- I WILL NOT vote to raise your taxes. There is no doubt that High Point city government has enough money. How it is spent is a matter of priorities.
- I will review the budget line-by-line to pinpoint areas where spending can be curtailed. Each year, departments will have to justify ALL spending, not just spending increases.
- I will prioritize government spending to favor spending that promotes economic development, job creation, private investment and improved quality of life, the end result of which will be more revenue for the city and lower tax rates for its citizens.
- I will seek to cut taxes by promoting efficiency and cutting costs of government.
- I will work to grow the city's economy to enable us to reinvest and revitalize our city's neglected urban core.
- Once spending is reduced to an acceptable level, I will advocate for limiting future spending to a rate not exceeding a combination of inflation and population growth. Excess revenues could then be returned to citizens in the form of lower taxes or the build-up of a "rainy day fund."
- I will advocate for innovative solutions to cut costs, promote efficiency, and balance the budget.
- I will advocate for privatization of government functions whenever it will save money for taxpayers while providing the same level of service. Government is inherently inefficient. If it can be found in the phone book, let the private sector do it.
- Gearing pay raises to performance (i.e. merit pay) rather than granting across-the-board pay raises. Also, offering flexible compensation in the form of additional vacation time or other forms of compensation rather than salary increases. Rock Hill, SC has a program of this nature and saved $560,000 in 2010 and $1.1 million in 2011.
High Point does a good job informing the public about its budget, but needs to improve its level of citizen involvement in the budget process. The proposed budget is posted on the city’s website and includes tables, pie charts, and a “Budget in Brief” section which provides a concise explanation of both taxes and expenditures. Hard copies of the budget can also be obtained at City Hall for those who lack internet access or skill. However, High Point suffers from a lack of participation by citizens in the budget process. Public hearings seeking comment on the budget in late May or June are often either poorly attended or not attended by citizens. Many citizens feel that by the time of the public hearings, decisions have been made, their voice will not be heard, and the budget will not be changed. The result is a process that does not reach more passive citizens, where citizens feel that they have no voice, and may result in a budget emphasizing narrow self-interests more than community-wide needs.
High Point needs an effective citizen participation system that fosters two-way communication between the city (staff and elected officials) and citizens earlier in the budget process. Such a system would allow city officials to better educate citizens on budgetary issues and the budget process, listen to citizens’ concerns and ideas, and answer questions.
Rationale for my plan:
- Current citizen apathy with the budget process.
- Public hearings are ineffective at obtaining citizen input.
- Need to promote transparency in the budget process.
- Need to minimize politics associated with the budget process.
- Improve citizen input earlier in the process.
- Increase citizen understanding of the budget and the budget process.
I advocate being more proactive in involving the public earlier in the budget process (i.e. when decisions are still being made rather than only asking for comment on the draft budget days before the budget deadline). I will fight for a process which:
- Gets more citizens involved earlier in the budget process to hear and value their concerns and ideas.
- Sets clear goals for citizen involvement in the budget process and provides for evaluation of the city’s efforts to promote citizen involvement based on these goals.
- Promotes two-way communication between citizens and city government.
- Includes community meetings in each ward earlier in the budget process to disseminate information and solicit input. Such meetings will be designed to create a more personal, less threatening setting to allow for more direct discussion, more time for questions, and more communication between citizens, city staff, and elected officials.
Two-way communication between citizens and elected officials is vital to effective government. I will be available by telephone, fax, text, and e-mail to listen to citizen concerns and provide help and answers.
I regularly publish and link items to my Facebook page detailing current and upcoming issues facing the city as well as explanations of my positions on key issues. I will maintain a website for informational and contact purposes.
I have met regularly in person with individual citizens and groups of citizens to hear concerns and speak about our city and its future and will continue to do so.
In the past decade, High Point has had great success in recruiting new companies to our city. The High Point Economic Development Corporation (EDC), a public-private partnership, should be commended for its success in bringing new jobs to High Point. EDC is an example of what can be accomplished when government and the private sector cooperate. However, economic development comprises far more than recruiting new companies. It should include promoting the creation of new businesses by fostering an environment where innovation and entrepreneurship can thrive, helping existing small businesses to grow, and promoting the reuse and redevelopment of old industrial sites for 21st century endeavors. High Point needs a comprehensive economic development policy that builds on our strengths while focusing on correcting our weaknesses.
Often, improvement can come simply by having the courage to try new approaches and ideas. When given the opportunity, our city council has failed to embrace new ideas and approaches and take a more comprehensive approach to economic development. For example,
- The City Council should enact a program of retail incentives that that will improve the environment for growth and recruitment of retail businesses in High Point.
- Our city government is notorious in our region for its unfriendly approach to business - especially commercial development. We must end this once and for all.
- City Council has failed to effectively promote and aggressively pursue the redevelopment of old industrial sites where new jobs can be located close to depressed areas of our city.
- City Council has alienated its business and philanthropy community by refusing to partner with them to revitalize our urban core.
I will advocate for the creation of a new comprehensive economic development policy to guide High Point's economy into the future. In addition to what High Point is already doing well, I believe the focus of this policy should be a "Full-Court Press" on job creation and entrepreneurship through:
- The rebranding of High Point as an Innovation and Entrepreneurial City.
- Partnership with High Point University to create an Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center where students and others can acquire instruction and expertise and create new businesses while minimizing risks and costs.
- The creation of a Small Business Initiative including:
- A Small Business Office in city government to provide a single contact point for those seeking to start small businesses that will guide them through the process.
- The streamlining of inspections, zoning and permitting approvals.
- The creation of a Small Business Commission made up of current small business owners and those who assist small businesses to identify issues, challenges, and problems facing small businesses in their dealings with the city, to provide assistance to new small businesses, and to advise the Small Business Office.
- Enact the Retail Incentives Plan that City Council rejected.
- Aggressively seek new companies that will sink roots in our city and become corporate citizens that support our arts, charities, and cultural community.
I will strongly advocate for the improvement and revitalization of our core city to make High Point more attractive to business investment and more inviting to current and potential residents. Great cities don’t happen by accident … they are the result of planning and action based on a long-term vision.
Why is revitalization important?
We are residents of a city worth caring strongly about. It’s a nice place to live. What makes it that way? Its people … our friends and neighbors. While life in High Point has many positives, there are real problems we face that are directly related to a quality of life crisis in our urban core. In a March 2014 Brookings Institution study, the Greensboro-High Point area ranked in the bottom 20% in employment of 18-25 year-olds. Another Brookings study … this one on business dynamism (entrepreneurship) … rated Greensboro-High Point dead last among regional peer cities in a measurement of jobs created by new business entities versus jobs lost through business entity dissolution. More troubling for us all, since your home is likely your biggest investment, the Zillow Real Estate Index shows High Point property values decreasing while those of regional peer cities that have invested in urban quality of life amenities and walkable places (Hickory, Roanoke, Asheville, Greenville SC, Chattanooga) increased at twice and even quadruple our rate. On a per acre basis, housing and commercial property in walkable areas far out-values suburban auto-centric properties. It should be the goal of our city council to enact policies and invest in projects that grow wealth for our city and its citizens. So far, this council doesn’t measure up.
Declining property values in High Point are a direct reflection of lower demand. This was reflected in a 2011 study by McNeill Communications of executives moving to the Triad. That study found that the most-often cited reason executives chose not to live in High Point was that High Point has less quality of life amenities than our Triad counterparts. Respondents expressed what we already know … that High Point’s downtown is a ghost town between markets, we lack gathering places with shops and entertainment, and our Main Street is aesthetically unacceptable and lacks vitality. Some even said that High Point is a dying city and that they would never live in a city with a Main Street that looks like ours.
During the past 9 years, the City Project, through research and study, has developed plans to address these issues. They have carefully cultivated the support of the business community and our citizens … a groundswell of support manifested through the private donation of over $400,000 from 100 investors to develop a plan of action. This represents the largest outpouring of support for revitalization in our city’s history. Rather than seizing the opportunity to partner with the community, council has undone what has taken so much effort to build. Some of my colleagues have presented flowery platitudes about revitalization and expanding the role of our executive director by bringing her position “in house.” This is a solution in search of a problem. Council’s original 5-year action plan for Core City Plan Implementation clearly states that this is a bad idea: “Incorporating the lead implementation function within the structure of an existing city office will confuse the mission with other priorities and functions of that existing office, potentially hindering implementation efforts. Thus, the separate Core City Development Office is a critical and fundamental part of a successful and ongoing implementation of the Core City Plan.” A climate of fear now hovers over our talented city staff chilling new, creative or transformational ideas. If Council has a plan supported by research and experience, we deserve to see it.
But doesn’t High Point have nice looking places?
Yes. High Point’s market district is home to beautiful architectural buildings. High Point has numerous beautiful parks, including two lakes (Oak Hollow and City Lake), as well as extraordinary residential areas and the perfectly manicured High Point University. However, High Point totally lacks safe, walkable public places that serve as a backdrop for civic life. Energetic civic life requires interesting, comfortable, inviting public communal spaces where people can interact. Without walkable public spaces such as wide commercial district sidewalks, squares, plazas and urban parks, people of diverse ages, races, beliefs, and talents are unlikely to meet and talk resulting in a city that lacks vitality and the innovative friction that breeds innovation and opportunity. In essence, High Point lacks places where “everyone wants to be,” and “everyone feels at home.” A recent independent economic study of creating a walkable North Main Street indicates that the new development it will stimulate will result in $2.3 million of new property tax to the city. This form of investment is occurring in cities all around us, and their property values are increasing.
Don’t these areas just develop on their own?
No. Great cities are planned. They don’t just happen by accident. Cities build public infrastructure such as roads, sidewalks, parks, and plazas by design, and the design they choose often determines what life will be like in those areas. Conventional wisdom used to be that creating a strong economy came first, and that increased population and a higher quality of life would follow. However, research shows that the converse is now true: creating a higher quality of life is the first step to attracting new residents and jobs. Quality of life is the key factor in determining where people – especially job creators – choose to live. In 2010, the Knight Foundation completed a 3-year study of 43,000 people in 26 cities asking “What draws people to a city and keeps them there?” Jobs, economy, and safety were NOT among the top drivers. Instead, quality of life, including social offerings … a vibrant nightlife, places to meet people, arts and cultural opportunities, and community social events … was the main factor. The study also found that cities with these amenities had higher economic growth. In May 2014, the American Planning Association released a poll of educated Millennials (21-34), Gen X (35-49) and Active Boomers (50-65). When asked about the one overriding factor in choosing where to live, respondents overall cited quality of life features ahead of economic health and job prospects. Millennials and Active Boomers said they prefer a walkable community over auto-oriented suburbs by a factor of 7 to 1. Over 50% of Millennials and 44% overall expect to move in the next 5 years. As long as High Point lacks what these people desire, they will not choose to live here, further depressing demand and causing housing values to further decline. Declining home values equals higher property taxes to maintain basic services.
So how does High Point get this done?
I will continue to fight to see that real revitalization gets done in High Point. Some on our council simply lack the courage to do the big, transformational things required to reverse our troubling trends. The proof is in the pudding. Our council has had the opportunity to do great things, but instead has taken the great, doable ideas and plans of talented people and reduced them to insignificance and mediocrity for trivial reasons.
Revitalization cannot happen without the support of the community. Our Council has alienated the base of support for revitalization in High Point, and threatens to destroy The City Project, an effective public-private revitalization partnership. Many well-informed, respected and impassioned citizens and business leaders feel that the Council does not hear them or care about their concerns. That’s simply not the way you treat people, especially volunteers and staff working for the sole purpose of helping you implement a plan you created. I will work every day to rebuild the relationships our Council has destroyed.