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APRIL 15, 2013
Catawba County Board of Commissioners Meeting
Monday, April 15, 2013, 7:00 p.m.
Robert E. Hibbitts Meeting Room, 1924 Courthouse
21 East 1st Street, Newton, NC
1. Call to Order
2. Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag
4. Approval of the minutes from the Board’s Regular Session of April 1, 2013
5. Recognition of special guests
6. Public Comment for items not on the agenda
8. Public Hearings:
10. Consent Agenda:
11. Departmental Reports:
14. Manager’s Report
PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES: Individuals needing assistance should contact the County Clerk at 828-465-8990 within a reasonable time prior to the meeting. Access to the 1924 Courthouse for individuals with disabilities is at the south side (“A” Street). The elevator is located at the north end of the building. Participation in public meetings is without regard to race, creed, religion, national origin, sex, age, color, or disability.
CALENDAR: The Board of Commissioners’ May meetings will take place on Monday, May 6, 2013 at 9:30 a.m. and on Monday, May 20, 2013 at 7:00 p.m. The Board will hold budget hearings with County Departments and outside agencies on Tuesday, May 28, 2013 from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and will conduct a budget Public Hearing and Wrap-up on Thursday, May 30, 2013 at 7:00 p.m. All of these May meetings will take place in the 1924 Courthouse in Newton.
PREVIEW OF COUNTY COMMISSION AGENDA
MONDAY, APRIL 15, 2013, 7 P.M.
ROBERT E. HIBBITTS MEETING ROOM
1924 COURTHOUSE, NEWTON, N.C.
The Catawba County Board of Commissioners will consider a proposed resolution allowed under North Carolina law which would limit the property tax levy to a rate of fifteen cents on each $100 of property valuation for fire protection in proposed fire protection service districts, to address issues related to some boundaries having changed since fire districts were created between 1960-1975 and there being areas where fire taxes have been collected without the proper authority and other areas where fire taxes have been collected, but not used in the original fire tax district created by election, when the Board meets at 7 p.m. on Monday, April 15, 2013, at the 1924 Courthouse at 21 East 1st Street, Newton, NC in Newton. Citizens would not see a change in their tax rate nor in the service level they receive. The fifteen cent limit is the same as the current limit, and the proposed service districts would be precisely identical to the current fire response/insurance districts for all unincorporated areas in Catawba County. The same amount of revenue currently generated by the individual fire tax districts would continue, ensuring that no department experiences any change in tax base.
The Board will receive a report on a Farm and Food Sustainability Plan, which was developed over an eleven month period by a committee of citizens and officials and is designed to provide long term support to agricultural land in the county, with a focus on economic development for agriculture and the recruitment of young farmers. It will also hold public hearings on the closeout of a 2009 Individual Development Account Unifour First Time Homebuyer Program grant and on a 2012 NC Tomorrow Project Grant awarded to the County by the North Carolina Department of Commerce.
The Board will also consider delegating authority to the County’s Purchasing Manager to conduct an open meeting with prospective contractors concerning preferred alternates for the construction of a new Sherrills Ford Branch Library, and a recommendation to declare a 2005 John Deere 850J Dozer used at the Blackburn Landfill as surplus and authorize its sale by electronic public auction.
Catawba County has a rich tradition of agriculture evidenced by the cow symbol on the County’s seal, representing the farming community. The County’s settlers came to this area due to an ideal climate and soil conditions which allowed them to raise crops to sustain their families. Today, agriculture in Catawba County generates $52 million in direct economic impact. Indirect economic impacts are even greater. To support this growing segment of the local economy, the County’s Agricultural Advisory Board recommended that a Farm & Food Sustainability Plan be developed to identify ways to enhance agriculture and promote local foods. In March 2012, the Board endorsed a 20-member Working Committee to develop the Plan, comprised of individuals representing all phases of the agricultural “life cycle” (production, processing, distribution, preparation, and waste recovery) as well as education/outreach, medical, and food access/hunger relief and policy. `The Plan’s main objectives were two-fold: 1) to sustain agricultural land in Catawba County with a focus on agricultural economic development in order to recruit younger farmers and provide tools for farm transitioning, and 2) to ensure local food sustainability by developing a robust “Farm-to-Fork” initiative, where local food producers link up with local food distributors and restaurants to ensure the availability of fresh, locally-produced food within the County.
The Committee began meeting in April 2012, starting with an overview of local agricultural statistics and national trends made possible through a North Carolina Agricultural Development & Farmland Preservation Trust Fund grant. The Committee sponsored a series of community workshops in July 2012. Over 100 people attended these meetings, providing over 800 ideas on encouraging trends, limitations and opportunities relative to enhancing agriculture and promoting local food. Over the next seven months, the Committee met to prioritize feedback received from the meetings, and develop guiding principles, strategies and specific action items. The Committee also identified community organizations that would either lead or serve in a supporting role in implementing the individual action items. Finally, the Committee prioritized each of the action items into short (0-2 years), mid (2-5 years) and long-range (5+ years) timeframes for implementation.
Upon completing the draft recommendations, Committee members reached out to the community organizations tasked with implementing specific action items to discuss the action items and to secure commitment from them for ownership of implementation responsibility. Meetings were conducted with the superintendents of the County’s three public school systems, the Catawba Valley Community College president, managers of the County’s municipalities, and leadership of the Economic Development Corporation, Chamber of Commerce, Western Piedmont Council of Governments and Farm Bureau. This step helped ensure broad-based community support for the Plan and commitment from those entities to either take the lead or be responsible for assisting in implementing the Plan’s recommendations. Just as the Farm & Food Sustainability Working Committee is recommending that the Board accept responsibility for ensuring implementation of action items where lead responsibility has been specifically assigned to County departments or agencies, the Working Committee is recommending similar consideration and acceptance from the other major partners referenced above and identified in the plan. These conversations are currently underway.
Following is a list of the action items where the County will serve in a lead role to implement:
All activities have been completed. A total of twelve clients utilized this program in the Greater Hickory Area. Of the twelve clients, ten purchased a home in Catawba County and two in Alexander County. CDBG funds financed the total project costs. The grant paid $10,000 in administrative costs and $42,486.30 in down payment assistance. The County will be de-obligating $17,513.70 of the $70,000 grant. The original grant targeted 30 clients to receive this assistance. The weak economy and budget cuts within USDA, where most of the lending comes from for the purchase of a house, made it difficult for clients to purchase a home.
B. The Board will conduct a public hearing to receive citizen comments regarding the closeout of the 2012 NC Tomorrow Project Grant and consider authorizing the submission of all documents necessary to close out this project. Catawba County received a pass-through $50,000 CDBG Planning Grant from the N.C. Department of Commerce, Division of Community Assistance, in 2012 to serve as the regional lead for the NC Tomorrow Initiative. This CDBG Planning Grant led to the creation of a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy 2012 for the Hickory Metro Region (Alexander, Burke, Caldwell and Catawba Counties).
The purpose of the project was to work with all communities across North Carolina to build a statewide economic development strategy. The initiative was grounded in the needs of each local community, built up to the regional and statewide level, with the ultimate outcome being a statewide economic development plan. The statewide plan, when completed, will serve as a “blueprint” for growth and community development. Local governments were not required to endorse or approve the plan. The regional plan is available for review on NC Tomorrow’s web site at www.nctomorrow.org. All activities and requirements of the grant have been completed and all of the funds have been expended. The grant paid $5,000 in administrative costs and $45,000 in technical services.
Staff requests approval for the following preferred alternates: 1) Mohawk Carpet - A finish schedule using Mohawk Carpet products has been developed and approved by the design team as the basis of the conceptual design. The color selection for the carpet is the key to the selection of all interior finishes and a substitute carpet would significantly change the interior design of the project. Mohawk Carpet will help achieve LEED requirements for the project. The carpet is manufactured 213 miles away, which will contribute to receiving a regional materials credit. The carpet is manufactured with 38% pre-consumer recycled content and is recyclable; 2) Corbin Russwin H2 Locksets which are used throughout most County buildings and are therefore a preferred product to maintain consistency; 3) Decorative Window Film - Decorative Window Film by Solar Graphics is requested as a preferred alternate. As with the carpet, the colors available are unique to this manufacturer. Though colored resin panels could be substituted in the application, they cost many times more than what is proposed. Decorative window film will be used outside a youth area to give the appearance of bookends, but will allow eyesight into the space, and 4) High Volume Low Speed Ceiling Fan - A high volume low speed ceiling fan by Delta T Corporation is requested as a preferred alternate. No other high volume low speed ceiling fan manufacturers make products suited to non-industrial applications like libraries, in which this manufacturer has several installations. Use of a non-suited fan would cause comfort problems and could cause significant ceiling re-design.
The preferred alternates will be discussed at a pre-bid conference for this project. As of this date, the proposed timeline is to bid the project in late April 2013. All general contractors will be prequalified and the building should be completed in May 2014. The Board’s Finance and Personnel Subcommittee recommends approval of these preferred alternates.
B. The Board will consider declaring a 2005 John Deere 850J Dozer as surplus and authorizing its sale by electronic public auction. The landfill recently purchased a new dozer to replace a 2005 John Deer 850J Dozer as part of an equipment replacement plan. The 850J is eight years old, has over 14,000 hours and is no longer needed to operate the Landfill. North Carolina General Statute 160A-270 allows public agencies to conduct electronic auctions for the sale of real or personal property. When the value is expected to exceed $30,000, an advertisement is required that describes the property to be sold and the electronic address where information to participate in the bidding process may be found. Catawba County has been using GovDeals.com electronic auction service to sell items since August 2003. Landfill equipment is a popular item listed on GovDeals by governmental entities across the United States. GovDeals will assist in advertising the sale and contacting previous bidders for similar equipment. The Board’s Finance and Personnel Subcommittee recommends declaring this dozer as surplus and authorizing its sale by electronic public auction.
As a result of researching an issue regarding how fire taxes were collected, maintained and used, the County Attorney discovered that fire tax districts had been established in a variety of ways between 1960 and 1975. Most districts were created pursuant to North Carolina General Statutes, which involved an election. Of those created through election, some of the fire tax district boundaries cannot be identified because a map or written description could not be located. In other cases, there isn’t clear evidence as to how some districts were created. Over the years, working in conjunction with fire departments, staff made recommendations to the Board based on what was believed to be providing the best fire protection to citizens. Because boundaries have changed over the years, there are some areas where fire taxes have been collected without the proper authority and other areas where fire taxes have been collected, but not used in the original fire tax district created by election. No one intentionally created this problem. However, now that the County and fire departments have knowledge of the problem, it is incumbent upon both parties to take corrective action as allowed by State law.
Staff has researched the options available to become compliant with State law. There are two options. First, North Carolina General Statute 69-25.11 provides a statutory mechanism to make changes to fire tax districts established by election. According to the University of North Carolina Institute of Government, “…this procedure can be so complicated as to be almost unusable”. Generally, this process involves a petition of two-thirds majority of the property owners of the impacted area(s), approval of a majority of the board of directors of the corporation(s) that provides fire protection for the area, and approval of the Board of Commissioners. The County’s situation is further complicated by some specific challenges including no clear evidence as to how some districts were created, some fire tax district boundaries cannot be identified because a map or written description could not be located, and some fire tax districts may have been established or modified without following the requirements of the statutes.
The second option involves the development of County Fire Protection Service Districts. This option is much simpler and immediately brings all districts into compliance with State law. After careful analysis, and with the goal of coming into full compliance with the law, staff recommends the establishment of fourteen individual service districts precisely identical to the current fire response/insurance districts for all unincorporated areas in Catawba County. This would immediately bring all districts into compliance. Citizens would not experience a change in their tax rate nor the service level they receive.
Procedurally, implementation of this recommendation requires the following: the Board of Commissioners establishes fourteen service districts pursuant to Article 16 of Chapter 153A of the North Carolina General Statutes; the Board of Commissioners sets the current fire tax rate at $0 in all existing fire tax districts when adopting the upcoming budget; then the Board of Commissioners sets a rate equal to the current fire tax rate for each new service district when adopting the County’s Fiscal Year 2013-2014 budget.
With County budget adoption proposed for June 3, 2013, the following proposed timeline provides compliance with the statute for implementation: April 15, 2013-Board of Commissioners adopts a resolution stating that property taxes within a district may not be levied in excess of a rate of fifteen cents on each $100 of property valuation for fire protection. This rate limitation is the same as the current rate limitation of fifteen cents on each $100 of property valuation for fire protection; April 22, 2013-Publish first notice of public hearing; April 29, 2013-Publish second notice of public hearing; May 20, 2013-Board of Commissioners conducts a public hearing and adopts a resolution establishing service districts; June 3, 2013- adoption of FY 2013-14 County budget including setting current fire tax rate to $0 and setting new fire protection service district rates equal to the current fire tax rate.
On March 21, 2013, County Manager Tom Lundy, Emergency Services Director Bryan Blanton and Assistant Emergency Services Director Mark Pettit met with fire chiefs, fire department board of directors’ presidents, and city/town managers to discuss this situation and proposed solution. During the meeting, some fire departments requested language be added to fire department contracts specifying that before any fire protection service districts were changed that consultation would take place with the affected fire departments. County Attorney Debra Bechtel and Bryan Blanton met with Kara Millonzi, Associate Professor of Public Law and Government at the UNC School of Government on March 25, 2013. Professor Millonzi said North Carolina law does not allow the Board of Commissioners to contract away its responsibility for making changes to fire protection service districts. However, she affirmed that the County can agree to consult with fire departments prior to any changes being made. Language addressing this will be added to fire department contracts. The Board’s Policy and Public Works Subcommittee recommends approval of this resolution allowed under North Carolina law entitled “Authority for Rate Limitation in Certain Districts – Alternative Procedure for Fire Protection Districts”.
CONTACT: DAVE HARDIN, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER 465-8464
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