Greensboro Proposes False Alarm Fee Increase

The Greensboro Fire and Police Departments currently lose about $1 million a year responding to alarms that were set off in error. During a City Council work session on May 27, members expressed concern over this waste of taxpayer dollars and proposed two solutions to help recoup some of the funds. At a work session on June 12, Council agreed on a final proposal for the fee changes.

Currently, the City charges a $50 fee for three of more false alarms at a property within a 12-month period. These charges bring in about $120,000 a year and only cover a fraction the cost required to address all the false alarms in the City.

At the May 27 work session Council members proposed enforcing higher fees. The proposal recommended that the City charge a fee of $50 starting with the second false alarm occurrence. This proposal would bring in an estimated additional $180,000 to help cover the public safety cost of addressing false alarms.

Councilman Jamal Fox proposed an even more aggressive fee system that would charge a $100 penalty beginning with the second false alarm. This proposal would increase revenue by an additional $400,000.

Council members felt that while Fox’s proposal was too severe, the revenue from the first proposed fee increase would not be sufficient.

Councilman Zack Matheny suggested a compromise between the two proposals with a $50 false alarm fee beginning with the second instance, and a $100 fee starting with the third occurrence. Council members quickly decided to adopt this Goldilocks option into the recommended budget, which is scheduled for a final vote on June 17.

The City of Greensboro defines false alarms as:

  1. Negligently activated signals that are the result of faulty or malfunctioning equipment.
  2. Signals activated to test the alarm systems that have not been approved by the Greensboro Police Department
  3. Signals that are purposely activated to summon police personnel in non-emergency
situations

Chief Ken Miller recommended that part of the ordinance should emphasize the importance of having property owners register their alarm information with the Police Department.

Winston-Salem currently fines property owners a $100 penalty for false alarms from unregistered units. Otherwise the City charges a $50 fee for the fourth and fifth false alarm occurrence within 12 months, $100 for the sixth and seventh, $250 for the eighth and ninth, and $500 after ten or more occurrences.

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Greensboro Looks for Creative Ideas to Improve Budget

Members of Greensboro’s City Council are brainstorming to find any last-minute ways to decrease City expenditures in the budget before presenting a public hearing on the proposal on June 3.

At a work session on Tuesday afternoon Council members looked for creative solutions that wouldn’t force the City to cut services or City employees.

While Councilman Jamal Fox praised the City Manager for increasing the number of vacation days for City employees from 11 to 12, Councilman Zack Matheny thought it was a bad idea.

“I don’t like that. We’ve already got good vacation here,” said Matheny. “The City needs to be open to the people.”

Fox and Matheny did agree on increasing false alarm fees. The Fire Department currently spends $1 million a year responding to alarms that were set off in error. The current fee is $50 for the second false alarm from a location, but increasing that fee to $100 would make up for that sunk cost.

“People are going to be mad at you,” said Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson to Fox.

Councilman Tony Wilkins offered the suggestion that the City could start charging user fees for leaf collection. Most other members of Council were strongly against the idea and felt the revenue gained from the fees might not even make of for the cost of implementing such a collection program.

“What about selling them oversees then,” said Wilkins, “We have some good nutrient-rich leaves here.”

Wilkins also suggested increasing ticket prices at the Coliseum by $1. Mayor Vaughan was receptive to the idea and agreed with Councilwoman Sharon Hightower that a $1 ticket increase would not deter people from purchasing tickets that are $35 or more to begin with.

The subject of parking at the Coliseum led to Council to another creative solution. Wilkins expressed frustration that you must have cash in the form of singles to pay for parking at the Coliseum and suggested the City create a way for people to pay for parking in advance and with their credit cards when they first buy their ticket online. The City of Raleigh already has a similar system for the Raleigh Amphitheatre.

“This is 2014 and you can’t buy concessions or park with a card,” said Wilkins

Mayor Vaughan liked the idea and even took it a step further by suggesting that Greensboro residents receive preferred parking at Coliseum events.

There will be another work session to review and tweak the recommended budget before its adoption in mid-June.

Hydropower Settlement Reveals $25M Retention Fund in Greensboro

Deliberations over a Piedmont Triad Regional Water Authority hydropower lawsuit settlement caused City Council to review the current $25 million risk retention fund for the city of Greensboro.

Council members expressed concern that residents might continue to sue the city even if the City approved the $1.2 million settlement.

“As long as there are lawyers on the face of the earth, we can’t do anything to protect ourselves,” said Tom Phillips, current Director of Piedmont Triad Water Authority for the City of Greensboro.

Council asked Phillips, a 22-year veteran for the Water Authority, to share his thoughts on whether or not the settlement was fair. “I wouldn’t say it’s fair, but it’s reasonable,” said Phillips

“It appears that a lot of dirty politics played out in this decision,” said Councilman Tony Wilkins. Wilkins then referred to reports that the judge in the case had ruled in favor of a company associated with Senator Kay Hagan’s husband after Senator Hagan had nominated the judge to a lifetime appointment.

“I could talk all night about the things that were wrong with that case,” said Phillips.

Despite the dirty politics the Water Authority had voted in agreement with the settlement almost unanimously.

Ultimately City Council decided that a settlement was in the best interest of the City and passed the item.

“If we vote against this then we are voting against our own interlocal government,” said Mayor Vaughan. “It’s not a great decision but it’s one that I feel we are bound to go with.”

Councilwoman Sharon Hightower then asked where the City would get the money for the settlement. Greensboro City Manager Jim Westmoreland explained that the City has a $25 million risk retention fund to cover liability claims.

This was news to most of City Council, including Mayor Nancy Vaughan. Greensboro City Attorney Tom Carruthers said that the City of Greensboro puts about $2 million into the fund each year.

“That’s a lot of money,” said Mayor Vaughan, who struggled with the reasoning behind maintaining such a large fund that rarely experiences a significant payout.

The fund covers four types of liabilities, including legal protection of City Council members.

Carruthers said that the litigation surrounding the 2006 Duke Lacrosse case had exhausted the City of Durham’s legal resources.

“It sounds like you have seen what other cities keep in their policies,” said Councilwoman Marikay Abuzaiter in defense of Westmoreland’s maintenance of the fund. “This is not just something that’s out of the blue and hasn’t been well vetted and researched.”

Council postponed a vote to continue paying into the resource fund until they could have time to review the fund’s balance history for the last 10 years.

Governor McCrory Announces New Career Pathways for Teachers Plan at NC A&T

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At 10 a.m. this morning in the NC A&T Alumni Center Governor Pat McCrory made fiver major announcements about budget changes to education in North Carolina.

  1. $3.6 million will be used to expand early childhood education
  2. Budget to double state funding for textbooks to $46 million
  3. McCrory will keep his promise of ensuring a base pay of $35,000 for every teacher in NC
  4. All NC teachers can expect to see and average raise of 2% in addition to their base pay
  5. North Carolina will pilot a new Career Pathways for Teachers (CPT) program as a long term pay plan system

All state employees in NC will also receive a $1,000 pay raise.

The CPT plan will provide bonuses to teachers who work in hard-to-staff schools or teach in STEM fields, a 10% raise to teachers who hold advanced degrees in the subject they teach, and a 12% raise for those with National Board Certification.

Teachers will also receive pay increases based on their years of service starting after five years.  The maximum base salary will be $50,000 for any teacher.  Teachers currently making over $50,000 will remain on their current salary schedule.  According to the CPT plan, no teacher will receive a salary reduction.

McCrory said that he doesn’t think it’s right that under the current system the only way teachers can make more money is to become administrators. “Some people are born to teach,” said McCrory.  CPT plans to reward teachers who demonstrate leadership.

McCrory seemed very excited about CPT and said that no other state has a similar program in place and that he hopes North Carolina will “lead the way.”

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“For years, teachers have suffered through little to no pay raises as the state had to endure one of the toughest economic recessions in generations,” said Governor McCrory. “The Career Pathways for Teachers framework reverses that trend with modest raises in the short-term, and a meaningful, long-term plan that empowers teachers to determine their own financial future while at the same time giving local school districts the flexibility to address the most pressing needs of their students and community.”

North Carolina is currently ranked 46th in the country for teacher pay, and McCrory hopes that the combination of short-term pay raises with the long-term CPT plan will make the state more competitive in attracting quality teachers. It seems as though McCrory is trying to apply compensation plan principles from the private sector to public school teachers.

While teachers exceeding expectations will be compensated under the CPT plans, teachers who do not meet expectations will not be eligible for pay raises.

School districts can start applying for funds for CPT during the 2014-2015 school year.  $9 million has been allotted for the Career Pathways Fund which will finance the three-year pilot program for CPT in eight different school districts. Budget Director Art Pope said that the money needed for the Career Pathways Fund is “already built in to the budget.”