News: CJ Exclusives

Localities Debate Growth, Panhandling

Roundup of local government articles includes Cary, Greensboro, Chapel Hill

After experiencing lower than anticipated growth, Cary is reconsidering the amount it charges in water, sewer, and transportation impact fees.

“Our intent was to manage our growth; it wasn’t to stop it completely,” Mayor Pro Tem Jack Smith told The News & Observer of Raleigh.

Cary adopted the impact fees in an attempt to control the rapid growth that the town experienced from the 1970s through the late 1990s. Cary’s population went from less than 9,000 in 1972 to more than 103,000 last year.

In the past few years, a weak economy has slowed growth dramatically throughout Wake County. Things have since started to pick up again throughout most of the county, but not in Cary. With the higher impact fees, Cary had hoped to achieve 4 percent per-year population growth. Last year, however, only 466 residential building permits were approved in the town.

The town’s population is estimated to have grown by only 1.74 percent between April 2002 and April 2003.
“Developers will pay a premium to build in Cary, but then you have to look at what amount of premium they will pay,” Councilwoman Jennifer Robinson said to the N&O. Robinson and a majority of the Cary Town Council are concerned that Cary may be effectively pricing itself out of the market .

While many communities have impact fees, Cary’s are especially high. The town, for example, often charges six times or more than what Raleigh does on a similar project.

A recent case highlights the differences in fees. A local developer and Rex Hospital are planning to build a 63,000-square-foot medical office complex in Cary. The town will collect $460,000 in impact fees from the project. By comparison, the impact fees for a similar project in Durham would be less than $120,000. In Raleigh, such a project would incur less than $55,000 in impact fees.

Greensboro panhandling ordinance

As reported last month in Carolina Journal, Greensboro has also been considering and has since adopted a new, stricter, ordinance on panhandling. Implementing the new regulations, however, is proving to be a challenge.

“The process got ahead of my office,” city Tax Collector John Rascoe said to the News & Record of Greensboro. Rascoe’s department is responsible for issuing the panhandling licenses the new ordinance requires. There is no cost to obtain a license.

Among the things still being sorted out is what the license will look like. Rascoe is certain, though, that the specific restrictions on panhandling, including time and distance rules and a prohibition on lying about military service, will be printed on the back of the licenses.

Until the new licenses are ready, beggars will be given receipts showing they have applied. Ordinarily, Rascue’s office would mail licenses when they are ready, however, many panhandlers do not have mailing addresses. In such cases, they will simply be asked to come by at a certain date to pick up their licenses.

Another issue facing Rascue is the ordinance’s requirement that applicants present a photo ID. Many homeless people do not have identification. “I, as the tax collector, have had to decide what was acceptable,” Rascoe said.

So far Rascue has accepted only military or state-issued identification.

Chapel Hill panhandling ordinance

A new ordinance went into effect May 1 in Chapel Hill prohibiting panhandling at night. The new law comes after police complained that previous rules on begging in public were essentially unenforceable.

On March 28, the Chapel Hill Town Council adopted the new ordinance by a 7-2 vote. The council had rejected the change, but changed its position after town officials and police officers noted the difficulties in enforcing the town’s aggressive pan-handling ordinance, which required that both the complainant and the beggar appear in court.

Under the new restriction, a violator could be subject to a $50 fine and seven days in jail.

Opposition to the ordinance was centered on whether it stifled free speech. “This ordinance creates a new criminal act in the choice of words on Franklin Street,” said Councilman Mark Klein-Schmidt, who voted against the change.

New tax to build runway

Passengers flying through Charlotte Douglas International Airport are likely to be paying an extra $3 per flight starting this fall. The receipts would be used in part to help fund a new runway.

Federal regulations allow airports to charge a fee, called a passenger facility charge, to pay for improvements at airports. The Federal Aviation Administration recently noted that 85 of the nation’s 100 top airports have the charge of either $3 or $4.50 per departing passenger. Airports in Fayetteville, Greenville, New Bern, and Wilmington already charge $3. The fee is $4.50 in Asheville.

The new runway, the airport’s fourth, has been in the works for over a decade. The 9,000-foot runway would be parallel to two existing runways, and would greatly expand the airport’s capacity. US Airways, which has a major hub at Charlotte, strongly supports building the new runway. The runway could be ready for service by early 2006. The airport has already paid $80 million to acquire land. Building the runway and associated taxiways is estimated to cost an additional $80 million.

Charlotte’s decision to adopt the fee reflects the new realities in aviation. The federal government paid for 75 percent of the cost of the airport’s third runway, which opened in 1979.

The FAA, however, after Sept. 11, is now obligated to spend more on security-related items, reducing its ability to fund airport improvements. It is unlikely to be able to fund as much of the cost this time. The city will be responsible for whatever portion of the cost the FAA does not pick up.

Lowrey is a Charlotte-based associate editor at Carolina Journal.