Mayor Harold Weinbrecht delivered the annual State of Cary address on January 22, 2020 to the Cary Chamber of Commerce. A video version will be released soon. Read the text version below.
It is an honor and a privilege to begin serving my fourth term as the mayor of one of the most incredible communities in the country: Cary, North Carolina. I am proud to be presenting my 13th State of Cary address. We start this new decade, once again, in excellent shape. With the citizen’s passage of the transportation and parks bonds and several key new developments, we are fulfilling our citizens’ vision for the future, keeping Cary the Cary we know and love, all while transforming our community to beyond remarkable.
As is customary, I’ll begin this address by providing a few numbers. I guess that’s from my math and computer science background.
Cary is the second largest town in the nation and the seventh largest municipality in North Carolina with an incorporated area of roughly 60 square miles. About 85% of land under our jurisdiction has been developed, which means most of future proposals will be redevelopment. Our tax rate is 35 cents, which is about the same as it was 20 years ago. We have had the lowest tax rate in Wake County for over a decade, which is exceptional considering we also have the highest quality of life. But as we said during our 2019 bond referendum education, this financial goal isn’t sustainable if we want to move forward with investments critical for keeping Cary Cary in the coming years. There’s no question that taxes will have to rise, but you can be assured that we won’t do so until we’ve done all that we should to postpone that reality as long as possible. Even then, I believe our taxes will be among the lowest and our quality of life the highest, and Cary, NC will be the best value in the nation.
Over the past year Cary, once again, received many accolades. Some of those include
- #1 Safest City in the United States (Cary) — HomeSnacks, February 2019
- #1 Best City for Raising a Family in NC (Cary) — WalletHub, June 2019
- #1 Most Connected City in North Carolina (Cary) — CenturyLink, 2019
- #2 Healthiest Housing Market in North Carolina (Cary) — SmartAsset, 2019
- #3 in the US & #1 in NC for Job Seekers Over 50 (Cary) — GoBankingRates, 2019
- #4 Best Place to Live in the US (Cary) — HomeSnacks, March 2019
- Cary Tennis Park received the U.S. Tennis Association’s (USTA) highest facility honor as the winner of the 2019 Featured Facility Award
- #2 Metro to Watch for Overall Real Estate Prospects in 2020 (Raleigh-Cary) — Urban Land Institute, 2019
- #2 Best Tech Town in the United States (Raleigh-Cary) – CompTIA, 2019
- #1 State for Economic Growth Potential in The US (North Carolina) — Business Facilities, 2019
- #1 Best State for Business (North Carolina) — Forbes, 2019
Cary’s population in 2019 is estimated to be at 171,851, with a median age of 39 years. Our citizens are educated, diverse, and affluent. Over 72% having college degrees and 28% having graduate degrees. 21% of our citizens are from other countries with our largest minority being Asian at 18%. The median household income in Cary is $101,079. Sixty-one percent of our residents earn above the national average. Over 68% of our residents own their own home which is significant since Cary has one of the highest home-value appreciations in the country.
Once again, we begin the year in a very strong financial position, holding the highest rating from all three major bond rating agencies. Our general fund has quadrupled in the last 20 years and debt service is approximately 11% of our expenditures, which is below our 15% self-imposed ceiling. This fiscal year’s budget is $336.5 million with an operating budget of $261.4 million. Last fiscal year’s budget ended in June with revenues exceeding expenditures by $15 million. One notable item was that sales tax revenue was $1.3 million over the budgeted amount. Expenditures were also 6% under budget. Our General Fund balance far exceeds the state requirements and council’s goals. We are currently $33 million over our policy requirements. This will allow us the flexibility of using cash, debt, or a combination of the two, whichever is more prudent financially. Our utility fund also showed a healthy and planned amount of revenue over expenses, $17 million. However, this is mostly due to our proactive decision years ago to implement rate smoothing, so that our citizens won’t experience large jumps in rates to pay for expensive water/sewer projects.
On January 1 Wake County began property revaluation, which is done every four years. This will have an impact on our next fiscal year budget, which starts July 1. We are expecting that the tax base will grow from the last revaluation in 2016. Not all of Cary will have property revaluation. Chatham County residents have theirs in 2021. They make up 3% of our tax base.
Despite the uncertainty of the nation’s economy, including several predictions of a recession this year, the stock market remains strong and Cary’s economy is very strong. Our job market continues to be very robust as more and more major corporate headquarters relocate to Cary. Since 2007, over 14,000 jobs have been added to Cary. Our unemployment rate remains low at about 3.3% which is below the state (4.0%) and national (3.5%) averages. This past year, Xerox announced it will bring 600 new jobs to Cary and will make an $18.4 million capital investment. Our labor force is about 99,000 with over 60% of those white collar jobs. Although large companies are the major employers in Cary, small companies make up most of the businesses with 80% of the 7,875 businesses having less than 10 employees. Cary’s workforce enjoys an average commute time of about 22 minutes. In addition, over half of workers in Cary also live in Cary. Additional announcements in 2019 that will drive economic growth in Cary came from Blue Cross Blue Shield, Epic Games, Met Life, Bayer and Dude Solutions.
Our branding effort, which began last year with a goal of helping grow our economy and better compete in the global marketplace, is moving from the research phase into the creative phase. Branding will be one of the topics at our annual retreat, and a special branding subcommittee of our Economic Development Committee will be working with the consultants this spring. I expect our citizens to get back involved later this spring or summer, and if all goes well, we’ll have an exciting logo and tag line for everyone to use before the end of this year.
Having our citizens connected to their government is essential if we are to provide the highest level of service, and this year we took our first steps in revolutionizing the citizen experience by launching the region’s only 311 system. Think of it this way: you call 911 during an emergency, and you call 311 for everything else. One number, email address, or social media tag now does it all. 311 is Cary's streamlined way to easily requests for services or have a multitude of questions answered. Citizen Advocates work to fulfill requests on the spot, and to assist citizens in navigating the many departments in their local government, directly connecting them to the best person who can help. Data collected through the intake process allows the Town to pinpoint trends and understand where issues may exist. This service works anywhere within Cary’s incorporated area from all major wireless carriers and landline phones. If you are outside Cary anywhere else in the world, you dial (919) 469-0000 for 311 services. To find out more about 311, visit www.townofcary.org/311.
That same approach is being used for migrating and improving online services in other parts of the organization, the first being our new registration system for nearly 2,000 parks, recreation, and cultural resources opportunities. We call it myCary. The new system provides a more intuitive, robust, and mobile-friendly way to search and sign up for programs, classes, camps, and events. You can browse and register for programs, manage your household members, and view your registration history.
One of the amazing things about these new citizen experiences is that both systems were built and configured by our own staff using the popular platform, Salesforce. And I don’t just mean our IT folks. So did staff without IT backgrounds, mentored by our own Research and Development team.
Caring for our environment continues to be a top priority for Cary. This past year we were recognized as having one of the top Green Fleets in North America by Tom Johnson’s 100 Best Fleets. To help us meet the Imagine Cary Plan goal of preserving tree canopy, we are hiring an Urban Forestry Manager. To start re-establishing the tree canopy, we have allocated $150,000 to tree planting. I anticipate that we will continue to fund this tree planting initiative in the future. The number of public electric vehicle charging stations was doubled by adding 14 new electric vehicle charging stations at the library parking lot. The Spruce program worked with over 4,000 volunteers to perform more than 8,000 hours to remove 28,000 pounds of litter from our streets, trails, parks, and other public spaces.
We currently have over 60 spots town-wide that are adopted for ongoing environmental volunteerism through our Adopt a Spot Program. Our Environmental Advisory Board is also looking for ways to make Cary greener. They continue to do research and provide recommendation on a wide range of topics, including trees and carbon, and we very much appreciate the value add they provide.
Housing affordability is a very important topic that has a lot of interest not only in Cary but in the region, state, and nation. We’re committed to helping facilitate the availability of a variety of housing options to meet the needs of people from all backgrounds who wish to make Cary their home. To date we have assisted nonprofit housing providers in developing family and senior affordable rental housing. We continue to operate the Neighborhood Improvement Grant Program to qualified organizations and we continue to operate the Housing Rehabilitation Program. This past year we hired Morgan Mansa, Housing and CDGB Manager, to head up this effort. We are looking to do much more as we explore partnerships and new initiatives. I expect housing to be a topic of discussion at our March retreat.
Stormwater is a concern to many of our citizens since homes built before the year 2000 had little or no stormwater management requirements. Last year we concluded a pilot program to address stormwater issues in downtown that included implementing a dynamic flood model, proactively inspecting and cleaning storm drain systems in the public right of way, identifying open space opportunities, and revisiting stormwater ordinances and design requirements. Next steps include further expanding this model to identify remaining critical areas in the Town affected by stormwater issues. We remain committed to addressing this complex and expensive issue with a multi-year effort, and we appreciate the skilled and dedicated citizens who continue to add their expertise and experiences to ours via our Stormwater Working Group.
Just like the rest of the state and nation, Cary’s recycling program is becoming increasingly more difficult to operate. Just a few years ago Cary sold recycling. Now we pay to have our recycling taken. Even then, it is challenging to find someone. Fortunately, in April of last year Cary secured a two-year agreement with Recycle America for processing and marketing recyclables collected. This will give our staff time to discuss and consider new strategies with our citizens for recycling.
Currently Cary residents divert 45% of our community’s waste from the landfill and have an 80% participation rate. Nationally, households recycle an average of 357 pounds per year while Cary’s households recycle an average of 401 pounds per year. Our trash makeup is 4.9% textiles, 20% recyclables, and 27% food waste. These are things that can and should be diverted from the landfill. Recyclables in the trash can be addressed by further education. And food waste has many potential solutions. One bit of good news is that we are planning to pilot curbside collection of textiles starting in the spring of this year. This will be done by a third party at no cost to the Town.
Keeping our community safe has always been a top priority of Cary. Supplying all of our officers with body worn cameras started in summer 2019. In the fall of last year all designated police vehicles had in-car cameras that worked with the same software as the body cams. In addition, all sworn officers are equipped with a body camera including police activities related to off-duty assignments.
We also made a lot of progress in preserving Cary’s history. We purchased and will relocate and restore Cary’s oldest home, the Nancy Jones House, which was built around 1803. We also made significant progress in renovating our historic Hillcrest Cemetery. And we hired our first historic preservationist, Gillian White. We know that tomorrow’s Cary is built upon not only the structures but the values and culture of our past and our present, and being able to trace and learn from our evolution as a community is important to our ongoing success.
Cary has been blessed with good leaders for decades, elected and non-elected. This past year Toni Dezomits was named Cary’s Police Chief. She joined the Cary family in 1998 and has held various positions including assistant police chief, professional standards commander, field operations officer, and sniper on the SWAT team. I am sure she will be an amazing chief.
We were fortunate to welcome William Lewis to the Town of Cary team as the Cultural Arts Manager. For more than a dozen years William has been instrumental in shaping the cultural arts scene across the Triangle. He will guide festivals, public art, classes, and facilities including Koka Booth Amphitheatre, The Cary Theater, the Cary Arts Center, and the Page-Walker.
Ya Liu was elected to the Cary Council in October of last year to represent District D. She is the first Asian American to ever serve on the Cary Town Council. Ya immigrated from China to Cary in 2003 where she and her husband are raising three children. She has a PhD as well as a law degree and is a professor at Duke. I look forward to all she will bring to the Council.
We’ve had a few celebrations of notable anniversaries in 2019. Cary celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Town’s first greenway, which was constructed in 1979. We now have over 80 miles of greenways, the second highest number in North Carolina. Currently we are putting the finishing touches on the last segment of the White Oak Creek Greenway; when completed, we will have a continuous greenway from Umstead State Park to the American Tobacco Trail, a distance of 15 miles. This is the culmination of 30 years of effort and investment and represents a huge achievement.
Our Cary Teen Council celebrated 30 years as a youth council in 2019. Founded in 1989, Teen Council empowers teens with the core values of leadership, accountability, and responsibility through volunteerism. Today, the council has 870 members who volunteer 20,000 hours each year.
Speaking of celebrations, next year Cary celebrates 150 years! This past year a task force of nine staff and citizens have been hard at work planning year-long events for 2021. The first event will be on New Year’s Eve, so mark your calendars now. A celebration in the downtown park is scheduled for the actual anniversary date of April 10, 2021. And a documentary is planned as well as many other events. So stay tuned.
Cary is a remarkable town that is at the pinnacle of communities nationwide. Though many communities claim to be, we ARE one of the most desirable places to live, work, play, and run a business in the nation. With the Parks and Transportation Bonds and other recent key decisions, I believe we have positioned ourselves to make Cary even better. In fact, fifty years from now Cary citizens will look back at this time as a transformative period in Cary’s history.
Our citizens created a vision for the next few decades with the Imagine Cary Community Plan which council adopted in 2017. This plan, along with the overwhelming approval of the Parks and Transportation Bonds last fall, will shape our community for years to come. Included in the Parks bonds are Phase II of the Downtown Park, four new parks - 2 neighborhood parks in western Cary, Penny Road School Park in southern Cary, and a new park at Tryon Road Veterans Freedom Park enhancements, playground upgrades, park improvements, historic preservation, open space acquisition, new greenways, tennis court replacements, and Sk8-Cary improvements. The transportation bonds will allow street repaving and widening, enhancements to NCDOT projects, new sidewalks and sidewalk improvements, a grade separation on Highway 55, downtown parking, and public infrastructure like streets and sidewalks to support the Fenton development, which the developer is building on our behalf
In addition to the passage of the bonds, I believe recent key developments will move Cary beyond remarkable in the next few years. Multi-million dollar developments require trust and partnerships with our citizens, staff, council, businesses, and the development community. We have demonstrated that we are able to create these partnerships time and time again in Cary which has allowed projects in downtown and the Eastern Gateway to move forward. These developments will not only implement parts of the Cary Community Plan but together will create extraordinary places.
Transformative developments in downtown are moving forward. In addition to phase II of the Downtown Park, the Walnut and Walker Street development, the Harrison and Chatham Street development, the Sams Jones House, and planning for the old library site and Rogers Hotel are underway.
Phase II of the downtown park is being designed within budget. Staff presented illustrations of the Academy Park development on the park side, the canopy walk, the gathering garden, the Academy Street Plaza, the Great Lawn and Pavilion, Park Street – where the Farmer’s Market will likely be held, the Bark Bar, the Children’s Play area, and the underground storage. There are proposed to be 400 new trees planted in the park that will increase the tree canopy by 220%. The stormwater system in the park will be built to handle, at a minimum, a 500-year storm event. This should help properties downstream. A general manager to run the park will be hired this year. The bid for the project will occur in 2021 with construction planned to begin in the summer of that year. We are hopeful that the park will be complete in 2023.
A project at the corner of Walnut and Walker has also been in the works for a few years. Partners include Academy Park Cary and the Town of Cary. This proposal, which would wrap the parking deck, suggests residential units facing the park, Walker Street, and Walnut Street with retail on the bottom floors. Additionally, 100,000 square feet of office would face Walnut Street with retail space on the bottom floor. The design includes a breezeway with a view into the park from Walnut Street. The applicant is planning for the integration of the streetscape with the park and has been working with the designers of the park. The Council expects to formally consider the project during the first few months of this year.
In December, the Council approved a developer agreement for the project at the corner of Harrison and Chatham. Partners include Cary, Northwoods Building, and First Baptist Church. This project has been in the works for many years going back to the early 2000s. Council believes this is the right fit for Cary’s vision and approved it unanimously after a resolution was passed to protect the historic Ivey-Ellington House and work with the Cary Historic Commission. The agreement provides for a 120-day Inspection Period in which the parties will conduct their due diligence and address conditions that must be met before a closing on the purchase or exchange of property will take place. The closing is proposed for 23 months from the effective date. So, it looks as though there will be another two years before anything happens at that site.
The Sams Jones House, located across from the downtown park and the Cary Arts Center, has been under renovation since July of last year. The project includes new flooring, interior and exterior painting, ADA improvements, and a 308 square-foot addition for new restrooms and a walk-in cooler. The restaurant is expected to open in early 2020.
Many of our citizens have been curious about what is planned for the old library site. The Town owns this property and we plan to redevelop the site. We will have a Request for Proposals (RFP) to solicit potential developers that will be published in the first half of this year. In December the Town began the process of asbestos remediation prior to demolition. We do not anticipate any demolition of the old library to begin until late January or February. We do plan to keep the parking lot in place that’s behind the old library and will continue to use it as public parking until the site is completely redeveloped.
The Town has been actively working to partner with developers to create opportunities in rundown areas of downtown. One project that is in a tentative stage would create Rogers Alley behind the old Rogers Hotel. It would be parallel and in between Chatham and Cedar Streets. If the project comes to fruition it would create an opportunity for restaurants and other businesses. We should know more about this initiative later in the year.
In addition to downtown, the Eastern Gateway will see extensive redevelopment within the next few years that will have a huge impact on Cary.
The Fenton began their project last August and have completed geotechnical work for the first phase. Vertical construction begins in July with a planned opening of November 2021. The first phase will have approximately 1 million square feet with 700,000 square feet of that vertically integrated. Included in this phase is 365,000 square feet of retail, 150,000 square feet of office, 354 multi-family units, and a 175 room Boutique Hotel. Over fifty percent of the space was leased at the beginning of the year. New signed tenants include Wegmans, Cru Wine Bar, M Sushi, and Cinebistro.
The Cary Towne Mall has been purchased and a rezoning has been approved to allow redevelopment. This 87-acre site includes a Preliminary Development Plan proposing up to 1,200,000 square feet of office use, 360,000 square feet of commercial use, 450-hotel rooms and 1,800 multi-family and townhouse dwelling units. The existing Mixed-Use Overlay District will remain. Extensive work was done by the applicant and council to address many concerns including the environment, traffic, and aesthetics. There is also a potential for having a large multi-use indoor sports and recreation center on the site, and we are actively engaged in an RFP process with Wake County for project consideration and funding. We should know more this spring.
By so many measures, 2019 was an incredible year for Cary, and I’m humbled to have been part of the team who helped move us forward. Thank you for your confidence in me. As we begin 2020, we are in the unique position of leading the region, if not the country, in creating the community beyond remarkable, a community that doesn’t exist. We have all the pieces to make this happen. The strong partnerships, a citizenry that trusts its government, apolitical elected officials who put Cary first and who trust and believe in their staff, a visionary Town Manager, a business community that believes in the direction of the town, and people that are willing to invest in the town’s vision. We have proven that amazing things can happen if we all work together. I am confident that this year will be another amazing year if we remain committed and dedicated to making Cary the best it can be.