Mayor Murphy’s Statement on the City of Kinston FY 2015 Budget

Tonight the City Council of the City of Kinston voted 2-2 and I broke the tie in favor of the recommended budget as presented by the Kinston City Manager. Here is the statement I gave at the end of the meeting.

Public debate, openness and transparency are essential in our democracy. The State of NC requires that our City Manager present a balanced budget to this body. This Council has the authority to accept, reject or amend his recommendations.

Each and every one of us lives here, works here and plays here. Everyone on this bench and in our presence tonight are financially impacted by these decisions.

We have seen increases because of our wholesale suppliers. We have seen increases because of the Affordable Care Act. We have seen increases because of the needs of our aging infrastructure.

Our electric partners have made it clear that increases are coming and should’ve already come based on wholesale and infrastructure pressures. However, a potential deal with Duke Energy caused there to be a pause in hopes of a record deal for our communities.

Last year we pulled from our General Fund to loan and support the electric fund. We decided then to pay that back this fiscal year. I think we all can agree that this practice is not a long-term solution. Just as continuing the practice of transferring from the electric fund to subsidize our General Fund will one day be obsolete.

Also, this fall we will be making serious, long-term financial decisions regarding our infrastructure to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. Ultimately we may need to ask voters for their opinions on how best to finance the replacement of 100-year-old pipes and 30-year-old electrical equipment.

In light of the potential Duke deal and our future discussion of infrastructure, I would encourage some compromise tonight. We can either stomach a small increase in electric or we can take street resurfacing to $0, stop demolishing dilapidated buildings and more.

Unfortunately, we have three options and neither one will make sleeping tonight easier. We can raise a utility rate with the hope of a future decrease, we can raise property tax rates by 5.71 cents, which will never decrease, or we can drastically and negatively affect the momentum we’re gaining in service quality, street resurfacing, planning and quality of life.

I want to thank our City Manager and staff for doing more than this body requested of you. Without your diligent efforts in frugality our choices tonight would be much more difficult.

In closing, we all should concede that this budget only affects the next 12 months and the fall infrastructure discussions, potential vote of the people, and Duke Energy deal will have a greater impact on our community for decades.

This decision is not taken lightly and this body has had ample time to review it, ask questions, seek input, hold a public hearing and now even receive more public comments. I want to thank all of our citizens who came tonight to speak their opinions on the budget. We truly value your opinion and the time you gave to be here.

KFP: City Council approves new positions for Parks and Rec

By Junious Smith III / Staff Writer 

With the inmate labor program being cut throughout North Carolina, the Kinston City Council found a way to provide assistance to the city’s parks and recreation department at Monday’s weekly meeting.

The council passed a motion to hire three full-time and four part-time employees to offset losing prisoners who worked in different areas of the city.

“The most disappointing news in the session we had to overcome was the loss of the inmate labor population,” Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy said. “The financial woes of the state cut back some prison labor, which is having ripple effects in local government operations across the state; Kinston being no exception.

“Between having a regular supply of inmate labor from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. to help to clear with ditches, mowing grass and weed-eating, we are now faced with having to overcome that with full and part-time employees.”

Bill Ellis, the recreation department director, said he was thankful for the city council’s actions.

“We worked as many as 25 inmates a day since 1988,” Ellis said. “It saved the city a lot of money throughout the years. But with the closing of Duplin County Prison, we had no inmates. We’re very fortunate the council saw that need and funded those positions.”

City Councilwoman Kelly Jarman was pleased with the decision the board made, along with Ellis’ work when the inmate program was in operation.

“Bill utilized the program to its fullest extent and did very well with it,” Jarman said. “The inmate program was very effective and I hate to see it taken away, but I felt like we made a good decision to allow him to be able to hire additional people in parks and recreation.”

Kinston City Manager Tony Sears felt the council acted in a logical and responsible way to return the service to the city, and believed it was a good move.

“Only time will tell, but from a staffing standpoint, we’re on the right path,” he said.

The City Council also approved a public hearing on Sept. 16 for Unified Development Ordinance-related items.

“The UDO process has been going on for several months,” Planning Director Adam Short said. “We’ve got a draft ordinance where we want it and have to hold a public meeting to formally adopt it. We’ve established the arts and cultural district, which is a zoning overlay district and a new zoning category that has to be advertised.

“We’ve also eliminated zoning districts that are hardly used. There are very few parcels in the city that are being rezoned and we’re just looking for a new place to classify them. They will be changed to a different zoning category to clean things up.”

In other action, the council approved a street closing on Saturday for the God’s Way Youth & Community Fun Day. The event will be from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will close off parts of King Street and Sunshine Street.

The next city council meeting will be Tuesday, Sept. 3 at 5:30 p.m.

 

Junious Smith III can be reached at 252-559-1077 andJunious.Smith@Kinston.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JuniousSmithIII.

 

Published: Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 19:41 PM.

KFP: Fixing the Streets of Kinston

Fixing the streets of Kinston

KFP0626 Fixing The Streets

Margaret King sits on her swing behind her home Tuesday off College Street. King has seen about 150 cars pass by on a given day since the street condition has improved.

Janet S. Carter / The Free Press

Published: Tuesday, June 25, 2013 at 21:44 PM.

When B.J. Murphy was elected as the mayor of Kinston in 2009, he said road maintenance would be a serious priority during his term.

“When I took over in office, we were lucky to have $50,000 to $100,000 in our street resurfacing budget,” Murphy said. “In order to be on a 25-year life cycle for the roads, we needed to be spending $450,000 to $515,000 per year. I went door to door and talked to citizens. Besides taxes, reducing crime, utility rates and jobs, one of the biggest concerns was on fixing streets.”

While Murphy hasn’t been able to acquire his initial amount, the Kinston City Council has made progress in attending to the concern of the streets, raising the budget to about $200,000. The rise in funds for street maintenance came in the 2012-13 fiscal year, City Manager Tony Sears’ first.

“He put me in a precarious situation during my first budget,” Sears said. “He was adamant about increase funding of road resurfacing from $100,000 in the 2011-12 year to $200,000 and it passed.”

As a result, Kinston residents have seen major changes with smoother roads. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and College Street are amongst streets that have been repaired. The city council just approved fixing the Briarwood area, which has had major infrastructure damage.

“We have a very scientific formula that is fair for all sides when it comes to addressing needs,” Murphy said. “The amount of traffic and damaged roads are factors in prioritizing projects. No favoritism is played and the council makes decisions on the streets that will be resurfaced due to fiscal funding.”

The formula came from a street condition survey created by Kinston Public Services, who have worked with the Kinston City Council in order to figure out which road to improve next.

“We had been doing it for several years with our staff inspecting city maintained streets categorized by use, damage, traffic, rutting, rattling and ride quality,” Public Services Director Rhonda Barwick said. “Funding has been hard to come by, but the council does their best. It’s not moving as fast as we like, but were moving in a positive direction.”
Last year, College Street was a focus for maintenance. Margaret King — who has lived on College Street since 1992 — saw increased traffic and smoother roads due to changes.

“This street was like a shortcut if you’re coming from the mall, plaza or went to see people in the nursing home,” King said. “The roads were terrible, but you would still see maybe 75 cars go through a day because of the convenience. Now, you see twice that many.”
Dennis Sherwood also saw plenty of improvements on College Street. In his three years as a technical consultant at Daughety’s Office Equipment, Sherwood has seen many positive transitions.

“A lot of problems that used to be on this road have gone away,” Sherwood said. “This intersection doesn’t flood; rain used to stay on the surface instead of down a storm drain. Then, the pitch slant was so severe that an 18-wheeler couldn’t even close its lift gate.”
Currently, Herritage Street has been in the plans for fixing but the city council is looking for cooperation with the N.C. Department of Transportation before creating a plan.

“Most citizens and some elected officials don’t know where state transportations starts and stops,” Murphy said. “Part of Herritage Street is in the city, but the other part is in the state and we can’t do anything there. It can be confusing because those roads are in city limits, but we’ve addressed them and hopefully we can have it all fixed soon.”

The primary concern for city council when it comes to maintaining the roads is making sure funding can be available without having to gouge residents of Kinston.

“All funding for repairs comes from taxpayers,” Murphy said. “In order to increase the road budget, we would have to do a 2 cent increase in taxes or a 2 cent reduction in other services like parks and recreation, human resources, police and firefighters. Of course, that was out of the question and we’ve steadily increased our amount and concerns.”

The Kinston City Council is still working diligently in trying to find ways to speed the process for road resurfacing.

“Funding for streets isn’t at optional level, but as an organization we’re committed to increase.” Sears said.

Junious Smith III can be reached at 252-559-1077 andJunious.Smith@Kinston.com. Follow him on Twitter @JuniousSmithIII.

http://www.kinston.com/news/local/fixing-the-streets-of-kinston-1.163956?tc=cr

Reece Gardner for Tuesday November 20 2012

Join Reece and I as we discuss:

  • 2012 elections
  • “Clean Bill of Health for the City of Kinston”
  • Outlook for Kinston (demolishing houses, Arts & Cultural District, Riverwalk, industry and more)
  • Governor-elect McCrory and Spirit
  • Transitional Hold Harmless money
  • 2013 General Assembly
  • Local elementary school visits
  • Will Barker on Electricities board

 

 

KFP: Kinston officials seek restoration of state funds

By David Anderson
Published: Monday, November 12, 2012 at 20:21 PM.

Kinston leaders are working to restore a much-needed stream of state funding, which expired this year after a decade of supporting counties and municipalities.

“Our first order of business is to have individual meetings with our delegation in the (N.C.) House and Senate to discuss Kinston-specific issues, with this being one of our main focal points,” Mayor B.J. Murphy said Monday.

The General Assembly did not take up legislation during its 2012 short session which would have extended annual “transitional hold harmless” allocations that expired this year, and it could leave Kinston short by half a million dollars when it puts its budget together next year.

The allocations were enacted by the Legislature in 2002 to help communities make up the loss of shared revenue from a tax on business inventory, which had been repealed.

Counties and cities could establish a local option sales tax, and the state would help them make up any difference with transitional hold harmless payments every year for 10 years.

“The thought was in 2002 when you got to 2012 that the revenue from the local option sales tax would be more than what the original revenue source would have been, and I think we were well underway to do that,” City Manager Tony Sears told the members of the Kinston City Council recently. “I think, given the state of the economy in the ’90s and the early 2000s, that that was believable.”

The state of North Carolina’s and the national economy during the past four to five years has made it difficult for many communities to make up the difference, though, including Kinston.

“We haven’t received the gains that we thought we were going to get from the local options sales tax,” Sears said.

The city manager told the council the city would be without a traditional $509,000 hold harmless payment when the budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year is put together next year.

The hold harmless money supports the city’s $21.4 million general fund, about a fifth of the city’s adopted $99.4 million budget for 2012-2013.

“About half a million of that could be impacted by this one action of the General Assembly,” Murphy said.

The City Council voted unanimously last week to send a resolution to the N.C. League of Municipalities urging it to “make restoration of the ‘transitional hold harmless’ payment one of its highest legislative goals in the 2013 Session of the General Assembly.”

Losing hold harmless payments would affect 122 municipalities and 17 counties in North Carolina, according to the resolution.

The mayor said he and other city leaders plan to meet with the members of Lenoir County’s legislative delegation — which has a host of new faces thanks to statewide redistricting and this month’s election — during the weeks and months preceding the beginning of the 2013 legislative session early next year.

Lenoir County Manager Mike Jarman said the county does not receive a hold harmless payment because the state took over the burden of administering its Medicaid program in 2007 — along with a portion of sales tax funds which would support county administration of Medicaid.

Jarman said Medicaid cost the county much more than $500,000 to administer each year.

“We’re better off losing the sales tax and not having to pay the Medicaid burden,” he said.

 

David Anderson can be reached at 252-559-1077 orDavid.Anderson@Kinston.com. Follow him on Twitter at DavidFreePress.

 

BREAKOUT BOX:

Fast facts on transitional hold harmless:

n Payments to counties and municipalities enacted in 2002

n Payments expired this year

n City of Kinston stands to lose $509,750 next year without payment

n 122 and 17 counties would suffer due to loss of payments

Source: City of Kinston Resolution – Transitional Hold Harmless

 

KFP: Kinston utilities bill sent back to committee

Mayor says city could lose $1 million in revenue if water and sewer rates equalized

by David Anderson

Kinston officials breathed a brief sigh of relief this week as a bill, which city leaders feared could cause a major increase in municipal utility bills if passed, went back into committee.

Members of the N.C. House were scheduled to debate and vote on Senate Bill 472 on Monday evening, but Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland — who co-chairs the House Rules Committee with SB472 supporter Rep. Stephen LaRoque, R-Lenoir — made a motion at the beginning of Monday’s session for the bill to “be removed from the calendar and referred to the committee on rules.”

LaRoque could not be reached for comment Tuesday, as the House was in session, but he has said in the past he was “trying to find a way to bring equality to the customers” by creating equal access to Kinston utilities for customers living inside and outside the city limits.

That would be accomplished through SB 472, a local bill. If passed, the changes would take effect in 2013

“They’re a monopoly,” LaRoque said of the city. “These people (outside the city) cannot drill wells for their consumption.”

Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy has taken to local airwaves and Twitter in recent days to explain why the city and its water and sewer customers would be harmed if SB 472 were to be passed.

He noted on his Twitter feed that Smithfield Foods and Sanderson Farms, which operate facilities in the U.S. 70 West Industrial Park, could see their respective annual utility bills increase by $30,000 and $90,000.

Earlier this year, as Kinston officials discussed the budget for the 2013 fiscal year, City Manager Tony Sears told City Council members the water and wastewater rates could increase by more than 10 percent to make up the difference by no longer being able to charge outside customers a higher rate.

“Eighty-four percent of rate structures from cities across the state of North Carolina charge more for outside customers,” Murphy said Tuesday. “This is not unique to Kinston.”

The higher rate is necessary because of the need to maintain infrastructure outside the city, built decades ago because no other water or sewer infrastructure existed at the time.

“The city of Kinston does not actively pursue services outside the city limits,” Murphy said. “The outside services we have are because we were asked to provide, or purchase the infrastructure, which we have improved over the last 30 years.”

The mayor said the bill should either be killed, or legislators should seek a statewide solution to the issue of outside and inside utility rates.

“One thing I keep hearing is, ‘Let’s have fair rates; let’s have equal rates,’ ” he said. “There is an added cost for outside customers.”

 

David Anderson can be reached at 252-559-1077 or danderson@freedomenc.com. Follow him on Twitter at DavidFreePress.

WITN: Kinston Mayor-State Bill To Change Water Rates “Picks On” His City

by Brittany Creamer/April Davis

Video Link

A state house vote has been postponed to decide if some City of Kinston water and sewer customers will pay more. Kinston Mayor B.J Murphy says the issue was pulled from the North Carolina House of Representatives agenda Monday night and placed back in the rules committee.

Mayor Murphy says he is not happy about the state picking on his city when it operates like 99 % of all other cities in the state. Murphy says if this bill passes, customers who live in the Kinston city limits will pay more because the bill requires equal rates for all customers instead of the usual billing practice to charge customers outside the city limits more.

Lenoir County republican representative Stephen Laroque drafted the bill. He told WITN the City of Kinston is discriminating against the consumer. Mayor Murphy says the proposed 12% increase for water and 7% increase for sewage would be a huge increase on local businesses and a deterrent for large companies. Murphy says Sanderson Farms’ yearly bill would increase by $90,000. The mayor says customers in the city should not be penalized for people outside city limits requesting to use its resources.

“The practice of extending water and sewage is not something we do unless it is requested from us and it does cost more to service from outside the city limits. It just does,” said Murphy.

Asheville is the only municipality in the state that charges equal rates for people inside and out of city limits.

WNCT: S472 Water/Sewer Bill

by Katie Banks

Tonight state legislators will discuss whether some utility customers in the East will get a cheaper water bill.

Senate Bill 472 would require Kinston city officials to equalize water costs for people living inside and outside the city limits.

It’s essentially a face-off between city officials and N.C. House Rep. Stephen LaRoque, who is promoting the bill as a way to even the playing field for all utility customers.

But Kinston Mayor BJ Murphy argues it would actually hurt residents and local businesses in the long run.

Stewart Smith lives right outside Kinston’s city limits. He takes pride in his garden, but each time he waters his flowers, he’s paying more for his utility bill.

“Now, the overall average I found out here in the neighborhood is $42 to $45 or $46 dollars per month,” he says.

More than 20 years ago, Kinston city officials bought an existing water system in Smith’s neighborhood. He says that’s when he was forced to pay a utility rate higher than what people pay within the city, causing his monthly water bill to double.

“It makes you feel like you’re being taken advantage of in a raw product that God gave us all,” Smith says. “I don’t mind paying for water, and I know water’s not free like it used to be back in the day. However, I would like to think that my gallon of water should cost just the same as anyone else’s gallon of water.”

Rep. LaRoque says people like Smith should never have been charged more in the first place.

“Look at it this way,” LaRoque said in a phone interview. “What if the city said, ‘If you live in an older part of town, we’re going to charge you more than if you live in a newer part of town’? Or if they said, ‘Because you are poor and you live in a poor area, we’re going to charge you more than if you live in a more affluent area’? Do you think people would be okay with that? I don’t think they would be. I think it’s the same discriminatory practice that they’re currently practicing.”

Mayor Murphy is against the bill. He says it would create a shortfall that would force the city to raise rates on everyone in town, including businesses like the hospital and Sanderson Farms.

And he uses the same word – discriminatory – to describe his side of the debate.

“I think the only entity being discriminated against is the city of Kinston,” he says. “And I can promise you that almost all that provide water or sewer outside their city limits have a very similar structure in that it cost more to provide those services, so they charge more.”

Smith says he would settle on a compromise if it means getting a lower water bill.

“A happy medium between us and the residents of the city, that would be fine, but, equal should be the key word,” he says.

Mayor Murphy says distance and infrastructure maintenance outside the city causes the rates to go up.

If the bill passes, equalizing water rates for all customers would begin in June 2013 and would be adjusted over a three-year-period.

The House will review the bill tonight, and if passed, Rep. LaRoque says it could go to the Senate for approval as early as Wednesday.

KFP: Senate Bill 472 could affect city utility rates

by David Anderson

The members of the N.C. House of Representatives are scheduled to review a bill today that, if passed by the General Assembly, could have a dramatic impact on Kinston utility rates, according to city officials.

“The City of Kinston is united in its opposition to this bill and we would like for it to be defeated,” Mayor B.J. Murphy wrote in a recent letter to the General Assembly, plus Senate President pro tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg.

The local bill, promoted by local Rep. Stephen LaRoque, R-Lenoir, is titled “Kinston Public Enterprises” and requires the city to give equal access to utility customers living inside and outside the city limits.

Water and sewer customers living outside Kinston are typically charged different — and higher — rates than inside customers. City officials defend this practice to cover the added cost of maintaining infrastructure outside the city, built when county residents had no other way to obtain water and sewer service.

LaRoque has said he is working to equalize utility rates for Kinston customers, but city officials have expressed concerns this could cause a dramatic rise in water and sewer rates to make up the difference.

If the NC General Assembly wants to engage in a public debate about municipalities who offer water and sewer services to outside customers, then a local bill is not the answer,” Murphy wrote in his letter. “This local bill would force the City to arbitrarily raise rates at a time of economic peril.”

The bill has been placed on the House’s calendar for its next session, which begins at 7 p.m. today.

David Anderson can be reached at 252-559-1077 ordanderson@freedomenc.com. Follow him on Twitter at DavidFreePress.

Related Post: Video – City threatened with another water/sewer increase