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State of the City speech -- but not much else -- on tonight's City Council docket

Mayor Bell will present his annual "State of the City" address tonight at 7 p.m. in the City Council chambers downtown in advance of this week's scheduled Council meeting. According to Matt Dees' reporting in the N&O, Bell is likely to make the issue of the drought the cornerstone of this year's address, noting that the mayor "will probably call for increased spending of improving water lines and finding new sources of water."

Of course, given that any such discussion is taking place right on the heels of a City Council retreat that the Herald-Sun (link unavailable) and N&O pointed out was a sobering discussion on the city's budget -- and, particularly, its capital projects ambitions -- watch tonight's speech not simply for what grand goals our civic leaders wants to put forth on the agenda, but for how we're going to fund them, and what we might choose not to fund. (We'll talk more

Look for the price of water to be a very touchy subject over the coming months. The Duke drought forum earlier this month noted that 90% of North Carolina cities charge more for potable water than does the Bull City. On the one hand, then, raising water rates to encourage conservation and to service revenue bonds that could pay for improving the infrastructure is likely to be a natural solution to some.

But this issue has the potential to be a "third rail" concern for some constituencies in Durham, who'll argue about the impact of increased water rates on low-income households. I wouldn't be surprised to see some real divisions open up on this topic.

On a more sobering note, one expects we'll see some mention of crime and safety after the horrendous pattern of crime to start this year -- including as many as 30 black-on-Latino armed robberies, the murder of a Duke grad student and a Latino on Friday, the robbery of four other Duke affiliates in the course of a week, and the report of three folks being shot in a single incident overnight last night.

Is this part of a new gang initiation trend? Are miscreants being displaced by Operation Bulls Eye seeking out new targets, and new locations? (There's been some grumbling in Walltown that gang and drug activity has returned as the Angier & Driver crackdown has been underway.) Expect some discussion about the causes -- and about what local governments can do to take action.

Besides the State of the City address, is there much on the agenda? Well, actually, not a lot; in fact, it's one of the quieter agendas we've had in some time.

You can expect an update on the drought situation, of course, which can often become a source of noisy chatter. We'll get to see how much impact recent precipitation and demand levels have had on the drought. (One local TV station is reporting a weakening in the La Nina pattern, which could mean a return to normal rainfall by spring instead of summer -- though as we've noted here before, none of this makes finding a permanent solution for conservation and water supply any less critical.)

For that matter, the consent agenda shows the Council is prepared to vote on an adjustment to utility fees -- water customers who're disconnected for non-payment would see their reconnection deposit rise to $50 per cut-off up to a $200 cap (from today's $50 first offense, $25 each additional to a $200 cap.) Additionally, the Council is asked to approve the charging of interest on past-due accounts, something the City's new enterprise financial software allows that the old one didn't. The staff memo notes 2,041 accounts are currently in hock to the City for $848,457 in past-due billings... all interest-free.

There's a public hearing for the rezoning approval for another 84 townhouses in Davis Park, along the western side of Davis Dr. near Hopson -- which should likely get a rubber-stamp A-OK. (From the caveat emptor department: the rezoning staff report notes that the developer didn't agree to dedicate the full right-of-way recommended by the Durham transportation department for the Triangle Parkway NC 147 extension, which will take place just to the west of the Davis Park site; a 70-foot building setback will be provided instead. The City recommended that "the applicant provide noise mitigation measures as a committed element on their site to buffer the proposed residential uses" from the freeway, since the N.C. Turnpike Authority isn't required or proposing to add noise barriers here.)

Besides that? A couple of streets renamed here, a couple of ordered petitioned improvements there, and you've got yourself the sausage factory we call local government.

On the consent agenda, look for the Council to pass without comment $138,500 towards buying 160 acres of land that's in the Little River Watershed, including 1.5 miles of direct river frontage. (The City's asked to pick up 10% of the cost, with the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund picking up the lion's share, and with contributions from local non profits, Durham County, and the City of Raleigh.)


Kevin Davis

Update: On the Davis Park project, the developer agreed to add another 50' of ROW for the Parkway on their site plans and, if the NCTA needs more land for the road, to sell the land back to the Turnpike Authority at cost. The rezoning passed 6-0.

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