Feb 282007

It's not candid camera or is it?Have you found watching the our County Commissioners meetings, informative and convenient?

Are you buying more microwave pop-corn?

Did you think our Union County School Board meetings were going to be televised too, Bunky?

Well — not so fast!

It seems some of our board members are camera shy.

A Candid Camera

Did you know, Union County spent a hundreds of thousands of (TAX) dollars outfitting the new county meeting room, with state of the art video recording equipment. Union County, also has it’s own cable access channel with Time Warner Cable — broadcasting 24/7.

Currently the only broadcast is the bi-monthly commissioners meetings. The intention of the commissioners when they authorized the government center remodeling was to provide televised meetings for both the School Board and the Commissioners.

Serve the Taxpayers

The issue of broadcasting School Board meetings and/or work-sessions has been discussed a number of times. Last month, the School Board received training on how to conduct televised meetings — a good start you might think.

As I mentioned, there seems to be a reluctance by some members to move forward, for various reasons — being on television has drawbacks. They have not had a formal vote, but the consensus thus far, tends to be against televised meetings.

But, what’s really important is serving the public and educating parents and taxpayers on the issues effecting their children’s eduction and the health of the school system. As it stands today, only those issues covered by the media see the light of day — that is not enough.

A Parental Reality

Most parents have to juggle work schedules, child activities, traffic jams and household responsibilities. Attending a school board meeting, whose location changes every month is not a option to most. Historically, these meetings are not well attended as they should be.

This doesn’t mean people are not interested. We all have concerns. We all want to be informed!

Personally, I want to hear ‘issues’ discussed by both the board members and public speakers. I want to see School Administration presentations in a timely manner. I want to know what’s going on at other schools.

The video equipment and facilities are in place, lets use them folks. Broadcast the regular monthly meetings at least.

Feb 252007

1960 Studebaker LarkDo you remember these automotive nameplates: Hudson, De Soto, Packard, Rambler, American Motors, Studebaker, Plymouth… Oldsmobile??

They, I am sad to say, are no longer in existence.

I ran across the following article; Business Week:Why Toyota Is Afraid Of Being Number One and it brought to mind a recent flurry of advertisements for Toyota’s Tundra pickup truck. Have you seen the one where the ‘Tundra’ launches down a track, fast enough to beat a pair of ‘massive’ steel doors and then stops in the knick of time at the edge of an abyss? What is the point of that??

Now if dived off the cliff and a parachute popped out, then I’d definitely recommend it to folks living near the Grand Canyon.

The real issue of the article is Toyota’s apparent concern of a buyer backlash should the company become the largest seller of cars and trucks, surpassing GM and the two remaining American manufacturers Ford and Chrysler. The Japanese auto companies have done a terrific job of capturing segments of the market place over the years. Today, the Toyota Camry is top selling car in the US, followed closely Honda’s Accord and Civic models, then the Nissan Altima, where finally the Chevrolet Impala and Malibu models make the list.

The truck market is just like the old days, Ford’s F Series, Chevrolet’s Silverado and Dodge Ram run 1, 2, and 3, where Ford sells more than double number of pickups than Dodge.

We live in a global economy, most of the big foreign manufacturers have US plants. Toyota’s market penetration is greatest on the coasts, but American heartland buyers are still loyal to our Big Three and that’s why Toyota is concerned. They don’t want to alienate those buyers.

What is Toyota going to do, hold back production, slap a ‘Nova’ nameplate on a Corolla? Oops they tried that already.

I have never owned a foreign car. I like the BMW, Volvo and some Mercedes designs, I also like the styling of Infiniti, but even if money was no object, I’d still rather drive a ’63 TBird, a ’69 Riviera, or IROC Camaro or better still a Cadillac Allanté.

Ford, Chrysler and General Motors are going to live or die in the market place, by selling the best products and taking care of their customers, Toyota with one hand tied behinds it’s back won’t help in the long run.

Feb 222007

One of our ever vigilante ‘Scribe readers came across a NC blog site that had quite a bit to say about Union County’s former Republican party chair, frequent EJ editorialist and occasional poster to the Scribe, John Barker. Stirring it up

He evidently stirred up a hornets nest with an editorial in the Durham News and Observer.

    Mr. Barker writes:
    “The wrong choice?

    “Last November, the voters of Durham County were given a choice of candidates for the job of district attorney: a left-wing, liberal idiot who had no political experience or understanding of the job, a civil lawyer who stated he would not serve if he was elected and an experienced criminal lawyer. One in eight voted for the criminal lawyer. The lawyer elected has embarrassed the county so much that Duke University’s early applications have dropped 20 percent and he has turned the case that he campaigned on over to the state’s attorney general.

    “Says a lot about the intelligence of Durham voters, doesn’t it?”

Follow this link to view complete post
LieStoppers: “Levelheaded and Unbiased,” Barker Revisits The Durham DA’s Race

It appears that today’s letter is not the first instance of Mr. Barker arrogantly insulting the intelligence of Durham voters. Mr. Barker, it should be noted, interjected himself into the election campaign by posing as John L. Barker Strategies of Union County and producing a phantom election poll supposedly commissioned, according to Mr. Barker, by Senator Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) and other “powerful people.”

John is well known in Union County political circles and featured prominently in a political ‘tempest’ last fall in the state representative race between incumbent Pryor Gibson (D) and challenger Jimmy Bention (R).

According to the ‘LieStoppers’ posting and documented links, John’s handiwork reaches state wide.

Feb 202007

By JJ Anderson

A county in North Carolina increased its student population growth rate average from a historical average of 2% – 4% to 6% – 10% a year over the past 10 years. For example, 6000 new houses are built in just 2 years from January 2004 to December 2005.

The historical trend of .5 school age children per house also increased to an average of .9 school age children per house. This results in 5,400 new students into the school system over this time period. This is a 10% annual growth rate for the 2 years. Density in abundanceThe school system is 22% over capacity. There is an immediate need to build 1 high school and 1 middle school at a total cost of 85.4 million dollars. In addition, 3 elementary schools need to be built at a total cost of 63 million dollars (21 million each). Total cost for all schools is 148.4 million. This will provide a total of 5,200 seats for the 5,400 new students.

The average home value of the 6000 houses is 225,000 dollars and the property tax rate is .6367 per 100 dollars (the same as Union County). This rate will collect an average of 1,432.58 dollars per home or 8.6 million dollars total per year.

The residents of the 6000 homes learn that the least expensive way to pay for the schools is to take out a bond. They think they can pay for the 5 schools and other community needs with their yearly 8.6 million.

Their Bond Options:

A bond for 148.4 million at a 4.00 fixed interest rate amortized over 15 years will require monthly payments of 1,363984.53 or 16.4 million a year.

A bond for 148.4 million at a 4.25 fixed interest rate amortized over 20 years will require monthly payments of 1,141,868.36 or 13.68 million a year.

A bond for 148.4 million at a 4.50 fixed interest rate amortized over 30 years will require monthly payments of 934,329.71 or 11.2 million a year.

As you can see 8.60 million in taxes does not cover the cost of a single bond option and they still have other school and community needs.

Here is a short list of additional community needs:

School operating cost ( currently this is 64% of the Union County operating budget ), police services and infrastructure, emergency services and infrastructure, park, library, jail, medical cost at jails and at hospitals, governmental staff pay, governmental infrastructure, utility infrastructure animal shelter and insurance.

The problem is not with growth but uncontrolled, unmanaged growth that needs to be subsidized by the tax payers. As a county we continue to need new multi-million dollar bonds every 2 years. These bonds are “rolled into” our county tax rate.

Because of this uncontrolled growth the Union County operating budget (not school building cost) has skyrocketed to 64% of the Union County’s budget. This means, in my example that each year 5.5 million of the 8.6 million goes to school operating budget for the 5,400 students. Now the 6000 home owner funds are down to 3.1 million in property tax for school bonds payments and community needs. Are you getting the picture ,yet.

With a more managed growth rate we, as a county, could start paying down outstanding bonds. For example, a annual 10% student and housing growth rate will result in the doubling the school needs and number of houses approximately every 7.2 years. However a 3% annual growth rate will double school needs and the number of houses approximately every 24 years. The main problem is the uncontrolled annual growth rate is causing school bonds to mushroom out of control along with school operating cost. There is no time to pay off the capital improvement cost before we add additional bonds and trailers. The growing pile of multi-million dollar bond is factual proof that uncontrolled growth does not pay for it self.

As a community we can not afford to substance this pace. The developers know this fact and instead of a solution or help they wrapped their arms around their consultant’s reports and are spending thousands of dollars on Union County Commissioners to push their agenda.

Just look at the growing number of bonds, school trailers, shake-ups by commissioners, “stories” by commissioners, and the piles of developer money (before and after the election) in the campaign reports to see where Union County is going.

Editor’s note: The preceding post was a comment on another posting. The effort the author made and subject matter, warranted a front page post.

Feb 172007

War of WordsThe war of words over Wesley Chapel’s ETJ is between DFM (Developer Friendly Majority) Commissioners and a small community trying to protect themselves from rampant unmanaged development along it’s borders.

This is not unique to Wesley Chapel, Marvin and Mineral Springs are resisting the same pressures. Isn’t it interesting, that these towns are the first and currently the only towns thus far, with fore-thought to adopt the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance.

‘Smart Growth’ Goldmine

DFM Boards of the past are responsible for the bastardization of county zoning with abominations like ‘Smart Growth’, a contradiction in terms, if there ever was one. In a nutshell, it was term for a zoning ordinance that allowed large and small track developers to build almost 30% more home density than the zoning district allowed — just for adding an one amenity like sidewalks or trees or street lights or trees.

Look at western Union County, the number and size of sub-developments, school overcrowding and traffic gridlock — the legacy of a Board of County Commissioners comprised of developers or beholding to them. There was no master plan to manage growth — it was and is a free-for-all.

Protecting the VIllage

By way of ETJ, Wesley Chapel’s Town Council has sought protection for the community from arbitrary and capricious zoning decisions, historically evident and very likely, given the election results.

The town was formed in 1998, out of fear of being involuntarily annexed by Indian Trail, led by then mayor, later commissioner and current NC-DOT czar, Larry Helms, who had plans to be Mineral Springs’ northern neighbor, by swallowing up every square inch of ground between the two towns.

Out sheer necessity and lack of experience at the time, Wesley Chapel was incorporated with numerous ‘donut holes’ and jetties of Union County zoning jurisdiction in the heart of the village.

As a result, two competing zoning visions and authority existed on land completely surrounded by or adjacent on 3 sides by Wesley Chapel. The recent Union Power and Piedmont Natural Gas zoning controversies are prime examples that drive home the point.(1)

Planning for the Future

One of the much needed and common sense goals of this Village Council is the design and implementation of a ‘Comprehensive Master Plan’ to govern the future development of Wesley Chapel. But, what’s the point of going through the time and expense of such an endeavor, if all it takes is a DFM board of commissioners to throw monkey wrench into the works.

Wesley Chapel sought the one avenue available to it, Extra-Territorial Jurisdiction (ETJ), a law which allows the state or counties, to grant municipalities the authority to apply it’s zoning regulations to unincorporated land in the proximity of a town or city. Traditionally, county zoning has been rural based, much less restrictive, while cities are urban, more specific to use — two very distinct types of zoning.

Unlike Marshville and Wingate, who were granted ETJ powers one mile of their borders by General Assembly, solely on the influence of their Democrat House representative, Wesley Chapel strictly followed the course laid out by state statute. They were granted ETJ over most of the donut-holes and border parcels on their petition. Last week, in the final phase of ETJ adoption, the Village Council voted 4-0 to approve zoning and text changes to the village’s land use ordinances.

Marching Orders

On December 4, 2006, at the inaugural meeting of the new Board of County Commissioners, one of the 4 last minute items added to the agenda was to rescind Wesley Chapel’s ETJ authority granted in the previous term. That is within their right to do so, but a surprise addition to an agenda, not allowing public comment or that of town officials was the kind of arrogance prevalent in every major decision hence.

State statute provides a mechanism for the county to rescind ETJ authority (it) granted to a town, allowing up to two years time before municipality must surrender zoning authority.

The DFM decided to create new interpretation of state statute after consulting, not county attorneys as you’d expect — after all taxpayers are paying for legal advice, but mystery lawyers whose identities are still unknown. Let me say this again. Commissioners Pressley, Baucom and Mills are acting on the legal advice of lawyers who are not being paid by the county, nor accountable to the county.

The resulting action of this highly dubious advice to was to declare on a 3-2 vote, that Wesley Chapels ETJ authority is withdrawn IMMEDIATELY! Forget the 2 years of transition as stipulated by state statue.

Only Legal Recourse

Wesley Chapel acted in the only means available – to take the issue to court, to force the county to adhere to the law.

The proposals offered by Chairman Pressley as a ‘negotiation’ were empty gestures, had no basis in law and meant to only recast the DFM a genteel light.

“Keep in mind who’s making the first steps now, who’s trying to get into litigation… who’s closed the door and who’s left the door open.” was Mr. Pressley’s quote in the EJ.

Rather than languish in uncertainty, Wesley Chapel has chosen to act now. This is the right and honorable course, not only for Village residents, but mostly for the owners of ETJ parcels.

The court will decide the next step.

Local news coverage

From the Charlotte Observer:
Village takes Union County to court

From the Enquirer Journal:
Town sues over ETJ

Press Release
February 15th, 2007
Village of Wesley Chapel

On Thursday, February 15th, Wesley Chapel filed a complaint in Superior Court against Union County and the Board of County Commissioners. This action seeks a declaratory judgment from the court that Wesley Chapel is entitled to extraterritorial jurisdiction. In addition, Wesley Chapel is asking for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to prevent Union County from exercising its Planning and Regulation of Development authority within the ETJ area while the litigation is ongoing. The Village Council of Wesley Chapel believes this action is necessary to resolve confusion among property owners in the Wesley Chapel ETJ area as to the correct governing authority for planning and regulation of development. Further details regarding this action will be released soon.

  1. Union Power applied for a substation permit in Wesley Chapel, was denied after a hearing of almost 30 hours. Union Power seized on the opportunity of a county ‘donut-hole’ and purchased a parcel across the street, where under county zoning – a substation is a use by right, no special use hearing required. PNG, rather than face stricter Village zoning, bought a piece of adjoining property to the power substation as well. []

Feb 152007

How Roads are built

The Rea Road extension project is a lively story with a little something for everybody and pardon my cynicism, it includes the typical Union County prerequisite, catering to a ‘special interest’.

If you haven’t been following this controversy, it’s very convoluted, you almost need program to understand the players and all the facets of the issue.

The Issue

Rea RoadThe plan for the Rea Road extension is to build a new segment from the intersection of Rea Road and Providence Road to NC84 Weddington Road near the 12 Mile Creek Road intersection.

Not only is the controversy surrounding the ‘when’ and ‘how’ the road will be built, but folded in the mix is the effort by Union County’s Chamber of Commerce to convince the MUMPO Board(1) to recommend the project to a higher position on the TIP(2) list, bypassing the will and wishes of Weddington’s town council.

The Twist

The current plan for the Rea Road extension calls for a four lane segment joining Rea to NC 84 built by 2030.

Enter into the picture, a developer with money, who agrees to pave 1800 feet of the 9400 foot extension, but there is a catch. Instead of four lanes, he only needs two lanes to serve his development.

Shazam! We now have a proposal for a two-lane road built by 2013. Amazing how all it takes is a land locked developer to open the coffers of NC-DOT. The state brings $2.3 million to complete the road and open that whole area for more road clogging and school over-crowding development.

By the way, where is that school site donation, Commissioner Candidate Nancy Anderson spoke of last spring?

The Opposition

Weddington’s council majority position is very simple. “Let’s wait until we can get the full pot of money and do the road right the first time,” (Mayor Pro tem Robert) Gilmartin said. “We do want it. We believe there’s a traffic issue.”

Weddington’s position is supported by the town of Stallings(3), who have instructed their MUMPO representatives to vote against the ‘short-term’ abbreviated Rea Road plan.

Enquirer Journal: Weddington council rejects partial funding for road

Charlotte Observer: A key call on Rea’s future

Charlotte Observer: Rea plan bothers towns

Charlotte Observer: Rep for town to say ‘no’ on Rea

Conflict of Interest

If you read the preceding articles from our local newspapers, you’ll note that Union County’s Chamber of Commerce plays an important role in this controversy. I offer no criticism their position, nor their effort to influence the outcome.

I believe, however a ‘conflict of interest’ exists concerning Chamber of Commerce President Larry Helms, who happens to be NC-DOT’s District 10 (covering Union, Mecklenburg County) representative. One need not be clairvoyant to see extraordinary influence welded by Mr. Helms as he wears both hats.

Last night, the MUMPO voted to accept the amended TIP plan and the revised Rea Road project.

  1. Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization [LINK] []
  2. Transportation Improvement Program []
  3. correction: originally the post included Indian Trail as a supporting town, it was not []