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.
By Junious Smith III / Staff Writer
Published: Monday, May 12, 2014 at 21:55 PM.
While the harsh winter earlier this year has been substituted for warmer temperatures, Kinston motorists are still feeling the effects of the cold season.
Potholes, which have been a chief issue in the city for years, have become even more of a nuisance for travelers due to the snow and ice which battered roads in early 2014.
Kinston resident Michael Harris said potholes have always been a problem for him in the city.
“Ever since I’ve been here, areas of Herritage, Plaza and Vernon have been terrible,” he said. “Then when they’re repaired, the streets can be so uneven in some spots. Of course, salt deterioration could play a role, especially with the weather we had earlier this year.”
Will Kilpatrick, another Kinston resident, said the potholes have had an impact on motorists, including his mother.
“My mom actually had a tire damaged on Herritage Street about three months ago,” he said.
Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy said he understands the concerns of the public, but lowered revenue in the city can make repairs difficult.
“The road conditions in Kinston are not where they need to be,” Murphy said. “One of the struggles we have faced in budgeting is the overall decline in tax base and the reduction of dollars from the state for resurfacing without any significant change to number of miles of roads we have to resurface. We should be spending roughly $500,000 a year, and we are spending less than half of that, so we’ve had to be creative with other projects.
“For example, with the railroad closure, we’ve been able to resurface areas in Mitchelltown using railroad funds. When we need to replace water and sewer pipes, we’ve tried to find funds for resurfacing also, but those have become more and more limited.”
The mayor is familiar with the biggest trouble spots in the city.
“One of the most common requests we’ve received is repaving Herritage Street and that is a high priority for us,” Murphy said. “But because of the price of more than $1.5 million, we may have to consider alternate finance methods to complete that project and some others.”
Another problem includes the recent engine failure of Kinston’s only pothole repair truck. Kinston Public Services Director Rhonda Barwick said the snow and ice storms separated asphalt, creating potholes and the alternative solutions aren’t as efficient.
“We were trying to get potholes repaired, but last week our pothole truck died,” Barwick said. “We tried to replace it last year, and unfortunately, we didn’t make it. We’ve requested a replacement truck and are looking at other options such as leasing another for the remainder of the year. Right now, we’re putting asphalt on a dump truck and shoveling it to fill potholes, but it’s not as effective as the truck. We’re doing what we can, because the longer the potholes stay on the road, the more damage they can cause.”
Barwick said the roads are important to the city leadership, but officials also need to balance the budget.
“The city would like to be on a 25-year replacement plan for roads, but that means $550,000 toward each year, which the city simply doesn’t have,” Barwick said. “The last few years, we’ve been around $160,000 to $200,000. When the council meets, this is what they’ll be faced with, knowing the most important thing is balancing the budget and making sure there are enough funds for everything.”
Junious Smith III can be reached at 252-559-1077 andJunious.Smith@Kinston.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JuniousSmithIII.
Mayoral candidate Ralph Clark, left, makes his opening statements, while John Marks, center, and B.J. Murphy listen at the mayoral forum Tuesday at community television station TACC-9 on Queen Street.
Sara Pezzoni / The Free Press
Kinston’s three candidates for mayor each had their lone opportunity to address viewers on the issues of the city on Tuesday evening.
Ralph Clark, John Marks and B.J. Murphy spoke at the TACC-9 community television station for a mayoral forum, as the three are looking to be appointed into office by the people after the Nov. 5 election.
Clark, who has spent 32 years in public office, including eight as the former city manager of Kinston, believes his extensive experience and knowledge would be vital in helping the community he has called home since 1999.
“Kinston has been great to me as a city manager and a citizen,” Clark said. “I have a lot to give, and hope (the city) allow(s) me to be the mayor.”
Clark also talked about education in his opening statement, acknowledging that the city council would not be able to intervene in the decision-making process.
“I would be remiss not to mention something about education,” Clark said. “Even though the city has nothing to do with the education in the community, it has to be supported.”
Marks, the pastor and founder of Increasing the Faith Ministries, believes Kinston needs to move in an alternate direction in fixing some of the issues in the community.
“We do need change,” Marks said. “Everybody that I ask or come in contact with, they are always saying that the city needs to be changed. I’m just grateful that our city and the leadership that is present are still doing things, but we still need solutions to a lot of problems. I just want to be an improvement on assets to the city of Kinston.”
Murphy, the incumbent seeking his second term in office, used his opening statement to speak on some of the positives he has seen in Kinston since he became the mayor in 2009.
“I have never been more excited about the opportunities before our community than I am right now,” Murphy said. “Our community is growing, and there are a lot of positive things happening. Just over the past four years, we have had a major focus on redeveloping our community, on making sure we have better streets, and we’ve had a more accountable government than ever before.”
Early voting starts on Thursday, and will run until Nov. 2, with Election Day on Nov. 5.
Junious Smith III can be reached at 252-559-1077 andJunious.Smith@Kinston.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JuniousSmithIII.
For more information on reruns of the city council and mayor forums, visit tacc9.com.
Reece Gardner Hour Featuring Mayor BJ Murphy
August 12 2013
Fixing the streets of Kinston
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.
Local leaders outline their priorities for New Year
With new faces in county government and the possibility of new faces in city government, local leaders are looking toward a busy 2013.
“I would say, in 2013 some of our priorities will be customer service, street resurfacing and continuing our redevelopment efforts,” Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy said Monday, in the waning hours of 2012.
The 2012 elections left the Lenoir County Board of Commissioners with a new chairman and vice chairwoman in Commissioners Reuben Davis and Jackie Brown, respectively.
They also have a new face in freshman Commissioner Craig Hill and the still-to-be-determined replacement for long-serving Commissioners’ Chairman George Graham — the local Democratic Party has nominated Roland Best for the seat, but the commissioners will have the final say.
“I know both of those folks are committed to serving the citizens, and I think they’ll fit in very nicely and I think we’ll work together very well,” Commissioner Linda Rouse Sutton said of Best and Hill.
She said the commissioners would “miss George (Graham)’s leadership,” but bringing in new people can bring in new ideas and new perspectives.
Sutton expected the commissioners’ main priorities in 2013 would be balancing the budget and not raising taxes.
“We’re determined to come out with a good balanced budget and not raise taxes, and hang on to as many services as possible, as closely as we can,” she said.
On the city of Kinston’s side, the mayor’s and two City Council seats will be up for election this year.
In 2013, city elections will be nonpartisan, meaning candidates will run without a political party label.
“I am looking forward to the wishes of the people being carried out in the form of nonpartisan elections,” said Murphy, who was a strong supporter of nonpartisan voting.
The mayor said he hoped the council would continue to work toward building up $500,000 in the budget for street repairs and resurfacing.
Murphy acknowledged it was a challenging goal to meet in times of lean budgets, “but continuing to make that progress toward that goal is important.”
The mayor also expected the city’s policy of “proactive policing” would continue due to the success of removing major criminals from the streets in 2012.
He also saw as a priority continuing to follow the relationship between Duke Energy, which completed its merger with Progress Energy in 2012, and public power communities in North Carolina.
Kinston is among the 32 member communities of the N.C. Eastern Municipal Power Agency, which owns power plants along with Duke Energy. The “generation assets” owned by the cities provide power to the member communities, which took on billions in debt 30 years ago to buy into those assets.
“Selling the generation assets, I think, should be part of our discussion in coordination with how to handle our debt load,” Murphy said.
David Anderson can be reached at 252-559-1077 orDavid.Anderson@Kinston.com. Follow him on Twitter at DavidFreePress.
County priorities in 2013:
– Balance the budget
– No tax increase
– Maintain services
Source: Commissioner Linda Rouse Sutton
City priorities in 2013:
– Improved customer service
– Street resurfacing
– Continued redevelopment
– ‘Proactive policing’
– Monitor relationship between Duke Energy and NCEMPA/ElectriCities
Source: Mayor B.J. Murphy
Interview begins at 26:00.
Reece and I covered:
– Street resurfacing
– Amtrak service
– Governor’s race and impact on electric issues
– Planning updates (CDBG, updating UDO, Arts & Cultural District, demolishing blight)
– Monthly newsletter: www.BJMurphy.org
– Sewer expansion
– $0.25 sales tax on ballot
– Paying our obligations
– Fund balance
– S. Queen St. bridges
– 2013 Mayor’s race
This week on the Reece Gardner Hour, Reece and I discuss recent headlines, Mayor’s internship program, 2013 Mayor’s race, street resurfacing funding increase, technology improvements at the City (kiosks, online applications and social media), future political office, Section 5 of the Civil Rights Act, endorsement of Pat McCrory (Gov), Dan Forest (Lt Gov), John Bell (NC House) and David Rouzer (US House), partnership with the Arts Council for a $100,000 grant, revitalization efforts, MLK corridor improvements, demolition by neglect.
You should see some significant improvements from City Hall on out over the next four or five years.
My interview begins at 29:15.
Martha and I recap the June 4th Kinston City Council meeting.