PREVIEW OF COUNTY COMMISSION AGENDA
MONDAY, APRIL 6, 2009, 9:30 A.M.
ROBERT E. HIBBITTS MEETING ROOM
1924 COURTHOUSE, NEWTON, N.C.
The Catawba County Board of Commissioners will hold a public hearing on the proposed installment financing of projects for renovations and additions at four high schools and improvements at Catawba Valley Community College, which were approved in mid 2008 and, except for the CVCC projects, have begun. The County delayed financing to obtain more favorable interest rates, and it is anticipated that more than $700,000 in interest costs will be saved over the life of the loan. Update: At the meeting, the Board approved a plan with a final interest rate of 3.7% over 15 years, a savings of
$921,669 over the life of the loan. The Board will also consider the appropriation of $20,000 for a feasibility study of a proposed expansion or renovation of the Catawba County Animal Shelter and the acceptance of a federal grant, through the Economic Recovery Act of 2008, to add one Sheriff’s Deputy position for road patrol. The Board meets beginning at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, April 6, 2009, in the Robert E. Hibbitts Meeting Room of the 1924 Courthouse at 30 North College Avenue in Newton, NC.
The Board will also consider appropriating $20,000 received from the Duke Home Energy Loan Pool which would be used for housing rehabilitation for low income home owners; an update to the County’s proposed Work First plan to incorporate minor changes suggested to the Department of Social Services by the State of North Carolina; a recommendation to amend the County Personnel Code to give the County Manager flexibility to schedule employee furloughs for budgetary reasons and to adjust employee pay and benefits if needed to meet budget constraints; and approve a policy required by the Federal Government intended to help protect the public from identity theft, which the Federal Government has advised includes government agencies which meet the Federal definition of a creditor; a request to abandon small portions of two roads in the county; and two tax refund requests. The Board will also issue proclamations recognizing the 40th anniversary of the Catawba Valley YMCA and Child Abuse Prevention Month, both of which will be observed in April.
A. The Board will issue a proclamation recognizing the 40th anniversary of the YMCA of Catawba Valley and commending the organization for its commitment to the citizens of Catawba County and surrounding areas with goals to meet the needs of its own community, be everyone’s YMCA and serve as many people and needs as possible.
B. The Board will issue a proclamation declaring April as Child Abuse Prevention Month, to recognize that the majority of child abuse cases stem from stressful situations and conditions that are preventable in an engaged, supportive community and to urge citizens, community agencies, faith groups, medical facilities and business to provide this support for families.
C. The Board will issue a proclamation declaring April as Public Health Month, to recognize 129 years of public health service to the residents of North Carolina and the efforts of public health departments to control and eliminate infectious diseases, improve environmental sanitation and promote healthy lifestyle practices, which have resulted in improved health status and increased life expectancy for North Carolina residents.
The Board will hold a public hearing on proposed installment purchase financing for school projects that were approved in mid-2008 and have mostly begun, including renovations and additions to four high schools and improvements at Catawba Valley Community College (CVCC). In its fiscal year (FY) 2008-09 budget, the Board approved various school and community college improvements as part of the second year of a four-year construction cycle. These projects were approved
by the Board in mid 2008 and are currently underway. The financing of these projects was delayed due to pending federal legislation that afforded the County a less expensive method of financing the school projects. By delaying the financing until May 2009, it is anticipated that more than $700,000 in interest costs will be saved over the life of the loan. Update: At the meeting, the Board approved a plan with a final interest rate of 3.7% over 15 years, a savings of $921,669 over the life of the loan
In July 2008, the Board approved a renovation at Hickory High School in the amount of $6.7 million and, in September 2008, approved expansion and improvement projects at Fred T. Foard and St. Stephens High Schools, totaling $5 million. In addition,
$2,011,000 remained to be financed in fiscal year 2008-2009 for a project at Bunker Hill High School to provide funding needed after bids for the Bunker Hill project exceeded amounts budgeted last year. Further, a new student center and truck driver training facility at CVCC are planned for the second year of the four-year funding cycle. Estimated costs are $3 million for the Student Center and $1.5 million for the truck driver training facility. All but the CVCC projects are underway, and financing needs to be secured to begin repaying the debt. The total amount to be financed for all projects is approximately $18 million.
Staff intentionally delayed financing these projects late last year, as local governments were advised that the new Federal Administration was proposing favorable changes to the tax code. Under the new American Recovery and Reinvestment Tax Act of 2009, the bank-qualified debt limit was increased from $10 million to $30 million for 2009 and 2010, which gives the County a less expensive method of financing with a lower interest rate, reducing financing costs associated with underwriters, financial advisors, rating agencies and extensive legal work with bond attorneys. With these provisions available, the County is proposing a fifteen year term, which will maximize the interest savings on this project and allow the County to retire the debt as quickly as possible. It is anticipated that more than $700,000 in interest costs will be saved over the life of the loan.
The County has financed school construction projects over the last several years through financing described under North Carolina General Statute 160A-20. This type of financing pledges the asset acquired or constructed as collateral for the loan, in case of default. Since the County does not own the land and buildings upon which the improvements will be made, the property must be conveyed to the County in order for the County to borrow the funds. The County is proposing to use Fred T. Foard High School as collateral for the Catawba County School projects (Fred T. Foard, Bunker Hill and St. Stephens.) The County would lease the schools and land back to the Catawba County Board of Education for its unlimited use, and at the end of the financing term, transfer all rights to the property back to the school system. The same process will be used for the Hickory Public Schools and CVCC projects. All local governments in North Carolina that borrow funds greater than $500,000 and for a term longer than five years to maturity must receive approval by the Local Government Commission (LGC), a division of the NC Department of State Treasurer. The LGC will consider this project on May 5, 2009. The Board’s Finance and Personnel Subcommittee recommends conducting this public hearing and adopting the recommended resolution.
A. The Board will consider a joint grant application with the City of Hickory for the 2009 Justice Assistance Grant (JAG). Catawba County’s share of the grant funds are expected to be $67,495 with no local match required. JAG funding allocation is based on population and violent crime statistics. These funds must be used to assist local efforts to prevent or reduce crime and violence with an emphasis on job creation and job retention.
The Sheriff’s Office has an eight-year plan to add deputies each year, but projected budget shortfalls of Fiscal Year 2009-10 may not support the addition of staff, and one deputy position was lost due to the funding shortfall. By using the JAG funding to fund one deputy position, the Sheriff’s Office would increase its presence on road patrol and improve emergency response time. JAG funding will cover salary, benefits, equipment, and fuel in Fiscal Year 2009-10 only. The position will be included in the annual budget request in subsequent years, unless other grant funding is secured. The Board’s Finance and Personnel Subcommittee recommends this grant application be approved.
B. The Board will consider allocating $20,000 in Duke Energy Loan Pool (HELP) funds from the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency. Organizations in this program may access funds for energy-efficiency measures associated with the rehabilitation of homes of Duke Energy customers. HELP funds must be used with funds from other resources such as Community Development Block Grants, HOME or Single Family Rehabilitation grants. HELP members that can show the capacity to adequately manage HELP-related activities may reserve up to $10,000 in HELP funds for up to 180 days, on behalf of each eligible homeowner. To be eligible for HELP funds, occupants must have an income of 80% or less of the area median income and be approved to receive assistance under the other housing rehabilitation project with which HELP assistance is paired. Up to 10% of the HELP funds used for labor & materials for rehabilitation on each home may compensate the member for other costs such as contract management and inspections.
The maximum amount of HELP funds available to any borrower or housing unit cannot exceed either $7500 if the work includes either the purchase and installation of an energy-efficient electric heat pump only or other energy-efficiency measures necessary to meet other HELP Energy Efficiency Standards, or $10,000 if the work includes both heat pump installation and other eligible energy-efficiency measures.
The County is completing a 2006 Scattered Site Housing Grant. Due to unforeseen problems with a recent rehabilitation, a well had to be dug and septic tank installed unexpectedly after it was thought the work was completed. This caused the budget to fall short to complete the last two houses. The County would use $10,000 in HELP funds toward each of the last two houses to help offset the cost to complete the projects. The last two rehabilitations are under contract to Duke Energy customers. The Board’s Finance and Personnel Subcommittee recommends the proposed allocation of these HELP Funds.
C. The Board will consider revisions to the Catawba County Work First Electing Plan for the 2010-2011 biennium, approved by the Board on October 20, 2008, then submitted to the State. In 1996, Congress ended the national welfare program known as AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) and crafted legislation to allow states to implement their own welfare programs. Congress enabled the North Carolina General Assembly to go even further with welfare reform, and the legislature took the next step by allowing counties to compete for “Electing County” status, which offers a limited number of counties the opportunity to have greater control over local welfare policies and available funding. On September 2, 2008, the Board voted to pursue “Electing County” status and appointed a committee to assist in the development of the County’s Work First Plan.
On February 20, 2009, Catawba County Social Services Director John Eller received a letter from the State on revisions needed to
Catawba County’s proposed Work First Electing Plan. These revisions included additions of words or phrases to further clarify the plan and a correction to eligibility criteria to not include Social Security payments when calculating income. The Board’s Policy and Public Works Subcommittee recommended approval of the revised Work First Plan for submission to the North Carolina Department of Human Resources.
D. The Board will consider two tax refund requests totaling $6522.95. Records have been checked and these refunds verified; therefore, the Tax Collector is asking for approval of the refund requests. Under North Carolina General Statute 105-381, a taxpayer who has paid taxes may request a refund in writing for an amount that was paid through error.
A. PLANNING, PARKS AND DEVELOPMENT
1. The Board will consider recommending the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) abandon the maintenance for 0.05 miles of Portion Road (State Road 1778) and the adoption of a resolution requesting the closing of that portion of Portion Road. This road abandonment request has been made by the property owner. Under North Carolina General Statute 136-63, the Board may on its own motion or on petition of a group of citizens, request that NCDOT change or abandon any road in the secondary system when the best interest of the people of the County will be served. G.S. 136-63 also states that when the road is within an extraterritorial jurisdiction area, the municipality may keep open and assume responsibility for maintenance of a road within one mile of its corporate limits, once it is abandoned from the State highway system. This road is located within the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the City of Conover. The City of Conover has stated the closure would have no adverse impact to the City’s street network or operations, and it does not object to the request. NCDOT is requesting a review and recommendation on this request from the Board of Commissioners
2. The Board will consider recommending NCDOT abandon maintenance for an unnamed 0.10 mile portion of State Road 1778, located off 27th Street Drive, NE in Hickory, and the adoption of a resolution requesting the closing of that portion of the road. The road abandonment request has been made by the property owner and no property owners would be deprived of ingress or egress. This action is pursuant to North Carolina General Statute 136-63, as outlined above. This road is located within the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the City of Hickory. The City of Hickory has stated that the request posed no issues for the City. NCDOT is requesting a review and recommendation on this request from the Board of Commissioners.
B. EMERGENCY SERVICES/ANIMAL CONTROL
The Board will consider awarding a contract for a feasibility study to determine the best means for expansion of the Catawba County Animal Shelter, by studying a renovation and addition to the current location or new construction at an alternate location, to Daggett & Grigg Architects. The Board will also consider a budget transfer of $20,000 for the feasibility study.
The current Animal Services facility is over 20 years old and designed to safely house 78 animals. The current daily average census at the shelter is 200 animals. Animal shelters are highly specialized buildings designed to support sheltered animals in the healthiest possible environment. Modern shelters are designed and built with more sanitation in mind than the shelters of the past. The focus of Animal Services is to assure the placement of every adoptable animal. To accomplish this objective, staff must have the ability to control disease and treat animals as needed, to assure they are healthy and are suitable for adoption or returned to their owners. The current shelter was not designed to accommodate those needs. Sufficient space to hold animals also increases adoption rates. The time recommended nationally to hold an animal to assure maximum potential for adoption is 8 to 10 days. The current space only allows the County to hold adoptable animals for an average of 3 to 5 days. Space for existing staff and storage supplies and equipment is also inadequate. Because of overcrowding at the shelter, the State could possibly require an expansion.
The County’s Capital Improvement Plan for Fiscal Year 2013-2014 includes funding for new animal shelter space. Due to pressing need for additional space, staff is requesting a feasibility study be conducted to determine whether renovations and additions to the current facility could be completed in phases and provide additional space prior to 2013-2014.
A Request for Qualifications was issued in November 2008 to select an architectural firm with animal shelter design experience. Sixteen qualification statements were submitted. Two Catawba County firms submitting statements did not have previous animal shelter design experience. Firms selected for interviews by a committee of County staff with animal shelter experience and initially good references were: Daggett & Grigg, Charlottesville, VA with Gilbert Engineering, Statesville, NC; Campbell Design, Denver, NC with Dominion Seven Architects, Lynchburg, VA; and the LSV Partnership, Fayetteville, NC. The selection committee did not recommend Campbell Design and Dominion Seven Architects because the two firms did not address the County’s facility and needs. Dominion Seven had not visited the facility until the day of its interview, and Dominion Seven did not know what was necessary to do business in North Carolina. According to the North Carolina Board of Architecture web site, Dominion Seven Architects does not have a North Carolina Architectural license. The Committee did not recommended LSV Partnership because it determined a number of problems occurred with LSV Partnership’s work at the Cumberland County Animal Shelter. An architect from LSV Partnership was open about mistakes made during the design of the Cumberland County Facility, but gave very little information about what he envisioned for the Catawba County facility.
Staff determined the firm with the best overall qualifications, references and experience with animal shelter design is Daggett & Grigg Architects of Charlottesville, VA, with Gilbert Engineering of Statesville, NC. Their presentation provided options for the Catawba County facility, and cost and staffing estimates based on increased population and space. References for the firm were all positive--it has significant animal shelter design experience including designs in North Carolina, partners with a Statesville-based engineering that will serve as civil engineer, cost consultant and construction management and gave more specifics about shelter design and the areas that need to be addressed in the design process.
Catawba County staff visited the Rockingham/Harrisonburg Society for the Prevention to the Cruelty of Animals shelter in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and was impressed with the design and the functionality of the facility. The facility was clean and did not have a bad odor, which is attributed to outdoor runs that allows the cages to be cleaned while the dogs have access to the outside courtyard. The facility had sufficient acoustic control , its mechanical air system was designed to eliminate odors as well as the spread of disease, and the layout of the facility reduced animal stress and maximized staff efficiency.
The feasibility study will cost approximately $20,000 and should be completed within 2 to 3 months. Once it is completed, a report will be made to the Board of Commissioners to recommend the next steps. The Board’s Finance and Personnel recommends $20,000 be appropriated for the feasibility study from the County’s General Capital Projects Fund Balance.
C. HUMAN RESOURCES
The Board will consider amendments to Sections 28-1, 28-116, 28-154, 28-167 and 28-205 of the Personnel Code which would grant the County Manager authority to declare budget-required furlough days and adjust employee pay and benefits in reaction to the continued slowing economy and enhance flexibility to match service demand. While the County’s conservative approach to budgeting has positioned it well to weather the downturn in the economy, a decline in projected revenues makes it necessary to consider other means for reducing expenditures. There is a need for a variety of options that can be implemented quickly so the County is poised to react to continued further decline or stagnation of economic conditions.
Section 28-116 of the Personnel Code states that accumulated annual leave must be exhausted before an employee may be placed in a leave without pay status. To give the County Manager flexibility in addressing personnel costs, it is requested that authority be granted to the Manager to declare furlough days with all County employees subject to the furlough, regardless of leave balance. These furloughs could occur in two different forms, either 1) a rolling furlough in which departments schedule employees for a furlough day within a given timeframe so that the impact on staffing levels would be minimized, or 2) implementing the furlough as an unpaid holiday. Section 28-205 of the Personnel Code lists 11 paid holidays as a benefit to employees. If the County Manager declares a furlough day on one of these holidays, employees would not be paid for the holiday. In order to make a declared furlough truly effective in lowering costs, those employees who work on holidays (such as Communications Center and Sheriff’s Office staff) would be paid for all hours worked, but would not receive a floating holiday. If an unpaid holiday is declared, employees who work in Emergency Medical Services would not receive compensation for that holiday. Exceptions for an employee not taking a furlough day could be granted by the County Manger under emergency circumstances.
An additional approach that allows flexibility in addressing personnel costs would be to grant authority to the County Manager to reduce an employee’s position, along with a corresponding reduction in pay and benefits, to less than full time. The County Manager would have the authority to approve any kind of work schedule that meets the County’s needs such as reducing a position to 90%, 60%, etc. The employee’s benefits contribution would be in accordance with the employee’s salary. The County Manager would also be able to increase the hours within a given position up to full time to meet any increasing demands for service or achieve staffing levels in critical needs areas. Section 28-1 currently defines reduction in force (RIF) as the abolishment of, or reduction of all or some portion of a position. Staff recommends that a RIF now be defined as the abolishment of a position based on the needs of the organization, workload and availability of funding and that Section 28-167 define RIF as outlined above. The Board’s Policy and Public Works Subcommittee recommends approval of these amendments to the County Personnel Code.
The Board will consider a proposed Red Flags Rule policy required by the Federal Trade Commission, with a goal of identifying and preventing identity theft. The Federal rules require that every entity which meets the definition of “creditor” and has “covered accounts” establish a program by May 1, 2009 tailored to its size, complexity and nature of operation.
CONTACT: DAVE HARDIN, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER 465-8464