were parroted by all local leaders, despite shootings that shut down the Visions nightclub in Chapel Hill, the Chapel Hill Apple Chill street fair, and the Avalon nightclub in Chapel Hill.
The problem for local officials and the media is that the gang presence has become so visible that local police have finally said, with certainty, that an arrested suspect in Hillsborough was a gang member.
Suspected Eight Trey Gangster Crips (aka 83 Crips, aka ETGC, aka ETG) gang members have been arrested in Mebane and Durham showing the jurisdictional disdain of gangs. Suspected ETGC gang member Hakeem Kyri Hubbard, 18, is being held on $500,000 bail on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury. He is charged with being one of five who pulled up alongside Lakendrick Watts, 31, in the Fairview neighborhood of Hillsborough late Thursday night. Hubbard allegedly shot Watts in the abdomen with a semi-automatic rifle in a random act of violence. See N&O Police Vigilance Story.
Normally, this rapid change in position would require an explanation in the media. Not in Orange County. The local steno pool simply reports that “Orange vigilant against gangs”. “Presto-changeo” there are gangs here. “Presto-changeo”, officials have been on top of the situation all along, even while denying local gangs exist. This amazing statement is made in the context of the fact that no local Orange municipality or Orange school system runs a gang awareness program for local citizens and students.
The media compounds the mythology of local police vigilance by reporting that “The slaying of UNC-Chapel Hill student leader Eve Carson intensified concerns about gangs. One of the suspects showed up in a bank security photo using Carson's ATM card and wearing a vintage Houston Astros hat that police said might be a gang symbol. ” Unfortunately, the Chapel Hill police actively denied gang involvement in the Carson murder. Police officials OUTSIDE of Orange County brought up a possible gang angle that they felt should be investigated.
Suddenly, Chapel Hill Police Chief Curran echoes the concerns of the Pulp for the past few years - “You can't just bury your head in the sand and hope that gang problems are going to pass you by, because they're here.” As reported in the N&O, Mitch McKinney, (Chapel Hill's only part-time gang related crime police officer) says ”We're doing the best we can with the resources we have available. Until we can determine what the problem is, we can't deal with it.” The local stenographers provide no context for the diametrically opposite position of local officials from statements in recent elections.
No explanation as to why local institutional memory has Alzheimer's Syndrome.
No word as to why for the past three years the Chapel Hill police department hasn’t pushed for gang related prevention and arrest support No word on whether or not any local official has read the 2008 Governor’s Commission Report on gangs and gang-related crime in North Carolina (A Comprehensive Assessment of Gangs in North Carolina: A Report to the General Assembly - North Carolina Department of Crime Control & Public Safety Governor's Crime Commission).
Eighteen Wake jailers have qualified under the federal 287(g) program to process such detainees who have not legally entered the country. Wake Sheriff Donnie Harrison estimates that at least 10 percent of the 1,200 people he houses daily in his three jails are not legal residents. In a most unprogressive attitude, he says ”They're the ones that made the mistake. We didn't. They're here illegally.”
North Carolina has an estimated 300,000 illegal aliens, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
Orange County and the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro assume sanctuary status for Raleigh metro illegal aliens. These municipalities have not taken advantage of the 287(g) program. They have openly stated that officers will not submit any detainee’s identity to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) computerized identity check program. They will not detain for ICE pick up any person identified as an illegal alien, even if they have committed violent crimes in the US in other jurisdictions.
Despite local progressive handwringing over the injustice of enforcing immigration laws and the coming “economic collapse” if cheap labor is forced out, ICE estimates that only about 5,300 people have been processed for deportation in North Carolina since 2006 under the 287(g) program. See N&O Illegal Alien Story.
On 11 June 2008 the NC Senate Finance Committee approved a repeal of the land transfer tax option that lawmakers gave to counties last year. Nineteen counties have held referendums to increase the tax. All failed, including the May 6th Orange County referendum on which Commishes spent over $100,000.
Local Orange Progressive Senator Ellie Kinnaird spoke out against the bill, apparently not believing that a 2 to 1 supermajority against such a tax is worth accepting. (See Pulp Local Transfer Tax Defeat Story.)
The legislation is expected to face stiff opposition in the NC House from none other than local Orange Progressive Speaker Joe Hackney.
In the true historic spirit of USA progressivism (such as prohibition), “good” decisions should be forced down your throat whether you want to live with them or not.
Showing the true nature of progressive leadership, the Chapel Hill Councilors voted on 9 June 2008 to give themselves health benefits most citizens don’t have and, even more amazingly, benefits even town part-time employees don’t have.
All you have to do is serve eight years on the Chapel Hill Town Council, and you have 75 percent of your healthcare benefits paid for by Chapel Hill after you leave office, period.
The caring and sharing nature of second termer Mayor Kevin Foy can be seen in the town’s “fair and progressive” process. The healthcare benefits decision was placed on the consent agenda, thereby depriving public input before a vote. Councilors took their vote BEFORE citizens could comment. One speaker after the fact said in a “disgruntled” tone, ”Does it matter what I have to say if you already voted to approve it?” To which Mayor Foy glibly responded, ”We can change it.” No changes were made despite Mr. Foy admitting the unpredictable nature of the cost of the healthcare benefits he will be eligble for at the end of his present term.
Once again Councilor Matt Czajkowski proved his “unreliable” progressive nature. He pointed out that town taxpayers could pay for decades if a young candidate completes two terms in a part-time job. (See Pulp Czajkowski Off Medications Story.) Not understanding how Orange Progressives ignore financial cycles relying on the non-local university economic engine, Mr. Czajkowski said, ”This is not the time for the council to be voting to spend money on itself” .
Mr. Kryder also ignored the true spirit of Orange Progressivism, offending the sensibilities of all Councilors, save Mr. Czajkowski, saying, ”I don't want a young person coming up here, serving eight years and then having me pay 75 percent of their health care, I think that's atrocious.”
As reported in the Pulp earlier (see Pulp Chapel Hill Tax Increase Story), Chapel Hill Councilors were presented with a FY 2008-2009 budget from Town Manager Roger Stancil that recommended an 11% increase in town taxes.
On 9 June 2008, the Councilors responded vigorously by accepting that recommended record increase, approving a 5.9 cent addition to the current 52.2 cent rate. Showing their fiscal probity, the Councilors will use 11 cents of the total 58.1 cents toward debt service, instead of the originally proposed 9.8 cents. Chapel Hill has doubled its debt since FY 2005-2006. The final town budget totals about $83.6 million ($50.2 million for the General Fund, $16.3 million for the Chapel Hill Transit Fund, and the remainder for other funds).
The FY 2008-2009 budget includes the following:
1) $611,000 for a 3 percent pay raise for employees:
2) $363,000 for cover a 10 percent increase in medical insurance costs
3) $400,000 for retiree medical liability (Other Post-Employment Benefits Fund); and
4) $546,000 for retiree medical insurance.
The local steno pool has rallied behind the Commishes, extolling them in Republican iconographic terms as being “tough on taxes”. Four of five Orange County commissioners ”unequivocally oppose” increasing the tax rate beyond the $1 per $100 valuation threshold, as opposed to the staff recommendation of $1.038. Thus, the Commishes will accept a 5% tax increase (of the recommended 8.8 cent increase).
Commish Mike Nelson who doubled Carrboro taxes in ten years, is showing newfound fiscal trepidation, saying he's ”not comfortable going to a dollar. My inclination is to not support adding any new positions, because I don't see how we get the tax rate down if we add new positions.”
Rabid local transfer tax and former earnest, on-and-off again, schools and parks supporter Commish Moses Carey (who has overseen a rise in county taxes that is many multiples of the inflation rate over the past two decades )says ”If we're going to take some tough hits, then everybody's going to take some tough hits. I'm not exempting anybody – that includes the educational system. This is a tough year.”
The Commishes discussed saving money by the following dramatic cuts. First eliminate the Gospel Festival - $2000. Second discontinue local artist grants - $23,000.
The Commishes studiously avoided any discussion of increasing impact fees to recover the true capital costs of residential growth that have put the county into the fiscal mess it currently enjoys.
No word on when the stenographers will explain to locals how the current financial mess came to be under the leadership of the sitting Commishes, some of whom have been in power for decades.
No word from any Commishes as to why this tough year wasn’t on the budgetary radar until days after the May 6th local transfer tax vote with every Commish in “strong“ support of schools and parks.
No word on why there was more discussion of the Gospel Festival than approving the brand spanking new $25,000,000 county office complex.
On 3 June 2008 the Boa voted unanimously to raise its property taxes by 5% for FY2008-09. Unreported by the local media, the budget also significantly increases town debt, and thus, future taxes. (See Pulp Carrboro Debt Story.) The approved budget will increase the tax rate to 68.63 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. The total expenses are $18,480,375.
Local affordable housing tax-exempt “non-profit” affordable housing organization (aka “Orange Community Housing and Land Trust” or OCHLT) is receiving an over 33% increase in funding from the Boa.
Even Carrboro town manager Steve Stewart wanted to cut that increase to only about 16%, complaining that municipal employees are getting a smaller raise than those in Chapelboro tax-exempt land. OCHLT Executive Director Robert Dowling advocated successfully for a 25% pay increase from $60,000 to $75,000, as opposed to the 2% increase for town employees. The Boa had no discussion on how the more affordable housing must is created that must be administered by local government through OCHLT grants, the more taxes will have to rise.
Anxious to show their financial acumen in an off economic year, the Boa also will spend $4800 on six waterless urinals in the town’s white elephant and former church, the Century Center. With projected water savings of about 5000 gallons per year, the BOA will save about $75 in water per year. On the other hand, they will spend about twice the normal capital cost and spend more than $75 a year on the maintenance necessary to keep waterless urinals from smelling like the Weaver Street lawn on a late Friday summer’s night. It's the thought that counts. Saving water for more dense development is gospel in the defrocked Century Center.
No word on what the justification was for a 50% increase in the Carrboro town vehicle tax.
Carrboro rulers love to compare themselves to Paris, France. But the town with the mightily overblown “Paris of the Piedmont” moniker is more appropriately compared to the town of Boone. Both are in North Carolina. Both are subject to the same municipal rules and laws from the state legislature. Both are towns with a public university as the economic engine. Both are in the state designated category of towns between 10,000 and 50,000 in population and roughly the same size (Boone – 14,473 and Carrboro – 18,611). Both do not incorporate an electrical utility in town financials. Both have had a population increase over the past five years of about 7% to 8%. Both are “blue” towns politically, compared to the rest of the state.
What would happen if one compared the fiscal management of these two seemingly similar towns? Which financial indicators would be similar? Which would be dissimilar? Why?
Before diving into the facts, one must first do some calibrating. One big difference financially between Carrboro and Boone is that Carrboro uses a separate water and sewer utility organization (OWASA). However, Boone incorporates these utility financials into its budget. So any comparison should back out these utility line items.
In doing so, a Carrburban may note a difference with Boone even regarding the cost of water and sewer. A residence in Boone using 5000 gallons pays about $53.00 per month for water and sewer. That looks like a great bargain to a similar one in Carrboro paying (under the new proposed rates) about $73.00. So to start off, Carrburbans pay about 50% more for water and sewer than Booners.
Now here are the municipal financial statistics, with the Boone water & sewer revenues, expenses, and debt service removed.
First the town revenues are presented.
|Revenues||Boone 2007-2008||Carrboro 2007-2008|
|Sales & Service||$387,835||$816,277|
^ Per Capita Revenues ^ Boone 2007-2008 ^ Carrboro 2007-2008 ^ Percentage of Carrboro to Boone ^
|Sales & Service||$27||$44||164%|
At first blush the revenue comparison is about even, with Carrboro bringing in per capita total revenues of just 7% more in revenue than Boone. But how is that total revenue achieved?
Carrboro leans heavily on property taxes with $520 levied per capita versus $326 for Boone. Carrboro levies 60% more in property taxes per capita. Even more glaring, Carrboro performs rather poorly in generating sales tax revenues despite over a decade of funding over $1,000,000 to a dedicated economic development office. Carrboro collects sales taxes of $180 per capita versus $278 by Boone. Yes, Carrboro collects only 65% of the per capita sales taxes that Boone collects. Put another way, if Carrboro had sales tax revenues like Boone, then instead of raising $3,353,665, Carrboro would raise $5,177,775 in sales taxes.
So what about spending?
Carrboro excels in spending, outspending Boone by 33% per capita. Put another way, if Carrboro spent like Boone, the town budget would be reduced by over $3,000,000. Here are the comparative expenditures.
|Expenditures||Boone 2007-2008||Carrboro 2007-2008|
|Salaries & Wages||$6,241,921||$8,605,389|
|Other Operating & Debt Service||$8,007,678||$6,279,360|
|Per Capita Expenditures||Boone 2007-2008||Carrboro 2007-2008||Percentage of Carrboro to Boone|
|Salaries & Wages||$431||$462||107%|
|Other Operating & Debt Service||$553||$337||61%|
*Minus snow removal costs of over $600,000 for Boone.
Clearly, Carrboro relies more on debt to cover spending than Boone, spending $67 per capita on debt service versus $16 for Boone. Carrboro spends almost four times the amount of money per capita that Boone does on debt service. Moreover, Carrboro isn’t spending as much as Boone on public safety (85% of the amount Boone spends), but spending way more that Boone on transportation, spending over twice (245%) what Boone spends. Boone has lower debt AND a greenways trail. (See Boone Greenway Plan)
Specific expenditure categories reveal a different governance philosophy between the towns. For example, Carrboro is in a period of slowed growth, yet maintains a 14 member Planning and Zoning staff drawing $894,951 annually in salaries and wages. That’s opposed to Boone spending almost one half that ($487,391) for inspectors. Fire department salaries and wages in Carrboro are almost three times that of Boone ($1,563,310 versus $639,658). However, police department salaries and wages in Carrboro are only 24% more than Boone, despite Carrboro having a 29% larger population. Legal expenditures in Carrboro are almost twice that of Boone.
Perhaps the most outstanding difference is how much Carrboro spends on its governance board. Carrboro gives health care benefits to its mayor and aldermen. If you remain on the board long enough, those benefits are available even after you leave the board. Just the salary expenditures of the Carrboro Boa are almost three times that of Boone ($98,209 versus $36,900).
According to the “blue small university town” values reflected in the Boone budget, Carrboro simply overspends and spends unwisely. During their respective latest re-election campaigns Mayor Mark Chilton and Alderman Jacquie Gist confused a budget presentation award as being one for fiscal management. They think their above fiscal management record is meritorious.
Acts have consequences. Electing town officials on the basis of compatibility over competence, pals over performance costs you. Promoting such town officials to higher political office costs you even more.
A number of Pulp articles recently have shown how local Orange County municipal finance has been based on maintaining a pace of residential growth to hide true costs to citizens of the demand created by that growth. From the use of non-recurring capital revenue tap fees as operating revenues to offset operating expenses by OWASA (Pulp OWASA 25% Fee Increase Story) to the failure of county commishes to implement fully burdened impact fees for new residence housing units (Pulp Transfer Tax Story) to the hiring of high maintenance, full time employees (Pulp Art Czar Story) to the use of debt to shelter the true cost of municipal spending (Pulp Carrboro Debt Story) to good old-fashioned wasteful municipal spending, (again see Pulp Carrboro Debt Story), local Orange County municipal policies have been dependent upon, if not addicted to growth.
But the ever-obedient and reliable lapdog, the local media seeks to avert your attention by blaming local government financial problems on “the national economy”. To the steno pool, you don’t get fat because you can’t control how many cookies you eat, it’s the bakery that made the cookies that’s responsible. Instead of using this opportunity to educate Orange County citizens about how local government finance is dependent upon growth, the usual suspects of anyone-but-those-in-charge is rolled out and in by the local media watchdogs.
It’s gardening time again. Time for the Orange County locavores (see Phictionary) to come out in force, trying to induce guilt in those who don’t purchase or grow all of their food locally. (see Pulp Locavore Story.)
Unfortunately, a recently published study reveals the hysteria surrounding the locavore movement. (See Environ. Sci. Technol., 42 (10), 3508–3513, 2008.) In an article entitled ”Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States”, authors Christopher L. Weber and H. Scott Matthews report that “despite significant recent public concern and media attention to the environmental impacts of food, few studies in the United States have systematically compared the life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with food production against long-distance distribution, aka “food-miles”.”
The authors did such a study and found out the following. Although food is transported long distances in general (1640 km delivery and 6760 km life-cycle supply chain on average) the food associated GHG emissions are dominated by the production phase, contributing 83% of the average U.S. household’s 8.1 tons of annual CO2 emissions footprint for food consumption. Most importantly, final food delivery from producer to consumer contributes only 4% of food GHG. For the average consumer getting the equivalent of 14% of your week’s calories from chicken, fish, or vegetables instead of red meat and diary will more than make up for “locavoring”.
No word on whether or not local locavores will pile into their hybrid cars to drive to Washington DC in protest and to testify before Congress.
Normally, the Village People Project of Chapelboro (see Village Project website) is the biggest fan of any mixed use project, no matter how threadbare the mixed use fig leaf.
But Director James “Carny Hand” Carnahan is dead set against the County sponsored, Developer Dream team built Buckhorn Village mixed use project. (See Pulp Squeezed Out Village People Story and Pulp Buckhorn Village County Action Story.)
Mr. Carnahan has the following ostensible objections to Buckhorn Village:
1) It can’t be successful without interstate automobile traffic.
2) Economic development should reduce carbon footprint, not increase it.
3) Big box retail involves importing goods from other countries.
4) It will create at least 1,500 new jobs, “almost entirely very low-wage, high-turnover jobs that will dispense significant social burdens and demands on the public purse”.
5) It will require multi-million dollar investment by NCDOT to upgrade the Interstate 85/40 interchange. It probably can't happen without considerable cash subsidy or tax abatement from the county.
Yet, projects supported by Mr. Carnahan as chair of the Carrboro planning board have relied on the following:
1) Interstate traffic to Carrboro as a destination spot;
2) Increasing the carbon footprint in Carrboro;
3) Approving Carrboro businesses that import goods; and
4) Creating mostly low-wage, high turnover Carrboro jobs.
The only difference is that Mr. Carnahan’s approvals have been based on three interstate I-40 exchanges that have already been built by NCDOT.
As the Pulp reported earlier this year, the real difference this time is that the Village Project isn’t eating from the developer profit pie on the largest mixed use village that will be built in Orange County.
No word on how quicky the Village People concern will evaporate once a ten acre lot bone (a' la the Pacifica development in Carrboro) is thrown their way.