by YES! Weekly staff

SCUTTLEBUTT Developments across the Triad and beyond, compiled

Amendment to housing inspection ordinance approved

With Mayor Yvonne Johnson absent, the Greensboro City Council voted unanimously to amend the city’s rental housing inspection ordinance. The changes do away with comprehensive inspection of all rentals, instead mandating exterior inspection of all units every five years, interior inspection of units with a history of code violations and interior inspection of a small sample of units for “sentinel” effect. “It is true that in this amended ordinance rental unit certificates of occupancy, RUCOs, will be permanent,” said Marlene Sanford, president of the Triad Real Estate and Building Industries Coalition and one of the negotiators. “That does not mean, though, that they can’t be revoked. They can still be revoked for failure to cure violations in a timely manner. And there are escalating fines that come into play if they are revoked. And you have to get them reinstated.” District 4 Councilman Mike Barber, the council liaison to the RUCO Advisory and Appeals Board celebrated the inspection program. “At the beginning… I wasn’t particularly sold on it,” he said. “It seemed to be a little bit of a pain in the neck to me, to be quite honest. And then I began to learn a little more about it. It’s extraordinary. I think it’s a national model that Greensboro can be proud of.” — JG

Winston-Salem city to change banks The Winston-Salem City Council authorized city manager Lee Garrity and the city’s chief financial officer to change the banks that currently handle the city’s variable-rate water and sewer revenue bonds for a period of one year during the council’s regular meeting on Nov. 17. Citigroup Global Markets and Bank of America currently serve as the remarketing agents for the city’s water and sewer bonds. Wachovia and Barclays Capital serve as the remarketing agents for the city’s variable-rate certificates of participation. On Nov. 23, federal regulators approved a plan for the government to back $306 billion in loans and securities and directly invest roughly $20 billion in Citigroup as part of a rescue plan to save the global financial services holding company from failure. Last month, San Francisco-based Wells Fargo acquired Wachovia for $15 billion in stock, after Wachovia had originally accepted an offer from Citigroup. Garrity said he believes the city can find a better deal by going with a different financial institution to

handle its bond assets. — KB

State shortfall projected at $3.3 billion

A Nov. 20 NC Justice Center’s Budget & Tax Center brief suggests that a recent state fiscal analysis projecting a $1.3-billion budget shortfall of in the 2009-2010 fiscal year may actually be a low-ball estimate. Elaine Mejia, director of the Budget & Tax Center said the true shortfall could be as much as $3.3 billion, or more than 15 percent of the current state budget. That’s assuming a federal relief package from Washington to the states is not on the near horizon. Mejia’s forecast also does not include what is called “counter-cyclical spending,” including rising demand for Medicaid as new residents qualify or increased burden on community colleges as those who have lost their jobs go back to school to retool their skills. — JG

Tax incentives granted to manufacturer

The Greensboro City Council voted 7-1 to approve a tax incentive package of up to $255,000 to ConvaTec, a medical device manufacturer. The company pledges to create 30 new jobs paying average salaries between $43,300 and $54,300 and invest $19.5 million, after which it will receive tax rebates for up to three years. Greensboro was competing with locations in the United Kingdom and the Dominican Republic for the company’s new ostomy pouch business and an expansion of its ostomy wafer line. “You can tell that this is their only location in the United States,” said Jim Westmoreland, interim assistant city manager for economic development. “This is an element of global corporate competition in terms of where they’re planning to put this particular line of business. When this request started out, about eighteen months ago now, it was originally a $57-million project. The company quickly shaved off about two thirds of it, sent it over to the United Kingdom. They had economic development incentive policies there that basically the United States wasn’t able to compete with.” At-large Councilman Robbie Perkins made the case for ConvaTec, addressing plant director Tom Brugnoli. “When Bristol-Meyers-Squibb owned ConvaTec, it had plants overseas that are the same plants that are there today,” he said. “And what your management team is doing is competing within your own organization to see where the investment and the jobs are located. And this is very similar to what we did as a city for Proctor & Gamble a couple years ago. As I hear you saying it, you either grow as a manufacturing facility, or they cut you back.” District 5 Councilwoman Trudy Wade cast the lone dissenting vote. “I have a real problem rewarding someone who moves their company overseas,” she said. “And when we have so many businesses here that are struggling right now — I’ve talked to small-business owners everyday, and they’re really having a tough time and it’s really going to be hard for me to vote for an incentive when other businesses are struggling and it will be part of their tax dollars.” The Guilford County Commission voted 8-2 to give ConvaTec $152,000 in tax incentives on Nov. 6. — JG

Amnesty for Greensboro parking violators The Greensboro City Council voted on Nov. 18 to give parking violators a free pass on late fees. The parking ticket amnesty program allows drivers to pay all outstanding parking tickets without bothering with any fees that may have accumulated, according to a city press release. The amnesty program begins on Dec. 1 and runs through Dec. 31. Once the program concludes, the Greensboro Police Department will start towing cars that have at least three tickets more than 90 days overdue. — JG

City council subpoenas former detective The Winston-Salem City Council issued a subpoena to former Winston-Salem police detective Donald R. Williams after he refused to cooperate with the Silk Plant Forest Citizen Review Committee. The council issued the subpoena at the urging of the committee, which passed a resolution at its Aug. 25 meeting requesting the city exercise its power to subpoena Williams, the lead detective in the Jill Marker-Silk Plant Forest assault, which occurred in December 1995. The subpoena requires Williams to appear and “produce all things in his possession or under his control, which refer or relate to his investigation of the Jill Marker-Silk Plant Forest matter.” The subpoena also requires that Williams submit to an examination by the council. In 1997, Kalvin Michael Smith was convicted of assault with intent to kill in the attack on Marker, who identified him at trial as her assailant. Smith is now serving a 28-year sentence at the Alexander Correctional Institution in Taylorsville. Duke law student volunteers, working on behalf of the Innocence Project, are handling Smith’s case. — KB

Chicken tractors okay, roosters still a problem

The Greensboro Planning Department has advised the city council that mobile poultry enclosures, or “chicken tractors” are exempt from a bee and poultry ordinance requiring certain setbacks for chicken coops. The department probed the matter at the council’s request after Billy Jones, a former mayoral candidate and blogger better known as Billy the Blogging Poet, brought it to their attention. “They are of similar height to other ornamental and landscaping items,” Planning Director Dick Hails reasoned in a recent memo to City Manager Mitchell Johnson, “that the city allows by right, e.g. at-grade patios, bird baths, yard fountains, dog houses, etc.” On a related matter, staff has found that a new standard approved by council in August stating that “no male chickens over six months of age or other poultry animals that make sounds clearly audible off-site are permitted” has run into enforcement challenges. “Making a determination of the age of a young rooster can be difficult for staff to do without specific documentation,” Hails wrote to Johnson. “It has also been noted that some roosters begin crowing unpredictably at different ages. On the other hand, enforcement based on actual poultry noise that is ‘clearly audible’ on an abutting property can also be viewed as a subjective determination.” District 4 Councilman Mike Barber proposed that the department draft an amendment to the ordinance based on the “performance option” to regulate roosters according to their noisiness rather than age. The measure passed 7-1. — JG

Schools forced to return funds to state

While Greensboro City Council members speculated on Nov. 18 that the state will withdraw funding to local government, Guilford County Schools learned on the same day that

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