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Victory for Ignite High Point—yippeee

By a 5-3 vote, the High Point City Council approved Ignite High Point plan for a “library plaza” project at an estimated cost of $2.1 million. The project would “would entail creation of a gathering space in front of the building to host community events and library programming, as well as landscaping, farmer’s market stalls and “pocket parks” in the parking lot.

Finally Ignite High Point catches a break after its usefulness emerged as an issue during last year’s City Council elections.

But citizens are still skeptical about both Ignite High Point and the library plaza project —note the comments beneath HP booster Aaron Clinard’s op-ed stumping for the project. And they have a right to be skeptical —council member Jim Davis —one of the ‘no’ votes’ (along with fellow council members Cynthia Davis and Jason Ewing) noted that “the bulk of the purported funding source for the project — about $5.7 million in two-thirds bonds — was earmarked by the previous council for water line replacement on N. Main Street and other infrastructure upgrades,” adding there were “19 water line breaks on N. Main Street last year.”

What a choice on behalf of taxpayers —“gathering spaces” or core infrastructure.

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W-S—Too white

According to City Council member Vivian Burke, who spoke out as the council considered additional economic incentives for Herbalife to expand its operations in W-S:

…Burke said it was “a shame and disgrace” that the city has spent so many millions of dollars on incentives over the years when “we see how few citizens have opportunities for these jobs.”

..Burke’s complaints about minority hiring went beyond Herbalife. She criticized Winston-Salem Business Inc., the community’s industry-recruitment organization, for not having enough minorities on its staff.

And Burke said that while the city has made big strides over the years in hiring more minorities to work in city government, there are still city offices in which all the employees are white.

“Supervisors will have to do a better job,” Burke said.

The incentives proposal was sent back to the finance committee to be further debated in time for the council’s May 18 meeting.

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Quote of the day…..

From Kevin Hinterberger, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Central North Carolina:

“Local government could find itself cash strapped in a very short time if it was helping every single business.” Hinterberger said.

Hello, Greensboro and Winston-Salem city councils? But the bigger issue surrounding Hinterberger’s comments is the possible demise of Gboro’s 60-year-old Bessemer Curb Market:

Meat and produce are this market’s specialty. But owner Harold Powell isn’t selling it like he used to. He said competition from the nearby Wal-Mart, as well as an aging building that limits what he can sell and a generation less interested in cooking are all hurting his store, which has been open for more than 60 years.

“Honestly, it’s sort of day-by-day,” the 68-year-old Powell said last week. “If things don’t change, we may have to close our doors.”

You guessed it –Powell is pondering going to the city for money to help keep his business afloat. You can probably guess that Powell noted the city’s $250,00 grant to get the Renaissance Co-Op off the ground, not to mention the city’s $100,000 loan to get the Deep Roots co-op going.

Hard to imagine how the city can say no to Bessemer Curb Market should it ask for financial help. It’s an institution, it’s on the east side of town (food desert) and sells fresh, healthy food —including hog jowl and souse meat. Besides, the city said ‘yes’ to the other grocers….

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Fresh air in Forsyth County

Winston-Salem Journal reports air quality in Forsyth County is —-according to the hed—-“seen as getting better”:

First the good: All counties in North Carolina for which soot data was available got an A or a B. In Forsyth, the level of soot, or particle matter, was good enough to receive an A.

Now the bad: The level of smog, or ozone, in Forsyth over the same period received an F. Only four other counties received the same grade for ozone levels: Lincoln, Mecklenburg, Rowan and Wake. Ozone data was not available in 65 counties.

Knew there had to be some bad news in there somewhere, and of course the remedy “is to see eventually is changes – changes in transportation, how far we drive, how often we drive….”

Good luck with that. Of course there is the alternative of dodging the big rigs in PART’s “park and ride lot.”

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Faircloth has plenty of company alright

N&R calls Rep. John Faircloth’s police video bill a “shortsighted view”:

The bill would ban most police camera footage from public viewing by making it available only to police and to defendants in criminal cases. Faircloth’s bill concerns police video, not bystander recordings. But the same principle applies: Seeing is believing — and knowing what actually occurred, not what someone said has occurred.

Faircloth, a retired chief of police, proposes in his bill that body camera video would no longer be shielded from the public as a personnel record. This means an officer does not have to consent before a video depicting his or her actions could be made public. Yet, the bill also classifies the video as “record of police investigations,” meaning individual police departments would decide whether and which videos could be released. Evidence of police conduct would be placed … squarely in the hands of the police.

The bill is especially relevant in Greensboro, which has been one of the first police departments in the nation to equip all patrol officers with cameras. But the footage generally has been unavailable to the public, which defeats the primary purpose of having police cameras in the first place: the building of community trust.

Unfortunately, Faircloth has plenty of company. Among 87 police-camera-related bills in 29 state legislatures, reports The New York Times, 15 would restrict public access to footage.

Look if the N&R is against the bill that’s fine — they have their opinion, I have mine, you have yours. But this is also a very complicated issue —state laws surrounding police personnel files don’t help matters any. Unfortunately the N&R editorial comes across less as an opinion on the merits of the bill than another cheap shot at Faircloth, whom we know the N&R doesn’t like anyway due to his refusal to denounce Sen. Trudy Wade’s bill restructuring the Greensboro City Council in knee-jerk manner.

N&R leaves out a couple of things in the editorial— the paper cites the NYT article reporting the “flurry of bills” in state legislatures relating to police body cameras; read the article and you’ll see the gist is the legal complications surrounding the videos, including the burden on some local police departments when “anyone” can make a public records request for “any and all video shot by a police officer.”

But more importantly, the N&R fails to mention that Faircloth’s bill passed the House by a 115-2 vote. Lot of Democrats in there, including Gboro’s own ultra-liberal Rep. Pricey Harrison. In addition, a Fayetteville defense attorney who represents families of people of killed by law enforcement says the bill “is a huge improvement in leveling the playing field and affording access and transparency for those who have an interest in the unedited particulars of a citizen and police encounter.”

So yeah I’d say John Faircloth has plenty of company alright.

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Green energy economics

Elon University has installed a 9,000-plus solar panel farm on the south end of campus in an effort to “teach our students the economics behind solar energy production,” according to a university spokesman. A neighbor says even if “the panels are a bit of an eye sore,” she’s happy to see the university spread it considerable “wealth of resources and money.”

Semi-related green energy economics– when condensation freezes up your environmentally-friendly furnace, take a bucket of hot water outside and pout it over the pipe, even if you walk with a cane.

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Forsyth County raises debt limit, lowers fund balance

By separate 5-2 votes, Forsyth County Commissioners raised the county’s debt ceiling while lowering its fund balance. Commissioners Gloria Whisenhunt and Richard Linville were the ‘no’ votes on both motions:

Under the old debt policy, the board could only spend up to 15 percent of the county budget on debt payments, or 16 to 16.5 percent if you didn’t factor in revenues like lottery funds that offset debt.

The limit is now 18 percent, which gives commissioners more debt capacity to work with as they plan out capital projects for the next several years.

The board decreased the amount it has to keep in unreserved fund balance at the end of each year from 16 to 14 percent of the coming year’s budget. Excess funds can be used for capital or economic development projects.

Forsyth County chief financial officer Paul Fulton said raising the limit to 18 percent just gives them some capacity so the county is not bumping up against the limit. Taxpayers should hope that raising the limit doesn’t give commissioners permission to bump up against the higher ceiling. But never assume.

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Gboro daughter does well

Forget all the politics —at least for now — congrats to Greensboro native Loretta Lynch, our country’s 83rd attorney general.

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McCrory’s big bond bite

JLF chairman John Hood on Gov. Pat McCrory’s $2.8 billion bond proposal:

As I read down the list of infrastructure projects the Connect NC bonds would fund, I saw many undeniable needs and high priorities. There were $15 million worth of renovations and expansions of the state’s courthouses. There were essential repairs to aging state office buildings. There was $11 million to repair or replace roofs at historic sites and other Cultural Resources facilities across the state, a need to which any recent visitor to these locations can readily attest.

But I also saw many projects that raised red flags. Keep in mind that every dollar of debt the state incurs to build or renovate something represents more than a dollar in principal and interest over the term of the bond that can’t be used for state operating expenses — including core services such as public safety and education — or left in the hands of private households and businesses to spend on their own operating and capital needs.

….If the referendum were held today, I’d probably vote yes on the highway bonds and no on the infrastructure bonds. State lawmakers should boil the latter down to essentials before placing them on the ballot. Right now, they’re biting off more than North Carolina taxpayers can chew — and stomach.

N&R breaks down Gboro’s university wish list, priorities including a a new School of Nursing building for UNCG ($124.8 million) and a new College of Engineering building for N.C. A&T ($104 million).

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Sales tax hike rears its (ugly) head

N&O reports on proposed legislation that would allow cities and towns to enact their own quarter-cent sales tax hike:

The bill’s sponsor, House Finance Chairman Jason Saine, said the House is looking at the idea in context with other sales tax legislation. In the Senate, Republicans want to change how sales taxes are distributed among counties, and they’re considering an expanded list of services that would be subject to the tax.

“If counties and municipalities can make a case that that’s something that they need,” Saine said, “the bill is filed.”

Saine’s bill, House Bill 903, would also allow counties to enact their own quarter-cent sales tax increases – an alternative to a Senate GOP plan that would redistribute sales tax revenue based on population. In areas where both cities and counties take the option, the sales tax rate could rise by 0.5 cents per dollar of sales.

The hope here would be —even in light of legislative plans to redistribute sales tax revenues —is that some cities (at least) would determine that they don’t need the extra revenue. But I never hold my breath that will happen.

Key point —“only a public hearing – no referendum or other voter decision – would be required” to hike the sales tax.

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