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2015 State of the Town Address

By Mayor Harold Weinbrecht

Harold Weinbrecht photoI am grateful to have served as the Mayor of Cary for the last seven years, and I am honored to present my eighth State of the Town address. This annual address is an opportunity to recognize this past year’s accomplishments, provide an update on the Town’s essential services, and highlight why Cary is one of the most desirable places to live, work, raise a family, and do business.

As we begin 2015, Cary has a population over 151,700 and a land mass of nearly 58 square miles spread among two counties. We have the lowest tax rate in Wake County at 35 cents to go along with the highest quality of life. We are an educated and culturally diverse community. Two thirds of our residents have four year degrees and a quarter of our residents have advanced degrees. Almost one in five Cary residents were born in another country and it has been estimated that less than five percent of residents were born and raised in Cary. Our population continues to get older with over 22 percent of our residents now over 65 years old.

Our financial standing remains very strong with the highest rating from all major bond rating agencies, which is a guarantee to our taxpayers that the Town is getting the lowest interest rates possible. In addition, we continue to maintain a reserve balance that is more than triple what is required. Our debt is well below our 15 percent ceiling at around 11 percent. We continue to budget conservatively with the 2014 fiscal year’s budget coming in at $17 million less than planned. $13 million of that was cost savings and $4 million from additional revenue.

Our community’s excellence goes well beyond our finances as we are frequently recognized nationally with numerous accolades. Some of these include the lowest crime rate in the nation for communities our size, the #8 best place to live in the country, the 4th best economy, 5th best in housing, and the 4th best in education. The Raleigh/Cary metro area received accolades such as #1 for raising a family, #1 for home ownership, #2 for young professionals, #4 for job growth, #4 to launch a startup company, #8 for STEM graduates, #10 for women in business and among the best for raising kids, and #3 for a swim friendly locale.

These accolades and the quality of life we enjoy are a result of the efforts of many extraordinary people: people that love, care, and are passionate about our Town. People like our Town staff; past and current Town Councils and our business leaders; but most importantly, the Cary citizens. Without the support and involvement of the Cary citizens over these past many decades, Cary wouldn’t be nearly what it is today.

This past year Cary citizens have volunteered by the thousands for boards, commissions, committees, and other groups helping everything from our parks system to our police and fire departments. Many of our citizens are actively involved in planning our Town’s future through the Imagine Cary process. This multi-year process, which should be concluded later this year, will guide the Town in creating policies that support our citizens’ vision of the future for the next quarter of a century. Our Town is fortunate to have so many citizens who are knowledgeable, engaged, and active. It is their passion and talents that are crucial to our Town’s success.

Cary continues to be blessed with good elected leadership. This year the Town Council will operate with only six members instead of seven since former Mayor Pro-Tem Adcock was elected to serve our citizens in the North Carolina Legislature. Cary voters will elect her successor this October, and she or he will begin serving a new, four-year term this December. While we will miss Gale, the good news is that we have gained a strong advocate for Cary at the state level. The remaining Council members average 11 years of service and are professional, respectful, and passionate about keeping Cary great. It is a privilege to be a part of such an extraordinary group of leaders.

The Council and the citizens of Cary are supported by a great Town staff. These dedicated men and women are the best of the best, with many of them being recognized as experts in their field of service. They have a strong focus on customer service and continue to outperform their peers in other municipalities by doing more with less. While most communities our size have an average of 11 employees per 1000 residents, Cary’s efficient operations use less than eight employees per 1000 residents. The excellent services Cary residents have grown accustomed to are a direct result of the hard work of over 1200 Town employees who have dedicated their lives to serving others.

The Town’s partnership with the Chamber of Commerce continues to boost our economy. With their help, 2014 was another successful year for creating jobs. As a result Cary’s unemployment rate is at 3.5a percent which is the pre-recession level and is considered full employment. During 2014 over 700 new businesses registered to do business in Cary. Most of these were small businesses which are the backbone of our economy. Some of the notable businesses opening in 2014 include Publix, Field & Stream, and TrialCard.

Other big announcements in 2014 included HCL which is bringing over 1000 jobs to Regency. In addition, the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina decided to locate their offices in Cary’s Weston Office Park. Having this newly privatized marketing arm of the North Carolina Department of Commerce located in Weston means that visiting companies interested in locating in North Carolina will see Cary first. Several other companies announced significant capital investments and job expansions including SAS, which opened a new building that will house 600 workers over the next three years.

In an update to last year’s big job announcement, MetLife reports having filled nearly 1100 jobs so far with about 300 positions remaining. The annual salaries for those jobs should average $110,000. And the MetLife twin towers in the Weston Office Park should be opening this spring.

Clearly the Town continues to enjoy a strong and effective relationship with the Cary Chamber of Commerce and its new Vice President of Economic Development, Kyle Greer. We expect more good news in the upcoming days and months.

Cary grew at a responsible, sustainable rate of around 2.85 percent in 2014, allowing the Town to maintain and improve the essential services like water, sewer, police and fire protection, and the transportation system.

Our water plant expansion contracts have been awarded and construction should take about two years. At the same time, the Town’s conservation efforts continue to be productive as Cary’s per capita usage remains low. As a result and once complete, the current water plant expansion should serve Cary’s needs for at least a decade.

The Western Wake Regional Wastewater Management Facilities are now online and were dedicated last November. It will provide wastewater capacity for the businesses and residents of Cary, Morrisville, Apex, and part of the Research Triangle Park for the next quarter of a century. The plant is very environmentally friendly using very few chemicals and creating pellets sold as fertilizer. Eventually the pellets may be used as fuel to run the plant’s biosolids dryers reducing cost. And the water that we’re returning to the Cape Fear from this plant it’s clean and safe and, in my opinion, even better than the river water it joins.

Our nationally accredited Cary Police department is one of the main reasons Cary is ranked as the safest city of our size in the U.S. by the FBI. They are constantly looking for ways to inform and involve our citizens to help keep our community safe. Programs like GeoPolicing, Project Phoenix, Citizens Police Academy, Citizens Assisting Police, and other programs will continue to help keep our homes and businesses safer. As the community grows, the Town grows the department to match the needs. This past fall a new police beat with 6 officers was added in northwest Cary in an area west of Highway 55. I anticipate additional officers to be requested in the upcoming fiscal year’s budget.

Our nationally accredited Fire Department is also growing. The groundbreaking for the new Fire Station 2 on East Chatham Street was in early December, and we are expecting to have that facility up and running next winter. It is our goal to make sure fire department emergency travel times in all areas of Cary are five minutes or less, and these facilities will help do that. In addition to response times, it is our goal that every firefighter is not only trained to put out fires but is also trained as an emergency medical first responder. That way, their talents and skill not only save property but also save lives.

Cary’s Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Resources Department, which is also accredited, continues to grow and provide significant benefits to our citizens. In 2014, we opened the 180-seat downtown theater, The Cary, worked with SAS to open the 12.4 acre Veterans Freedom Park, broke ground on the 50 acre Jack Smith Park, approved the first phase of the seven acre downtown park and approved construction of the new Carpenter Park. As the year begins Cary has 30 parks, three community centers, a cultural arts center, a senior center, a nature center, and the Booth Amphitheatre.

Our greenway and trail system is becoming larger with 82.2 miles completed and an additional 150.7 miles of proposed greenways and trails. Within the next couple of years we should have greenway connections from Lake Crabtree to the American Tobacco Trail. And if all goes according to plan, our trails combined with other trails should eventually allow a continuous greenway from Falls Lake in Raleigh to Durham.

Cary’s three major sports venues not only provide our citizens with recreational and entertainment opportunities but also provide significant economic benefit. It is estimated Wake Med Soccer Park, USA Baseball, and the Cary Tennis Park inject close to $8 million into our economy annually. Our reputation as North Carolina’s amateur sports capital has allowed us to host over 50 College Championships since 2002 including our 10th NCAA Division I soccer championship this past fall. And Cary’s two softball complexes contribute another $2 million into our economy annually. 

There are over 680 miles of roads in Cary. The town maintains approximately 430 miles of streets, with the remainder maintained by the North Carolina Department of Transportation and private homeowners’ associations.. About 60 percent of the portion that Cary maintains is in good or excellent condition. Unfortunately, that means that 40 percent are not. As a result the Town has increased expenditures for road repair and repaving the last two years by over 400 percent since 2011. Moreover, the town is spending and additional $5,000,000 on road repairs from our 2012 Community Investment Bond Referendum.

Many of the major road projects approved in the 2012 bond referendum are already underway, and several more will begin this year. The construction on the Walnut Street bridge over US1/64 near the Buck Jones Road ramps kicked off earlier this month. Academy Street Improvements will begin construction this spring to create a signature street in downtown Cary. Improvements should be made to Cary Parkway over US 1/64 to allow for two continuous westbound through lanes through the interchange where there is currently a single through lane. In addition, improvements should also be made this year to the intersection of NW Maynard Road and Chapel Hill Road to improve safety and intersection operations. The design plans for Green Level West Road will be completed this year, and right-of-way acquisition will begin to move forward. Final design plans are in progress for the Carpenter Fire Station Road project. All of these projects are making great strides and are funded as part of the 2012 Community Investment Bond Referendum. The improvements will be paid for by the associated additional two cents on the tax rate, which should still leave us with the lowest tax rate in Wake County.

Finally, a major component of our road network is our sidewalks to allow for safe pedestrian movement. The Town now has over 417 miles. Sidewalks continue to be a budget priority and are required with development projects.

Transit saw service expand during the last year with extended hours being added to the CTran Monday through Saturday schedule. CTran now runs from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. six days a week. In addition, an express route from Cary’s Town Hall parking deck to downtown Raleigh was created as part of NCDOT’s Fortify Project on I-40. If this route shows significant ridership, Triangle Transit may continue to provide this service after Fortify construction is complete.

2015 will be a year of challenges and change, with growth-related issues likely proving to be our biggest challenge. While Cary’s growth is less than three percent, most of that growth is occurring in western Cary. And too much growth in one area can overwhelm the schools, roads, parks, and other public services. Since the Town Council does not have authority from the State to stop development but only to decide which type of development may occur, it creates a dilemma. That is, while every property owner has a legal right to develop his or her land, the Council has the responsibility to make sure that every proposed development can be served by the Town’s essential services as well as schools, which are provided by counties. So the Council will be challenged not only with deciding whether the type of proposed development is appropriate but also whether services are available for that proposed development.

School overcrowding, especially in western Cary, will be a significant challenge this year. Although the Town has consistently communicated growth date to the school system for years, the funding needed for additional schools in western Cary and throughout the county has not been available, resulting in the capping of many Cary schools. Through my conversations with Wake County School Board members, it appears that capping for many Cary schools may be lifted this year. Unfortunately, a school bond vote to provide funding for additional schools will not be allowed until 2016 due to legislative restrictions by the General Assembly. So school overcrowding will continue to be a problem this year and in future years.

Congestion on major roads will also be a challenge. The North Carolina Department of Transportation is responsible for maintaining and improving most of the major roads in Cary. Unfortunately, adequate State funding for these roads is not available. This leaves the current General Assembly to look for ways to improve roads throughout the state with very little money. For Cary, that means road congestion, especially in western Cary, will also be a challenge this year.

Other decisions made by the General Assembly have created challenges for Cary in the past and will likely result in additional challenges this year. The elimination of the privilege license tax cost Cary over $1.7 million in revenue which is over a penny on the tax rate. In this year’s session the legislature will be looking at ways to redistribute sales taxes collected in Cary to rural areas, which could result in an additional loss of $4 million in revenue. Other decisions being considered by the legislature that could impact Cary include: efforts to eliminate our aesthetic controls of homes; fracking, which could impact our drinking water; not implementing the Jordan Lake rules, which allows pollutants in our drinking water source; and the possibility of requiring municipalities to take on the responsibility of State roads, which could have a huge financial impact. Many of these proposed legislative changes are part of the ongoing rural verses urban battle in the legislature. It will be our challenge to make sure that our Legislators understand that municipalities aren’t competing with rural areas and that we need to all work together to bring jobs and improve commerce in our state.

We can expect good things to happen this year, especially in the area of communications. AT&T is already installing high speed fiber throughout town, and I am hopeful that Google will announce that they will do the same. Regardless of the providers, I believe we will see high speed networks that are a hundred times faster than what’s available today start to become a reality. Based on the companies’ projections, this could be available to a large segment of Cary residents within about 18 months.

Downtown will take more transformative steps this year as construction for the Academy Streetscape and Downtown Park get underway. The Academy Streetscape Project will not only provide an aesthetically pleasing main street with better pedestrian access but will also improve water and sewer that is over half a century old. The Downtown Park will take about a year to complete and will create a great outdoor place for residents and visitors to enjoy a variety of activities. Construction is underway on the Mayton Inn and many new and existing businesses are bringing new life to old buildings in our downtown. We anticipate a new development announcement along Chatham Street this year and have several other announcements pending. Keep your eye on Downtown….more good things are coming!

In conclusion, Cary begins the year financially sound, environmentally friendly, and economically strong. Cary IS one of the greatest places to call home whether you are a resident or a business. I appreciate your trust and confidence in me as your Mayor and with your help we will make Cary even greater than it is today.

Watch the State of the Town Address on the Town's YouTube channel or on Cary TV 11 throughout the month of February.