Huntersville Board agenda – Nov. 20, 2017

There is a town board meeting tonight at 6:30pm – the pre-meeting starts at 5:30pm. You can view the agenda or download the full agenda packet here. You can watch a live stream of tonight’s meeting at the town’s Ustream page here. I can’t cover every agenda item so I always encourage residents to review these agendas and discuss any items of interest with the mayor or a board member because even a single motivated resident can make a difference on how the votes turn out on some of these.

Some thoughts below on one agenda item in particular – the vote on whether to spend $177,835 to purchase 11 new police vehicles. Later this week I’ll be reposting my very popular series of columns about Small Business Saturday and the buy local movement – you might remember these columns as the ones that resulted in my services no longer being needed at the Herald Weekly. And next Monday I’ll share some thoughts on a former elected official in Huntersville who has been paid at least $92,900 by the town since leaving office.

Other Business:

– Item C: The board will consider whether to approve a budget amendment allocating $177,835 from the general fund balance to the Police Department’s budget to purchase 11 police vehicles.

According to the town’s financial director, as of Nov. 6, 2017 the balance of unspent DOJ/Treasury equitable sharing funds available to Huntersville PD was approx. $395,261. And this is up from the total unspent funds of $347,807.19 just earlier this year in March. The last time HPD spent equitable sharing funds according to the equitable sharing certifications filed with the federal government was in FY 13/14 when approx. $414,704 was used for overtime, communications/computers (the bulk of the spending that year – $399,123.38 for radios) and weapons/protective gear.

According to the Justice Department’s Guide to Equitable Sharing for State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies, law enforcement equipment, including vehicles, is a permissible use of equitable sharing funds. You can read the Guide here – page 16 outlines the permissible uses. This same permissible use is outlined on the equitable sharing certification form. I have attached the most recently filed form for reference.

2017 Equitable Sharing

If you’re unfamiliar with equitable sharing and civil asset forfeiture and why HPD has almost $400K available to spend in addition to the $11.5 million provided by taxpayers in the FY 17/18 budget, you can learn more by reading the Institute for Justice’s Policing for Profit report here.

Why should general fund monies be used to purchase these vehicles when HPD appears to have more than enough in equitable sharing funds to cover the costs? The $177,835 being requested by HPD could go to satisfy many other needs in the town since it is money from the general fund. The equitable sharing funds available to HPD, however, are restricted and can only be used by HPD for law enforcement purposes.

Hopefully those board members willing to question requests from HPD will seek more information from Chief Spruill before voting tonight to allocate monies from the general fund.

Eric

HFFA Progress, But Still No Severance

A quick update on some encouraging news from the new management company at Huntersville Family Fitness and Aquatics that was overshadowed by the local election last week. Swim Club Management (“SCM”) CEO Brian Sheehan made remarks during the public comments portion of the town board meeting last Monday regarding a few key areas of improvement. You can listen to his comments from the Nov. 6 board meeting beginning at the 48:50 mark here.

HFFA now has an updated, more interactive website that you can check out here. The site was updated to better enhance the experience of members and has far more information about the facility, including class schedules, than did the old site.

Membership software has been updated to better track who is entering the facility. In conjunction with updating the membership software, SCM intends to audit membership rolls to help better define the various membership categories available and ensure appropriate revenues are being collected for each membership.

Since taking over management responsibilities in early September, SCM has collected approx. $15K in outstanding membership fees and has reduced NSF (non-sufficient funds)
 charges in each of their first two full months of processing membership fees. NSF fees were typically being assessed under prior management due to old or incorrect credit card information. These fees were being passed along to the town – i.e., the taxpayers. According to Huntersville Finance Director Jackie Huffman, “for the twelve months in FY 2017, declines and chargebacks averaged $17,131 per month, with a high of $22,677 and a low of 11,831. September and October 2017 have been processed at $15,270 and $10,023 respectively.”  SCM anticipates this downward trend to continue due to measures they have implemented to decrease the reliance on credit card payments.

Finally, SCM has added staff in certain areas while at the same time they are projecting annual payroll to be $100K lower than last year. If you add the savings above to the approx. $125K the town is saving just on the management fee alone ($183,564 v. $58,500) SCM has made close to a $250K impact on the HFFA bottom line in just the first two months. But, this is to be expected when you hire a management company who treats taxpayer dollars as they would their own dollars and has an actual incentive to make HFFA profitable.

It’s often hard to tell truth from fiction over the din of local elections, but it’s hard to argue with the numbers SCM is producing in just their first two months at HFFA.

And while we’re on the topic of HFFA – why has the town still not paid a termination fee to the prior management company for 6 months base management fees and for severance? The town was sent demand letters over two months ago by nine individuals with a payment deadline of Sept. 15, 2017, and we’re well past that deadline. It seems pretty easy to figure up the 6 months of base management fees total – $183,564 annual, so $15,297 x 6 = $91,782. Maybe it’s the 8 weeks of severance that is the sticking point. (You might remember the severance language being added to the last minute contract rushed through immediately prior to the 2015 elections…) Again, seems like that would be an easy calculation, so why didn’t those demanding severance just ask for a specific figure in their demand letters? Is it possible no specific figure was demanded so the public wouldn’t find out how much certain members of the prior management company were being compensated?

Funny thing, I saw a figure of $200K cited by at least two people during the recent campaign as the cost to taxpayers for severing ties with the former management company at HFFA – Joe Sailers and Jeff Neely (who currently lives in Davenport, FL where he enjoys making up fake news). No basis was ever provided for this figure despite my requests for more information. It’s almost as if the figure was completely made up as a campaign tactic to damage the four candidates who voted in support of a management change at HFFA. Even if you add the management fee total of $91,782 and the total severance demand of $95,287.29, you only come up with $187,069.29. And that’s assuming the town would ever pay severance to all nine individuals – which, hopefully, the town will not.

HFFA has cost Huntersville taxpayers millions since it opened – not even including the millions in property taxes sacrificed by the town board in July 2000 when they agreed to allow Duke Power to extend the term during which McGuire Nuclear could not be involuntarily annexed into Huntersville in exchange for accelerating tax equivalent payments to the town so HFFA could be built. If you’re reading this and didn’t live here in 2000 which is very likely, the town board members in July 2000, according to Meck BOE records, were Alex Barnette, Tim Breslin, Charles Guignard, Bill Pugh, Jr., and Jill Swain – along with Mayor Randy Quillen. Interestingly, the minutes from the meeting when this agreement was voted on have still not been located…

Let’s hope the positive trends at HFFA under SCM continue so maybe Huntersville taxpayers will be able to use those hotel/motel funds currently going to HFFA for something else one day other than subsidizing exercise.

Eric

Dishonest Politicians – Boone Edition

One of the primary reasons why so many people dislike so many politicians – they’re dishonest.

Local election results are in and Huntersville will have two new commissioners starting next month. But before moving on from this election, I wanted to write about one specific mailer from the campaign that has been bothering me since I received it this past Saturday – after I had already cast my ballot during early voting.

Commissioner Dan Boone sent out a large mailer on the last weekend of the campaign paid for by the Dan Boone Election Committee. On one side was a list of four reasons to vote for the candidate, but on the other side one specific “accomplishment” was prominently displayed – “The ONLY Town Commissioner to Attend ALL Town Board Meetings!”

This is completely false.

The mailer doesn’t say the only commissioner to attend all parts of all meetings, nor does it say the only commissioner who wasn’t late to any meeting. It says the only commissioner to attend all meetings.

I reviewed the minutes of every meeting of this board from Dec. 7, 2015 through Oct. 16, 2017 (minutes are not yet available for the Nov. 6, 2017 meeting – but all commissioners were present) and Commissioner Boone was present for all meetings, but so was Commissioner Guignard. Commissioner Guignard was late, however, to two meetings: Sept. 19, 2016 and Sept. 18, 2017. The reason he was late to those two meetings – he was performing his duties at the yearly Angels of ’97 charitable golf tournament.

And if you were wondering, over the past two years Commissioner Bales missed one meeting (Nov. 21, 2016), the mayor missed one meeting (Oct. 2, 2017), and Commissioner Phillips missed three meetings (Feb. 1, 2016, July 18, 2016*, and August 1, 2016*). Of course, two of the three meetings missed by Commissioner Phillips were directly related to the serious injuries he received after being hit by a truck – but I guess that’s still no excuse for missing town board meetings.

Besides his claim being completely false, simply being present is not actually an accomplishment in the real world. The town board is not like elementary school where we reward children for perfect attendance (which is really an award that should be given to parents of those children…). Companies don’t cease to function if their employees are late to work or take a day off – and neither does the town board.

Here’s something to consider – if Commissioner Boone had actually missed the June 6, 2016 meeting, we would have had a lower tax rate in Huntersville for at least one year. Reminder – Commissioner Boone voted against a lower tax rate at that meeting and the budget was passed after the mayor broke a 3-3 tie.

As everyone is very aware, Commissioner Boone agreed to run as part of team this election. By running a mailer with a false claim, he placed himself above the team by criticizing the other three members of the team. That he chose to run this mailer on the last weekend of the campaign after benefiting from the other candidates and their supporters putting up his signs, handing out his palm cards, putting him on multiple ads, and encouraging people to vote for him speaks volumes.

I called Commissioner Boone after I received the mailer and requested an explanation since Commissioner Guignard had also attended all meetings. He stood by the statement. He again stood by the statement last night in-person when I asked if he wanted to comment prior to running this article. I’m paraphrasing because I didn’t take down his statement in writing, but his explanation was that being late to the meeting doesn’t count as attending the meeting. He was raised to understand that if you were late to something, it was the same as being absent. He also explained that this same statement was on his campaign website and on one of his palm cards.

Here’s a little secret for any candidates reading this – roughly 99.2% of voters never look at your campaign websites and almost the same percentage never actually read your palm cards. This percentage is even higher for voters, like me, who have already decided to vote for you, which I had before receiving this mailer. The difference is you bring far more attention to something when you purposefully choose to highlight it on one side of an oversized mailer than when you bury it on your website or on a palm card.

So why pick this fight with a newly re-elected sitting commissioner the morning after the election? Because some things are more important than politics.

Commissioner Boone’s vote earlier this year to change management at HFFA took courage and was the right thing to do despite what hack reporters from WBTV might think. The singular importance of that vote was the only reason I voted for him this election. I regret my vote for Mr. Boone, it won’t happen again.

I welcome any response from Commissioner Boone.

Eric

Huntersville Town Board Questionnaire – Aaron Hintz

I emailed the following questionnaire to every town board candidate in Huntersville over a month ago in an effort to provide voters with more insight into each candidacy. [I received failed delivery messages from the email addresses listed for two candidates at the Mecklenburg BOE site – William Haigler and Jonathan Hudson.] There was no word limit for responses. Thanks to Aaron Hintz for responding – even if past the deadline. I’ll continue to post additional responses prior to the election if other candidates wish to respond.

Election day is Tuesday, November 7. If you need more information about local elections, you can visit the Mecklenburg Board of Elections website here.

Eric


A specific agenda item you want to work on if elected: Trains. We need to pursue developing a rail line into Huntersville and the Lake Norman area with the same zeal exhibited in pursuing Huntersville’s interests regarding  I-77.

For challengers – one specific vote over the last two years you disagreed with and why: While I respect the desire to provide concrete results to our citizens in the form of express buses, the town board erred when composing a resolution against a study for rail alternatives. The Board of Commissioners should take every opportunity to support any and all efforts to bring rail transportation to Huntersville.

What is the proper role of town government and do you think there is any limit to what town government can use taxpayer dollars for: The concise answer is anything allowable by state law and within the approval of the citizenship. Personally, I see town government as making sound investments to benefit the citizenship in the long and short term. These investments can bring about benefits that are concrete like infrastructure or intangible like a centennial celebration.

Should town government select winners and losers in business by providing tax incentives to certain companies over others: The town should use incentives as bargaining chips to guide the economic development of the community. The only winner should be Huntersville as a whole.

If elected, which non-profit and/or charitable endeavors do you intend to reward with taxpayer monies and which non-profit and/or charitable endeavors do you intend to deny taxpayer funding: While town governments typically support some group of non- profits in some capacity, I don’t have any set list of non-profits or charitable endeavors that deserve or necessarily don’t deserve town support. Each request would need be weighed on its own merits and against the needs or interests of the town.

If elected, is it more important to you to vote the will of the people (however that is determined) or to vote your conscience (except when the board is acting as a quasi-judicial body): In avoiding a complicated answer, the two should be one in the same. Instances when it is not, would need to be gauged individually.

Your favorite US president: I liked reading Jefferson the most, I respect the accomplishments of FDR, Kennedy exercised balanced judgement, GHW Bush is a man of admirable character. Most presidents had strengths to be emulated while also possessing weaknesses best avoided.

Krispy Kreme or Dunkin Donuts: Krispy Kreme for glazed and DD for all else.

Your favorite 19th century French political economist: Given the relatively small pool from which to select, um…. Bastiat?  I have used the idea of opportunity cost in every decision since taking macro economics in 1991. It provides a wonderful, contextual depth for decision making: a choice isn’t just a choice, but a preference above all other possible choices at any one time and the fruit any one of those alternatives might ever bear.

How can readers find out more about your campaign? 

“Hintz for Huntersville” on Facebook

An Update on the HFFA Transition

It’s been just over a month now since a new company began managing Huntersville Family Fitness & Aquatics (“HFFA”). The Swim Club Management Group (“SCMG”) based in Huntersville was awarded the HFFA management contract by the town board this summer after the prior management group had managed the facility since 2002. I wanted to see how the transition was going so I reached out to SCMG CEO Brian Sheehan to get his thoughts.

Eric


– What are some of the immediate changes SCM has implemented at HFFA over the past month?

We have made a number of changes, many of which members will begin to fully enjoy over the next 30-60 days. For example, we immediately closed down the outdated Café and signed an agreement with Summit Coffee to have them renovate and operate the Café and kitchen. We see an opportunity with this arrangement to increase our member service by offering a more diverse, healthy menu to our members. The arrangement should also be a boast to overall profitability. We have also signed agreements to purchase new fitness equipment. Members will soon see new equipment and repurposed spaces that will allow for bootcamp style classes and other specialized group exercise classes. 

We are also working with an outside firm to perform a membership survey at no additional cost to members or the taxpayers. We will receive their presentation on the results later this week and we expect to implement additional changes based on membership feedback. 

– How have HFFA members reacted to some of these immediate changes?

The response has been terrific. Some of the changes have been small. For example, we added complimentary fruit infused water at the entrance, dedicated a room to cycle/spin classes and created a classroom more conducive for the yoga classes. These changes cost very little but have made for a much better member experience. 

– Do you have any social media or marketing plans to attract new members to HFFA?

Yes, we identified this as an opportunity for improvement early on. We have enhanced our presence on social media and plan to do a better job of engaging our members through social media moving forward. In addition, we signed an agreement recently to have the HFFA website redesigned. The current website is outdated and unengaging. I believe the last time they updated the Current Events Section was 2015. Our members can expect a more functional and dynamic website within a few weeks.

– What are some of the short-term goals SCMG is focusing on at HFFA?

Our immediate focus has been on improving the members experience. We believe the best way to attract new members is to offer our current members a great experience. We have also put a heavy emphasis over the past 30 days on cleaning up a few risk management issues. Part of having a positive member experience is keeping our members and their children safe. This is a responsibility we take very serious and we are moving quickly to make certain all areas of the facility are operating at industry best-practice. 

– How do you see HFFA benefiting from or complementing the town’s new rec center still under construction across the street on Verhoeff?

We have quickly established a great working relationship with Parks & Recreation and we are excited to create synergies with their new space. They have offered all HFFA members free access to the facility which provides a great value proposition for our members. 

– Can you briefly explain how HFFA is funded – including how taxpayers contribute.

HFFA is funded, in part, by Tourism (Hotel/Motel) Taxes, along with other revenue sources like membership fees. Our goal is to reduce the reliance on taxpayer funds at HFFA. 

Within our first week we identified that there were numerous members with past due balances. In fact, the total dollar amount was in excess of $12,000. Our team worked diligently on this matter and within our first 30 days we have collected over $10,000 in past due fees. In most cases the issue was simply a member that had obtained a new credit card and forgot to update us. Making all those phone calls was certainly not the most fun job in the building during the first 30 days, but it was necessary to properly operate the business. We understand the fiduciary responsibility we have to the taxpayers to be good stewards of their money and the people of Huntersville can expect us to operate accordingly.   

– What message do you have for those who were opposed to the decision to make a change in management at HFFA?

Whether you advocated for a change in management or opposed a change in management, we welcome you as a member at HFFA.  I have lived here most of my life and I know the people of Huntersville are fair and open-minded. I hope everyone will take the time to stop into the facility over the next 60 days and see the positive changes we’re making. 

Huntersville Town Board Questionnaire – Dan Boone

I emailed the following questionnaire to every town board candidate in Huntersville over a month ago in an effort to provide voters with more insight into each candidacy. [I received failed delivery messages from the email addresses listed for two candidates at the Mecklenburg BOE site – William Haigler and Jonathan Hudson.] There was no word limit for responses. Thanks to Commissioner Dan Boone for responding – even if slightly past the deadline. I’ll continue to post additional responses prior to the election if other candidates wish to respond.

Election day is Tuesday, November 7. If you need more information about local elections, you can visit the Mecklenburg Board of Elections website here.

Eric


A specific agenda item you want to work on if elected: One specific agenda item I want to work on is working with our new Huntersville Ordinance Advisory Board in their efforts to review and overhaul our town’s ordinances and regulations to eliminate those that are unnecessary and overburden our citizens and businesses.

[For incumbents] Any vote over the last two years you would change and why – or, if none, any item you would have accomplished and why: My only regret is that we did not pass term limits for members of volunteer town boards.

What is the proper role of town government and do you think there is any limit to what town government can use taxpayer dollars for: North Carolina is a Dillon Rule state which means the role of Huntersville’s town government (and the role of all town governments in NC) and what town government can use taxpayer dollars for is already defined and limited by state law. We may only take on the roles and powers and perform tasks expressly granted to us by state law or “fairly implied by the expressed power in the statute.” Key roles granted to municipalities include public safety (police and fire protection, etc.), providing certain services to citizens such as trash pick-up, building and maintaining town streets and roads, planning and zoning, enacting local ordinances to protect the public good as long as they do not conflict with state law, providing parks and recreational opportunities for residents, and the ability to levy certain taxes and fees on citizens to pay for the roles we fill. I believe that we should closely adhere to Dillon’s rule and to state law. It is a much needed limitation on the powers of local government.

Should town government select winners and losers in business by providing tax incentives to certain companies over others: I personally strongly dislike tax incentives and wish that no one is allowed to use them. However, as long as other towns, cities, counties and states have the option to offer tax incentives then offering them must remain an option for Huntersville. I believe that the use of incentives should be evaluated closely on a case by case basis and that we should use incentives very sparingly on projects that will have a very significant impact on our town and our region’s economy. Any time that we decide to offer incentives they must include aggressive clawbacks designed to guarantee that if a company does not create the amount jobs and/or invest as much in our local economy as they agreed to do that incentives must be repaid along with interest and other penalties.

I also believe that we should focus just as much on creating a business-friendly atmosphere that encourages our existing businesses to expand, grow and create jobs as we do on recruiting new business to town. We can do this by continuing to eliminate overly burdensome regulations, keeping our tax rate low, tackling the traffic challenges we face, keeping our community safe, and ensuring the infrastructure is in place to support their growth and expansion. 

If elected, which non-profit and/or charitable endeavors do you intend to reward with taxpayer monies and which non-profit and/or charitable endeavors do you intend to deny taxpayer funding: I support the town’s current policy and guidelines for allocating grants to not-for-profit corporations.

If elected, is it more important to you to vote the will of the people (however that is determined) or to vote your conscience (except when the board is acting as a quasi-judicial body): I believe that I was elected to represent the citizens of Huntersville and that I work for them. They are my bosses. Whenever the will of the people is not in conflict with my conscience then I will vote the will of the people. When the will of the people conflicts with my conscience I will explain to our citizens the concerns I have and work to try to come up with a solution or compromise that can reconcile the will of the people with my conscience. If that is not possible then I will follow my conscience and do what I believe is right for our town and its citizens.

Your favorite US president: Ronald Reagan. I admire President Reagan for his leadership, his courage, his willingness to speak his mind, his love for our country and its citizens, and his optimism for the future of America.  His vision of America as “a Shining City on a Hill” still inspires me to this day.  

Krispy Kreme or Dunkin Donuts: Krispy Kreme

Your favorite 19th century French political economist: Frederic Bastiat for his developing the concept of opportunity cost, for his pamphlet The Law, and for providing the economic beliefs and theories that serve as the foundation for the Austrian school of economics.

How can readers find out more about your campaign? 

booneforhuntersville.com

facebook.com/danboonehuntersville

– email: danboonenc @ aol.com

Huntersville Town Board Questionnaire – Charles Guignard

I emailed the following questionnaire to every town board candidate in Huntersville a month ago in an effort to provide voters with more insight into each candidacy. [I received failed delivery messages from the email addresses listed for two candidates at the Mecklenburg BOE site – William Haigler and Jonathan Hudson.] There was no word limit for responses. Thanks to Commissioner Charles Guignard for responding – even if slightly past the deadline.

Election day is Tuesday, November 7. If you need more information about local elections, you can visit the Mecklenburg Board of Elections website here.

Eric


A specific agenda item you want to work on if elected: To continue to work with the state legislatures to help make Huntersville be on equal footing with Charlotte/Mecklenburg County with regards hotel/motel tax, prepared food tax, schools ABC monies and many other issues because we are severely lacking and not being treated appropriately in those areas currently.

[For incumbents] Any vote over the last two years you would change and why – or, if none, any item you would have accomplished and why: If I were King for a day I would take Flouride out of regions water because it is a known toxic waste and we only can begin to know what harm it is causing our society.

What is the proper role of town government and do you think there is any limit to what town government can use taxpayer dollars for: The town should continue to provide everything from appropriate, realistic police and fire protection to efficient waste pickup as well as the planning and infrastructure services the town currently provides. So there is and always should be a limit with some being perceived and some being real as well as those dictated by Mother Charlotte.

Should town government select winners and losers in business by providing tax incentives to certain companies over others: As a small business owner of over 40 years, I have always struggled with subsidies especially those the previous administration gave to Wal-Mart. However, I approach each of these as they are presented to us and base a decision on long-term benefit to the community.

If elected, which non-profit and/or charitable endeavors do you intend to reward with taxpayer monies and which non-profit and/or charitable endeavors do you intend to deny taxpayer funding: I abide by and will continue to abide by the policy the board has in place for such contributions.

If elected, is it more important to you to vote the will of the people (however that is determined) or to vote your conscience (except when the board is acting as a quasi-judicial body): I will approach each vote on individual merit and always vote with the long-term benefit to the community in mind.

Your favorite US president: Dwight D. Eisenhower because of the road system he created. 

Krispy Kreme or Dunkin Donuts: Krispy Kreme, except for the Dunkin Donuts maple donut.

Your favorite 19th century French political economist: I am French and don’t know one.

How can readers find out more about your campaign? [no answer provided – and don’t bother searching for Commissioner Guignard’s social media accounts, your best bet is to reach him by phone.]