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Ask Anything: 10 questions with Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht

Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht answers your questions about the town's "quirky" reputation, annexations, growth and much more. Plus, Cary K-9 Officer Jeremy Burgin is now taking your questions.

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Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht
The cornerstones of your election campaign were to slow growth in Cary and enforce accountability for impacts caused by growth upon those who are responsible, e.g. builders and new residents to the community. What have you done thus far toward meeting those campaign objectives and promises? – Jerry Bennett, Cary

Jerry, your question is a good one and mirrors the perception that many had, including the media. My campaign this past fall was focused on balancing growth and giving citizens a voice. I tried to avoid the term “slow” since that was not the main emphasis. To help create balanced growth, one of the changes I advocated was that developers pay more of their fair share in fees related to providing infrastructure (water, sewer, roads, etc), called impact fees. Before the election taxpayers were paying up to 90 percent of the cost of infrastructure for some types of development. Since taking office we have changed the water/sewer development fees by increasing them to 75 percent of cost recovery level. Now our transportation fees and water/sewer fees recover more of the cost and relieve some of the burden to the taxpayers. While our new fees are higher than many municipalities in the area we are still competitive, which should not discourage growth but allow it to continue at a lower rate.

Although the growth rate can be influenced by impact fees and the economy, it is best managed by the Land Development Ordinances. Since taking office, the council has been working on several amendments to our Land Development Ordinance. Some of these amendments will play a part in having a much more manageable growth rate.

The most important factor in managing growth is to match the growth with the infrastructure and make sure it pays for itself. I think we are well on our way to implementing this philosophy.

Two important points of interest related to our growth rate and type of growth; the current economy is slowing our housing market for the near future and the land in Cary is about 90 percent accounted for. That is, in the near future the economy will slow growth in Cary regardless of the actions taken by council. Also, plans for 90 percent of land in the town limits or ETJ have been approved or development is underway. This means that Cary’s future growth will be in certain areas designed for higher density such as the town center.

So stay tuned, Jerry, for further changes as we adjust our growth to closer match our infrastructure.

Mayor Weinbrecht, Cary has a reputation of being the quirky portion of Wake County. It seems Cary makes major issues over the smallest of things. An example of this is was the battle over a few remaining "pole" signs. Does the town of Cary relish in trying to be a bit different than the rest of this area? – Charlie Franks, Raleigh

Charlie, this is an impression that many have of Cary. Cary does have a lot of rules that some think are excessive. But the rules we have in Cary are wanted and demanded by our citizens. And since it is their community, we go to great lengths to listen and implement their wishes to create and maintain one of the most beautiful places to live, work and play.

Your specific reference to the sign ordinance as it relates to pole signs was passed many years ago. At that time a rule was put in place to allow existing pole signs to remain as “nonconforming” uses for decades. Phasing out of these pole signs was approved earlier in the decade with a purpose of conformity and aesthetics.

While some of the “quirkiness” may seem a bit much, it has created a community blessed with a low crime rate, top paying jobs and a satisfied citizenry. Cary is blessed to be able to address our citizens’ wants and needs with an abundance of resources. As Mayor, I will gladly take all the “quirkiness” in the world rather than face the serious problems, such as crime and water shortages, that other communities in the region face.

Thanks for the great question, Charlie.

What are your views on the proposed I-540 toll road? Does the Town of Cary have any plans to put buffers between new neighborhoods and I-540 since the DOT (Department of Transportation) will not do so? – Lindsay, Cary

Whether or not to support a toll road for I-540 is a tough question, Lindsay. There are many pros and cons to both sides of this issue. But to answer your question, I will not support a toll road as a permanent solution like those in Florida, but I will support a toll road as a temporary solution like the ones that used to be in Richmond, Va. That is, I can only support a toll road on I-540 if it is contracted to stay only until the cost has been recovered.

I recently visited Orlando where toll roads were predominant and very annoying. I have never been a fan of toll roads and that visit confirmed my dislike. Why do I not like toll roads? Not only are they annoying but they are a double tax. That is, we pay taxes to have roads built and now we are paying with tolls to have a road built that should have been paid for with taxes.

So why support a toll road on I-540? Construction should be significantly accelerated compared to traditional funding. This new thoroughfare will provide an alternative and therefore reduce congestion compared to no road at all.

I see tolls on I-540 as a small piece of the puzzle of addressing transportation issues in the region. It is clear that we cannot pave our way out of traffic congestion, and a comprehensive multi modal transportation approach is desperately needed. I am working with various area leaders on plans that will have such an approach.

Regarding your question on buffers, Cary has a 100-foot thoroughfare corridor buffer for main parts of I-540 and a 50-foot buffer at the ramps and interchanges. Controlled access is typically a minimum of 300 feet and is as wide as 600 feet in some locations. Since the maintained road area is roughly 200 feet, there will be an area that should re-establish vegetation over time and add to the buffer width.

One final note is that we have to work together as a region to get the funding formulas changed so that places with the traffic get the road improvements.

Thanks for the question, Lindsay.

Are you willing to suspend involuntary annexations by the city? – Judith Latham, Raleigh

Judith, this is a question that is the concern of many. There are many people who are vehemently opposed to being forced into the Town of Cary. Some even say that Cary stands for CANT ANNEX RALEIGH YET. But in all seriousness and to answer your question, I don’t have the authority or power to suspend involuntary annexations. It is a decision of the Cary council and I am but one vote.

My personal position is not to support involuntary annexations except for in rare cases. The Cary council has not initiated involuntary annexations in five years but did approve an annexation program in 2006. This program was designed to guide future annexation decisions and provide for an orderly and predictable extension of the Town’s municipal boundaries. I do support this program because of its predictability.

So who controls the ability to suspend involuntary annexations? The legislature and currently state law gives municipalities the authority to involuntarily annex land to encourage growth, reduce redundant services and costs, provide for economy of scale, achieve a more uniform service level and ultimately improve the quality of a community.

Personally, I believe a governmental body should use force as the last resort for anything including annexation.

I appreciate the question, Judith.

Why has the Town of Cary not switched to fuel-efficient vehicles? Example: the Water Enforcement Department using Chevrolet and Dodge Pickups, just for observation and enforcement. – R Carr, Cary

This is a good question. Becoming fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly is one of the components of my first hundred days plan and a topic of discussion at the council retreat a month after taking office. We established the environment as a high priority and within the last month have created an environmental board that will address this and many other “green” issues.

There are many problems to becoming more environmentally friendly and fuel-efficient vehicles highlight one of them. For example: plugging actual mileage, usage factors, and fuel costs into information from the U.S. Department of Energy and EPA Web site (www.fueleconomy.gov) we find that in a year’s time using a Toyota Camry Hybrid versus a Ford Ranger pickup would save the town $517 per water conservation vehicle. Unfortunately, this vehicle costs over $13,000 more on a state contract over a Ford Ranger. That would create a payback period of over 25 years.

But some problems can be solved and we are hoping that our citizens on the Environmental board can help. In the meantime, the town is aggressively trying to improve our fuel efficiency by reducing idling time (less than 10 seconds while not in a traffic or safety related situation) and by insuring tires are properly inflated and aligned. Also, our town manager is holding meetings with key staff on the very issue of alternative fuel vehicles in terms of costs and benefits. It is also important to note that every time the town purchases a new vehicle, it is based on specific needs criteria for the job the vehicle will be doing. By the way, we are already using biodiesel in some vehicles.

Thanks again for the question.

What is the logic behind people in Cary NOT being allowed to have a clothesline on their property? Isn't drying clothes outside much more environmentally friendly? – Tina, Cary

Tina, unfortunately this information is false and is just one of the “urban myths” about Cary. We do not regulate the use of clotheslines. My guess is that if this is a restriction for you, it is because of a deed restriction or a neighborhood covenant put in place by developers when they created your subdivision.

Other “urban myths” you might hear about Cary are that we control the color of homes – including the roofs, and we control the number of pets you can have. These are also false.

Good luck working with your neighborhood association in getting that clothesline.

The road conditions of Cary Parkway between N.C. 54 and Old Apex Road have deteriorated to just about dirt road conditions. The Town points to DOT and DOT seems to do nothing. What plans are there to in place to correct this issue? – Rodney, Cary

This is a great question, Rodney, and one we have been grappling with for years. That is, should we fix not only Cary roads but do repairs on state roads that fall below our standards?

In scientific surveys of Cary citizens conducted over the last 10 years, traffic and transportation issues have consistently ranked among citizens’ top concerns, and the roadways most frequently identified as problems are state roads.

Citizen participants in focus groups have said they want state roads maintained to a basic level – such as eliminating potholes and repaving – and they don’t think Cary citizens should have to pay twice for this given that they already pay state taxes. When asked for their ideas, they’ve suggested that the Town Council work with the state to find an effective solution; if that fails, some of them have suggested that the Town do the work and bill the state.

For example: Of the 213 potholes reported to Town of Cary customer service representatives between March 2006 and April 2008, 100 were the responsibility of DOT, nine of which the Town of Cary repaired at a cost to Cary taxpayers of about $1,000.

In just the last 5 years alone, Cary citizens have paid more than $72 million to significantly improve state-owned roads including but not limited to Tryon Road ($16M), Davis Drive ($10M), Maynard Road ($17M), Chapel Hill Road/N.C. HWY 54 ($5M), Kildaire Farm Road ($14M), Evans Road ($3.5M) and High House Road ($7M).

Over the last 5 years, the Town of Cary has assumed responsibility for 12 miles of what were state roads including but not limited to sections of Chapel Hill, Reedy Creek, Stephens, Lawrence, Kingston Ridge, Imperial, Fairbanks, Cowley, and Old Apex roads as well as Chatham and Academy streets just to name a few.

Also in the last 5 years, Cary citizens have spent more than $6 million to upgrade, synchronize and assume responsibility for 150 traffic signals previously the responsibility of the state.

To accelerate progress or contribute toward state managed projects, the Town of Cary has loaned or provided the state with over $26 million including a $15 million loan for N.C. HWY 55 and over $11 million in contributions toward Davis Drive and U.S. 1/64.

Road maintenance remains a problem that we are continually dealing with while trying to hold down costs. In this year’s upcoming budget we are proposing to spend $2 million to maintain Cary’s roads.

Thanks again for the great question, Rodney.

What can the town do to encourage proper property upkeep as well as growth and redevelopment in the "old" parts of Cary like Scottish Hills and inside of the Maynard loop like Tanglewood and Greenwood Forest? Those of us who live in these neighborhoods sometimes feel that the Town of Cary is only interested in the newer high dollar areas. – Craig Zeni, Cary
Craig, keeping all of Cary’s neighborhoods beautiful and healthy has always been a high priority of the town. The town has a variety of ordinances, plans, policies, and programs designed to encourage homeowners to maintain or facilitate redevelopment of their properties. All complaints regarding property upkeep are received with the same concern regardless of the location in town.

The town also has a housing rehabilitation program which provides deferred loans to qualified residents. Through “Neighbor to Neighbor”, the town attempts to match residents who need a “helping hand” with local civic, service and community organizations. The town also has established a Neighborhood Improvement Grant program which provides matching grants of up to $5,000 to community groups (formal such as HOA’s or informal) that want to enhance their neighborhood.

Craig, I believe you believe like we do that a community is only as strong as its weakest neighborhood. If you have specific concerns please call the town manager’s office at 469-4007. We have an established multidisciplinary team available to help.

Is it true that Cary will not join forces with Morrisville and Apex to break away from the WCPSS (Wake County Public School System) because of influence/pressure from Jim Goodnight? His Cary Academy would certainly suffer enrollment if Cary/Apex/Morrisville would have their own public school system. Do you find it ironic that Jim Goodnight and his wife push for public school bonds and vocally support WCPSS while owning Cary Academy? – Angela Herron, Cary

Angela, the Cary Town Council continues to look extensively at the best ways to affect meaningful change in the school situation and at this point we have decided not to pursue asking the General Assembly for authority to break away from the WCPSS, and this is without any influence from Dr. Goodnight whatsoever.

Why did we take this position? While it would be nice to create a school system in Cary and control where our children attend it is not feasible. In fact, it would take legislative approval for such a school system and a lot of money.

Speaking of money, since we don’t own the current schools we would have to acquire land, build schools, supply them, hire teachers, and then create revenue to run them. This would require a dramatic increase in our taxes since we would need hundreds or millions of dollars in extra funding.

One might argue that the state would help with the creation of this new school system but due to funding shortfalls and other issues on the state level creating a separate Cary school system is a remote chance at best. Unfortunately, some politicians are giving people false hope that this is a realistic possibility when in reality there is little to no hope that this would ever happen.

Regarding Dr. Goodnight and his wife, they have always been great advocates for education long before the school system was in crisis. Neither Dr. Goodnight nor anyone else at SAS has ever made an attempt to influence any decision I have made on council as mayor or as a council member.

I applaud the Goodnight’s for creating Cary Academy because it meets a need. They had the vision to create a superior learning environment based on bringing technology into the classroom. Cary Academy is an excellent school and an asset to the community.

As I mentioned above, we are trying to make change in the schools by asking our wake county delegation to introduce and support three key initiatives: at-large elections for some of the school board members, taxing authority for the school board (to hold them accountable), and the ability for the county to create an additional revenue source.

Angela, I appreciate your concern for our schools and promise that this council is engaged and active in looking for ways to help our families that struggle with school issues.

There has been a lot of controversy lately about Cary's decision to send the stray animals it collects to the Wake animal shelter as opposed to the SPCA center. We all know that the survival rate at the Wake shelter, and in fact, all "kill" shelters is abysmal. It seems a town as rich and advanced as Cary would take better care of its most vulnerable residents. Would you consider a new plan for taking care of the town's animals that includes support for spay / neuter programs, support for no-kill shelters, and a continued relationship with the SPCA center? – Carla Sadtler, Cary
Carla, this is a controversial issue that has been on the table a long time and one we are currently dealing with. At the June 12 council meeting it was decided that we should extend our agreement with the SPCA for another 90 days while we look at all the issues related to both the SPCA and the Wake county shelter. Council member Portman and I co-sponsored a task force of citizens to be formed to review and make recommendations on the animal sheltering options and a potential spay and neuter ordinance or incentives. The task force will present their recommendations about 10 weeks.

There are pros and cons to both sides of this issue but it should be pointed out that animals are euthanized at both shelters. For example, look at the euthanized animals at the “no kill” shelters of the SPCA in the following chart:

256 transported by Cary police ACOs129 (50.39%) euthanized by SPCA61 (23.82%) returned to owner59 (23.04%) adopted7 (2.73%) unknown162 transported by Cary Citizens64 (39.5%) euthanized by SPCA19 (11.72%) returned to owner30 (18.51%) adopted49 (30.24%) unknown418 total193 (46.17% euthanized by SPCA80 (19.13%) returned to owner89 (21.29%) adopted56 (13.39%) unknownAnimals sent to local rescue12Animals euthanized due to space & time69 

Euthanizing animals at any shelter is tragic. Coming up with a solution for all the unwanted pets will be difficult. We are striving for a solution that not only prevents unwanted animals but reduces, and hopefully one day eliminates, the euthanizing of animals.

Carla, I hope that you will be willing to help us find the best solution by volunteering for the task force. Thanks for the question.

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