Saturday, December 17, 2011

Pay to Play Politics: Wilmington City Council Offers to Take Tax Bribe from Developer in Exchange for Special Zoning Consideration

City Council and developer use satellite annexation to circumvent county zoning policy

Do you have a piece of property outside of the city limits and the county is refusing to meet your zoning demands? No worries. The Wilmington City Council is apparently for sale, happy to help you circumvent the New Hanover County Commissioners and grant your special zoning request, for a price.

The current example is a 27 acre parcel 2.5 miles from the borders of the city. Flournoy Development Company, a property developer out of Columbus GA, is planning to build luxury apartments off of Market Street in the northern part of the county. When the county denied Flournoy’s rezoning request, Flournoy turned to the city for help.

Wilmington City Council seemed eager to grant Flournoys annexation and rezoning request in exchange for the property tax dollars it will put in their coffers. According to news reports, Flournoy admitted circumventing the county zoning policy, through annexation by the city, would give the project a better chance. Another benefit to the developer is that the Wilmington city council would have no obligation to the local county residents that oppose the rezoning.

To cover their "pay to play" scheme, city staff, in conjunction with Flournoy spokespeople, have begun a campaign to convince an unknowing public and press that the annexation offered by the city would give the developer and residents services not currently offered in that part of the county. The dirty little secret is that nothing could be further from the truth.

Services and utilities are already in place and have been available for years. Fire, police, water, sewer are all there. Being annexed by the city provides Flournoy with no benefit other than rezoning, which would allow the developer to drastically increase its profits by building 290 units, versus the 250 allowed by the county.
If the track is annexed it would be very profitable for the city council as well, adding nearly 300 units to their tax rolls with little upfront cost.

County Commissioner Jason Thompson agrees. In a telephone interview he stated that the move by the city was nothing more than an attempt by the city to usurp the counties zoning authority for the developer in exchange for the ability to tax future property owners in the development.

A visit to Flournoy’s company website finds they make a commitment of integrity and accountability to their employees and vendors. They make no such commitment to the communities in which they are building.

Bottom line is that this is wrong and the city should withdraw its offer now. It is a Quid pro quo between the Wilmington City Council and Flournoy Development with the sole purpose of usurping the county’s zoning authority and taking away the voice of county residents. Hopefully our state legislators are watching.

WWAY Story
Star News Article
Flournoy Website
This post in the news

Thursday, September 1, 2011

WAVE of Deception

How the Cape Fear Public Transportation Authority (WAVE Transit) Conspired to Mislead the Elected Officials and the Public into Supporting Their Proposed Tax Increase

Over the last several months those associated with WAVE Transit have led a very aggressive campaign pushing a $7 increase to the vehicle registration tax to fund bus routes to local beaches. If successful, they will increase the taxes on New Hanover County families nearly $1.2 million dollars.

WAVE led their charge with the claim that 87% of the community supported bus routes to the beach. WAVE personnel have given presentations to all the local elected bodies, appeared in front of business organizations, and have been interviewed by local television and newspaper, all in an effort to drum up support for the tax increase.

A closer look at the facts finds that WAVE’s own data showed the repeated claims of 87% community support were simply not true. The polling data actually seems to show a lack of interest in expanding routes and even less interest in raising taxes to do so. It seems those associated with WAVE conspired to give the appearance of wide spread public support by misrepresenting polling data hoping to convince the public and elected officials to support WAVE’s proposed tax increase.

Below we’ll take a look at WAVE's well organized campaign of misinformation as well as important information that was strategically withheld.

The Campaign of Misinformation:
Say something enough and eventually it becomes an accepted fact, whether it’s true or not. Below are a few examples of the statements made by WAVE Director Albert Eby and Jonathan Barfield, New Hanover County Commissioner who also sits on the WAVE Transit Board.

Albert Eby interview with WWAY:
"We did a survey a couple years ago with UNCW. It was a scientific survey. Eighty-seven percent of folks wanted to see service to the beaches," Wave executive director Albert Eby said.

Albert Eby interview with Star News
"Our best guess is that all the towns and communities say, ‘We want service to the beaches,' " said Albert Eby, the executive director of Wave Transit. "We're just trying to show the county commissioners where that support's coming from."

Jonathan Barfield Star News Interview
Chairman Jonathan Barfield: "I don't know what method we will do," he said. "I think we need to get it done. I would choose to do it ourselves. That way it could be assured it would happen."

Jonathan Barfield email to constituents
“A survey of area residents by UNCW’s Survey Research Laboratory indicates that 87% of residents in the community are supportive of public transportation service to Wrightsville and the Southern Beaches.”

WAVE Transit Service Expansion and Long range Financial Plan report
“The most recent random scientific survey of over 1,300 residents, conducted in cooperation with the University of North Carolina Wilmington Survey Research Laboratory, indicated support for service to Pleasure Island and Wrightsville Beach is 87%.”

WAVE Presentation given by Albert Eby to Wrightsville Beach Board of Alderman 8.17.11 :
“87% of community support bus service to NHC Beaches.”

The quotes referenced show a well planned campaign to gain public support, spearheaded by the claim 87% of the community supported bus service to the beaches. The problem is, the support was not there, and the claims of 87% community support were simply not accurate.

The claim of 87% community support is simply not true
A closer look at the survey Eby and Barfield reference shows the 87% touted is not all that it’s cracked up to be and is extremely misleading at best.

According to WAVE documents 1300 people took the survey. Only 150 of the 1300 even bothered to respond to the question about bus service to the beaches. Of those 150, 130 did indeed agree that buses to the beach would improve service, and technically that is 87%.

But an honest look at the numbers reveal it was only 130 out of 1300, a mere 10% of those surveyed, that supported bus service to the beaches. That’s 10%, not the 87% we were being told. How can anyone honestly claim that 130 people are an accurate representation of a community of nearly 200,000? What’s more significant is that 1150 people didn’t even care enough to answer the question about bus service to the beaches! Not quite the community support the public and elected officials had been led to believe.

The complete survey is available here:

What else WAVE is not telling us about their survey
WAVE’s survey had some results they’d probably rather the public and elected official not know. Survey results actually show the public is overwhelmingly against tax increases to pay for WAVE expansion plans. Polling question results also show that public transportation (WAVE transit) ranks as a low priority when compared to other public projects.
-76% opposed sales tax increases to support WAVE route expansion (See survey page 13 )
-90% opposed property tax increases to support WAVE route expansion (See survey page 13 )
-WAVE ranked nearly at the bottom in spending priorities, 5th out of 7 (See survey page 27)
-Marinas and public boating ramps were ranked as a higher priority than public transportation!

Do bus routes to the beaches cost $1.2 million dollars?
Not even close. According to WAVE’s Service Expansion and Long Range Financial Plan Report service the to the area beaches would cost about $650,000. So why do they need $1.2 million? The dirty little secret is the proposed tax would also be a back door way of funding other projects such as the controversial Multi Modal Center, which, if built, would be an additional ongoing tax burden on new Hanover County families.

WAVE’s own survey results tell a very different story than representatives associated with WAVE Transit have been telling the public. It’s also a very different story than what they have been feeding to beach, city, and county elected officials.

For WAVE to put forth this survey as public support for their agenda is disturbing. To say they have the support of 87% of the community is intellectually dishonest at best. Those associated with WAVE should have known better. They knew 130 of 1300 people did not represent “community support.” The truth is the survey shows public transportation ranks low on the priority list and the public has no will to pay additional taxes for its’ services. But this information was withheld from the public discussion.

Representative Carolyn Justice recently spoke about corruption in government. We have seen locally how a corrupt ABC Board will end up costing the taxpayers of New Hanover County millions of dollars. At some point there has to be some accountability. These government organizations have a duty to be honest and forthcoming with the public and elected officials. It is a serious violation of the public trust when government entities such as WAVE take on a campaign of misinformation with the willful intent to mislead. The question now is how can the public trust information coming from this organization?

The goal was to give the appearance of widespread public support by misrepresenting polling data, presenting information to elected officials and the public that was misleading and less than truthful. In the end, they wanted to manipulate all involved into supporting a tax increase.

WAVE’s campaign over the last few months represents everything that’s wrong with government. They have a duty to be truthful and transparent to the highest degree, and when they’re not, they should be held accountable.

Our post in the news: 
WWAY written coverage of this post.
**EXCELLENT COVERAGE**MUST SEE**WWAY video coverage of this post with Eby and Barfield interview.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

New Wrightsville Beach Tiered Water Rates Punish Hotel Owners

The Wrightsville Beach Board of Alderman has succumbed to the rhetoric of tiered water rates. The beach thrives off of tourism and the board of alderman took measures which will punish the life blood of the tourist industry, their local hotels.

According to reports, the rate for non-essential use was $2.40 per hundred cubic feet of water used. The board has now set up three tiers - $2.40 for up to 29,920; $3.60 for 29,920 to 74,800; and $5.00 for usage greater than 74,801.

Anyone using 74,801 gallons of water needs to be punished with higher pricing, right? They must be wasting water. Not necessarily. If you’re a hotel with 300, 400, or 500 guest a night, you’re going to use hundreds of thousands of gallons of water a month for essential water needs such as taking showers, flushing toilets, etc.

For example, the Blockade Runner has 150 rooms. Let’s say an average of 300 people stayed there per night. At 40 gallons of water per person per day (for reference the national average is 80 gal/day) X 300 people X 30 days is 360,000 gallons per month per month for essential water needs. That’s 280,000 gallons past the top tier of 74,801 gallons just for the essential needs of hotel guest.

It’s important to understand that these larger hotels: 1) Are not doing anything wrong just because they use a lot of water, and 2) Cannot conserve their way into these lower tiers. Even with conservation measures in place they’ll be paying higher second and third tier rates.

While supporters of the new tiered rate scheme point to it curbing non-essential use, it’s important to understand that the rate scheme proposed will unfairly and wrongfully punish business owners, especially the larger hotels, for their essential use.

The town leaders expressed concern over their utilities ability to meet increased demand. Ironically, their new rate structure does little to encourage most users to conserve water. Smaller households can waste tremendous amounts of water before ever getting to the higher second tier rates.

If the beach’s water supply was truly ever and issue, the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority is waiting in the wings with an over abundance of treatment capacity and could easily meet the demand.

The owners of the Blockade Runner have every reason to gripe. Tiered water rates are inherently discriminatory and are simply bad government. If the Wrightsville Beach Board of Alderman were serious about water conservation, they would use a uniform rate which would encourage all users to conserve water from the very first drop.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

WAVE Pushes $1.2 Million Dollar Tax Increase for New Hanover County Families

Uses questionable polling data to manipulate public and elected officials

Sounds unbelievable but it’s true. What WAVE Transit is peddling as a mere $7 addition to our automobile registration tax is actually a $1.2 million dollar tax increase for New Hanover County families. According to the New Hanover County tax office there were 173,930 vehicles in the county in 2010. At $7 per car, WAVE will be able to pick our pockets for another  $1.2 million if it has its way.

In an interview with WWAY, WAVE executive director Albert Eby said WAVE had done a scientific survey and “Eighty-seven percent of folks wanted to see service to the beaches." County Commissioner Jonathan Barfield, who also sits on the WAVE transit board, made a similar claim in a September email to constituents. Barfield stated that “…87% of residents in the community are supportive of public transportation service to Wrightsville and the Southern Beaches.”

Our economy is collapsing. Our nation is on the verge of economic default. Families are losing their homes and somehow 87% of citizens in New Hanover County are in favor of higher taxes to pay for bus rides to the beach? That just doesn’t make sense. Honestly, it seems unbelievable.

But hey, this is something everybody wants. That’s what we were told, right? A closer look at the survey Eby and Barfield reference shows the 87% touted is not all that its cracked up to be and is misleading at best.

Approximately 1100 people took the survey. Only 150 of the 1100 even bothered to respond to the question about bus service to the beaches. Of those 150, 130 did indeed agree that buses to the beaches would improve service. Technically, that is 87%.

When you analyze the numbers honestly you see it was only 130 out of 1100, a mere 12% that supported bus service to the beaches. Not quite the “community support” we were told. Keep in mind 950 people didn’t even care enough to answer the question about service to the beaches.

It should also be noted that this same survey showed people put spending tax dollars on more public transportation at nearly the bottom of the priority list. 75 percent did not support a sales tax increase to pay for WAVE expansion, and likewise 90 percent did not support property tax increases.  That wasn't mentioned in the press reports. 

For those representing WAVE to put forth this survey as public support for their agenda is disturbing. To say they have the support of 87% of the community is intellectually dishonest at best. The question now is how can the public trust information coming from this organization?

According to WAVE’S own figures the average cost per ride is $4, yet they charge only $1. The truth is a very slight increase in bus fares would cover any route expansions. Not an idea WAVE Transit seems to be willing to discuss. They’d rather tax those that don’t ride the bus to pay for those that do.

 In the end this proposed scheme would take $1.2 million dollars out of our local economy to be given WAVE for routes that are not needed. Just what the doctor ordered to improve the worst local economy in decades. If  WAVE has it’s way, it will be an ever growing tax burden on the back on new Hanover County families as it continues to expand it’s empire. Hopefully county commissioners will stop this one before it ever leaves the station.

Reference links:

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

County Looking to Take Control of Trash Collection Business

The county held the first of 3 meetings tonight at Ogden Elementary to discuss trash. An estimated 150 people were in attendance to voice their opinion to county officials. After a brief presentation by county officials, a steady stream of people stepped up to the microphone to voice their opposition to the countys efforts to take over trash removal services.

The proposed plan divides the unincorporated parts of the county into two parts, the north and the south. Carriers would bid on providing service to each of the two areas. Winning bidders would provide services for garbage, yard debris, recycling and appliances removal.

While county Manager Bruce Shell said, “Decisions have not been made”,  it appears the county is well on its way to taking over the garbage collection business.

For nearly an hour and a half, one after another, people spoke in opposition to the countys proposal. Commissioner Thompson said on more than one occasion that the people at the meeting did not represent the rest of the county. He also pointed to what he saw as the city’s success in the garbage collection business as support for the county’s plan.

The county tries to claim it would not be eliminating competition, but that’s simply not true. They would in fact bid out the contract and award it to a single carrier for an extended amount of time. Residential customers would be forced to use the company selected by the county or transport their garbage to the dump themselves.

The county’s plan would only apply to residential customers. Businesses would still be free to choose the garbage carrier of their choice.

So whom does the county’s have as a consultant for the project? According County Manager Bruce Shell it’s the same one that advised the county on the failed R3 Environmental deal.

One resident commented officials were coming up with a plan to fix something that wasn’t broke. Another asked to simply be left alone, which lead to a roaring round of applause. The overall sentiment was that residents were happy with their current service and wanted to maintain their ability to choose their service provider.

In the end, this plan by the county represents the most current trend in government. That trend is it to come up with a plan to expand government services, and rather than increase taxes which would create an uproar, they develop a way to send it to tax payers in the form of a bill. Either way, the county seems to be on a mission to expand services in spite of public input. In the end, it will likely result in higher cost for everyone.

Monday, July 25, 2011

WAVE Seeks Tax Increase on NHC Families to Expand Routes

WAVE Transit is pushing a tax increase to pay for expanded bus routes to area beaches. A previous pitch by WAVE had beach towns paying to supplement the bus service, but the town leaders didn’t buy in. This go round WAVE has changed tactics proposing increasing vehicle taxes on New Hanover County families hoping beach leaders approve.

Here’s an idea, why not have those riding the newly proposed beach routes actually pay the cost for providing the service? If someone were to takes a bus to the beach, it’d be for pleasure or to save money on a parking spot. Why should the citizens of New Hanover County have to pay for that? If this is such a needed service, riders should be willing to pay the cost.

On the other hand, the free market has already provided cheap transportation for those not wanting to fight for parking spots at the beach. It’s called a Taxi. They’ll even pick you up right at your front door with no waiting at 100 plus degree bus stops on hot summer days.

Some claim bus service will bring extra revenue to the beaches. Oh, really? If someone can’t afford cab fare for a ride to the beach, why does anyone think that same person will have extra cash for dining and shopping.

On line public comments showed strong opposition to the idea. Opponents point out problems with everything from reports showing declining WAVE ridership to nearly empty buses driving around town.

Bus rides to the beach are a luxury, not a necessity. For any elected official, or bureaucrat at WAVE, to even hint at a tax increase for such a luxury at this time is hard to believe. It shows just how out of touch they are with the people they are suppose to represent. Maybe now is a good time to take a closer look at WAVE as they lobby to become an ever growing tax burden on the cItizens of New Hanover County.

Any tax increase would have to come before the New Hanover County Commissioners for approval. Be sure to take time tell your elected official what you think before it’s to late. You can contact your New Hanover County Commissioners here.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Who's wasting taxpayer dollars?

Recent reports have County Commissioner Chairman Jonathan Barfield taking the New Hanover County School Board to task for two empty buildings and a roof that was replaced on another. He expressed concern over how the school board was spending taxpayer’s dollars and sought “more fiscal oversight.”

Oversight of taxpayer’s dollars? Voters should be reminded that as a member of the WAVE Cape Fear Public Transportation Authority Chairman Barfield approved spending of up to $40,110.00 on a single piece of artwork. An inexplicable waste of taxpayer dollars, especially under the current economic conditions. Follow-up finds the piece is now in place and that it is surprisingly flimsy, which would seem to make it subject to damage from winds storms or an easy target for vandals.

A $40,000 piece of artwork was not the end of the spending binge. A visit to the new WAVE transfer station behind COSTCO reveals a layout that looks more like a ride at Disney World than a public bus stop. The buildings Leed certification, an expensive self proclaimed “eco-friendly” building technique, is used as an excuse to fend off those that might question the construction cost. However, the building practice is so cost prohibitive it is rarely used in the private sector.

 Fortunately our school board has taken a more practical, more cost conscience approach to the structures it builds, and are truly good stewards of the tax dollars entrusted to them. Chairman Barfield seeks to override the will of county voters by attempting to dictate actions of a duly elected school board. We shouldn't let that happen.

WAVE Artwork Request For Proposal
WAVE Meeting Minutes 2.25.2010