Huntersville Board Agenda – May 1, 2017

There is a town board meeting tonight at 6:30pm – the pre-meeting starts at 5:15pm. 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.

Pre-meeting:

Presentation of preliminary budget. I heard the interim town manager speak at a recent mayor’s luncheon and he said he was hoping to deliver a budget without a tax increase. With all the savings being touted by the mayor in 2016 thanks to some fiscally responsible decisions, let’s hope Mr. Vincent is actually able to present a budget with a tax decrease.

Public hearings:

Petition #TA 17-02 by University City Church to modify the zoning ordinance to increase the number of times an illuminated/electronic sign can change in a 24-hour period. In case you weren’t aware, article 10.7.1 of the Huntersville zoning ordinance currently only allows messages on signs to change a maximum of one (1) time per 24-hour period. Two local churches have applied for a text amendment that would allow signs to change up to twelve (12) times per 24-hour period. After discussing with the Huntersville Ordinances Advisory Board, it appears the applicants agreed to lower that number to six (6) times per 24-hour period – which the Ordinances Advisory Board agreed with.

This may seem like a minor item, but it’s such a perfect view into the mindset of a planner. The staff recommendation (pg. 13/179 of the agenda packet) would be to oppose the applicant’s request, but staff would allow for two (2) sign changes every 24-hour period. One of the reasons for their recommendation – “Lack of Need – staff does not find it necessary for [sign] messages to change more than two times per 24-hour period.” Ah, well that settles it then, if staff doesn’t find it necessary then clearly staff has considered the needs of every existing and future business or organization that may ever have a sign with changeable copy in Huntersville and decided there could never be a situation where a sign changing more than twice a day could provide a benefit or competitive advantage to that business or organization, or that any such benefit or competitive advantage is clearly outweighed by enforcement or safety concerns.

Planners with such knowledge and foresight of the inner-workings of every existing and future business or organization in Huntersville clearly deserve a raise.

Other Business:

Consider approving First Amendment to the Carolina Rapids agreement. And now to the biggest item on tonight’s agenda in my opinion. This agreement amendment was brought to the town board at their last meeting just two weeks ago on April 17 – you can watch the lengthy discussion beginning at approximately the 39:45 mark. A motion to defer the decision for 3 months was made by Commissioner Boone and seconded by Commissioner Phillips, but a substitute motion was made by Commissioner Kidwell and seconded by Commissioner Bales for a 2 week deferral instead. The substitute motion passed 4-2 with Bales, Kidwell and Gibbons supporting (Commissioner Guignard abstained which is recorded as a vote in favor) and so the item is already back on the agenda.

[An aside. This item is seeking to amend an agreement entered into between the town and Carolina Rapids/North Meck Soccer Club in 2008 and yet the original agreement wasn’t included in the agenda packet. Why not just include the 2008 agreement for interested residents to review so they can have as much information as possible in rendering an opinion on this item? The agenda is generally made available to the public sometime around mid-day on Thursday – town board members receive their agenda packets earlier. Maybe a resident sees the agenda by Thursday or Friday and maybe they send a records request to a board member or town staff for the 2008 agreement and maybe that record is provided before Monday’s meeting. Does this really leave sufficient time to review the information and form an opinion and then discuss an item with a board member before the vote? In the interest of transparency and giving residents as much information as possible in a timely manner, I would suggest the town provide more background documents in future packets.]

Interestingly, the term section of the agreement in the packet for tonight’s meeting has been revised since last meeting. The new term language would appear to provide a 5 year agreement with an option to renew for another 5 years instead of the straight 10 year agreement originally proposed. I would assume this revision is being offered to assuage the concerns of a few board members who raised questions about the length of the proposed 10 year term. But, if you read the revised language below carefully it is a conditional option at best and the Rapids should have no problem meeting the bare minimum condition.

“The Town may terminate this agreement at the end of the first five years, if the Rapids do not have a min. of 600 Huntersville Residents playing within their organization in the spring season and in the fall season. The determination of a Huntersville resident is defined in the Town’s Co-sponsorship Policy. In the event of such termination, the remainder of the Field Usage Fees and the Capital Reserve Fee shall abate and no longer be payable.”

So IF the Rapids don’t have a minimum of 600 Huntersville RESIDENTS playing within their organization in the SPRING AND FALL SEASON at the end of the first five years the town MAY terminate the agreement. I know we already have too many lawyers in politics, but it’s times like these I wish Huntersville had a lawyer on the board.

The co-sponsorship policy [see pg. 5/6 below] defines a resident as: 1) has a Huntersville address, or 2) is a Huntersville taxpayer, and/or 3) lives within the Huntersville ETJ. Wait, so nothing about being 18 or under? I thought the town using taxpayer money to subsidize soccer was all about the children? And what is a Huntersville taxpayer? Are we to assume this refers to property taxes only? What if someone stops to eat at a Huntersville restaurant and pays the prepared food tax or if they stay at a hotel while traveling through town and pay the hotel tax – should these people be considered a Huntersville “resident” as defined in the co-sponsorship policy?

Hville PRC co-sponsorship policy

Where did the 600 figure come from? During the April 17 meeting, the figure 1,700 was tossed around as the approximate number of Carolina Rapids members from Huntersville (out of approx. 4,300 total members). So why such a minimum number of RESIDENTS needed to trigger the additional 5 years under this revised language? Further, which Spring and which Fall season is the town supposed to use to calculate these 600 RESIDENTS? Could this just be 300 RESIDENTS in each season for a combined total of 600, or 600 total RESIDENTS in both seasons for a total of 1,200 RESIDENTS? From what I can tell the Rapids’ Fall season doesn’t even begin until sometime in August. The end of the first 5 years of the agreement would be on or about August 3, 2023 so would the town be expected to estimate the number of RESIDENTS in the Fall 2023 season, or would that be RESIDENTS from the Fall 2022 season and the Spring 2023 season?

Since it now appears obvious neither the staff nor a majority of the current board, including the mayor, have any intent on putting use of Barry Park out for bid despite Commissioner Phillips making this suggestion at the April 17 meeting, might I suggest leasing the entire facility to Carolina Rapids? Commissioner Kidwell has already suggested as much during the April 17 meeting when he attempted to distinguish the Rapids agreement from the HFFA management agreement starting at approx. the 1:05:00 mark. I’m paraphrasing here due to the audio quality, but he said, “You have to compare apples to apples… with HFFA the contract was to pay a company to run a facility for the town, this is the exact opposite. We’re not asking them to come out and run the field for us, Rapids are saying we basically want to lease the property from you for this term…” [I hope Commissioner Kidwell corrects me if I have misrepresented his remarks.]

Let’s accept his argument for now that this situation is distinguishable from HFFA (except that HFFA has cost taxpayers even MORE money than Barry Park…), if all the Rapids are asking is to lease the property from the town, why not just let them assume the lease and all obligations for managing and maintaining Barry Park? The original lease from the County does not prevent the town from subletting the property based on my reading – the county simply requires prior written consent [see paragraph 13 of the lease below]. Let me submit to you the reason the board won’t make this suggestion tonight, and the reason the Rapids would politely decline the offer even if the board did, is because operating expenses for Barry Park currently run the town approx. $146K annually, which is approx. $95K more per year than the Rapids would be paying for the first 5 years of this new term and approx. $90K more per year than what they would be paying the second 5 years of the new term, assuming no increase in field usage rates by the town.

Barry Park lease

If, like Commissioner Kidwell, you were under the impression the soccer being played at Barry Park covered all costs for the town, go ahead and rid yourself of that notion. Skip ahead to the approx. 1:06:20 mark to hear Commissioner Kidwell and Parks Director Michael Jaycocks engage in what may be the greatest exchange in the history of local government. Kidwell to Jaycocks re: Barry Park – we break even, right? Jaycocks – Oh no… Kidwell – not even close? (uncomfortable laughter) Kidwell – Why not?

Why not indeed.

A few other quick observations for anyone still reading at this point.

Thomas Finlay, Executive Director of the Rapids, was right to question why the board was just now raising concerns about this agreement when the Parks and Rec Committee voted on this issue last June and the board has been presented with information about the amended agreement going back to late 2016 and through the first few months of this year. But, the board missed a great opportunity to respond when Mr. Finlay quipped that he thought it was “parks and rec, not parks and revenue” at the approx. 1:11:00 mark. Maybe tonight someone can ask Mr. Finlay what the Rapids’ revenue was last year because I’m sure the Rapids don’t pay their employees with hugs and high fives.

Why not just charge the Rapids $20K more instead of setting up a reserve fund for Barry Park? Why is a reserve fund needed when the park loses money every year? Wouldn’t a reserve fund be more appropriate if the park was MAKING money? And what would this reserve fund even be used for – would it be restricted to infrastructure and maintenance at the park, or could it be used to pay employee salaries or other non-park uses?

Obviously, the Rapids don’t use Barry Park 100% of the time, but why not at least charge the Rapids based on the percentage of time they do actually use Barry Park – in the 80-85% range based on Mr. Jaycocks’ estimate. Wouldn’t it make more sense to try to capture some additional revenue by charging them for their actual use of the field so the park doesn’t lose quite as much money every year?

How is it fair to tax all residents in order to subsidize one sport? Roads and police are necessary for all residents, but is soccer? What if your kid is into badminton or chess or martial arts or gymnastics or golf or diving (wait, scratch that, we already subsidize diving here in Huntersville…), would the community be better off subsidizing these instead? One could possibly make the argument that soccer is the last sport in need of subsidizing because it’s already one of most popular sports in the world – wouldn’t it be better to help out one of the less popular sports?

Why did Mayor Aneralla seem so confused around the 44:45 mark about the possibility of putting this contract out for bid and around the 1:03:30 mark when he said he was still trying to figure out what questions needed answering about this issue? The mayor seemed to understand the need to put out the HFFA management contract for bid so it was curious to see his apparent confusion when the same issue was being discussed about “management” of Barry Park.

When questioned by Commissioner Gibbons about the proper subsidy level for recreational fitness at approx. the 52:15 mark, Mr. Jaycocks demonstrated his mastery of the reduction ad absurdum fallacy by telling the board from a profit standpoint they could keep raising prices until they see people stop using the facilities – even though no one on the board was suggesting anything of the sort. While Mr. Jaycocks may not have any incentive to earn a profit because it’s not his money he’s giving away, the taxpayers may feel otherwise.

How is this deal any different than the much-aligned recent attempt by the Bruton Smith family to have taxpayers fund an MLS team in Charlotte? The Smiths wanted taxpayers to build and maintain the facility – which they would have graciously allowed the city/county to use like four times a year – while they got to control the team and the profits. Here, the Rapids enjoy the use of Barry Park during much of the year, which the town has to pay to maintain, all while profiting from member dues. I guess the board would draw the line if the Rapids wanted taxpayers to build them a 20,000 seat stadium at Barry Park…

Finally, why is it so hard for people who campaign as conservatives to actually govern as conservatives? (says the random guy on the internet who has never had to actually earn votes…)

Eric