Monday, May 27, 2019

Development approvals on Tuesday's Davidson Board the wrong place

Davidson's Board agenda for Tuesday, the day after a holiday weekend, includes a lengthy number of items in the "consent agenda" portion of the evening.

Per the UNC School of Government, "a consent agenda is used for board approval of matters that do not require individual consideration or discussion. Matters are listed and voted on as a group, and the single vote constitutes legal action on each matter." 

The website describes items typically appropriate for consent agendas this way. (Emphasis added.)

The types of items that appear on a consent agenda are non-controversial items or routine items that are discussed at every meeting. They can also be items that have been previously discussed at length where there is group consensus. The following items are typically found on a consent agenda: 

  • The meeting minutes
  • The financials
  • CEO report
  • Program or committee reports
  • Staff appointments
  • Volunteer appointments
  • Committee appointments
  • Correspondence that requires no action
  • Perfunctory items-formal approval of items that had much past discussion

On the Davidson agenda document itself it actually defines the consent section as follows

"CONSENT - Consent items are non-controversial and routine items. Prior to the board's adoption of the meeting agenda the request of any member to have an item moved from the consent agenda to old business must be honored by the board. All items on the consent agenda must be voted on and adopted by a single motion."

By the above definitions it was a surprise to many in town who regularly pay attention to these things, to see two critical votes for two new development projects tucked away under consent.  These were for two new development projects requiring Board approval for water-sewer extensions under the recently clarified policy.

One extension is for a roughly 81 unit townhouse project on the old Hoke Lumber site between Jetton Street and Catawba Avenue.  The other is for an extension to support 15 single family homes off of Kistler Farm Rd on the east side of town.

Considering the effort the Board took just last year to clarify the policy for how these extensions are approved, it is hard to see any such extension vote would be considered appropriate for a consent agenda.  It is particularly hard to see this for the Hoke Lumber site which is near the Potts Development currently in the court system over just such an extension vote.  In that case the Board did not approve, sparking a litigious response from the developer.  Almost by definition the proximity makes the Hoke site controversial for a project of this density.

More importantly, there is the issue of trust.  Slipping these kinds if things into consent agendas is damaging to the public trust.  It just shouldn't happen.  Even if there is no ill intent, it looks bad.

The Board has the opportunity to correct this on Tuesday by pulling these from the consent agenda and addressing them separately, and aShortChronicle guesses that will likely be the first order of business. 

It is time to end the Mi-Connection Tax

The last Board meeting on May 14th saw a spirited discussion among Commissioners about the possibility of addressing what has become a long-standing sore point in the Town budget - the exorbitant solid waste fees charged in Davidson - fees that were implemented in the early days of the Mi-Connection debacle to free up money to pay subsidies needed to keep an ill thought out idea afloat.

Those fees have become known to many as the "Mi-Connection Tax".

Commissioner Jane Campbell raised the subject of these fees as the Board began discussing the proposed budget presented by Staff.  Commissioner Matthew Fort then suggested an overall budget approach of first achieving a revenue neutral tax rate of 28.1c versus the 29c proposed by staff, and then adding roughly 4c to the rate to cover solid waste while eliminating the solid waste fee itself.

Technically, this approach doesn't eliminate the "Mi-Connection tax" because it brings in the same overall dollars to the Town.  Only eliminating the fee and keeping the tax rate at revenue neutral would get rid of the "tax" entirely.  However, getting rid of the fee does return the Town to a less regressive tax setup similar to what it had before Mi-Connection came along.

aShortChronicle has long followed these solid waste fees and the ill feelings they've generated and has endorsed getting rid of them.  See the below stories for that history.

Seeing the idea of removing this fee being given serious consideration is refreshing.  However, it remains unclear how much support there is among Board members for doing it now other than Commissioner Fort. 

There was talk of making this year the last year before addressing next year.  There was also concern about impact to the 50 some odd lower income/elderly households currently exempt from the fee who would pay a something if this was added to the property tax rate.  There was also concern raised that commercial properties would be impacted more significantly by this approach since they would be paying higher rates on top of much higher average valuation increases from the latest reveal, and they already pay for their own solid waste separate from the Town service.

The argument for doing it now espoused by Commissioner Fort was that rates are already changing this year anyway due to the revaluation and packaging this change into that will reduce the number of future changes needed to the tax rate.  Those future changes include the potential relief from the sale of Mi-Connection and the likely need to adjust for paying any bonds issued for mobility and public facilities projects.

Mayor Knox, while pointing out the tax value increases facing commercial properties, also gave the reason, maybe unintentionally, why this probably should not be a deciding factor.  Mayor Knox, whose family owns multiple Main Street properties, mentioned that rents will likely need to be raised to cover the increase in taxes.  This highlights the fact that commercial property owners have more options in dealing with taxes than most individual homeowners.  While obviously nobody likes tax increases, commercial properties can pass along these costs to be disbursed across the business operations.  Homeowners don't have that option.

Finally, the concern was also raised about the relatively small number of people currently exempt from the solid waste fee who would actually pay something if this was transferred to the property tax rate.  The numbers, 50 homeowners totalling a $3,000 impact were mentioned.  Finding a way to address this would need to be part of any solution, but with such small numbers citizens should expect staff to be able to figure something out.

Here at aShortChronicle, the sincere hope is that this Board finds a way to make this change happen.  Previous Boards haven't been able to do that.  However, if this gets done it would be another significant accomplishment for this Board's first term in office together.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Davidson Police Department Execute Search Warrant for Narcotics Investigation (press release)

DAVIDSON, N.C. – On Thursday, May 23, 2019, officers and investigators with the Davidson Police Department executed a search warrant at 314-B Delburg Street, Davidson related to a narcotics investigation.  Three of the adults present at the residence received citations for drug offenses and were released from the scene along with one minor child.  One subject, a 31-year-old African-American, male, and resident at the address, was arrested on scene.

Investigators are seeking the following felony charges on the arrested suspect:
•  Trafficking in LSD
•  Felony possession LSD
•  Trafficking in Cocaine
•  Felony possession of cocaine
•  Felony possession of methamphetamine
•  Possession With Intent to Sell or Deliver – mushrooms (Psilocybin)
• Felony possession- mushrooms (Psilocybin)
• Maintaining a dwelling for the purpose of storing controlled substances

Over $3000 in US currency was seized from the property. This is still an active, ongoing drug investigation and the arrested suspect’s name will be released when pending charges are finalized with the Mecklenburg County Magistrate.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

New Exit 30 hotel proposal before Board of Adjustment on Monday

As speculated previously, the public hearing signs on the corner of Peninsula/Gateway Drives are for a new hotel project. Per the Town Planning department, the documentation was put up last week.  However, it was put up under the Board of Adjustment page rather than the Development Projects page because the project is seeking a variance for parking.

The documentation can be found here after scrolling to the bottom of the page.  

The highlights of the project are as follows:
  • A six story, 135 room hotel by Wyndham
  • A pair of 2 story 5500 sqft offices buildings similar to the live-work buildings in the area along Gateway Dr.
The developer is seeking a parking variance to reduce parking to 119 parking spots, versus the 217 Davidson's ordinance would require.  This is similar to the variance granted the controversial Griffith Street Hotel.  However, there are some factors to this Wyndham proposal that should make this aspect less of an issue.
  • The street parking included in the Wyndham proposal is slightly less than the Griffith proposal with significantly more being on-site.  The street parking used is also more available because there aren't existing uses in that area that already consume street parking like there is with CSD next to the Griffith site.  Also, the street parking for the Wyndham proposal is accessible.  The Griffith site includes several new spots along Griffith Street itself that will be all but useless for hotel guests.
  • Any "shared" parking at the Wyndham site made available to the hotel per Davidson's ordinance will come from the two new office buildings being built as part of the same overall project.  This makes a lot more sense in the Wyndham location.  Plus, any tenants of these office buildings would know going into a lease or purchase that a hotel would be next door. That's far different than the situation with the Griffith Street Hotel where Woodies had this sprung on them by the Town changing the plan and approving a hotel as conditional on that site with the hotel suddenly including half of Woodies parking in its own plan.
  • The location of the parking is also better relative to the neighboring properties.  The Wyndham proposal doesn't put a hotel and it's parking lot right in several residents' back yards like the Griffith Street proposal.  For that matter the front of the Griffith project also looks into back yards in Spinnaker Cove.
Will everyone be happy with this proposal?  Maybe not, but overall it seems to be a better plan in a better location - a plan much more worthy of approval than what the Town has approved previously on Griffith Street.

The Board of Adjustment hearing is this coming Monday, May 20th, after the regular Planning Board meeting which starts at 6pm in the Board Room at Davidson Town Hall.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Exit 30 hotel property in play?

While driving through the Circles@30 area on Saturday, aShortChronicle noticed the below "Public Hearing" sign, actually there are two of them, at the corner of Davidson Gateway/Peninsula Drive.

The signs caught the attention of yours truly like they always do - mostly because they mean some new development project is in the works.  These signs however, are particularly interesting because of the specific location.

According to County property records, the 3+ acre parcel is still owned by Spectrum Hospitality, a hotel development company with hotels in Wilkesboro, Mooresville, and North Myrtle Beach.  During the long-running controversial Griffith Street Hotel saga, there has been speculation if another hotel vendor entered the market, particularly Spectrum since they owned this particular property, it would possibly change the calculus for pursuing the Griffith Street project.  Many in town believe a site closer to the interstate is better than one sandwiched next to a K-7 school and residential neighbors.

aShortChronicle has inquired with the Town regarding these signs since nothing is on the Town website detailing a new project.  However, if this project is another hotel, that hypothesis may be put to the test.  Check back next week for updates.

Davidson budget proposal only slightly above revenue neutral

Davidson's Board will be presented the staff proposed budget on Tuesday, and according to the agenda item documents it will include a property tax rate slightly above "revenue neutral".

aShortChronicle has previously told readers about the potential for this and what revenue neutral really means to taxpayers.  See here for that previous coverage.  The proposed rate will be 29 cents per $100 in property valuation as opposed to the now official neutral rate of 28.1 cents.  "Neutral" in this case means all things being equal, the Town would bring in the same property tax dollars next year under the new property tax valuations as it did this year under the old valuations.

However, all things aren't equal in this case, so what does this new rate really mean?

Each cent on the tax rate under the new valuations is worth about $261,000 in tax revenue.  At 0.9c above revenue neutral, the Town will bring in $235k more than it would under the neutral rate.  However, that's not the whole story.  Because the neutral rate includes a growth factor and because the town is growing by adding new homes, even under the neutral rate the Town would bring in $319k more in property tax dollars than it did in FY2019.  So, going with the rate above revenue neutral brings in even more revenue than a neutral rate that would have already brought in more revenue.

On top of that, other revenue streams to the Town are growing such as sales taxes, utility franchise taxes, interest revenue and use of the fund balance.  All in all, the Town would have been looking at nearly $500,000 in higher total revenues without resorting to property tax increases above the revenue neutral rate.  That would have allowed for a roughly 4% increase in spending versus the roughly 6% increase in the proposed budget.  Either one would be considered a more than healthy boost to spending, and other than listing new items that weren't included which would have driven spending even higher, there's not a whole lot in the budget docs that shows major efforts at cost cutting.

Now, in fairness this all comes out to not all that much money when looked at on a per household basis, and the Town definitely points that out.  On Page 9 of the presentation document, it shows the  tax impact for a $400,000 house equals $36/year over what the revenue neutral tax would have been.

Would most people prefer to have that $36 for a trip to the Soda Shop, or a couple trips to Whit's or Ben & Jerry's on Main street?  Sure.  However, with this Board still saddled with dealing with a Mi-Connection subsidy of $1 million per year that eats up nearly 8% of the overall budget while also staring at the a big potential pile of money from the revaluation, having a slight increase is not stomach churning or surprising.  The Town is also seeking to offload Mi-Connection, so hopefully there is a real light at the end of that tunnel.  The job market is also as tight as It has ever been, so compensation should adjust.

Here at aShortChronicle the take on this year's budget is it certainly could have been much worse, and likely would have been much worse under the previous Board with the spending plans that group of elected officials had on their agenda.

From that point of view, this year's spending plan can be considered a win by comparison - even with a slight tax increase.