PREVIEW OF COUNTY COMMISSION AGENDA
DECEMBER 15, 2008, 7 P.M.
ROBERT E. HIBBITTS MEETING ROOM
1924 COURTHOUSE, NEWTON, N.C.
The Catawba County Board of Commissioners will consider proposed 2009 State and Federal Legislative Agendas with the Board’s top goal being to seek from the North Carolina General Assembly an increase in the Homestead Exclusion that provides property tax relief for senior citizens to $35,000; goals for the Board of Commissioners for Fiscal Year 2009-2010 and the awarding of a bid for new Permit Center application software that will connect the County and seven of its municipalities to the same permitting software and provide additional enhanced services, when the Board meets at 7 p.m. on Monday, December 15, 2008, at the 1924 Courthouse at 30 North College Avenue in Newton.
The Board will also receive a report on the County’s Fiscal Year 2007-08 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report and an independent audit of the County for FY 2007-08; consider creating a new position for the Register of Deeds Office to work with the scanning and indexing of vital records; the approval of a new job classification for the Sheriff’s Office entitled Senior Investigator, to assist the County in retaining well trained officers by providing experienced investigators with an opportunity to advance to a more senior role; an agreement with Mental Health Partners to continue providing substance abuse treatment services to persons enrolled in programs of the Criminal Justice Partnership Program; a final settlement of funds, due to Mental Health Partners from Catawba County, as the former County Mental Health Services Department transitions to the role of stand-alone agency as Mental Health Partners; a budget revision to account for funds committed for specific projects for fiscal year 2007-2008 which remained unspent at the end of the fiscal year; the awarding of a contract to work with other area counties to fund a new flyover to update the County’s Geospatial Information System (GIS) and a contract for oblique photography associated with the GIS flyover, which will provide side angle views of each structure seen in the GIS system; the appropriation of funds, in partnership with other area local governments, to create additional staffing at the Western Piedmont Council of Governments to provide counseling and assistance for those facing foreclosure; and an amendment to the Memorandum Of Understanding regarding the County’s Rural Planning Organization that addresses attendance at Organization meetings.
A. The Board will consider a request to create a new position for the Register of Deeds Office to work with scanning and indexing of vital records and an appropriation of $18,500 to cover salary and benefits for the remainder of the current fiscal year. During the County’s fiscal year 2008-09 budget process, the Register of Deeds requested a full time position to complete the scanning and indexing of vital records. This work is necessary in order to ensure backup of these records and make them available in computerized format for public access. The project involves the records of births and deaths back to 1913 and marriages back to 1842. Scanning work has been completed back to 1999 for marriages and deaths and to 1945 for births. The use of temporary part-time help has created some problems with training and continuity, increasing the time needed to complete this project. A full time Deputy Register of Deeds position would cost $37,000 annually, including benefits, and would complete the work in 2 ½ to 3 years. The Board’s Finance and Personnel Subcommittee recommends approval of the addition of this full time position.
B. The Board will consider establishing a new classification, Deputy Sheriff-Senior Investigator. Adding this new classification will provide current Sheriff’s Office investigators with a career path and give the County an avenue to retain well-trained officers. Twenty-six investigators have either transferred to other departments within the Sheriff’s Office, gone into private investigations, moved on to federal or state law enforcement, or retired since 2000. Retention of these valuable investigators, and the knowledge and education they possess, will result in more successful prosecutions. Eight investigators are presently on staff and three are being considered for this promotion. Since the remaining investigators are relatively new to their positions, further promotions would not be anticipated for at least two years. The Finance and Personnel Subcommittee recommends approval of the establishment of the new classification as outlined above.
C. The Board will consider entering into an agreement with Mental Health Partners to continue providing services for substance abuse consumers enrolled in the Criminal Justice Partnership Program (CJPP), and the appropriation of $122,893 in anticipated funds for those services. The County has routinely received State dollars to fund the CJPP. These funds were previously accounted for in the Mental Health Department budget, but with the department’s transition away from the County Government to become Mental Health Partners on July 1, 2008, those funds were not included in the current year County budget. The Finance and Personnel Subcommittee recommends approval of the agreement with Mental Health Partners to continue providing services for substance abuse consumers enrolled in the CJPP and the appropriation of $122,893 in the current year budget for this purpose.
D. The Board will consider a proposed amendment to the Rural Planning Organization (RPO) Memorandum of Understanding between the Town of Taylorsville, Alexander County, Burke County, Caldwell County, Catawba County, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) and the Western Piedmont Council of Governments to help the RPO meet quorum requirements and to fulfill NCDOT requirements. The original Memorandum established an RPO in the Unifour area and specified the RPO's geographic area, mission, eligible functions, local membership, staffing, funding, level of NCDOT participation, and other procedural and operational issues. Staff and the Board’s Policy and Public Works Subcommittee recommend the Memorandum be amended to include a section that states: "Any member who fails to attend, or make arrangements for an alternate to attend, two (2) consecutive meetings will be designated as occupying a vacant seat which will not count towards a quorum. Attendance at future meetings will reinstate the member."
WESTERN PIEDMONT COUNCIL OF GOVERNMENTS
The Board will consider a request that Catawba County join with other local government agencies to fund the cost of additional staff for the Western Piedmont Council of Government (WPCOG) to provide foreclosure counseling and assistance. In response to the dramatic rise in the number of foreclosures in our region, the county and city managers in Alexander, Burke, Caldwell and Catawba Counties have requested that the WPCOG provide a proposal for funding additional staff for a Mortgage Counseling Program. The dramatic rise in unemployment has increased the need for mortgage default counseling. Alexander, Burke, Caldwell and Catawba Counties have a larger share of subprime mortgages in danger of foreclosure than many other areas in North Carolina. Catawba County had 834 foreclosures in 2007 which equates to approximately $2.5 million in real estate tax value.
The WPCOG is trying to assist residents with a variety of needs regarding foreclosure. In 2003, the WPCOG began implementing a Home Protection Pilot Program offered by the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency. More than fifty homeowners have benefitted from this program, receiving assistance with mortgage payments while they return to school to learn new job skills. The WPCOG is also a HUD Certified Counseling Agency. Until 2004, staff placed most of its counseling emphasis on home ownership and reverse mortgage counseling. Because of the changing economy, the direction of the counseling program has changed. Assisting clients with delinquent mortgages is the most labor intensive form of counseling the WPCOG provides. Approximately fifteen staff hours are necessary to complete a successful workout plan or loan modification effort. Since January 1, 2008, 136 families have received foreclosure prevention counseling from WPCOG staff. Four of those families have lost their homes through foreclosure and ten other families are close to losing their homes, but are continuing to work with staff to find a positive solution. The WPCOG is proposing a new housing counselor position to address the increased workload for the Mortgage Counseling Program. The position costs, including salary, benefits and indirect charges, total $64,750. These costs, as well as a shortage of $7742 for existing foreclosure counseling activities not covered by grants, are proposed to be allocated to local governments based on population. The projected cost for Catawba County for the remainder of this fiscal year is $7962.01, with a projected cost for Catawba County for fiscal year 2009-10 of $15,924.02. The Board’s Policy and Public Works Subcommittee recommends the approval of Catawba County’s share of funding for this additional WPCOG staff.
1. The Board will consider awarding a bid for a multi-jurisdictional permitting and inspection system to EnerGov Solutions, LLC in the amount of $575,668. The County’s current permitting system, made by Tidemark, has been used since 1999 to track and maintain permitting and inspection data for several County departments. The City of Hickory also uses the system for many functions. However, the vendor has no plans to update the system and, within three years, it will not function within the County’s technology infrastructure.
The cost to move to Tidemark’s new platform is cost prohibitive, at well over $1 million. For this reason, staff began investigating options for system replacement. The County’s Building Services Advisory Committee and a team from New Hanover County that recently reviewed the permitting process used by governments across the county recommended the County seek ways to better communicate between jurisdictional boundaries and more efficient inspection and permitting processes for construction projects. The goal is to have a shared system that covers not only permitting and inspections, but a full Land Management System that will provide services for planning departments, fire departments, and utility departments for Catawba County and the municipalities of Catawba, Claremont, Conover, Hickory, Long View, Maiden and Newton.
A project team, comprised of representatives from various County departments and the City of Hickory, was formed to develop a Request For Proposals (RFP) to define permitting and inspections system requirements. The RFP was released in June 2008 and proposals were received in July from eight vendors. The top three vendors were further evaluated. Onsite demonstrations were provided for the project team at the Government Center in Newton. After demonstrations and reference checks, the team selected two final candidates: Blue Prince and Energov. Site visits were arranged in Charleston, SC and Goldsboro, NC for the selection team to see the systems in a production environment and interview clients that use the systems daily.
After these site visits, Energov was selected unanimously as the overall best solution to meet Catawba County's goals because the product offers electronic plan review and tight integration with the County’s current GIS system. Both features greatly improve efficiency by making information more readily available. A discounted licensing fee was offered by Energov to better accommodate the project budget. The total cost of the proposed software licensing and implementation services contract with Energov is $575,668. If the Board approves this contract, the project would proceed in two phases: first, the implementation of the system for County and City of Hickory offices, followed by the addition of other municipalities and electronic plan review functionality. Due to the complexity of the current system, it is estimated that the installation of a new system will require 8 to 10 months to complete. The Finance and Personnel Subcommittee recommends the Board award the bid for a multi-jurisdictional permitting and inspections/land management system to EnerGov Solutions, LLC. in the amount of $575,668.
2. The Board will consider a proposed contract with Photo Science for $103,673.65 to update the County’s aerial photography. This project is for color orthophotography. It will benefit County departmental users and the public by updating the photos used in the County’s Geospatial Information System (GIS) and in other uses.
Catawba County has entered into an agreement with the Centralina Council of Governments (COG) to participate in a joint orthophoto project with eight other area counties: Burke, Cleveland, Gaston, Iredell, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, Rutherford, and Stanly. A fly-over to capture the photos will take place in February or March 2009. The County will see a substantial cost savings by participating in this joint project due to an overlap of the counties the vendor will be flying. The participants previously decided to update orthophotography every four years and the early 2009 flyover will be consistent with the planned schedule. New color photos will be delivered in November 2009 and be available to users by the end of 2009. Partnering municipalities will fund 24.1% of the project. The County will fund the project initially, and the municipalities will reimburse the County for their portion of the project.
On August 1, 2008, Request for Qualifications (RFQ) were sent from the Centralina COG to numerous orthophotography firms. Nine qualification statements were received. On September 4, Centralina COG coordinated a conference call with representatives of the participating counties to determine which firms to interview. Four firms were selected for interviews on September 15. The participants unanimously chose Photo Science as the top ranked vendor. Catawba County included in the RFQ a request for pricing to update its land use, impervious surfaces, and transportation layers. The Board’s Finance and Personnel Subcommittee recommends approval of the proposed contract with Photo Science, in the amount of $103,673.65, to update the County’s aerial photography.
3. The Board will consider a contract with Pictometry, in the amount of $94,800, to acquire oblique photography for use with the County’s GIS system. Oblique photography goes beyond the County’s current orthophotography with side angle views of each structure. Emergency services and law enforcement personnel are expected to find this photography valuable because it will give them photos by which they can see buildings from several angles when responding to calls; such as the front door of a house, back door, windows and more. The Communication Center will have the ability to instantly view multiple images of a caller location at the time of call; view each address from multiple angles for entry and escape points; and provide remote guidance to first response crews on potential dangers to neighboring structures or populations. The Economic Development Corporation will be able to provide potential clients with several views and additional detail not available in traditional orthophotography. The County’s Tax Office will be able to use the photography to reduce potential grievances through visual data to support evaluations and notices, and review properties for additions, new construction and permits prior to their field visits. The County’s Planning Office will be able to better evaluate sites for new developments and proximity to neighborhoods, schools, and other structures and view parcels and structures from multiple directions to identify modifications to properties not recognizable from traditional ortho images.
Funding for this project will be similar to the aerial flyover project noted above. All partnering municipalities except the City of Newton have chosen to participate. In emergency situations, Newton public safety officials would have access to these oblique photos. Participating municipalities will fund 19.3% of the project. The County will fund the project initially, and the participating municipalities will reimburse the County for their portion of the project. Pictometry is a single source provider of geo-referenced oblique images and related software. Several of the counties participating in the joint orthophoto project noted above are contracting with Pictometry to capture oblique photography. The Finance and Personnel Subcommittee recommends approval of the proposed contract with Pictometry, in the amount of $94,800.
1. The Board will consider a settlement agreement with Mental Health Partners and the appropriation of $636,888 to Mental Health Partners to finalize accounting activity for fiscal year 2007-2008 and satisfy all financial obligations associated with the divestiture of Mental Health services from the County.
In May 2007, Burke and Catawba Counties jointly contracted with Mental Health Services of Catawba County to serve as the Local Management Entity (LME) for their respective citizens regarding the delivery of mental health services. During the County’s fiscal year 2007-2008, funding for these services occurred through the Catawba County Mental Health Department. On July 1, 2008, both counties merged their mental health, developmental disabilities and substance abuse programs into a new entity, Mental Health Partners, to serve as a multi-county area authority as required by North Carolina General Statute, Chapter 122C. At the end of fiscal year 2007-2008, unexpended funds in the amount of $636,773 remained from LME administrative funds, State/Federal service dollars and miscellaneous earnings. Of that total, $282,276 was attributed to Burke County and $354,497 to Catawba County. These funds will be remitted to Mental Health Partners to continue to provide oversight of mental health services for each respective county. Unexpended funds in the amounts of $115 for Burke County and $41,191 for Catawba County also remain. Catawba County will retain its unused allocation and remit Burke’s share to Mental Health Partners for the total of $636,888. The Finance and Personnel Subcommittee recommends the Board approve the proposed settlement agreement with Mental Health Partners and appropriate $636,888 to Mental Health Partners to finalize accounting activity for fiscal year 2007-2008 and satisfy all financial obligations associated with the divestiture of mental health services from the County.
2. The Board will consider a budget revision to account for funds committed for specific projects in fiscal year 2007-08 that were unspent at the end of the fiscal year. In fiscal year 2007-08, the Board set aside two cents of the property tax rate, approximately $2.8 million, for financing of school and community college construction over a four-year period. Projects planned for the first year were a new Snow Creek Elementary School, improvements and additions to Bunker Hill, Bandys, Hickory and Newton-Conover High Schools and improvements to Catawba Valley Community College. To pay for the first year debt service on these projects, an additional $1.2 million was budgeted in fiscal year 2007-08 for a total of $4,010,010. Due to some bidding delays, the projects weren’t funded until late spring of 2008, which resulted in debt payments not being due until the fall, in fiscal year 2008-09. Therefore, the funds set aside in FY 2007-2008 for debt fell to fund balance on June 30, 2008. These funds need to be transferred to meet this school construction debt service.
In fiscal year 2007-08, the North Carolina General Assembly provided two new revenue options for counties, a ¼ cent sales tax or a land transfer tax. The Board decided to pursue the ¼ cent sales tax to avoid a 3.6 cent property tax increase. The additional revenue would be used to meet pressing needs in the areas of economic development, education, public safety, and water and sewer. The ¼ cent sales tax option was approved by voters on November 6, 2007, to be effective on April 1, 2008. Not knowing exactly when these funds would be distributed from the North Carolina Department of Revenue, the County decided not to budget these funds in fiscal year 2007-08. As of June 30, 2008, funds had been received totaling $1,033,255. These funds will be apportioned in the same manner as in the 2008-09 budget, for school current expense, economic development, court and other needed expansion of the Justice Center, a Public Safety building for the 911 Center, Emergency Operations Center, Emergency Services and Newton EMS base, and future water and sewer needs. The Finance and Personnel Subcommittee recommends the Board approve a budget revision to account for funds committed for specific projects in fiscal year 2007-08, but unspent at the end of the fiscal year.
Items 3 and 4. The Board will receive a report on the County’s independent audit for fiscal year 2007-2008 and on the County’s Comprehensive Annual Finance Report for FY 2007-2008. Paula Hodges of Martin, Starnes and Associates is expected to report that the County remained in sound financial condition, as a result of its conservative approach to budgeting and spending. Catawba County Finance Director Rodney Miller will present the Board with an overview of the County’s Annual Financial Report.
A. The Board will consider proposed 2009 State and Federal Legislative Agendas. Each year, the Board adopts State and Federal Legislative Agendas to highlight those legislative issues that have local importance. The recommended agendas were developed in collaboration with County department heads, the Catawba County School System, Hickory Public Schools, Newton-Conover City Schools, Catawba Valley Community College, Catawba County Chamber of Commerce and the municipalities.
The proposed State Legislative Agenda for the session of the North Carolina General Assembly scheduled to begin on January 29, 2009 includes: 1) support an increase to $35,000 in the Homestead Exclusion income limit that provides property tax relief for senior citizens; 2) oppose the transfer of responsibility of North Carolina’s secondary road infrastructure to counties, the elimination or decrease in current road infrastructure funding levels for municipalities, or the transfer of any State maintained roads to municipalities; 3) oppose any State efforts to force additional unfunded mandates or take away local revenues as a result of the State budget crisis; 4) oppose attempts to eliminate the prohibition on collective bargaining for public employees; 5) support flexible local revenue options to avoid future property tax increases or reduce the property tax rate; 6) support a fairer distribution method in the School Capital Fund Formula and lottery proceeds; 7) support the recruitment of data centers across the State by revising and updating the definition of an “Eligible Datacenter” resulting in the exemption of sales taxes on electricity sold to eligible datacenters; 8) support greater flexibility in the use of E-911 funds; 9) oppose attempts to reduce the property tax base, and place more burden on property taxpayers; 10) support allowing all tier 1 and 2 counties to be eligible for Industrial Development Fund (IDF) infrastructure funding; 11) support increasing IDF funding per job to $15,000 for tier 1 counties and $10,000 per job for all tier 2 counties and increase IDF funding ceiling to $750,000 per project, and other issues that will be mentioned during the meeting.
The proposed Federal Legislative Agenda for the upcoming session of the United State Congress includes: 1) oppose efforts to require collective bargaining for public or private employees; 2) support Federal assistance in the funding of a regional wastewater re-use system which will benefit the Catawba County EcoComplex; 3) support implementation of a streamlined sales tax; 4) support increased local funding, incentives and community-based surveillance and communication systems regarding disease spread related to a pandemic flu threat; 5) support increases in Homeland Security grant funds for bricks and mortar projects (i.e. Emergency Operations Centers); 6) oppose Federal preemption requiring changes to voting equipment, such as House Resolution 811, the “Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2007” and other issues that will be mentioned during the meeting. The Board’s Policy and Public Works Subcommittee recommends the Board adopt the proposed Federal and State Legislative Agenda for 2008.
B. The Board will consider a set of goals for fiscal year 2009-2010. Following polling of individual Board members to determine which goals should be pursued, the Board will consider approving the following goals:
1. Continue strategies to create jobs through educational opportunities to make sure the workforce is trained for tomorrow’s jobs and invest in infrastructure and development of the county’s quality of life. Remain aggressive in recruiting most favored businesses to the area, and developing a multi-jurisdictional business park. Continue implementation of FORESIGHT.
2. Prepare a Fiscal Year 2009-2010 budget which maintains services and momentum as much as possible in light of economic uncertainty and with no countywide property tax increase. Examine planned investments and expenditures in light of the fact that it might be a good time to build but not a good time to borrow funds for building and make sure we have the necessary funds to run required services such as health, safety, and education.
3. Continue customer service emphasis in all departments. Focus on communications efforts with citizens so citizens know what is going on in County government.
4. Begin implementation of Court/Judicial recommendations to improve the justice system and plan for needed additional space.
CONTACT: DAVE HARDIN, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER 465-8464