Category: Mayor

September 27th, 2018 by newbernpostadmin

Cleanup, rebuilding, and housing are now the city’s focus in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, officials said during Tuesday’s Board of Aldermen meeting.

It was the first routine meeting of the board since before Hurricane Florence.

Jordan Hughes, city engineer, was filling in for City Manager Mark Stephens during Tuesday’s Board of Aldermen meeting.

Stephens and Alderman Jeffrey Odham were out of town on business, including a meeting with U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-Winterville.

Alderman Johnnie Ray Kinsey was not at Tuesday’s meeting.

Hughes described the city’s initial response to Hurricane Florence as outstanding.

The city started preparing for a disaster such as Florence back in the spring, when it began contracting with different companies and agencies to provide the myriad services necessary in a disaster.

Once Florence reached New Bern, it was essentially all hands on deck with city staff, Hughes said.

“We found a lot of creative roles for people to fill way outside their normal duties,” he said.

Firefighters responded to emergencies that included one full-on structure fire in Olde Towne, where a two-story house was destroyed due to a portable generator malfunction.

During the storm, there were 800 swift water rescues, city officials reported.

“Going through Irene in 2011 and getting through that with the city, … we’ve made monumental improvements in our emergency planning, how we bulk up our resources before the storm, everybody understanding what their role is during the storm, and you really can see that come together,” Hughes said. “I think we put it through a pretty good test over the last couple of weeks, and I’ll tell you it’s a darn good plan at this point.”

Now the city’s full focus is on recovery and rebuilding of the community, he said.

Every department and offices are fully open except those facilities temporarily closed.

Closed facilities include Parks and Rec admin center, which was flooded and moved to, ironically, the Aquatics Center. West New Bern Recreation Center gym and game room being used as an evacuation shelter. City boat launches, Stanley White Rec Center, Union Point Park, Lawson Creek Park, Glenburnie Park, Dog Park and Bear Plaza are all closed.

A few customers are still without power due to damage to specific services. They can call 252-636-4070 for help and information, Hughes said.

Other items related to Hurricane Florence

Storm debris

Trash pickup resuming normal schedule. Debris collection is underway.

The recycling plant in Jacksonville is out of power. Recycling service in New Bern is suspended as a result. The county’s Convenience Centers are open, for anyone who has recycling they need to dispose of. Absent that, anything that goes to the curb will be picked up, Matt Montanye, public works director, said.

“We spent most of last week preparing the removal sites to receive debris,” he said. The city started removing debris on Friday. As of Tuesday morning, city workers had moved 126 loads, or 3,700 cubic yards, of vegetative debris, 101 tons of construction debris, and were working on fallen and falling trees.

Removing construction debris will be the biggest problem, he said. Ten city trucks are picking up debris. Supplementing that  are truck crews from Wilson, Garner, Rocky Mount, and Greenville. They are all working on commercial debris, from Batts Hill to North Glenburnie Road.

Meanwhile, 31 teams picking up vegetative debris spread throughout the city.

“The city has 188 miles of streets. Please be patient. We will get to you,” he said.

In all, close to 100 people are picking up debris.

The city asks citizens to separate construction debris and furniture in one pile, and appliances and vegetative debris in their own separate piles.

Citizens need to put their debris piles near the street, but not on the street.

“If it is out there, we are going to pick it up,” he said.

Curfew

Curfew was working really well, said Mayor Dana Outlaw, who ordered the curfew. One evening while trying to make his way downtown on city business, he was denied entrance to the downtown area because of the curfew.

Schools

There have been no announcements regarding whether public schools will resume on Monday. Workers were moving evacuation centers from several elementary schools to other locations so that school can resume. School has been out since noon Tuesday, Sept. 11. Expect something to be announced on Friday about whether school will resume on Monday. Onslow County Schools will not be open next week.

Programs are suspended

Parks and Recreation Director Foster Hughes said there was 2-feet of water in Stanley White Recreation Center. The gymnasium floor is ruined, and it will take several months before the facility can be back in shape.

Elsewhere, all city boat launches are destroyed.

“It’s going to take some time for us to get those things together,” he said.

Meanwhile, West New Bern Recreation Center is closed for recreation purposes. It is being used as a consolidated evacuation center, taking in evacuees who had been staying at Brinson Elementary School and Ben D. Quinn Elementary School.

Paying for it all

Getting reimbursed from the federal government can be a tedious, time-consuming process. Said Alderman Bobby Aster, the city has not finished with reimbursements from FEMA for Hurricanes Irene and Matthew.

The city may hire a consultant to shepherd the city’s way through the complexities of reimbursement. The good news is, the consultant fees are reimbursable.

Aster, who was New Bern’s fire chief before he retired, said damage from Hurricane Florence is quadruple that of Irene, which struck New Bern in August 2011.

Alderman Sabrina Bengel pointed out that the reason the city maintains a healthy fund balance is for situations just like Hurricane Florence. The city may get reimbursed for most of its storm-related expenses, but meanwhile, it has to pay those costs up-front.

The King’s English

Alderman Bobby Aster, who has a great deal of experience dealing with disasters, is well-versed in FEMA jargon. During Tuesday’s meeting, he asked Jerry Haney, Area 3 division supervisor for FEMA Region 4, about numerous things using a variety of acronyms. “When will the PA on site, for the PA people,” Aster asked, for example.

After a few more exchanges like that, Alderwoman Jameesha Harris asked if they could use more common terms.

“You guys are like best friends having a conversation and we’re just sitting here …” she said.

How long is this going to take?

FEMA’s Jerry Haney said he hopes to be home by Thanksgiving.

Posted in Aldermen, Board of Aldermen, Craven County, Hurricane, Mayor, New Bern

August 30th, 2018 by newbernpostadmin

The city will fund six school resource officers, some costs of which will be covered by a state grant, although aldermen and the mayor grumbled that the county ought to be putting up some of the money to fund the positions.

The resource officers are posted at New Bern High School, H.J. McDonald Middle School, and Grover C. Fields Middle School. New this year will be resource officers posted at Oaks Road Elementary School and J.T. Barbour Elementary School.

No one argues against posting school resource officers at the schools. The sticking point is that three of the schools — New Bern High and the two middle schools — have students who don’t live inside city limits. Some aldermen think the county should chip in to cover its share of the enrollment.

The resource officers cost about $81,000 per year for salary, benefits, and equipment. They are available for regular police duties during two summer months when school is out of session, said New Bern Police Chief Toussaint Summers.

State grant money covers $39,000 per resource officer for the high school and middle schools, with the city paying the balance.

New Bern Mayor Dana Outlaw said the county, the school district, and cities in Craven County need to get together to find an equitable way to cover the cost of school resource officers.

Meanwhile, he said, he’ll “old my nose and vote for this.”

“In today’s society, you can’t not have a resource officers in these schools,” Outlaw said.

Alderman Sabrina Bengel said she feels bullied into a decision. “I don’t like the political nature of this,” she said.

Alderwoman Jameesha Harris said “This is a tax burden I would like to have in order to have my children be safe.”

Chief Summers said the benefits of the city providing resource officers to the schools outweighs the costs. The officers spend the school year getting to know teenagers in the community, and during the summertime, a “very busy time” for the Police Department, the officers are available for patrol duty and to hold youth summer camps.

In addition, should an incident occur on campus, resource officers there could facilitate the arrival of other law enforcement as they arrive.

At present, the New Bern Police Department has 86 personnel, plus two trainees and one vacancy. He said on average NBPD has a 10 percent turnover rate.

To the question of whether to fund resource officers for New Bern High School and the two middle schools, aldermen voted 6-1, with Alderman Barbara Best voting against it. To the question of whether to add one resource officer each to J.T. Barbour and Oaks Road elementary schools, the vote was 5-2, with Best and Bengal voting against it.

In a memo to aldermen, Chief Summers provided information supporting the addition of resource officers to the two elementary schools. Three other elementary schools inside city limits would not have resource officers.

Craven County has budgeted $99,000 for these two positions, leaving the city of New Bern with $10,000 in costs.

“(The two) elementary schools have been identified as having students with limited positive interaction with police officers. Assigning School Resource Officers would facilitate a safe learning environment, encourage positive relationships with law enforcement and reduce the number of violent acts within our schools. If approved, the newly inducted School Resource Officers would promote anti-bullying initiatives, lead drug and crime prevention programs, provide a safe and secure campus for both the students and the teaching staff during regular school hours and at after-school activities.”

Posted in Aldermen, Board of Aldermen, Craven County Board of Commissioners, Craven County Schools, Mayor

June 22nd, 2018 by newbernpostadmin

CITY OF NEW BERN
BOARD OF ALDERMEN MEETING
JUNE 26, 2018 –  6 P.M.
CITY HALL COURTROOM 300 POLLOCK STREET

Download Agenda with Backup Materials

 

Posted in Aldermen, Board of Aldermen, Mayor

June 13th, 2018 by newbernpostadmin
Mayor Dana Outlaw declares the first and second motions dead based on lack of seconds. Alderman Sabrina Bengel promptly followed up with another motion that passed on a 4-1 vote.

 

Newly elected aldermen outvoted their more senior colleagues on Tuesday, initiating a more lenient utility rate deposit policy that takes effect July 1 but is not retroactive.

On Alderman Sabrina Bengel’s motion and Alderman Jameesha Harris’ second, the board voted 4-3 for the revised policy, which states:

  • Per fiscal year, deposits will not be assessed on the first payment arrangement.  Payment arrangements may be billed as installments.  No late penalties or fees will be assessed if the payment plan is adhered to as agreed upon.
  • Per fiscal year, deposits will not be assessed for the first check returned for insufficient funds.
  • New customers may pay deposits in installments with 50 percent due at the time service is established and the balance payable over four billing cycles.  Payment arrangements are not permitted until the deposit is paid.
  • New residential deposits shall not exceed $500.

Bengel, Harris, and Alderman Barbara Best drafted the policy revisions and were expected to vote for it. The only question was whether there would be a forth vote necessary to pass it.

But Best had new concerns about deposit refunds. At present, security deposits are returned after 18 months of good payments. Even with the revised policy, one payment arrangement would restart the 18 month period before the deposit is refunded to the customer.

Best argued that one payment arrangement should not prevent a customer from receiving a refund after one 18-month period.

Harris went the entire opposite direction. She said by reducing the security deposit to $500, it puts the city at further financial risk. She argued that security deposits should be returned only when a customer leaves the city.

Alderman Bobby Aster, a potential swing vote, questioned whether that would be fair, saying the city would then be holding onto deposits for years or decades.

Harris made the initial motion, which did not get a second, mainly because of wording issues.

Bengel made a second motion that would have allowed customers to have their security deposit refunded after 18 months even if during that time they had made one payment arrangement, provided they completed the payment arrangement during that 18 months.

Harris said she would not support that motion, saying the city should not refund security deposits except when a customer leaves the city.

Perhaps seeing an opportunity to stall the revision of a policy that he implemented during his first term as mayor, Mayor Dana Outlaw declared the two motions dead for lack of being seconded.

He suggested that the board wait before changing the policy. The city has not fully rolled out its advanced utility metering system or a program that allows customers to prepay their bills, he said. The city also has a new utilities director who has not had a chance to weigh in on the issue.

Alderman Jeffrey Odham agreed, saying that changing the policy would be jumping the gun.

Alderman Johnnie Ray Kinsey, who at first said he liked the Bengel/Harris/Best plan, agreed with Outlaw and Odham.

Undeterred, with Best’s permission, Bengel made another motion, this one free of any mention of deposit refunds, guaranteeing at least the three votes from the committee that drafted the policy revisions. That motion passed, 4-1, with Astor casting the deciding vote.

The financial impact on the city is that it puts up to $72,000 at risk if customers default.

Posted in Aldermen, Board of Aldermen, Mayor, Utilities

June 8th, 2018 by newbernpostadmin

New Bern aldermen on Tuesday will consider a proposal to lessen the severity of the city’s utility deposit policy that has sometimes resulted in four-figure deposits for new customers with less than stellar credit, and soften other rules aimed at existing customers who fall behind in paying their bill.

The recommendations cap the deposit at $500 for new residents, rather than the sum of the two highest bills rung up by the previous resident. It also won’t kick in the first time when a customer who has fallen behind asks for a payment arrangement, or the first time a customer’s check bounces.

Payments could also be billed as installments.

The city’s utility deposit has been controversial from the start (it was instituted in 2014), putting low- and moderate-income individuals and small businesses struggling to make ends meet in further financial distress. However, it has helped the city reduce the rate of bad debt write-offs, and earned the city a coveted top rating from an agency that virtually no one in New Bern outside city hall cares about.

At its May 8, meeting, the Governing Board established a working group consisting of aldermen Sabrina Bengel, Jameesha Harris and Barbara Best to meet with the Director of Finance to discuss the utility deposit.

As a result of the group’s discussions, the following changes are recommended for residential customers effective July 1:

  • Per fiscal year, deposits will not be assessed on the first payment arrangement.  Payment arrangements may be billed as installments.  No late penalties or fees will be assessed if the payment plan is adhered to as agreed upon.
  • Per fiscal year, deposits will not be assessed for the first check returned for insufficient funds.
  • New customers may pay deposits in installments with 50 percent due at the time service is established and the balance payable over four billing cycles.  Payment arrangements are not permitted until the deposit is paid.
  • New residential deposits shall not exceed $500.
  • These changes are not retroactive.A memo from J.R. Sabatelli, Director of Finance is attached and provides additional, pertinent information. (See Backup)

The agenda item calls for a discussion, and it takes four votes of the seven-member board to pass an item that has been moved for consideration.

Assuming that Bengel, Harris, and Best vote for the policy (since they are the ones who proposed it), it would need only one more vote to pass. It is doubtful that Alderman Jeffrey Odham or Mayor Dana Outlaw would vote for it, since they were the ones who pushed for the existing policy back in 2014. Alderman Johnnie Ray Kinsey was also on the board that approved the existing policy, but he has shown more willingness to vote with new board members and against the previous status quo.

It is unknown how new Alderman Bobby Aster will vote.

Previous coverage:

https://newbernpost.com/aldermen-plan-special-meeting-for-redevelopment-utility-deposits

https://newbernpost.com/aldermen-order-city-utilities-to-be-more-customer-friendly

Posted in Aldermen, Board of Aldermen, Mayor

June 8th, 2018 by newbernpostadmin

Note: Links expire when next agenda is posted

CITY OF NEW BERN
BOARD OF ALDERMEN MEETING
JUNE 12, 2018 – 6:00 P.M.
CITY HALL COURTROOM
300 POLLOCK STREET

1. Meeting opened by Mayor Dana E. Outlaw.  Prayer Coordinated by Alderman Odham.  Pledge of Allegiance.
2. Roll Call.
3. Request and Petition of Citizens.
This section of the Agenda is titled Requests and Petitions of Citizens.  This is an opportunity for public comment, and we thank you for coming to the Board of Aldermen meeting tonight to share your views.  We value all citizen input.Speaker comments are limited to a maximum of 4 minutes during the public comment period.  At the conclusion of 4 minutes, each speaker shall leave the podium.  Comments will be directed to the full board, not to an individual board member or staff member.  Although the board is interested in hearing your comments, speakers should not expect any comments, action or deliberation from the board on any issue raised during the public comment period. In the board’s discretion, it may refer issues to the appropriate city officials or staff for further investigation.  If an organized group is present to speak on a common issue, please designate one person to present the group’s comment, which shall be limited to a maximum of 4 minutes.

Consent Agenda

4. Approve Minutes.
Minutes from the May 14, 2018 budget work session and May 22, 2018 regular meeting are provided for review and approval.

********************

5. Recognition of Graduates of Police Academy.
Graduates of the recent Citizens Police Academy will be in attendance to give an overview of their experience.  The latest academy marked the 22nd session that has been held. (See Backup)

6. Discussion of Utility Deposits.
At its May 8, 2018 meeting, the Governing Board established a working group consisting of Aldermen Bengel, Harris and Best to meet with the Director of Finance to discuss the utility deposit.  As a result of the group’s discussions, the following changes are recommended for residential customers effective July 1st:

• Per fiscal year, deposits will not be assessed on the first payment arrangement.  Payment arrangements may be billed as installments.  No late penalties or fees will be assessed if the payment plan is adhered to as agreed upon.

• Per fiscal year, deposits will not be assessed for the first check returned for insufficient funds.

• New customers may pay deposits in installments with 50% due at the time service is established and the balance payable over four billing cycles.  Payment arrangements are not permitted until the deposit is paid.

• New residential deposits shall not exceed $500.

• These changes are not retroactive.A memo from J.R. Sabatelli, Director of Finance is attached and provides additional, pertinent information. (See Backup)

7. Consider Adopting a Resolution Approving Financing Terms for the Enterprise Resource Planning (“ERP”) Project.
The Board established the ERP Project Fund on November 21, 2017 and adopted a Declaration of Official Intent to Reimburse at that time.  Requests for financing proposals were issued, and the Director of Finance recommends First Citizens Bank be utilized.  While their interest rate of 3.22% is slightly higher than that offered by SunTrust (3.17%), First Citizens allows the loan to be prepaid with no penalty or other fees.  A memo from Mr. Sabatelli is attached. (See Backup)

8. Consider Adopting a Resolution in Support of the Highway 43 Connector Project.
(Ward 6) At the May 22, 2018 Board meeting, Alderman Odham reported on a recent meeting held by the NC Department of Transportation with respect to plans for the Highway 43 Connector.  The proposed resolution relays the City’s support of the DOT plan identified as Alternate #2.  It also requests DOT give consideration to the sound impact on the existing residential neighborhoods of Trent Creek, Arcadia Village and Craeberne Forest. (See Backup)

9. Consider Adopting a Resolution in Support of Changing the Alfred Cunningham Memorial Bridge Schedule.
(Ward 1) Citizens and merchants have expressed concerns about the Alfred Cunningham drawbridge schedule.  The current schedule allows the bridge to open at will or on demand two to three times per hour.  This not only creates traffic congestion, but it is also an inconvenience to motorists, local residents and businesses in and around downtown.  The resolution proposes the schedule be altered to open only on the half hour of every hour. (See Backup)

10. Consider Adopting a Budget Ordinance Amendment for the FY2017-18 Grants Fund.
The Fire Department has received a $2,000 grant from Petco Foundation for the care of the department’s arson dog.  The budget amendment acknowledges receipt of the grant funds, which requires no match.  A brief memo from Mr. Sabatelli is attached. (See Backup)

11. Consider Adopting an Ordinance Amendment to the 2017 Roadway Improvements Project Fund.
The 2017 Roadway Improvements Project Fund was established on July 11, 2017.  On March 13, 2018, the Board approved an agreement with NCDOT to accept ownership and maintenance of sections of Old Airport Road between Taberna Circle and County Line Road.  This budget ordinance will appropriate $1,700,000 for the Old Airport Road project and $800,000 for resurfacing Oaks Road.  Funds for the Old Airport Road project will derive of $687,000 from DOT and $1,013,000 from borrowing proceeds. A memo from Mr. Sabatelli is attached. (See Backup)

12. Consider Adopting an Amendment to the Declaration of Intent to Reimburse the 2017 Roadway Improvements Project Fund.
The Board adopted resolutions and Declarations of Intent to Reimburse for the 2017 Roadway Improvements Project Fund on July 11, 2017 in the amount of $250,000 and on September 26, 2017 in the amount of $1,050,000.  Since that time, the Board has further increased the project by an additional $1,813,000.  The total of the project is $2,863,000, and the Declaration of Intent needs to be updated to reflect this amount.  A memo from Mr. Sabatelli is attached. (See Backup)

13. Consider Adopting an Ordinance to Amend Article III. City Water and Sewerage Systems of Chapter 74 “Utilities”.
House Bill 436 was passed by the NC General Assembly in July 2017 to amend Chapter 162A of the General Statutes to add Article 8, System Development Fees.  This amendment provides for uniform authority to implement system development fees for public water and sewer systems in the State.  The City’s Code of Ordinances needs to be amended to establish the water and sewer system development fees and provide the City authority to charge such fees.  A memo from Jordan Hughes, City Engineer, is attached. (See Backup)

14. Consider Adopting an Ordinance to Establish the Schedule of System Development Fees and Connection Fees for Water and Sewer Customers.
This relates to the previous item.  Upon its adoption, the proposed ordinance will establish the Schedule of System Development Fees and Connection Fees for water and sewer.  A memo from Jordan Hughes, City Engineer, is attached. (See Backup)

15. Consider Adopting a Resolution Approving the Classification Pay Plan for Fiscal Year 2018-19.
Annually, the Board adopts a Classification Pay Plan.  In the past, the pay plan was adopted as part of the annual budget ordinance.  After conferring with Attorney Davis, it has been determined the pay plan should be adopted in the format of a resolution and separate from the budget ordinance.  A memo from Mr. Sabatelli is attached. (See Backup)

16. Consider Adopting an Ordinance Amending the Schedule of Fees and Charges.
As part of the budget process, the Board annually adopts an Amended Schedule of Fees and Charges to, in part, identify in one place all of the fees charged by the City.  The fees identified in the schedule are included in the revenue projections for Fiscal Year 2018-19 and will be effective July 1, 2018.Please note two schedules are presented for consideration.  One schedule does not reference the utility deposit cap of $500 identified during the discussion on the utility deposit.  The other scheduled does include the deposit cap. A memo from Mr. Sabatelli is attached. (See Backup 1) (See Backup 2) (See Backup 3)

17. Consider Adopting the Budget Ordinance for Fiscal Year 2018-19.
After extensive review of the Manager’s recommended budget for Fiscal Year 2018-19, several budget workshops, and an extended public hearing, the changes expressed by the Board have been incorporated into the final budget ordinance for Fiscal Year 2018-19.  A memo from Mr. Sabatelli outlines the changes made to the recommended budget. (See Backup)

18. Appointment(s).
(a)  On May 22, 2018, Alderman Kinsey appointed John Leys to fill the seat previously held by Nancy Gray on the Historic Preservation Commission.  Mr. Leys is unable to accept the appointment, and Alderman Kinsey is asked to make a new appointment.  The appointee will serve a three-year term. (See Backup)

(b)  The first tenure of the Community Development Advisory Committee (“CDAC”) is coming to an end, and the members’ terms will expire on June 30, 2018.  Some have expressed a desire to be reappointed, while others have not.  Appointments or reappointments have been made for Wards 1, 2 and 6.  The following appointments are still needed, and the list provided simply reflects the current appointees:

Ward 3:        Marshall Williams

Ward 4:        Vernon Guion (interested in reappointment)

Ward 5:        Dell Simmons (See Backup)

(c)   Charles Bauschard, Director of Public Utilities, began work on May 29, 2018.  The previous director was appointed as the City’s Commissioner on the NC Eastern Municipal Power Agency.  The Board is asked to consider appointing Mr. Bauschard to fill this vacancy.  Of note, the City Manager serves as the first alternate commissioner, and Alderwoman Harris serves as the second alternate commissioner. (See Backup)

19. Attorney’s Report.
20. City Manager’s Report.
21. New Business.
22. Closed Session.
23. Adjourn

Posted in Aldermen, Board of Aldermen, Mayor, New Bern

May 25th, 2018 by newbernpostadmin

Updated with corrected information about enterprise fund.

Headed into the June 12 meeting during which the Board of Aldermen will actually approve the city budget, as written, the spending plan is good for public safety without raising taxes, but does little to correct deficiencies that make it harder for people with disabilities to live in the city.

The plan calls for the addition of six firefighter positions at the Thurman Road fire house, which will enable the outpost station to more aggressively attack structure fires (and save lives of people trapped in burning buildings) without having to wait for backup from the city’s other stations, downtown and on Elizabeth Avenue.

The city would also hire one additional animal control officer, increasing the ranks of that service by 100 percent (in other words, it goes from one to two).

The city is already in the processing of adding parking enforcement officers downtown, where two-hour parking exists but has not been enforced.

In all, these additions make for a larger uniformed presence in the city.

The city is also planning on numerous paving projects, not the least of which are on Old Airport Road and Trent Road.

And the city would be doing this without raising taxes, instead paying for it with some of the surplus it has been enjoying during recent years.

There is one caveat. Trash pickup would be put into its own enterprise fund and the city will raise the trash fee from $11.75 to $14.75, which will cover its cost.

City trash collection has been losing money (because it could), and the city  has been supplementing the service with about $280,000 a year from its general fund. So there’s that.

Missing from the city roadmap is anything about addressing concerns for the city’s growing population of handicapped people — vision impaired and mobility impaired.

City Hall has no plans to install an elevator, something city leaders committed to do 20 years ago. Instead, wheelchair-bound citizens who want to attend city meetings on the second floor of city hall must be physically pulled up three flights of stairs — and call in advance just for that.

Also missing is anything that would address pedestrian safety for an increasingly busy downtown, where there are no pedestrian crossing signals — especially troublesome for people with vision impairment.

For a city that prides itself in attracting retirees, New Bern does surprisingly little to accommodate people with disabilities. And the current spending plan does nothing to address that.

Contact aldermen or the mayor if you have any comments or questions.

Posted in Aldermen, Board of Aldermen, Mayor

April 25th, 2018 by newbernpostadmin

See if you can find the Easter egg in this $11,000 diorama of Downtown New Bern that resides at City Hall. Go here for the answer and other fun facts from Tuesday’s Board of Aldermen meeting.

The Board of Aldermen got their first look at a proposed $125 million spending plan that keeps the wheels rolling at City Hall without costing constituents a penny more — but that could change by the time the budget is approved next month.

The board met Tuesday and spent just over an hour hearing an overview of the fiscal year 2019 spending plan draft, which as presented is a1.91 percent increase over this year.

Here are areas that may cost citizens more:

  • The board may consider moving sanitation out of general fund. It is running $193,000 in the red, subsidized by general fund. Includes leaf and limb service. Would need to increase by $3 to $17.75 to break even.
  • Motor vehicle tax increase—City gets $5 per licensed vehicle tag. Most cities charge $15-$25. Some as high as $30. First $5 is unrestricted; the city can spend it any way it wants. Anything over that must be used for road improvements. Each $5 generates $125,000 in revenue.
  • Ad valorem tax rate increase—It had been .41. The current rate, .46, is a hair shy of revenue neutral. A 1 cent increase would result in $310,000 revenue. City Hall is looking at a 1 cent rate increase due to revaluation because county and Havelock already adjusted theirs.
  • Electric rates remain the same for now, but may increase (we’ll find out in January starting in April or July)

Key takeaways from the draft budget proposal:

  • A balanced budget with no ad valorem tax increase unless the board so chooses to fund large projects
  • Increase in city staff size by one position
  • Merit-based pay increases for employees of 1-2.5 percent, and zero for those who aren’t performing as well.
  • Continue projects started in FY2018.
  • The same utility rates but electric rates may be an increase (the city will find out in January, with any rate increase starting somewhere between April and July)

Considerations city staff took into account when creating the draft include:

  • Maintain current level of operations and a balanced budget
  • Present options to recover costs for sanitation services
  • Look for ways to fund larger projects

Goals were:

  • Invest in staff
  • Ensure public safety meets requirements
  • Enhance parks and recreation opportunities
  • Maintain fiscal responsibility
  • Invest in city infrastructure
  • Promote economic development

Now, some details.

City staffing:

Net increase of one position, a fire inspector, due to increased demands. Also adds a substation technician in the electric department. Leaving positions vacant or realigning other positions will result in 461 positions at City Hall.

The breakdown of city positions:

  • General fund—97 positions (includes police and fire)
  • Water—37 positions
  • Sewer—40 positions
  • Electric—79 positions
  • Stormwater—6 positions
  • Other funded positions—2 positions

Recent staffing additions, including one proposed, are related to city growth: City Hall previously added a building inspector, and now needs an additional a fire inspector

Alderman Bobby Aster said the quartile system of awarding merit raises does not always sit well for people who get called out at night and know how to do everything but who get only the 1 percent raise. It penalizes senior employees, he said.

Merit-based pay increases for employees would be 1 to 2.5 percent, and zero for those with average or poorer performance.

City Manager Mark Stephens said the system was implemented because the city was losing people early in their careers after great expense to the city training them. Intent was to raise newer, good employees up to the midpoint range more quickly.

Raises would be effective July 30.

Other spending priorities:

  • 10 new police vehicles.
  • Renewed emphasis on maintenance and improvements for parks, ballfields, playgrounds, recreation centers, etc.
  • Funding for special recreation activities and youth sports. The city can build four to six pickle ball courts on what was two used tennis courts
  • Outdoor pickle ball courts and major Kidsville renovation. Kidsville playground was shut down pending repair work. Built in late 1980s, the wooden playground has been showing its age.
  • Begin implementation of Martin Marietta Park master plan

Continue projects started in FY2018. They include:

  • Trent Road substation rebuild
  • Continued Township 7 improvements
  • Continued West New Bern improvements
  • Continue AMI implementation
  • Additional water/sewer system improvements
  • Vehicle replacements
  • Move to new facility
  • Craven/South Front Street site development
  • VOLT Center (on First Street at the old Electric Utilities building)
  • Train Depot renovation
  • Guion/Dunn Street railroad crossings
  • $800,000 budgeted for various improvements for city streets and Lawson Creek Park
  • Pavement resurfacing, crack sealing, full-depth repairs, pavement striping, sidewalk and curbing improvements, etc.
  • Additional $85,000 for sidewalk maintenance
  • Street survey updated to identify needed street repairs
Large projects
  • Oaks Road resurfacing—$800,000
  • Old Airport Road—$1.3 million. Another $687,000 is coming from state for Airport Road for paving sections it owns.
  • Trent Road widening—$2 million. No chip-in from state because tied in with the Alfred Cunningham Bridge swap. City took over responsibility of 13 miles of streets from the state in exchange for the state taking over responsibility of the bridge.
  • Martin Marietta Park—$5 million
  • New fire station—$2.5 million to build with $958,000 operating cost
  • Public investment for redevelopment and economic development—TBD
  • Total—$11.6 million with $958,000 in annual operating costs

How to pay for all that?

Current budget frees up $200,000 toward those expenses.

An additional $280,000 would be available per year by creating a self-sustaining sanitation utility—but would result in higher sewer fees for city residents.

An additional $300,000 would be available per year by adding 1 cent per $100 of value to the ad valorem tax rate—a tax increase.

The city could also increase its vehicle registration fee. It’s $5 per registration now, which the city could spend any way it wants. It could raise it by another $5, but that money would have to got to street maintenance and improvements. It could raise it yet another $5, but that would have to go to transportation or street improvements.

What’s next:

May 1 and 2 workshops. Public hearing on May 8. Budget adoption on May 22. Other meetings as necessary.

Posted in Aldermen, Board of Aldermen, Mayor, New Bern

April 25th, 2018 by newbernpostadmin

See if you can find the Easter egg in this $11,000 diorama of Downtown New Bern that resides at City Hall. Scroll down for the answer.

Misc. stuff and fun facts:

Skull?

First, what’s up with City Manager Mark Stephens’ lapel pin? (See picture, left)

Paint Your Heart Out is looking for volunteers, donations and sponsorships. Contact Landa Gaskins, Community Development Coordinator, Phone (252) 639-7586, or email 

Community Health Fare Saturday, April 28, noon-3 p.m., Omega Center.

Water and sewer revenues are down because of conservation, but treatment costs are increasing. Maola was a major customer the city lost, affecting revenue.

Ad valorem tax rates in the area: .52 Greenville, .65 Goldsboro, .66 Kinston, .52 Washington, .59 Havelock, .485 Wilmington, .555 Wilson, .46 New Bern, the lowest in the area. Ad valorem taxes bring in $1.37 million to New Bern.

AMI—Advanced Metering Infrastructure. Meter reader is not a growth profession. Meter technician is. Most of the city now has networked electric and water meters.

The state is seeing a decline in gasoline tax revenue due to increased use of electric vehicles, Alderman Sabrina Bengel said.

In Texas, old gas stations are being repurposed as food truck rodeos, City Manager Mark Stephens said.

Johnnie Ray Kinsey was absent. 

Answer to the question at the top:

The diorama includes a car wreck at the intersection of South and East Front streets.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Aldermen, Board of Aldermen, Mayor

April 11th, 2018 by newbernpostadmin

I’ve never been a fan of how the city charges exorbitant fines, fees, and deposits on electric utilities customers who are least able to afford it.

Then I sat in on a PowerPoint presentation by JR Sabatelli, the city’s finance director, and I was nearly persuaded.

I think several aldermen planned to come out of Wednesday’s special meeting of the Board of Aldermen with the deposit policy cancelled. But that didn’t happen. Sabatelli did that good a job making his points. Rather than trashing the policy, aldermen directed city staff to find ways to be more customer friendly.

But being a CPA, Sabatelli was perhaps a little tone deaf about a few certain things.

He said that prior to changing its utilities billing policies in 2013, the city had a “culture of finding ways to say yes.”

That meant that folks who found themselves stumbling to pay their light bills could walk out of the utilities office on Neuse Boulevard with a payment plan and very little in the way of penalties.

“This is a culture we do not want to return to,” Sabatelli said.

The financial impact of whether the city goes back to its old way of doing things, or continues with its new, non-customer friendly way of doing things, is about a wash. You heard me right: It is revenue neutral (with one caveat that I’ll get into later).

But Sabatelli’s presentation started on one note and ended with another. The city received a three-star rating from an organization that grades cities on such things before it implemented the new plan. Once it implement more punitive measures on people late paying their bills, the city got a four-star rating.

I’m so glad to hear that the city got one extra star, and all it took was putting low-income families at grave financial risk.

That’s not all.

Earlier this year, during a weeks-long cold snap when the daily high temperatures were in the single digits, aldermen were being made aware of the high electric bills their constituents were seeing.

Aldermen specifically asked Sabatelli if there would be some consideration for customers given the unusual nature of this weather event. He said there would be.

Turns out, not so much.

One resident told her story to aldermen during their Wednesday workshop.

By the time the weather started warming up, she, a therapist, and her husband, a carpenter, with two kids including one in college, faced a utility bill of $1,300.

He went to the city utilities office to see if he could work out a payment plan, and was told that to do so would trigger a deposit … of around $1,300.

Instead, he withdrew money from his 401(k) (taxed and assessed a penalty for early withdrawal) to pay the bill.

The next bill he received reflected his payment, but included an extra $1,300 — the charge for a deposit.

That’s not the only customer service nugget (or shall I say, turd) that came out of Wednesday’s meeting.

We also learned that the utilities office officially closes at 5 p.m., but locks its doors at 4:45 p.m. There is a doorbell and an intercom, utility staff offered, helpfully.

At an earlier meeting, we learned that the utilities office no longer has public restrooms, and staff directs members of the public to the restroom at Fort Totten Park, about 100 yards away, across a ball field.

OK, I got that all off my chest.

Now mind you, these are all good people, Sabatelli and the folks who work at the utilities office. They’ve even won two customer service awards, one last year and one this year, and participate in parades and festivals.

The city’s policies regarding utilities payments, fees and fines has saved the city money in other ways. City staff saved hundreds of hours because they aren’t working on payment plans nearly so often, and because the number of electricity cutoffs and restarts has been dramatically reduced.

But I would put forth that there are some things it might do that would be more customer friendly and still earn the city its coveted fourth star.

  1. Instead of demanding a deposit equal to the sum of the two highest utilities bills in the past 12 months, make it an average two months, or better yet, make it a flat fee of, say, $500, and spread that out over a couple of months.
  2. If folks are struggling to pay unusually high light bills because of zero-degree temperatures or hundred-degree temperatures, waive the policy of implementing a deposit whenever a payment plan is required.
  3. Keep your fucking doors open until 5 o’clock.
  4. Reopen your fucking restroom.

Posted in Aldermen, Board of Aldermen, Mayor

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