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2014 State of the Town Address

By Mayor Harold Weinbrecht

Harold Weinbrecht photoIt has been my honor to serve as Mayor of Cary for the last six years, and I am pleased to present my seventh State of the Town address. This annual address is an opportunity to acknowledge the Town’s accomplishments in 2013 and highlight why Cary is known as one of the best places to live, work, play and run a business in America.

I would like to start off by acknowledging the commitment and dedication of my council colleagues. In a time where the norm is extreme partisanship on the local, state, and federal levels, this professional group of men and women work in a non-partisan way as a team for the betterment of Cary. With over 63 years of elected experience and more than a decade of service on boards and commissions, they use their expertise to find solutions to problems and issues rather than spending their time promoting other agendas. I am blessed to be associated with such a great group of people.

The Town Council is supported by the best Town staff in the state, led by Town Manager Ben Shivar. These 1,185 public servants focus every day on enriching our lives by creating an exceptional environment and providing exemplary services. They are experts with efficiency and doing more with less. Our employee-citizen ratio is 8.3 employees per thousand residents, which is well below the municipal average of 11. While they are considered by me and many to be the best of the best, they are constantly looking for ways to improve.

This past fall the Town Manager completed an extensive review of the Town’s organizational structure with a goal to improve customer service and be more responsive to Council. The organizational structure in place was flat, established in the late 1980’s to serve approximately 40,000 people. Since that time the number and complexity of Town services and programs have increased dramatically. This increased complexity combined with the flat organizational structure led to challenges with communication, coordination, and problem resolution. As a result and with Council’s support, the Town Manager has implemented a new structure with the goals of an even stronger focus on customer service, a stronger organizational strategic focus, increased accountability, and timelier decision-making.

To accomplish these goals, the Town Manager has divided the organization into three functional areas: 1) Development Services, 2) Infrastructure, and 3) Public Safety and Operations. The former Assistant Town Manager was made the Deputy Town Manager, with responsibility over public safety and operations in addition to stepping in for the Town Manager when needed. Two new Assistant Town Manager positions were created, with one having responsibility for development services and the other overseeing infrastructure functions. This new structure has reduced the number of direct reports to the Town Manager, and he has created a new executive management team that focuses on strategic issues and resolving inter-departmental issues. And the good news is that these changes have not resulted in an increase in the overall salary budget for the Town. The implementation of the changes started last November and the Town Manager expects to have the reorg in place and fully functioning this spring. In fact, he plans to develop his proposed annual budget using the new structure this May.

In addition to the changes the Town Manager has made to the Town’s organizational structure, the Town Council has made changes to our Council committee and meeting structures. The Council no longer has operations and planning and development committees making recommendations to the full council. Instead, the full Council is handling all issues directly at the Council table. This is making for an efficient decision process without impacting citizen input since citizens generally weren’t allowed to speak at those committee meetings. Because the lack of committees may increase discussion in regularly scheduled meetings, Council has added an additional meeting on the first Thursday of the month to hear quasi-judicial matters. This should reduce the length of time citizens will have to wait for a deliberation and decision at regularly scheduled Council meetings.

Cary continues to have a strong partnership with our Chamber of Commerce. Under the excellent leadership of Howard Johnson, the Chamber is constantly looking for ways to recruit new businesses and help existing businesses thrive and prosper.

With the Chamber’s help, 2013 was once again a successful year for keeping our unemployment rate low at approximately 4.7 percent, bringing jobs to Cary, and maintaining our strong economy. Over 760 new businesses registered to do business in Cary with approximately 400 of those registered to be located in Cary. Most of those were small businesses, which make such a significant contribution to our community. There were also several large businesses that came to Cary in 2013, most notably MetLife, which broke ground at their new site in Weston last fall. MetLife will bring approximately 1300 jobs with an annual salary averaging over $110,000. This will be a big economic boost to Cary and the region. Other business announcements included: DB Global Technologies, which will add 431 new jobs and invest an additional $13.5 million in operations; Extreme Networks, which relocated 150 individuals to Cary and its RDU Center site; aap3, which will bring 20 jobs initially and more down the road to Weston; and GE Energy Management, which is moving 60 engineers to its global headquarters for the company’s power components and power equipment business to CentreGreen in Weston.

But the good news doesn’t end there. Bass Pro Shops, Stone Education Supplies, Fortnight Brewing, and Corvias Campus Living all made Cary relocation or expansion announcements in 2013. The united efforts of the Cary Chamber’s business recruitment, a committed and dedicated Town Council providing clear direction, and an excellent staff implementing that direction are significant reasons why Cary’s economy remains one of the strongest in the country.

But our economy is just one of the reasons people and businesses are attracted to Cary. We continued to be recognized nationally and internationally as one of the best places to live, work, and play. Some of the accolades for 2013 included having the lowest crime rate in the nation for communities between 100,000 and 500,000 people; number eight city for economic potential, number seven metro area for job growth, one of the best mid-sized cities to move to, and the number three metro area for creating and sustaining jobs and economic growth.

Quality of Life accolades also included Cary being named a national Tree City for the 30th consecutive year, a traffic safe community, and the first municipality in the state to launch a social media archive.

Cary is also a celebrated leader in energy efficiency and the environment. Recent recognitions included having one of the largest public-private solar farms in the state that will generate $35,000 in revenue annually, LED street lighting that will save over $200,000 annually, and the first green built fire station, which will save over 40 percent on energy costs annually. We launched the Aquastar web portal which is helping Cary utility customers find costly leaks and better understand their usage so that they can make informed choices that affect their utility bills.

Cary’s population continues to be diverse, educated, and involved. Over 146,000 people now call Cary home. Our population is aging with 22 percent of us now over 65 years of age. Cary’s cultural diversity is also increasing with 19 percent of our residents being born in another country. We are an educated population with over two thirds of our adults having at least a four year degree and one third of us having a higher degree. We love our Town and participate in activities to make it better. Over 4,400 of our citizens have given their time and talents to help with Town activities. There is little doubt that one of the Town’s greatest attributes is its citizens and its diversity.

Not only is Cary’s population changing but our physical characteristics are changing as well. We continue to grow; our Town now covers 60 square miles. We are the seventh largest municipality in the state, the third largest Town in the nation, and the one-hundred-seventy-first largest municipality in the nation. Interestingly we are larger than any municipality in South Carolina. As we continue to grow, our infrastructure and core services remain a priority.

In 2013, Cary added nine miles to our street system. Cary now has over 600 miles of roads within Town limits, many of which are owned and maintained by the state. We also widened and resurfaced over 21 miles of streets. To complement our road infrastructure, we increased our sidewalks to 450 miles, and now have over 70 miles of greenways.

Making sure the Town’s utilities meet our needs of today, tomorrow, and decades into the future is essential as we move forward. This year, the Western Wake Regional Wastewater Management Facilities will come on line and help serve our region’s waste water needs for decades. An expansion of our water plant will begin construction by summer and should be completed in about two years. Once completed the plant should provide enough water capacity to meet our needs until at least 2030.

Our nationally accredited Police Department continues to be the best of the best. As I mentioned earlier we have the lowest crime rate in America for a municipality our size. This success comes not only from excellent policing but from education and involvement of our citizens. Initiatives implemented by Chief Bazemore in the last few years have had a dramatic impact on reducing crime. Project Phoenix, a zero crime tolerance, education, and involvement program for apartments, now has over 40 communities participating. Geo Policing, which divides the Town into three districts, has allowed our officers to become experts in the areas they serve. Citizens Assisting Police, or CAP, now has almost a one to one ratio of active members per police officer. These combined initiatives put us in excellent position to remain a safe community. Yet, our Police Department continues to look for new ideas to keep us safe.

The internationally accredited Town of Cary Fire Department continues to be a model of excellence with a focus on life-saving customer service. Every member of the fire department is involved not only in continuing firefighter education but is trained as an EMS first responder. New fire stations are also helping to reduce average response times. Fire Station 8 on Mills Park in western Cary is the Town’s first green-built facility and is also home to a police substation. The new Fire Station 2, which will be on Chatham Street, will serve an ever revitalizing downtown and should break ground this year and be operational next year.

Our nationally accredited Parks, Recreation & Cultural Resources Department continues to provide excellent programming and facilities for our residents. Cary now has 29 parks, three community centers, a cultural arts center, a senior center, a nature center, and the award-winning performance venue, Booth Amphitheatre. And the new downtown Cary Theater, which is set to open this winter, will be a multi-use cultural facility with a focus on digital arts, including film, youth and amateur theater, and music. We are blessed to be a Town rich in the cultural and performing arts.

We also continue to gain national and international recognition with the town’s three sports venues. The Cary Tennis Park, USA Baseball National Training Complex, and the WakeMed Soccer Park continue to allow Cary to be an NCAA Championship City and enhance our reputation as an amateur sports Mecca by hosting dozens of championships. In fact, Cary has hosted or is scheduled to host 18 NCAA championships and 29 ACC championships. Through 2012, these venues have boosted our economy by over $40 million dollars and it is estimated that in 2013 these venues generated $7.7 million in economic benefit. We continue to see strong interest in our venues and I expect these numbers to increase.

As we enter 2014 we are on very solid financial ground. Our tax rate is the lowest in Wake County, our finances remain very strong with the highest rating from all major bond rating agencies, our debt remains well below the Council’s self-imposed 15 percent goal, and our staff continues to budget very conservatively with last year’s budget finishing $17 million better than expected ($13 million of that being less cost).

Thanks to the voter-approved Community Investment Bonds in 2012, several critical infrastructure projects are well underway and others will begin construction in 2014. These include street projects at the intersections of Kildaire Farm Road and Cary Parkway, Evans Road and Cary Parkway, the US 1/64 ramp and Cary Parkway, Chapel Hill Road and Maynard Road, and High House Road and Maynard Road. Other street projects include Walnut Street traffic improvements and repaving. As previously mentioned, Fire Station 2 will begin construction this year. Bartley Park and Carpenter Neighborhood Park will also break ground this year. And several sports fields will be replaced with sport turf to significantly increase playing time.

But with all of this good news, the Cary Town Council and the town staff will continue to face challenging choices in 2014. While our population has grown by 20,000 people in the last five years, the revenues supporting our operating budget have not kept pace with demand. This has meant fewer staff doing more work. We are close to a point of impacting the level of service for our citizens. At the same time there is increasing pressure for new services such as those involving technology. This will once again create tough decisions trying to balance levels of service with costs and revenue.

As the Town has less and less available undeveloped land within our corporate limits, proposals for more infill projects will likely increase. The types of issues will be a combination of land use, available financing, and market demand. Currently the Town is about 75 percent residential and about 25 percent non-residential and it is important for the Town to maintain a good mixture of development types. Demand for office and retail remains low. Office inventory hasn’t changed much in the last five years, and building new offices is difficult since banks are requiring about 50 percent preleasing for new buildings. Retail continues to grow slowly and is mostly in western Cary. Single-family housing projects are becoming rare. Multi-family housing has been the most requested development type in the last few months. Our challenge this year will be carefully weighing proposals to change land use so that Cary’s high quality of life is preserved.

Maintaining our diverse employment base may also prove to be challenging. Currently, 20 percent of our jobs are in information services, 16 percent in retail, 13 percent in professional services, 12 percent in administrative services, 12 percent in accommodations and food services, and 11 percent in health services. While Cary’s economy is diverse, the Town’s economy is somewhat tied to the Information Services sector. This sector not only holds the largest number of jobs in Cary, it is also highly-concentrated in the Town. While this finding confirms Cary’s competitive advantages for attracting this industry, it may also imply a potential vulnerability.

The revitalization of downtown will continue to be a focus for the Town. The opening of The Cary Theater and the Jones House should help bring more people downtown. Groundbreaking of the Mayton Inn should occur soon, and hopefully it will be open for business late next year.

We’re also moving forward on developing the 13-acres across from the Cary Arts Center. The first phase of the seven-acre downtown park-- the two-acre Town Square -- will begin construction this year. Over time, we’re looking forward to designing the rest of the park as well as relocating a larger downtown library to the site along with getting a few shops and possibly some residential development along some of the park’s edges. While downtown performances and entertainment continue to grow in popularity, it will be our challenge to keep the impetus on downtown revitalization moving forward.

One of the most difficult challenges we will face in 2014 is the Imagine Cary planning process. While Cary is remarkable today, what will it be like in 2040? Imagine Cary is helping to develop a new, comprehensive, long-range community plan that will help shape the Cary of 2040. The new plan will incorporate the existing vision, land use, parks, growth management, affordable housing, transportation, open space, and historic preservation plans. The Imagine Cary process is creating a community-wide dialogue on our vision and values for the community, acknowledging and addressing policy trade-offs related to that vision, and developing new growth and policy frameworks to implement the new vision. It is of utmost importance that as many citizens as possible get involved and stay involved in this process. Our long-term vision depends on it!

As we begin this New Year, the State of Cary is strong and I believe 2014 will be another good year for Cary. There will continue to be interest from all over the world to live, work and play in Cary. We must continue to work together to plan our future. If we do, the old Cary motto of “where better living begins” will be known through the nation.

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