Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Davidson Budget: The Downright Ugly

In this third installment of the analysis of Davidson's proposed 2015 budget, we're going deep into the weeds.

If you agree with former Mecklenburg County Commissioner Parks Helms and see small tax increases and spending on pet projects as "just a chicken sandwich and a cup of slaw,"  then you'll probably think this one is being a little picky. We here at aShortChronicle tend to look at these things a bit differently.  The devil is always in the details, and when you're spending other people's money it's easy to let the little things add up.

This one takes us into the realm of Davidson's town planning.

Davidson prides itself on its town planning, and our little town regularly wins awards of all types.  Below is a list of the planning related awards since just 2010:
  • 2010 - Tree City USA 
  • 2010 - Bike Friendly Community - Bronze
  • 2011 - Comprehensive Plan - North Carolina American Planning Association (NCAPA) Planning Award - Honorable Mention 
  • 2011 - Affordable Housing - NCAPA Planning Award 
  • 2011 - Circles at 30 - NCAPA Planning Award 
  • 2011 - 2014 - Fit Community - Bronze
  • 2011 - Walk Friendly Community - Bronze
  • 2013 - Great Main Street Award, North Carolina Chapter of the American Planning Association
  • 2014 - North Carolina Land Trust Government Conservation Partner of the Year Award, Conservation Trust for North Carolina

  • Note: This list does not even include the CDC grant the town received for Health Impact Assessments as mentioned in Part 1 of this series.  That grant was based largely on the town's planning principles.

    Whether or not you agree with the Town's planning ordinance it's hard to deny that among the circle of consultants and "big thinkers" who care about this stuff, Davidson does pretty well at racking up awards.  One would think the ordinance is pretty solid, right?  No need to further polish the apple when it already shines so brightly. Well, apparently not everyone would agree.  Two years ago as part of the 2012-2013 budget, Davidson's Board set aside $75,000 to rewrite the award winning ordinance.  That was extra money, not something carved out of the existing town planning budget.

    Where did that money go?

    It went to hire The Lawrence Group - the well connected architecture and design firm with a local office here in town.

    Back in the late '90s, Assistant Town Manager Dawn Blobaum was a Co-Founder of  The Lawrence Group's NC operation before jumping over to Davidson Town Hall.  Over the subsequent years, The Lawrence Group has done a good bit of work for the Town.  They pulled together the town’s Transit Area Study and Circles at 30 Small Area Plan featured on the firm’s national website.   They also did the design work for $250,000 renovation of the old pump house into the new Parks and Rec offices and the bridge design for the now long stalled Roosevelt Wilson Park new bridge.

    Along with all of the private sector work The Lawrence Group has done in town, it's fair to say they know the planning ordinance well, and they certainly know how to get things through Davidson Town Hall.  It's really not surprising that if any firm was going to be hired to further polish the apple, it would be their team.  In fact, it would really be surprising if any other firm was allowed to do it.

    As of this writing the overall project to update the planning ordinance still is not done.  That's after an $85,000 contract for The Lawrence Group, an untold number of Town Staff hours, and waiting nearly two years after it was budgeted!

    One might think all of that is what makes this "the Downright Ugly" part of this series.  Sadly, it is not.

    This year's FY2015 budget has a small item in there for our Town Attorney also related to this rewrite. 

    $25,000 for our town attorney to review the updated ordinance when it's eventually done.

    That's over and above the $50,000 budgeted annually for Mr Kline's part-time services to the town.

    As a side note, we asked for Mr Kline's previous contract to see what was included in that $50,000 per year he receives.  There apparently isn't one.  Instead, he's paid monthly for the "average hours" worked. 

    So, here you have the Town hiring local experts for a sizable sum of money, and then hiring our own town attorney to review their work and effectively giving him a 50% raise this year over the amount paid on a nonexistent annual contract.  All this happens while the rest of town staff - including our police officers - is budgeted to receive an average raise of just 2%.  Some will receive less.

    Now, that's downright ugly!

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