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May 2009

Interim insiders step into OEWD, Audit director roles

After bringing new General Services director Joel Reitzer to Durham from outside the City government, city manager Tom Bonfield has looked inside the administration to two interim appointees to plug vacancies in the Bull City's administration.

Kevin Dick takes over the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, while Germaine Brewington assumes permanent leadership of the Audit Services group.

Dick has led OEWD since Alan DeLisle left for Louisville, Ky.'s top downtown development post at the end of 2008. Dick, who holds a bachelor's degree from Georgetown and a master's in Urban and Regional Planning from Florida Atlantic, has particularly big shoes to fill, given DeLisle's long service in the role.

Continue reading "Interim insiders step into OEWD, Audit director roles" »

Surprises abound at 2009 Golden Leaf Awards

In a year with some very high-profile new and re-made buildings in Durham, the judges for the 2009 Golden Leaf Awards had plenty of tough decisions to make.  

Unfortunately, while the quality of nominees was high, the number of nominees was low.  Two awards normally given out at the Golden Leaf Awards, the Landscaping and Maintenance Awards and the Keep Durham Beautiful Awards were not given out this year due to a lack of nominees in those categories.

Still, the awards that were given out promise to provide a lot of fodder for discussion in the coming days.

QuintilesThe 7th annual Golden Leaf Awards, an event that celebrates good design and appearance in the Bull City, were held in the perfectly-chosen Rigsbee Hall Thursday evening to a packed house. 

And much like the Oscars, the night had plenty of free booze, overly long speeches, beautiful montages, awkward award announcements, and most importantly, controversial choices (though thankfully, unlike the Oscars, the event only lasted one hour).

The first set of awards were for Commercial Properties.  Two heavyweights predictably won Awards of Merit (essentially honorable mentions) in this category: the sidewalk-less new Quintiles behemoth in the Imperial Center and the mixed-use Pavilion East at Lakeview on Erwin Road. 

Continue reading "Surprises abound at 2009 Golden Leaf Awards" »

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for May 29, 2009

Elected officials and administrators from Durham Public Schools and the County met Thursday morning to try to hash out a solution to their gap on school funding, but walked away without an answer, according to press reports. Some BOCC members expressed an unwillingness to raise taxes at all; Ellen Reckhow signaled an openness to more schools funding if she understood better where DPS dollars flow.

Of note: County manager Mike Ruffin told officials during the hearing that additional bond debt coupled with recessionary realities on other sources of revenue may mean as much as a five cent per $100 of assessed value increase in taxes next year -- underscoring his push to keep rates level this year.

In other news:

  • More bad news for the owners of West Village: there's yet another lawsuit circling the historic renovation project. This time it's an LLC connect to Raleigh investor David Falk Jr., whose firm Drucker & Falk also manages the West Village apartments. This one's over a quarter-million in debt. (N&O)
  • The Ellerbe Creek Watershed Assn. has acquired the marsh behind the Compare Foods by I-85, home of a beaver sanctuary and frequent neighborhood clean-ups on the 33 acre site. (H-S)
  • The school board named a new principal for WG Pearson Elementary; Kecia Rogers takes over for Sandy Chambers, who's moved on to the Wake school system. The board also approved contracts for the renovation of the Lakewood Y into a Montessori magnet middle school, and for expansions and improvements to Hillside and Northern. (H-S)
  • Durham's Urban Ministries has partnered with McKinney on a marketing campaign to raise awareness of homelessness in the Bull City. Look for new TV ads, online presence, and a MindWorks-designed web site to launch in the coming days. (H-S)

Pin Projekt auction, Downtown Durham Resource Fair, Five Points Palooza in city center this weekend

The ABCDDurham listserv has been a-twitter these last couple of weeks with discussions of why festivals like CenterFest and Taste of Durham moved out of the city center (or downtown entirely), moves that organizers say have to do with cost, but which downtown residents and workers say bring character to the CCB Plaza and other core spaces.

Well, there's at least three opportunities this weekend to enjoy some good ol' fashioned fun in the heart of Durham -- one of which is a self-organized music jam and picnic set for Saturday night.

Jodi_hoover_pin First up: Friday night's Pin Projekt fundraiser, the fifth-annual version of this event, all the proceeds from which benefit Durham's Troika Music Festival. The eponymous pins are bowling pins that local creatives have recreated into "decorative and functional art."

The event starts at 6:30pm with viewing of the pins and cocktails, with the pins being auctioned starting at 8:00pm. Durham's own Cool John Ferguson will bring his brand of blues to the Pinhook starting at 10pm.

A variety of restaurants -- including Amelia, Pop's Backdoor, Chamas, Piazza Italia, Piedmont, Revolution, and Six Plates -- are providing food during the cocktail hour to boot.

Continue reading "Pin Projekt auction, Downtown Durham Resource Fair, Five Points Palooza in city center this weekend" »

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for May 28, 2009

Tuesday was a good day in Durham news if your name's Mike Ruffin or Tom Bonfield. Wait, it's actually Katie Kalb or one of the folks at Blue Devil Ventures? Hey, relax -- weekend's almost here.

  • Both county manager Ruffin and city manager Bonfield are drawing praise from elected officials and department heads -- for the most part -- over the budgets, with the Council finishing its budget review in seeming record time. Neither the City Council nor BOCC seems prone to making major changes in strategy from what their appointed execs have proposed, though Council's Mike Woodard in particular has asked about the impact of cost-cutting some vacant DPD positions on domestic violence enforcement.
  • The one department head who's not been playing ball, it seems, with local government's cuts: Public Works' Katie Kalb, whom the H-S notes got into a tit-for-tat exchange with Bonfield over the cuts her department absorbed (roughly one-third of all layoffs.) Kalb mouthed off that there wasn't much "fluff" in the budget; Bonfield retorted that the manager hadn't brought forth the requested metrics on efficiency and efficacy. (Ray Gronberg reports some apparent concerns from Council on public works cuts, too.)
  • Meanwhile, the developers of the West Village complex are being sued by oil giant Chevron over a loan made on the Phase III Chesterfield building; Chevron claims it's overdue for $1.5m in principal plus a boatload of interest. (H-S) The N&O adds that NFL player Shawne Merriman of the San Diego Chargers is suing two of the developers (Christian Laettner and Brian Davis) over a $3 million loan, while yet another court ruled against ex-Duke hoopsters Laettner and Davis in an employment matter with another of their companies. (N&O) No word on what impact the suit will have on the eventual redevelopment of the hulking Chesterfield at Main & Duke; Phase II of West Village, completed last year, is largely leased-up.
  • Got a million bucks to burn on a townhouse? The indefatigable Lou Goetz is holding a reception to kick off pre-sales on The Brownstones through an "unveiling" of the project -- but it's invitation-only. I mean, hell, who needs lookie-loos if they don't have trust funds or black AmEx cards? Of course, the plans have been on the project's web site for over a month, so we're not quite sure what kind of "unveiling" this will be. (H-S)
  • Yard waste and bulky items might need to sit at the curb for one more day than at present under an efficiency proposal from Solid Waste; refuse pick-up crews would use handheld computers to signal the presence of special pick-up items, and a next-day truck would make the pick-up, saving on gas -- though negotiation with some HOAs and nattering neighborhood boards may be needed over aesthetics. The City also seems poised to move forward with making recycling pick-up an every-other-week event using larger roll-out carts. (H-S)

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for May 27, 2009

Lots to muse on in the dailies this morning:

  • The H-S and the N&O have coverage of the County budget proposal for next fiscal year (see BCR's coverage from the unveiling.) As the H-S notes, all five members of the Board of County Commissioners expressed their support last night for the efforts of county manager Mike Ruffin and his staff, with Joe Bowser specifically calling on the Board of Education to "work together" with the BOCC and administrators on a budget compromise. (H-S #1, #2; N&O)
  • The number of City employees to be tagged by layoffs dropped by four; one retired, one resigned, and two more found out they wouldn't be laid off after all. Statistics presented at Cora Cole-McFadden's request found the layoff candidates to be older, and disproportionately minority, compared to the city workforce as a whole, but no Council members have expressed any objections to the moves -- simply a concern echoed at Tuesday's budget hearing that city staff work to place the positions elsewhere in Durham government if possible. Meanwhile, the Council is on-track to finish its work session deliberations on the budget far ahead of schedule. (H-S)
  • Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the stormwater, The Durham News' Jim Wise reminds us that Falls Lake will begin to get scrutiny next for nitrogen-reduction rules similar to those passed for Jordan Lake this year. Look for a 2010 or 2011 schedule for promulgation of the rules. (TDN)
  • As discussed here yesterday, city manager Tom Bonfield is patching some of this year's budget hole with Federal stimulus dollars for transit. The H-S' Ray Gronberg notes that while this isn't Bonfield's preference "to rely on one-time money to finance ongoing expenses," the manager's optimistic about prospects for both an increased local vehicle registration fee dedicated to transit and the possible half-cent sales tax for transit, making this year's stopgap potentially a truly short-term measure. A possible dedication by policy of a certain number of cents of property tax to transit is also a longer-term possibility, Bonfield says. (H-S)
  • The 22nd annual Bull Durham Blues Festival returns to the historic Durham Athletic Park from the DBAP this fall -- a move certain to be celebrated by long-time afficionados of the festival, which relocated during the DAP's renovations -- but shrinks from three days to two, a Friday night concert at the Hayti Heritage Center followed by one day at the DAP. Elvin Bishop and Eric Bibb highlight the festival's lineup. (H-S)
  • Quintiles' new headquarters off I-40 in south Durham will have its official grand opening and dedication tomorrow, with Mayor Bell and Gov. Bev Perdue speaking. (H-S)
  • The one Durhamite known to have the A/H1N1 virus (AKA "swine flu") has been released from hospital and is undergoing at-home confinement. (H-S)

County FY10 budget: No staff cuts, no tax hikes; schools funding fight still looms

County manager Mike Ruffin's budget presentation tonight prefaced a discussion of the school board's budget request with an image of, literally, an elephant in the room -- that elephant being the outstanding item of the schools' budget increase request, the only point of dissension between county administrators and any department on this budget.

Bocc_budget And, oh, what an elephant it is.  And Tuesday night, it wasn't appearing in an empty room, either.

A standing-room only crowd turned out for the budget presentation -- many of County-funded department heads and managers appeared, providing a visible show of support from County government leaders for a budget that Ruffin calls the most challenging in his years of local government management.

We'll take here a high-level look at the County budget, a subject we'll return to in more depth in the coming days -- including, but by no means limited to, a look at the DPS-County differences on budget.

The overall picture. Although there's a nominal increase in the County budget for next year, Ruffin noted that the key driver there are passthrough payments, the social services dollars funded at the state and federal level over which the County has no job but disbursement.

And requests for public assistance like WIC, food stamps, and the like are certainly up, by an estimated $49 million next year, or 15%. Yet when these external funds are set aside, the average department budget level will decline 6.6% -- except for DPS and Durham Tech, both recommended for a 2.8% decrease.

The total budget rises just under 4% from last year, though once pass-through funds are excluded, a $22.4 million decrease (6.2%) in spending is at hand.

Continue reading "County FY10 budget: No staff cuts, no tax hikes; schools funding fight still looms" »

Durham's FY10 City budget -- beyond the layoffs

Next year's City budget -- which includes an $11.1m, or 3.1% decrease in overall spending, about 90% of which comes from the General Fund -- has gotten a disproportionate amount of attention for the proposed layoff of 35 municipal employees and pay freezes for all employees except public safety.

Employees also will face a nearly 10% increase in health insurance premiums, along with the beginning of a phase-out of the longevity bonus program.

While much of the discourse has revolved around those cuts, there are more items of interest when you delve into some of the fiscal details. Here are a few highlights; expect more to dribble out in the coming days and weeks as Council debates the budget in special sessions and next Monday night's public hearing.

Water/sewer on the rise.
The sorry state of Durham's water rates has been no secret; before last year's tiered rate implementation, Durham was in the bottom decile of all NC cities with respect to water prices, a situation that impaired funding sources for increasing water supplies, new reservoirs, sewer replacement, etc.

The FY10 budget includes a 9.25% increase in rates, though the lowest tier is held at constant pricing. Those funds are intended to support $61.5 million in capital improvements this year alone.

But looking at the multi-year water and sewer fund projections, it looks like this is a starting and not an ending point.

Continue reading "Durham's FY10 City budget -- beyond the layoffs" »

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for May 26, 2009

It's a very quiet morning in the fishwraps:

  • Ray Gronberg's reporting a tumultuous City Council work session last week over employee benefits. A proposal to change the City's life insurance carrier to Unum from hometown NC Mutual -- which failed to submit a bid within the deadline -- brought the blowback from some corners of council that city manager Tom Bonfield's HR director predicted it might. Former NC Mutual exec Howard Clement expressed outrage over Unum's lack of racial diversity among their NC-based employees and called for the bidding to be thrown out... though he noted his ongoing pension ties to NC Mutual create a possible conflict of interest situation. Meanwhile, two Council members (Clement and Cora Cole-McFadden) raised red flags on a recommendation to use BCBS-NC for dental coverage, given that firm's lobbying against universal health insurance and against some changes to NC laws that the two Council members disfavored. (H-S)
  • Transit advocates lay out in today's H-S a not-so-novel strategy for getting a transit tax approved in Durham next year -- getting the Durham Committee on board and in support, with a focus on the benefit of transit to low- and middle-income families. The measure still needs to pass the state Senate, but last year's Durham Committee tie-up with a conservative advocacy group to kill the meals tax for cultural amenities. (H-S)
  • An NBC 17 brief shows advocates for Durham Public Schools, the sheriff's office, and County-funded social services programs all lining up in opposition to forthcoming budget cuts. County manager Mike Ruffin will unveil the proposed County budget tonight; a public hearing is set for June 8. N.B.: See Ruffin's comments on this post for the manager's response to the NBC 17 story.

Gleen School Rd. Wal-Mart SuperCenter opens June 17; Roxboro Rd. W-M "soon to be vacant"

At one new Wal-Mart, there are signs proclaiming a forthcoming grand opening, just past the middle of June.

At another, older store, all signs point to closure, and a large hole looming inside an aging shopping center.

First, the new store: the Wal-Mart SuperCenter under construction off of I-85 at Glenn School Road now has an opening date of June 17 listed in signs posted to its door. Hiring for the store continues in an adjacent retail pad within the newly-constructed strip center.

On the flip side, the closure of the Roxboro Rd. Wal-Mart is apparently a done deal, as has been hinted at for a while (including comments on the last post we had on the subject, in which Durham blogger Joe noted some signs directing customers to Glenn School Rd.)

If you've been itching for a chance to open a big box retail store where a Wal-Mart used to be, the 120,000 sq. ft. site where Wal-Mart sits today right next to Durham Regional Hospital is on the market for just $2.95 million. From the LoopNet property description:

The Subject is a "big box" retail property currently operated by Walmart until the completion of a larger Supercenter [is] final. Relocation is expected in mid-2009. The property is located at the northeast corner of Roxboro Street (Highway 501) and Old Oxford Road in Durham, North Carolina. This is a high-traffic intersection with an estimated Average Annual Daily Traffic Count of 25,000 vehicles per day....

The property provides a unique opportunity for an investor or end-user to acquire an infill big box property with high barriers to entry adjacent to a regional shopping center and Durham Regional Hospital.

For what it's worth, the Wal-Mart strip center, which has found itself looking rather tired and dated, was only built in 1990. While there are some creative efforts to repurpose these large, windowless spaces -- from courthouses to libraries to go-kart tracks -- the typical meme is for one of these suckers to sit vacant for as long as it takes for the rest of the center to go bust, then to tear the whole darned thing back down and start over again.