04/04/12 — Council defers North Berkeley rezoning decision

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Council defers North Berkeley rezoning decision

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on April 4, 2012 1:46 PM

It look less than a quarter of an hour for the Goldsboro City Council to address the city's business Monday night as Mayor Al King adjourned the meeting at just past 7:10 p.m. after making quick work of the council's charges.

No public hearings were held and no one spoke during the public comment period, while the one item requiring individual action was deferred until a later meeting.

That item, the rezoning request for the southeast corner of North Berkeley Boulevard and Ridgecrest Drive from office and institutional to neighborhood business conditional district, was discussed at length during the council's work session where members decided they would rather delay the development than risk impacting the neighborhood that exists behind the lot.

"This is going to be a commercial lot," Mayor Pro Tempore Chuck Allen said of the plot of land, which lies across from Berkeley Mall and the future Olive Garden on Berkeley Boulevard. "But we've always erred on the side of protecting neighborhoods."

Council members Don Chatman and Bob Waller voiced their support for delaying a decision until there was more certainty that the state Department of Transportation would allow for a right-in, right-out entrance from Berkeley Boulevard. That attribute was visible in a new scenario presented during the meeting and was attractive, council members said, because it should prevent a dramatic increase of traffic on Ridgecrest Drive.

Allen again pointed out, as he did during the public hearing March 19, that the three original scenarios which depicted various retail and restaurant uses for the property would impact the area in significantly different ways. He added that the streets back behind the subject property are extremely narrow and not particularly conducive to large delivery trucks or heavy traffic.

District 6 Councilman Jackie Warrick said he had heard from residents there that they were unaware they could have filed a formal protest requiring a council supermajority -- six out of seven votes -- to approve the rezoning.

The work session item that received the bulk of the council's attention, however, was a presentation by City Manager Scott Stevens on changes to the city employee benefits programs.

Stevens spent the better part of an hour explaining how the Employee Benefits Committee was created to form recommendations on changes to the city's benefits programs in fall 2011. The committee included members from each of the city's largest departments.

He discouraged the group from pushing for longevity benefits, citing a trend within other municipalities where longevity was being discontinued and focused heavily on the implementation of a 401(k) program for the city. Currently, law enforcement officers pay into a 401(k) and all other employees have the option. A new program would see the city match all contributions into the 401(k).

Stevens said, in the end, the committee members said when given the option between the two they preferred the 401K plan.

Percentages shown to council revealed it was cheaper for the city to have a 401(k) option than to implement a cost of living adjustment raise as well, despite Stevens noting that the COLA would advance the pay scale from the bottom up to keep the city competitive with other municipalities.

"COLA doesn't make it worse, but I don't know that it makes it better," he said.

Much discussion was also had about the city's insurance. Goldsboro, currently, is self insured, meaning its costs fluctuate with the number of claims filed by employees.

Stevens aims to implement a high premium health insurance plan where employees with claims would pay more, although it would be buoyed by a health savings account or a health reimbursement account with a drug card.

After two 5 percent increases in health insurance last year, Stevens said the change won't be an easy one for some employees to make since it will mean higher costs for individuals.

"It will be a challenge for some employees," he said of their abilities to make payments.

District 4 Councilman Rev. Charles Williams repeatedly challenged Stevens on the issue and noting that the state health insurance plan was more comprehensive.

Stevens explained that the recommendation the committee brought forth included statistics on what it would cost to implement the new policies as early as next fiscal year.

"That's where we are today," he said.

Following the health insurance discussion, Finance Director Kaye Scott presented possible changes to the privilege license for electronic gaming establishments, floating the idea of allowing businesses opening after Jan. 1 to pay just half the privilege license tax instead of the full price. Mrs. Scott said other privilege license taxes within the city were handled in that way.

The tax is currently set at $2,500 per establishment per year and $500 per computer in the establishment per year. Both prices would have been cut in half, but council members determined they wanted the prices left where they are.

Council then turned its attention to the GATEWAY Transfer Station project, which was discussed at the Goldsboro-Wayne Transportation Authority Board March 27 during a joint meeting between the city council, GATEWAY Board of Directors and the Wayne County Board of Commissioners.

There the boards determined the project would be more palatable if the project's price could be reduced from $5.1 million to $4 million, reducing the local match from about $250,000 to about $200,000. The rest of the funding would be made up of a combination of federal and state money.

Despite initial hesitancy from the council, in the end King's wanted his message to the county to be clear.

"We will if they will," he told Stevens.

The commissioners are expected to discuss their portion of the match in meetings in the near future.

Following the GATEWAY talk, Public Works Director Neil Bartlett briefly discussed changes to the city's recycling program as it will change from sorted to single-stream recycling.

Single-stream or commingled recycling means customers won't have to sort their recyclables and will instead be asked to gather all of their recyclable materials into single bins. The recyclables will be picked up in this way and taken to a private recycling agency, in the city's case, Kemp Recycling, and sorted there.

Bartlett said the city could expect to receive between $25 and $30 per ton in revenue from the change and said the switch, which customers will learn about in utility bills this month, will begin May 7.