Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What Could Go Wrong with a City Buying a Hotel?

Ahhh, yes, more hotel madness, and this time it's not just limited to Wilmington.

Carolina Beach has been bitten by the hotel madness bug, and it's led to allegations of corruption!

What a surprise!

Carolina Beach leaders closed two hotels owned by the town's non-profit CBP3 last week, but one issue regarding the property remains open.
Problem number 1: the town has a non-profit. What is this necessary for?

Problem number 2: they have/had two hotels? Why would they need two? I suppose they like competing with themselves.
Included in the accusation letter that spark [sic] the initial investigation is an signed affidavit from fellow, now former, Councilman Alan Gilbert. The document details Gilbert's version of how the town took over the property.

In closed session, town council originally authorized the Town Manager to bid up to $500,000 on one of several lots that were a part of Arcadius Development and now up for auction.

Gilbert attended the auction, where he said a representative from Republic Bank approached him. The representative said Mayor Macon told him about the town's interest in the oceanfront property, according to Gilbert's affidavit.

Carolina Beach bought one property that day for $475,000, but Republic Bank bought six others for $2.1 million. The bank continued to bid on the property in an effort to raise the price, according to the document.

Gilbert suggested the bank ran up the price of the properties at auction after learning of the town's interest in them from Macon. At a special closed session, Mayor Macon then informed the rest of town council that the bank would sell the property for $3.6 million. Once loans and interest were included, the town owed $4.3 million.
Did you notice how fast that happened? WECT doesn't even go into it. (Great job reporting you guys.) Let's delve into it a bit more.

As far as I can make out, there's the accusation that Macon and Republic colluded to sell this property to the town. Republic seems to have bought the property because they knew that the city would buy it from them at a hefty price. Macon clearly would have to be getting a kickback from the bank here for getting the city to buy this hotel at a later point.

Of course, WECT doesn't go into any of this. It seems like there's a huge story here, but they're just afraid to ruffle feathers (or the feathers of certain people), or whatever the case may be.

And what exactly did Carolina Beach get for $3.6M? This is the picture with the story:

Wow. What a classy joint. I'd gladly pay $60M for that.

Folks, this is an example of why government must be kept limited. You get people in there with no real philosophy about the role of government and they start thinking they have to get involved in whatever is big in the local economy. In this case, it's a roach motel.

We all know government has no roll in the hotel business. Now I wonder if they'll learn that about convention centers?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Wilmington City Council Decides How to Make City Worse

You could have sworn the baseball stadium was dead from the rhetoric on the campaign trail for City Council, right?

Repeatedly, people like Bill Saffo, Laura Padgett, and Ron Sparks all said that they didn't support public money going to the proposed baseball stadium downtown, or some slick-tongued variation of that.

Well, that's not what the new rhetoric is.


Annexation policy, a proposed baseball stadium and the Cape Fear Skyway bridge were some of the topics Wilmington City Council tackled as it prepared for next year.

[...]The Atlanta Braves came earlier this month to talk to city and county leaders about a potential minor league team moving to the city. Elected officials have been in talks for years with different organizations interested in making Wilmington home to a minor league team. O'Grady said the Braves offer is the city's best chance to get a team.

The Braves, according to Saffo and O'Grady, are only interested in putting the stadium on the riverfront on vacant land next to PPD. Saffo said the stadium would seat about 32,000 and could be used for events other than baseball.

Most of the council seemed to agree that a stadium would be a boon for downtown. But Padgett – who repeatable said she wasn't' against the stadium – brought up several obstacles to building it, including money, traffic issues, and if a stadium is the best use of riverfront land.

O'Grady said a partnership between New Hanover County and the city would be essential to secure the necessary funding and debt.

"We have to spread that risk," O'Grady said.

Notice that this wouldn't be an issue if the Braves (minor league) wanted to come here and build the stadium themselves. They could simply buy the land, build it, and everyone presumably would be happy. The only reason that this is an issue for the City Council is because some public dollars are going to go into it.

It's truly disgusting. If you listened to the campaign rhetoric, you have had the impression this was all but dead. Folks, this stadium is going to cost $42M (probably over $70M with debt service), and there's ample research showing the publicly-funded stadiums don't work.

Of course, if the City Council actually cared about research and learning from things other cities did, we'd have no convention center right now.

Then there's more.

Laura Padgett wants more incentives for new businesses that may (emphasis on the may) come here, or for existing businesses that threaten to leave.

Councilwoman Laura Padgett said Wilmington needs someone to focus on economic development and do outreach to attract industry to the city. Padgett said economic development groups in the region tend to wait for things to come to Wilmington. She wants a "performance" spreadsheet to track money spent on economic development and what the return on investment might be.

"We don't look at the business opportunities that are here. We are missing some opportunities and those things take a while to develop. I don't think there is enough effort made to keep business here."
Wowie zowie. What a novel idea, Laura. Actually tracking performance. And it only took you sixteen years of being in office to come up with this.

Let's take a look at actual research on the success or failure (emphasis on the failure) of economic incentives to businesses.

Duke University:

The Lee Act was passed in 1996 in order to promote investment and job creation in the less developed regions of the state [NC]. It separated the counties into tiers, with job creation and investment tax credits increasing dramatically if done in a less developed county. A job created in a prosperous region can bring as little as $500 in tax credit; the same job in one of the poorest counties can in fact bring $16,500.8

The impact, however, turned out to be different than anticipated: two-thirds of the more than $60 million of credit claimed in 2001 were awarded to the top counties, with those at the bottom barely receiving anything.

[...]A survey taken in 2000 by Rondinelli and Burpitt found that international company executives operating in North Carolina placed government tax incentives, agency assistance and financing close to the bottom of the 11-item list of factors that managers felt to be influential in their location decision.
State Journal:

First, MEGA's [Michigan Economic Growth Authority] incentive packages did not improve Michigan's per-capita personal income, employment or unemployment rate.

Second, MEGA did not improve the per-capita income, employment or unemployment rate of any county in Michigan. In each county, the researchers estimated the range of impact somewhere between zero and modestly negative.

[...]The results of the Michigan study are not unique and are for the most part consistent with every other study that has looked at the economic effect of government-subsidized incentives.
And how much are spent on corporate relocation incentives? At least $50B per year nationwide. It's a true disaster.

How much more proof do you need? Let's take a look at one free way to improve our economy: loosen our zoning code and improve our zoning administration.

In 2003, Anaheim, CA took away the restrictions on mixed use downtown (our downtown is mixed use, although the rest of the city isn't.) They "allow[ed] almost any imaginable use of property." Billions in private investment poured in. In 2005, 1/3rd more businesses formed than in the previous year.

Let's not forget that 9 out of 10 downtown business owners say that the city of Wilmington is more difficult to do business with than other cities.

Is it not obvious what we have to do to improve our economy? A truly common sense, free-market oriented approach would actually get results and wouldn't cost a thing. Of course, the current City Council doesn't see that as an option. To them, the only option is for them to plan your life better.

The article then goes on to say how annexation and the Skyway Bridge are still issues for the City Council, and we'll probably be hearing more about this stuff as the year goes on.

It's truly astonishing to me. These people have zero clue. They are going to drive this city into the poor(er) house. The only thing that's still a question is how Neil Anderson feels. To be perfectly honest my expectations aren't high, but he could be the one thorn in the side of this big government juggernaut.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

More Meddling from the Unelected

Cape Fear Future (CFF), a taxpayer-funded arm of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, likes to meddle.

CFF considers itself to be a valuable resource in our region promoting education and trying to recruit the elusive "knowledge sector" in our local economy. Their efforts are hard to quantify in any meaningful way. Most of their news updates consist of regurgitating news and events taking place outside of their sphere. However, recently, the group involved itself with one endeavor on their own.

A proud news release entitled, "Cape Fear Future releases new tri-county education brochure" states:
"In the spring of 2011, representatives from Cape Fear Future and the Chamber Foundation (both initiatives of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce) joined forces to assist the improvement of K-12 schools by raising awareness and support through marketing."
Interestingly, the two groups who "joined forces" are simply spinoffs of the same umbrella organization, and no outside influence appears to be present in the process of "raising awareness and support". The most noticeably absent entity from the effort is anyone from the public education system; specifically, the New Hanover County School Board. Why is this important? For one, the school board is elected by the people, and their involvement vicariously involves the public in these initiatives. However, one thing CFF has been consistent in, is not involving the public.
The result of this effort is an up-to-date profile with relevant statistical information to be provided to corporate prospects, commercial and residential realtors and anyone looking at our school systems. Our first goal was to create a printed brochure, and the second is to create and expand educational materials on the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce website.
The deep involvement of our Chamber in our public education calls into question their true motives. The specific mention of "commerical and residential realtors" makes perfect sense, given those who our Chamber and its satellite groups are comprised of, and the primary focus of their efforts. However, the idea that unaccountable taxpayer-funded groups operating in the shadows, without any input or accountability to the public; assigning, dictating, and communicating public education policy borders on highly questionable.

The draft brochure available here, may in and of itself seem harmless, and it may in fact be so. However, why are those elected by the public to look after and direct educational policy in our county being excluded from this process? We take our childrens' education seriously (well, many of us) - that's why it is so critical to have real people that can be held accountable for decisions affecting such. However, when a hodgepodge of faceless, publicly-funded bureaucrats, who are appointed by the inner players of the social and political machinery that seems to involve itself in everything, without any accountability to the public, one should be concerned.

Another notable example of what is most accurately described as meddling, is the implementation of a program in public schools, being completely directed and executed by the Chamber:
Shallotte Middle School in Brunswick County has adopted and implemented Project Lead the Way (one of only 3 in the state), a STEM-based curriculum that incorporates engineering, robotics, aerospace and other STEM-related courses... 
The Wilmington Chamber of Commerce’s Cape Fear Future initiative is exploring adoption and implementation of the PLTW program to New Hanover County
While this particular example may seem like a good idea, and in and of itself isn't alarming, the idea that CFF now wields the power to "adopt and implement" a program in our public schools should be alarming.

Another portion of text in CFF's brochure states that:
The Cape Fear region - New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick Counties - features dynamic public and private education choices for students and parents. Programs range from pre-kindergarten to alternative and special needs, early-college curriculums, magnet schools, and a host of other unique courses that produce well-educated and socially responsible adults (emphasis added)
"Socially responsible adults"? In the view of CFF, this is a valid function of our public schools. A more traditional view may consist of it being the public schools' role to educate students in the basic areas of reading, writing, and math - social responsibility is a job for parents, families, and the student's sphere of influence. School plays a role in this certainly - but in an indirect way. This isn't something that should be taught directly in school - who's to say which view of social responsibility is the agreed upon view?

CFF's view of social responsibility could very well be vastly different from that of yours and your family's. However, teaching social responsibility is a very valid activity in public schools in CFF's view, and they are doing their part to ensure their seat at that table - with your children. However, CFF has no accountability to you whatsoever. If you dislike or disagree with their influence over your children, you have absolutely no recourse. Is this the proper role of an unelected board of self-ascribed intellectuals and elitists, funded with your money?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

It's Good to be the King: Proposal would make Hotel Construction Illegal Anywhere - Except Downtown

The idea stemmed from a roundtable meeting with Charleston's mayor earlier this year when local leaders asked for advise on bringing more hotels downtown. Charleston Mayor Joe Riley told leaders, "that's easy, we made it illegal everywhere else." -
Charleston, South Carolina - the pinnacle to which all of our elitist downtown leaders all agree that we should be so lucky to aspire to, does things a little bit different. The above quote from long-time Mayor Joe Riley of Charleston pertained to the question of how is it possible to attract hotel construction only in the central downtown district?

Wilmington Downtown Inc. (WDI), everybody's favorite quasi-government downtown lobby organization, recently suggested that the clear way to prompt downtown growth is by creating a flurry of hotel construction there - and the way to do that is to limit the free market, and make it illegal to construct hotels elsewhere in Wilmington - exempting of course a couple of the other developments operated by members of the insiders club, such as Autumn Hall and Mayfaire.
The public/private economic group has proposed a text amendment to the city's land development code that would prevent new hotel growth in the city except for in the Central Business District, Mayfaire Town Center, Autumn Hall and along the Riverfront. 
"Moving this proposal forward would limit growth and congestion," Wilmington Downtown Inc. President and CEO John Hinnant said. "This is ultimately a decision that will have a positive impact down the road."
The question is, a positive impact for who? A cursory investigation reveals that the same players involved in the northern downtown development projects in proximity to the convention center, are the same players involved in Autumn Hall and Mayfaire, not coincidentally chosen for protection by WDI. In addition, these firms are also charter members of WDI. In the minds of WDI and its members and benefactors, this proposal has a two-fold advantage - giving downtown Wilmington an unfair advantage in the market, and creating market protection for WDI's most illustrious members' projects. The 17th Street hospital corridor is also given a nod of approval from Hinnant - not coincidentally the hospital board also contains some of the same key players involved in the other areas surrounding WDI.

This proposal represents the very worst about these unelected, faceless, bureaucratic agencies that make decisions for all of us with no accountability or fear of retribution from voters. Spineless city and county leaders often allow free reign to groups like WDI, who receive a fair sum of taxpayer dollars every single year, but have absolutely no accountability to taxpayers.

Possibly an advantage for WDI, Wilmington Planning Commission Chairman Chris Boney's firm, LS3P Architects, just so happens to be a partner with WDI. In addition, Wilmington City Council members such as Kevin O'Grady, Laura Padgett, and Mayor Bill Saffo have shown a propensity for allowing an unfair advantage to downtown in order to support their agenda, such as a vibrant taxpayer-funded convention center, which forecasts now show to operate in the red indefinitely.

At first glance, the proposal seems ludicrous; but it takes a more sinister turn. If private, unelected citizens such as Hinnant, who just so happen to be a part of an organization with lobbying muscle at City Hall can finagle with regulation and zoning for their own personal benefit, and for the financial benefit of those in their camp, then where does it end? If other parts of Wilmington not targeted for their own personal agendas start to show signs of growth that they warrant as unfriendly to their goals, perhaps using the long arm of the regulatory law to shut them down would level the playing field for their own ends.

Again, internal politics at the city level is shown to be quite Soviet in its implementation. 17% of voters gave a nod of approval to the status quo last month, which greenlights this sort of initiative. This proposal is a prime example of the elitist few centrally planning the fate and environment of the masses; without accountability, and without any fear of retribution from the public. Taxpayer-funded agencies such as WDI and WID have for long been a chief planning, policy-making, and regulatory body that operates in the shadow of City Hall, and without the nasty impacts and scrutiny that public officials are subject to. In turn, public officials gladly keep stocking these agencies with cash to do their dirty work.

Despite the shockingly long amount of time this practice has continued to be the modus operandi of city government, voters still by and large sit home at election day, and completely abdicate their duty to hold government responsible for its excesses and creative ethics.
Hinnant said the proposed prevention of building hotels in certain areas is just one possible way to lure more hotels downtown.
He said he expects it to be controversial but that sometimes politics need to be put aside to clear the way for future planning.
"At some point we all have to be accountable for our decisions," he said. "A lack of regulation is how we got to where we are on places like Market Street and Carolina Beach Road."
Flaws in logic aside, given that disallowing hotels anywhere but downtown won't necessarily prevent them from locating completely outside of our city altogether; Hinnant demonstrates his complete ineptitude in understanding the role of government in a free market. His glib statement of it simply being "politics" that would create a controversy is telling. The argument is purely economic - not political. A free market is only free when it is left to its own devices unhindered. The beauty of this system is that it puts you and I - the consumer - at the top of the heap as the final decision maker as to what lives and dies economically; not some second-rate elitist bureaucrat hack, hell-bent on using every resource at his disposal to tilt the entire local economy to spill out favors to his cronies and allies.

Perhaps the most ironic of all, is Hinnant's statement, "At some point we all have to be accountable for our decisions". This - from a man who conveniently operates completely unaccountable to anyone for anything. He receives large sums of taxpayer cash year after year - and has no obligation to answer them for it. He is able to move in the shadows, undetected, without the spotlight of public awareness or impending elections to hold his feet to the fire. This - from a man who used the official WDI credit card account - paid for with the hard-earned tax dollars we contributed to government - to pay for booze, cigars, and groceries, and had absolutely no accountability for it.

Finally, Hinnant laments a "lack of regulation", referring to the vibrant hotel businesses within certain corridors of our city other than downtown. It was a healthy free market climate that offered the prime conditions for these businesses to thrive; but it will be the stroke of a pen from some progressive, "smart-growth" schmuck like Hinnant that will finish it off.

Someone who can point to an economically healthy sector in this current day and age, and castigate it as a negative because it doesn't fit within his scope of a centrally planned laboratory experiment that only serves to enrich himself and his buddies, is no friend to economic prosperity.

However, given the turnout of last month's local election, it seems like these policies will continue to rule the day unchecked, and voter apathy will once again sign over tacit approval for all things corrupt and counter to the basic ideas of liberty and prosperity.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

What Does the New Tax Rate Mean to You?

Yes, there's more discussion of the new New Hanover/Wilmington/beach towns "tax rate." Nevermind that "tax burden" is far more important than "tax rate," because tax burden takes area median income into account, and that Wilmington's tax burden is very high.

That's another issue.

What we're talking about now is how the new rate is going to affect people differently across the county. After putting the revaluation off for years, the New Hanover County tax assessor finally found out that the overall decrease for property values was 14% for the county as a whole and 13% in Wilmington.

Yet this doesn't capture the full story.

As we can see from this graphic from WWAY:

Not every area lost value equally. Additionally, "[t]here are some areas, a few pockets, that are actually seeing an increase."

What this means is that in order to stay "revenue neutral" some people are going to see their property tax bills skyrocket, while others will actually see them go down.

Now, I'm not going to get into exactly how much each area will see their bills go up or down (although if I were a professional journalist, who was paid to do this kind of thing, I would.) I'm just going to try to give the broad strokes.

Firstly, the Fire District as far as I can tell is another word for "unincorporated area." There are roughly 100,000 people or so in that area. But the property values in the unincorporated areas fell far less than in the county as a whole. That means that at the bare minimum, they will see their tax bills increase about 6% to make up for the loss to other people's property in the county.

Again, we're not talking rate; we're talking about what will actually be coming out of their wallets.

If you're a property owner in Wilmington and your property actually gained value, your tax bills are going to skyrocket. You'll be paying at least 14% more in county property tax, and 13% more in city property tax. Since the city's and county's property tax rates aren't too far away from each other, you'll have a roughly 27% higher property tax bill.

Then your bill will also go up according to however much value your property gained.

So, as we can see, even if property tax rates are to be kept at a level so they're "revenue neutral" (as if any of our local governments can do anything but expand,) this revaluation is going to put more burden on some people and take it off of others. I can only imagine that the number of people who are hurt by it will far outnumber those who benefit.

The media outlets around here should be crunching these numbers, and not simply say things like "some neighborhoods will pay less on county and municipal tax bills, and others will have to pick up the tab." These are things that affect people's daily lives.

Friday, November 25, 2011

"Sorry, We Don't Have Money for Your Doggie Bag"

"However, we will fine you if you don't pick up after your dog."

That's the message out of a recent StarNews article.
Faced with looming budget cuts, it's possible the city of Wilmington's parks department could dump more, if not all, of its dog poop stations.

Some of the stations for disposing of dog waste have already been removed as a cost-saving measure.

Kevin McRill, of Wilmington, found that out the hard way on one of his usual runs along the Riverwalk with his lab. The station behind the Greater Wilmington Chamber of Commerce that he usually uses to dispose of his dog's droppings was gone.

"I think they've got better places to cut money than doggie bags," he said. "I think it makes no sense at all."

Firstly, there are no "looming budget cuts." This year's budget is 4.2% higher than last year's budget and that's been the general trend for many years (in fact, the general trend is higher than 4.2%, but we'll leave that for another day.)

Secondly, Mr. McRill is right. They have many better places to cut than doggie bags, especially if they're going to fine people for not picking up after their dogs.

[Nina Johnston, parks superintendent] said last year the cost of supplies and labor for maintaining the more than 40 stations in the city was about $30,000.

"And that's crazy," she added.

Yes, that is crazy.

Let's put aside the fact that we could probably save millions by privatizing parks maintenance. Let's put aside that we would probably thousands upon thousands by effectively auditing all of the Parks Department's purchases. Let's just assume this is a completely reasonable cost and things couldn't be done anymore cheaply.

Are these stations worth having?

Well, one way to tell is to compare it to other things we spend our money on:

This totally ignores the savings we'd find by having public employees pay half for their benefits.

So, the point is, yes, there are plenty of other places to cut than this, especially if you're going to fine people $250 for not picking up after their dogs.

This article does, however, bring up a subtler point about why it is always better to have the private sector provide something than the public sector.

If this were all private, people could protest with their dollars and either the company providing the service would get the message or potentially go out of business. In the public sector, it's much more difficult, especially when you have people like our current city council running the show.

Is it possible to privatize parks?

Yes, in fact, the majority of Tokyo's parks are private. There is a website devoted entirely to the concept. NJ Governor Chris Christie is currently pushing for public private partnerships in state parks. So, yes, like anything, it can be provided by the private sector.

The danger is that once the government gets into something it makes it more difficult for the private sector to compete, because anything run or owned by the government has an inherent advantage.

At the bare minimum, we need to look into privatizing our parks' maintenance.

Monday, November 21, 2011

New Hanover County: Land Speculator

Apparently, New Hanover County owns nearly 4,000 acres of property, much of which is vacant.

Just from a brief look at this website, I'd say a conservative value to put most undeveloped property at in New Hanover County would be $50k/acre. I'd imagine developed land would go for even more.

Now, this is just a back of the napkin calculation, but I would not be surprised if the value of the government-owned land is over $200M. Now, of course, some land is probably being used for legitimate government functions, but I'd bet (wait, no, I know) a whole lot is not.


New Hanover County owns almost 4,000 acres of property containing cemeteries, museums, office buildings, parking lots and an array of other entities.

There’s also quite a bit of vacant land[...]

Shell cautioned Berger not to link the potential purchase of the bowling alley building to any other property the county owns, saying the deal “should stand in its own merits.”

“It’s very short-sighted to sell property that may have value in the future,” he told Berger.

Yes, folks, it's not that the land could be used for something; it's that it could be valued at something in the future. Don't you love when local government officials act like land speculators with your money?

[P]ointing to that list of property, Shell said each of the nearly 200 parcels has a use.

That includes property the county owns that has remained vacant for years.

There are lots purchased for parks and recreation space that
can’t be developed until the county seeks private donations or state grants, said Jim McDaniel, who heads the county’s Parks department.

Eighty-five acres are set aside to expand the new Smith Creek Park off Harris Road, for example. The land was purchased this year, but it will likely be years before anything is built there. Additional land sits for the expansion of Castle Hayne Park, too.

[...]The county also has majority interest in about 60 acres off Independence Boulevard, known as Bryan Farms, that sits in a trust with strict guidelines. McDaniel said the county can only use the area for farming or gardening functions, and he and other staff are exploring options for it.

“It just has great potential for this community,” he said.

Yes, folks, the local government may get involved in farming. Does anyone remember how this worked out for Russia or China? Of course, in this case, the government wouldn't be the only supplier of food, but do they not realize that if they enter into private business they crowd out private firms?

Vacant land also remains where a library on Northchase parkway is supposed to be built. The land, about 3 acres, was purchased in 1996.

Shell said many other parcels were purchased before they are ready for development to avoid paying more for them in later years.

“Spend a little money, save a lot more,” he said. “That’s what I’m all about.”

Does anyone fell like telling Bruce Shell that the real estate market is still going down? Thanks for all your prudent investment, Bruce. How about you take the losses next time?

The county also holds the deeds to several small tracts of land that were foreclosed because of unpaid property taxes.

All of those tracts are less than half an acre, and Shell said there aren’t many uses for them. He said the county will work with Wilmington officials to determine if any of the larger of
the parcels can be used for low income housing or economic development uses.

Yes, low income housing. More central planning. Nevermind that "affordable housing," which this seems to be, has proven to be a disaster wherever it goes. (Pruitt-Igoe anyone?) Shell doesn't even seem to realize that selling the parcels could allow the county to reduce its tax burden, which is the number one factor correlated with economic growth.
No, economic growth can only come as a result of the actions of our glorious central planners.

He’s [Catlin] also interested in opportunities for the county’s airport land, in an area called a foreign trade zone. “It could also be a launching pad for more international business,” Catlin said.

I had heard of this "foreign trade zone" before and thought it seemed like just another lofty idea. Then I happened to read a story about foreign trade zones just the other day and they seemed like a really great idea. They're a way around some more burdensome government restrictions on trade. Here's some info on them.

County commissioners will soon decide on the fate of another vacant property – a government building at 320 Chestnut St. that used to house the Public Defender’s Office and other departments.

The building has sat vacant for more than a year since a water leak and subsequent asbestos issues dislocated the

Shell said he’ll present a feasibility study for repairing and renovating the building to commissioners in January.

Jason Thompson has said that if this building were knocked down he would actually like to see the county build a totally new building in its place. This is some of the most valuable land in the county. It's right downtown, and we don't collect property taxes on it because it's publicly owned. Does this make sense to anyone?

So what, if anything, would the county manager choose to let go from the government’s inventory?

The first and practically only thing Shell mentioned
in an interview Friday was the Lucile Shuffler building at 2011 Carolina Beach Road.

[...]“I’m not anxious to sell anything,” Shell said.

Is anyone surprised? He has no incentive to sell anything. Every piece of land he owns, every dollar in the government budget elevates his status. You, however, have an incentive to get people with this mentality out of office.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Wilmington Post-Election Meltdown

Once again, those idealists with dreams of serving the best interest of the local citizen, with well thought plans of budget-saving measures and tax relief, were put in their place by a small band of voters armed with nothing more than the desperate desire for status.
"...and the best part is, they don't even care that we're milking this town dry!"

As the numbers rolled in at the New Hanover County Government Center last night, it became clear what motivates the typical Wilmington voter. One would think that an incumbent whose legacy is swanky junkets on the taxpayer dime would be turned out handily by voters. Not so fast - this is Wilmington, after all. Laura Padgett, the timeless fixture on Wilmington City Council likes to travel on public money so much, that a new set of rules had to be enacted to keep her in check. After going through all of the council's budget for travel, she demanded more - since her presence at the International Shoelace Makers BBQ, Wine Tasting, and Beauty Pageant in Aukland, New Zealand is imperative to our very economic survival here in the Cape Fear region (or is it the Riverfront Beaches and Island Coastal Estuaries and Salty Marshlands and Bad Traffic and Roads region? I always forget...).

However, the opinion was clear that voting Padgett had its social benefits. Pity the poor sap who dares go against the grain and vote an outsider. This is the very purpose of our elections, after all - one must demonstrate one's worth in the social arena. Can you imagine attending the annual Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend Ball at the Cape Fear Country Club next year and not have a history of Padgett votes to your credit? Ahh... the horror. One may be inclined to think that such a person has no place amongst the elite establishment. Social suicide indeed.

The queen of last night's ball was none other than Madam Margaret Haynes, draped in designer fare from head to toe, with cheeks armed and willing to receive the barrage of showy kisses from the ostentatious gallery of  artificial idiots. Haynes, who has proudly proclaimed that those who do not support her fail to do so simply because of their intellectual deficits and departure from intelligence, was ensconced by a faithful entourage of 60-something look-alikes, short silvery hair and gaudy jewelry sure to lure onlookers into a false sense of intellectuality. Those who believe in the heresies of limited government and fiscal constraint, are nothing but hapless peasants who are to be treated with the greatest disdain, and offer little social reward in entertaining; and social reward is the driving force behind Haynes. With her signature dark beady eyes and painfully forced smile she searches high and low for it - as do the loyal dolts that could not wait to replant her once again on city council for four more years of pretentious fabulousness.

Neil Anderson, the newest import on the social totem pole made his concessions early to the round table of kingmakers, and was swept into office ala O'Grady. Anderson, who speaks in slow Southern tenor, played the part of a working class conservative well throughout his quest for social.... errr... political office. Even well-known local conservatives were heard vouching for his name on the ballot. However, a simple glance at Anderson's campaign reports reveal the truth. The same wealth and power machine with pure disgust for anything conservative and fiscally responsible funded the entire Anderson affair. In fact, Anderson's reports read almost identical to none other than Padgett and Madam Haynes. Support such as this almost guarantees one a seat at the table, but does not come cheap. Those seasoned power brokers that hold out campaign cash in exchange for favorable representation are far too experienced to make the mistake of accidentally supporting someone with true conservative integrity.

One could not help but also notice the obvious display of  kinship and alliance between the Anderson and Haynes camps throughout the campaign. Poll volunteers report each candidate's campaign team pitching for one another at early voting locations. Haynes, known for her utter contempt for all things conservative, would never align with someone she would describe as a dirty unintellectual conservative simpleton. Therefore, the Anderson charade must be called into question, as this was certainly his effort in making nice with the elitist snob cartel in order to curry favor in local social circles.

And of course, like time-honored clockwork, the Saffo coronation ceremony was in full swing at last night's event. Perfectly timed with the flash of fawning media cameras, King and Queen Saffo made their grand entrance, expertly working through the crowd of desperate socialites praying for a chance to kiss a ring, cheek, hand - anything - just to be seen among their peers and idols. Queen Saffo was loyally positioned at Herr Billy's side, marionette strings hardly showing, shooting off plastic smiles and accolades - endless hours of rehearsal paying off dividends to that effect. Media robots scurried over each other for the chance to garner favor with their masters with a chance shot of glorious pomp and circumstance - or a couple of witty one-liners, for the sad masses that vicariously prove their worth with pseudo-celebrity mush.

The revelation that Saffo stands to personally profit from the current Skyway Bridge plans had zero effect on his cred as the glittering, shiny-haired superstar of local fame. The desperate throngs dutifully rushed to the polls to proclaim their unyielding support for photo ops and ribbon cuttings.

It didn't take long for the Monday morning quarterbacking to begin Wednesday morning. One morning talk radio show featured the same weekly media hack, positioned for this occasion as an "expert", analyzing why newcomer conservatives such as Joshua Fulton came up short in the race. The agreed upon diagnosis was that he was assumed among voters as being the city council equivalent to Commissioner Brian Berger; conveniently ignoring the historical fact that all outsiders that don't fit the cloned mold of social stalwart and willing idiot to the great power structure of the Wilmington political complex are rejected by voters in Wilmington. Where is the great social payoff in electing someone that isn't a Gold-level member of the Cameron Art Museum? What is to be gained by a limited government candidate not seen at the head table of the GWBJ Power Breakfast events? Someone not affiliated with WID would be a waste of time. After all, what are local elections about if not to serve as a referendum on who carries the most societal credit?

Congratulations Wilmington. You have once again proved without a doubt that you are nothing but an unoriginal mass of society whores, with nothing short of pure disdain for factual and calculated voting based on choosing the best fresh perspectives to solve the issues that face us everyday. A conservative candidate not chosen in this circus of plastic pageantry should hold their head high, and take pride in their intact character.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Gloves Come Off: Unfounded Accusations - Wilmington Council Race

It appears that all of the political unrest and animosity that seems to pervade the air we breathe these days, has also settled upon our small corner of America here in Wilmington, and surrounds our city council race. Something never encountered by this writer has also made its appearance. An attack site has been set up to feebly attempt to denigrate and discredit a newcomer to local politics, challenger Joshua Fulton.

Usually sites of this regard are aimed at informing voters of incumbents' records and challenging their veracity on the campaign trail. Some sites in this vein carry a lot of merit, since they can provide a comprehensive analysis on an incumbent's voting record, and draw comparisons between historical fact, and a politically populist message. Such sites can be a quite useful tool in politics, given they are heavy on fact, and light on hyperbole.

However, the website in question at this moment is an abject reversal of such a formula. (TRJF) is a caricature of political rhetoric, paranoid fantasy, and hyperbolic dreck. Obviously, the writer goes to incredible lengths to maintain his anonymity; lest he be found out and ridiculed for such insane delusions. Besides efforts to concoct "evidence" that supposedly has  Fulton in bed with everyone from radical Islam to Big Labor (also ironically chastising him for his anti-statist views opposing union control), TRJF takes specific aim at yours truly.

If one didn't realize that TRJF was a serious effort to sway the council elections, one may find its claims and accusations humorous, if not downright satirical. However, as it stands, the intent to be serious results in a lot of effort to string together a cornucopia of outlandish, preposterous, and quite psychotic incoherence.

The latest posting from TRJF has The Alliance for a Better Local Economy and myself colluding to control Fulton in a nefarious scheme to exact the evils of better fiscal control of tax dollars, removing burdensome regulations that hinder organic free market business growth, and ridding local government of insider maneuvering that results in corrupt backroom dealings such as what has been now discovered involving our local ABC board. TRJF charges that I myself has the hooks in Fulton, and in fact it is I, not Fulton, that voters would be electing should he win a seat on city council.

Some of Ben McCoy’s positions have  validity, there is no doubt there, but if you vote for Joshua Fulton, you are actually electing Ben McCoy.  Fulton will just push whatever buttons that McCoy and ABLE desire to be pushed.  Fulton will not be an independent thinker.      

Never mind the fact that I have contributed no money to Fulton, or any other candidate's campaign. It is nothing more than my swagger and charm that persuades the pliable Joshua Fulton to adhere to my wishes, and carry out my bidding. It certainly isn't that I discovered Fulton along with everyone else while closely watching the council race, and decided that I agreed with his fiscally conservative platform.

It gets even more deranged. The writer produces a letter written recently by Fulton to city employees, that among its many paragraphs, contains the word "profligate". This is then compared to a letter written to city council by myself about a year ago, in which I use the word "profligate" as well. In the irrational and muddled mind of the blog writer, this is apparently hard evidence that I wrote both letters.

The same word, the rarely used word PROFLIGATE appears in both letters.  Now, either Ben McCoy wrote both letters, or both he and Fulton enjoy using this word in their “letters”.  We, at don’t believe in such coincidences.  Writing styles are fairly ingrained personality traits.  It is our belief that McCoy wrote both letters.

Why the word "letters" appears in quotes, is anyone's guess. But more importantly, the only thing that any of this proves is that the writer of this blog, in all of his rigidly protected anonymity and ambiguity, has a severe deficiency in vocabulary. One can instantly see a clear definition in writing style of both letters, and it is incredibly clear that the two letters were not written by the same hand. The use of the word "profligate" is not noteworthy in any way, and highlighting the use of the word as some sort of evidence that the two letters were written by myself is hilarious.

I would assume that I don't have to say it, but for the record, I had nothing at all to do with Fulton's letter, nor any aspect of his campaign in any way, other than planting a few yard signs.

The cherry on top, is that Fulton is a teacher of creative writing at UNCW. If anything, he should be the one to craft both letters, given his expertise in the practice. I consider myself a student of the written language, and embrace words as my palette. I strive to utilize words that correctly capture the spirit of my views, and enjoy using words that could be considered somewhat uncommon. However, I would not consider the word "profligate" as such - making this entire subject all the more comical.

The clear platform over at TRJF is that of protecting public sector jobs, salaries, and benefits for all within the city. The blogger all but reveals his position as a either an active or retired public employee. This paints a clear picture as to why the sites are set squarely on Fulton as being the sum of all evils in this current election cycle. Fulton's fiscally conservative views are deemed as the ultimate threat, as his position on council could lead to a reduction in duplicative or underperforming staff, minor cuts to city-contributed benefits in some cases, or other efforts to gain more prudent stewardship of the citizen's tax dollars. To the writer of TRJF, this is the ultimate crime, and Fulton must be stopped.

Fulton has made it clear that his intention is not to layoff public safety workers, or cut the salaries of firefighters and police officers who make a mere $32,000 a year. The waste exists in the administrative side, where it is not uncommon for a department within the inner sanctum of city government to have an average salary in the six digit range, when their private sector counterparts make half or even less than that. And even then, he has also clarified that his approach would not be a wide swath of cuts, but a targeted effort to clearly quantify where waste exists.

Fulton's message is gaining very positive traction among the voting population, who are realizing that they are contributing huge sums of money into a system where extravagant salaries and benefits are common; whereas they themselves are struggling to make ends meet in this dire economy. To the faceless minions of TRJF, this is viewed as a threat to their own gravy train, and warrants a last ditch desperate and pathetic effort to undermine Fulton with wild incoherent rambling devoid of logic.

So who is behind TRJF? Clearly, no citizen without any skin in the game would go this far, enthusiastically risking their reputation and credibility to this extent; even vigorously crossing the line into the realm of libel and slander to try and demonize a non-incumbent private citizen running for political office. Even someone as intellectually limited as the folks over at TRJF could see that this site exists to promote a certain mindset to the office of city council. While TRJF is far too cowardly to expose themselves, they cannot help but to offer insight as to who they are with this:

Fulton and his cronies have accused Mayor Saffo and other Democrats of publishing this site, and in their paranoia they state, “This is the old Wilmington Guard fighting to retain power.”  This site endorses no political candidate for City Council, there are 3 seats up for grabs and the Mayor.  This site endorses no incumbent, or new candidate.  We can also tell you that this site is most certainly not run by the “Wilmington Elite”.  Quite the contrary.

First, neither myself, nor any other of Fulton's supporters that I have encountered has ever accused Mayor Saffo, or any of his supporters of operating this blog. Saffo is far too intelligent and smooth to lower himself to such unfounded and deranged rambling. Likewise, no one has ever claimed it is the "old Wilmington Guard". TRJF actually manufactures for itself notoriety in claiming that conversations such as these exist, where Fulton's supporters are out there talking about who may be behind it. In fact, the day I discovered TRJF for the first time, the site talked about me discussing who may be behind it. I found that strange, knowing that I was discovering it for the first time at that moment.

TRJF could never be construed as an effort by the Louise McColl controlled aspect of the city council race such as Mayor Saffo; nor an establishment candidate, and seasoned politician such as Haynes, Padgett, or Sparks. The message of TRJF does not in any way coincide with that of Neil Anderson or Napier Fuller, and is far too combative to be affiliated with Ricky Meeks. Frank Meares is basically in agreement with Fulton on platform, and is obviously not behind it. Matt Hinson? A retired city worker for 30 years, who has shared concern about the "plight" of the government worker? Hinson remains the solitary question mark regarding TRJF, and these things have a funny way of coming to light. The coming weeks will be very eventful I predict.

Meanwhile, if some disturbed pseudo-blogger claims that Fulton both worships the devil, and is simultaneously an atheist; while working toward a nuclear Iran, and cementing Big Labor control over every aspect of our lives, while at the same time being a radical anarchist - don't believe the PROFLIGATE hype.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Taxpayer-funded baseball stadium coming whether you like it or not

WECT is reporting that an email they uncovered reveals that city and county officials have been courting a minor league baseball team conglomerate, Mandalay Entertainment for at least a couple of months now.

Rumblings have abound over the last few years about the idea that something like this could eventually come to fruition, but no direct answers or evidence to anything of substance has ever been confirmed or released by the city and/or the county. In fact, when asked directly recently, several local leaders have given vague responses that merely indicate that no official proposals exist, and that there is no concrete facts to support anything like this being promoted. However, emails uncovered by WECT tell a different story.

WECT reports an email from City Councilwoman Kristi Campos to County Commissioner Jason Thompson asks how the city and county can work together to get underway with the plans to build the stadium, a requirement for Mandalay to bring a minor league team here.

The secrecy surrounding these negotiations, and the lack of media coverage on the subject exist for a very specific reason. The stadium would have to be funded with taxpayer money, in the current poor economy. As if that wasn't enough, officials are even stating at this point that the stadium would not be a financial generator, but a drain on the taxpayer.

"The economic realities are, the stadium in itself would probably not generate enough money to pay the cost of building of the stadium," O'Grady said.
And that's where taxpayers come in.
"This would be something where the public would have to reach into their wallet, someway, in order to pay for it," O'Grady said.
Early projections were that the stadium would cost somewhere in the $18 million range; Mayor Bill Saffo recently stated a sum of $30 million. Other projections fall upwards of $40 or even $50 million. In this economy, pursuing something of this magnitude without any chance of return on investment seems absolutely ludicrous at best.

Surprisingly, even though the plans do not include taxpayers recouping their investment, officials are calling Mandalay's proposal "the best baseball presentation they've seen".

The big motivator for this project is the alleged throngs of tourists, vacationers, and visitors it is promised to attract. To Council member Kevin O'Grady, this not only offsets, but outweighs the negative financial impact and outlook of the project.

When the convention center was under construction, citizens were told that the center would generate revenue, and pay for itself. It has recently been reported that the convention center would operate in the red through 2020.

Additionally, the city has promised throughout the duration of the convention center project, and even to this day, that Room Occupancy Tax funds pay for the center. However, ROT funds only generate $2.5 million a year, and this year, the convention center budget is over $7 million. The difference is absolutely being taken directly out of the general fund.

So with a convention center that can't pay its bills without heavily subsidized taxpayer support, is it logical to dive into yet another enormous capital project that will dig deep into taxpayers' pockets in order to operate it? Where will the money come from? Why has the public been completely shut out from any and all discussions on this matter, and their permission not obtained before moving forward?

The answer to the latter is that taxpayers are completely tapped out, and are having a hard time at their kitchen tables making ends meet. The last thing they want or need is government coming to their door, once again, with hat in hand asking for millions of additional dollars for yet another money-losing project, built only on the promises of multitudes of tourists visiting the stadium.

Baseball has existed in Wilmington for years, and has never produced throngs of patrons. UNCW has an exciting baseball program that draws the best of college baseball from all over the country, and yet empty seats abound at every game. The idea that "sports tourism" is an economic boon to citizens is a myth built on failed logic that big local government progressives continue to push like crack cocaine on the street corner.

City Council candidate Josh Fulton provides a multitude of research and resources demonstrating without a doubt that projects like these cost inexcusably more than any perceived benefit that they generate. The Cato Institute conducted an exhaustive study of professional sports teams and their burden on the municipalities of which they reside. The findings were staggering, including a net loss in wages for the general population; a net loss in jobs and employment opportunities; and the conclusion that in every case studied, the impacts were economically detrimental across the board - and that was a study of professional sports teams, that actually produce loyal fan bases and sold out games.

The net economic impact of these publicly subsidized projects are devastating to a struggling local economy, and yet our elected officials are beside themselves with excitement to get the project underway. Why?

The simple answer is because it is not their money. The large majority of our local elected leaders envision themselves as capital investors and developers with an endless pool of free cash courtesy of the taxpayers generous contributions. Knowing that no free market private sector interest would dare to touch any of these projects given the inevitable manner of which they will continually lose money and produce nothing of any benefit, the only approach is to pour taxpayer money into them. Going to the public and asking for their approval will not work given the outcry against such a project that would ensue, so the only available avenue is force the project on the public without much fanfare or media coverage.

The arrogance and entitlement mentality from our elected officials is quite obvious. Commissioner Jason Thompson states, "This is a 'they're already coming, so we gotta build them a place to live'," and  "That's how this deal would go down."

Elected officials who see themselves as investors of other people's money do not worry about repercussions from their actions, given notoriously low voter turnout in local elections. They will withstand the public posturing and outrage once the project gets underway, and then chuckle in delight at election time when the very citizens feigning outrage sit it out, guaranteeing them yet another term to continue the same destructive, failed, arrogant, self-serving, dishonest, and corrupt policies that our local governments have built a legacy of.

The idea of a baseball stadium in downtown Wilmington would be great if private investors wanted to pursue this vision, invest their own money, and reap the rewards. However, everybody with a elementary understanding of investment and economics knows that this would be a huge money loser. The elected leaders cheerleading this project certainly would have nothing to do with investing their own money, and all of the excitement would quickly fade if they were asked to. However, with your money, it seems to them to be a no-brainer, given that there is not a risk - financial or political to them at all. Plus, as history shows, they believe they can spend your money much better than you can anyway, so they are really doing you a favor.

Let's show our appreciation starting this November at election time.

Friday, August 12, 2011

CFPUA Analysis Benchmarks Itself Against... Itself

The CFPUA hired a contractor to measure their performance, and this week, we got the results. The biggest headline to emerge from this was that the CFPUA has been labeled as being 5th out of 80 organizations reviewed by this firm. However, candidate for Wilmington City Council Josh Fulton points out a section of the report in his blog that says:
“Benchmarking” is a term that is often used in discussions about best practices. There are a number of definitions of benchmarking. In the public sector, benchmarking may refer to metrics, or ratios of some measure. Examples include breaks/mile of pipe, #staff/1,000 customers, $/million gallons treated, and so on. Comparing benchmarks of this nature across agencies is generally non-productive due to differences in circumstances including geography, regional issues, and specific processes. A more productive approach is for a public agency to determine what practice performance benchmarks it will track, establish a current baseline performance level, and to compare its performance to itself over the course of time. This is “Practice Benchmarking” and is the basis for our evaluation of the Authority.
This is our first clue that this group is a little lost on business analysis definitions and function. Benchmarking is the comparing of business activities and performance industry best practices, or the best practices of specific entities. The entire approach is defeated, and produces nothing usable if, as the report admits, it simply compares its practices to itself. This would never work in the free market. If you had the very worst performing company in an industry, and conducted a benchmark analysis where the company is only compared to itself, then you could create a glowing report, that in no way produces any tangible data regarding the organization's performance. Fulton puts it this way:
What they're saying is that they're using no objective measurements, or at least traditional objective measurements. They're simply comparing the Utility Authority to itself. So, I guess they went from terrible to less terrible.
Complete report here:

In this document: it becomes clear that the report writer(s) have no real understanding of basic business and marketing principles. This is astounding when you realize that our biggest quasi-government agency, the CFPUA, paid a whole lot of good money to hire them. For instance, they conduct a SWOT Analysis. They correctly define SWOT - Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. However, their knowledge apparently meets its limits there.

First of all, each of their categories regularly contradicts other ones. As someone who has conducted real SWOT Analyses in the real world; where free market businesses must stay competitive, offer products consumers want, and maintain a unique presence in a cutthroat market; this is not an exercise to be taken lightly. It is a comprehensive review of not only the organization in question, but its competitors, and the market for which it operates in. Being that the CFPUA is a state-mandated monopoly, a true-to-form SWOT Analysis cannot be conducted in any real quantitative way. It's all smoke and mirrors - and bad ones at that.

Aside from the fact that each category provides no quantitative data to help pave a positive way forward, the "Threats" category is actually fundamentally wrongly defined. "Threats" within the context of a SWOT Analysis, is to examine the threats posed by outside forces of which one has no control over whatsoever. These could be competitive threats, competitor R&D threats, government regulatory threats, legal threats, and so on. The flimsy threats posed by this report simply reflect a rewording of the other categories, and are entirely within the control of the CFPUA.

An organization that provides a report like this in the free market would be out of business overnight. They would be mocked, ridiculed, and held up as a monument to failure. However, the rules are different in government. A company like this with no understanding of business analytics can actually pass itself off as an expert in business analytics, and carve out a lucrative existence.

The contradictions in this report are too many to count. For one, the CFPUA's communication with its customers is held up as excellent when it fits the template, and that it needs much improvement in other places.  It even finds that to the CFPUA, customers are regarded as a "nuisance" ( pg.13). The solution to this reality is to make customers "advocates", which is laughable given the grossly incompetent and inefficient history of the CFPUA.

The report continues to go downhill from there, as it regularly claims that the CFPUA has excellent customer service, and customer satisfaction - which, as we know as customers of the CFPUA, is absolutely ridiculous.

We are never told exactly how the CFPUA earns its place as 5th best out of 80 similar organizations; but we do get a clear picture as to what happens when a government agency pays good money for a firm to analyze its performance - benchmarks are created that simply compare its performance to itself, and the report always gives a glowing forecast. This is yet another chapter in the very long annals of the absolute failures of the CFPUA.

Friday, July 15, 2011

PR Disaster: When Government Interferes, We All Lose

The recent buzz about the region's new branding campaign has many of us already gone from scratching our heads, to banging them against the wall. So typical of what government is known for, the issue was that a few elite decision makers in the halls of local government decided on a whim that the storied "Cape Fear" moniker was bad for business. Suddenly a problem was artificially created out of thin air. Just like all other problems that the government creates, the only solution, obviously, is to take money out of people's pockets by force to try and solve it.

The Wilmington/Cape Fear Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau (which will rename itself as well) and the New Hanover County Tourism Development Authority issued a request for proposal last December seeking an agency of record for marketing the region. The RFP states:

FY11-12 budget and scope of work will be determined in April 2011. The total FY10-11 marketing budget is $548,000. The marketing programs, creative and paid advertising schedule for FY10-11 (July 1, 2010-June 30, 2011) is approximately $390,000 and includes the following:
Interactive Media
Media Placement
Campaign PPC
Creative Development
Social Media
*Web creative

When asked, Commissioner Jason Thompson could not provide an immediate answer to "what is the difference between the Tourism Development Authority and the Wilmington/Cape Fear Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau?" It turns out that they are sort of one in the same; and sort of not. Commissioner Thompson did call back to explain; and agreed that it was quite confusing to understand. Perhaps when dipping into the room tax for funding each year, the two entities suddenly become individual agencies? Answers are certainly in short supply.

For the kind of money offered in that RFP, you'd think that we could do better than "Wilmington. River District & Island Beaches". First of all, in these economic times, companies are forced to not only cut back, but to almost cut out their marketing budgets altogether. For the same reason, families and tourists are unable to vacation as they used to. However, there's never a bad time to spend money in government; especially when it comes to things that government was not designed to do or provide.

Our local economy relies heavily on tourism dollars, and because of that, there is a multitude of different companies that serve the tourist consumer. These companies know their brands and know their products, and they are responsible for marketing that message to the consumer. Since when did it become a boilerplate function of government to subsidize these efforts with their own marketing campaign? The reason why this is a self-defeating act is that by only taking money out of our economy can government do anything. Room taxes, charged to the very tourists targeted by these efforts, pay for this marketing. Therefore, to pay for these expensive marketing campaigns, as well as the convention center, and beach renourishment - those taxes have to be pretty high. Paying high room taxes is a detrimental factor to tourists visiting our region. So by extension, it could be said that the more government interference in regional marketing, the less tourism it produces.

Perhaps the most aggravating element to all of this; despite that we got a sub-mediocre effort for over a half a million dollars; despite the fact that "Cape Fear" is a very well known, ubiquitous, and distinctive moniker, and will now be destroyed for no reason; despite the fact that the excessive layers, cost, and clumsiness of government is making our economic plight worse; is the fact that all of this has taken place without the consent of the people that live here, and pay the taxes.

A few self-anointed elites, safely insulated from the trials of reality and the sting of pragmatism; empower themselves intellectual authority over us all, self-declare what is to be our plight, and then prescribe the remedy. Of course, the rest of us are not smart enough to even understand their superiority - much less question it. Since they have dubbed the geographic term "Cape Fear" as being a negative - even though those who grew up with it, and enjoy its uniqueness, and even realize that it is that term responsible in large part for our having any national recognition as a geographic destination; it needs to be replaced with something much more subdued, vanilla, and conservative.

Connie Nelson, of the Wilmington Cape Fear Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau puts us in our place, since scrutiny of the measure simply reveals one's stupidity:

In destination marketing, the primary objective is to promote the destination from a geographical perspective. The secondary objective is to create a sense of place in the mind of the visitors. In this day of GPS technology, it is imperative to lead with an actual destination name over that of an obscure brand name. The beach towns have graciously set aside individual destination marketing to allow the dominant destination brand – Wilmington – to take center stage. For the first time in more than 20 years, Wilmington is being positioned as the lead “portal” through which vacationers locate, consider and eventually experience our vacation paradise. Name recognition is exponentially enhanced by branding the single destination “Wilmington, NC”, versus an obscure name like ‘Cape Fear Coast’.

Naming our region something that in no way stands out against any other coastal destination out there is the solution to all of our economic problems, and you were too stupid to see it. Thank God we have the downtown elitist machinery looking out for us - who knows what would have happened if we had left the term alone, saved the money, lowered the room tax rate for tourists, and focused on core functions of government only. We certainly aren't intelligent enough to know; and that's just a chance that we aren't willing to take.


Tourism Development Authority taps officers

Tourism Development Authority budget adoption hearing Monday

City of Wilmington - Tourism Development Authority

ONLINE UPDATE: River, beaches illustrated by new TDA logo

Some visitors fond of ‘Cape Fear Coast' name

Connie Nelson of WCFCCVB Reaction to Public Scrutiny

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

UNC Chapel Hill: "[Cutting taxes] will positively stimulate the State’s private sector economy"

A self-proclaimed "rigorous analysis" of proposed changes by the North Carolina State Legislature to the state's tax policy, conducted by UNC-Chapel Hill's Kenan-Flagler Business School, found that:

We anticipate additional short term job creation depending on the pace of the overall economic recovery and the individual decisions made by the half million businesses across North Carolina. In both the short and long term the State should also gain more jobs through relocations of new employers attracted in part by a more competitive tax environment. While such job gains cannot be forecast, the overall effect of the proposed tax changes can be assumed to enhance North Carolina as a location for both existing and relocating employers.

The proposed changes in question include:

• Expiration of the temporary 1-cent sales tax
•Expiration of personal and corporate income surtaxes
•Reduction in the corporate tax rate to 4.9% effective tax year 2012
•Reduction in business income taxes for S-corporations, limited liability corporations (LLCs), and sole proprietorships, including exemption of the first $50,000 in non-passive business income from taxation.

The findings in this report; although very similar in nature to that of research conducted through the years by conservative think-tanks such as Civitas; are considerably noteworthy, given the traditional nature of contradicting economic policy supported by the UNC system.

Fiscally conservative economics dictates that basically, the less burden applied from the government to the private sector, the more financial and regulatory freedom the free market will enjoy; resulting in liberated resources with which to hire additional employees, invest in research and development, spend on capital projects - creating a positive economic impact in and of itself, and the more confidence the market projects outwardly and into the future.

The proposed tax policy changes will have both short term and long term effects. Over the next two years the proposed changes will positively stimulate the State’s private sector economy as citizens and businesses retain and use money that otherwise would have been paid as taxes.
Once the tax reduction impacts are fully realized in fiscal year 2012-2013, the proposed tax changes will result in base level economic effects including:
•$2.3 billion in increased NC industry output;
•nearly $700 million in new NC labor income; and
•creation of almost 20,000 new private sector NC jobs at an average wage of $35,969

This report underscores the need for less interference from government, in order to promote a healthier free market economic climate - and put people back to work; thereby getting them off of the state's overburdened unemployment rolls.

Also included, was an analysis of the state's historical position on economic development, which has traditionally been a multitude of expensive government agencies handing out large portions of taxpayer cash to chosen businesses. This has created artificial and short-lived bursts in economic activity, at the cost of billions of taxpayer dollars, that can only be replenished by taking from businesses and taxpayers to repeat the endless cycle. Countless stories of businesses locating here for the handouts, and then pulling up stakes and leaving has been the result; leaving a gaping hole in the economy in its wake.

The devastation is reported here:

As recently as the 1990’s North Carolina’s businesses – large and small - added an average of 66,000 new jobs each year. But over the past decade, despite large investments in economic development programs, organizations and incentives, the State actually lost an average of 9,000 jobs each year.

Perhaps the most point-blank observation is, " is very clear that economic development “success” is not the same as a healthy economy". This revelation flies in the face of traditional economic development advocates who believe that a healthy economy is one where an ever-growing government projects more and more influence over the private sector by picking winners and losers with taxpayer cash. The impacts of this long-standing philosophy in North Carolina have been especially devastating.

The failed economic development policies of the new progressives occur at the local level as well. The findings in this report challenge the long-held notion that we must continue to richly fund economic development monoliths such as Wilmington Industrial Development (WID) in order to have a sound economy. Recent news that WID has experienced record revenues, and pays their top executive over $300,000; while unemployment in our region continues to hover at and around 10% shows the disconnect mentioned in the report, that "economic development “success” is not the same as a healthy economy".

Hopefully, leaders across the state will take note, and lessen the overwhelming boot of government off of the neck of the private sector.

View the Report Summary here:

Special thanks to Rep. Carolyn Justice for providing this report, and for her fearless stance on sound economic policy.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"Free" Money for Downtown Wilmington "Lures" Total Prosperity...Again!

That's right folks. We are in a once in a lifetime position. The federal government has given Wilmington almost a quarter of a million dollars for "free"! All to patch up Riverfront Park in downtown.

The $247,500 grant is to be used for planning and executing downtown improvements, and was initially earmarked for turning the Thalian Hall parking lot into a park back in 2007. But according to downtown denizen-in-chief and president of WDI John Hinnant, those pesky citizens and their opposition thwarted that plan. This time, the downtown oligarchy will have their way, regardless of any mere wishes from the public. Groups in addition to WDI, including Cape Fear Future and the Chamber of Commerce have decided it's a good idea, and so far be it from the taxpayers of this city to have any say in the matter.

Interestingly, there is no new and enticing argument to garner public support (as if this was something that was of any concern). Downtown talking heads, as well as members of city council are still dragging out the same tired saw about "luring" and "attracting" downtown residents and visitors. Yawn. If I had a nickel for every time I heard this speech being presented as the end all be all to our economic woes - if only we spend a little more money on this development, or that convention center; I would probably have more money than the grant itself.

The new park is being promoted as the great economic savior to the downtown plight, as local leaders let us in on some of their plans, in this Star News article:

What the park will transform into is unclear. The city is open to ideas.
Anyway, at least this federal grant will take us into the great new dawn of economic prosperity:

Although $247,500 is a good start, it's unlikely to be enough to complete all phases of the project, which include park improvements at the Hilton and Coast Guard parking lots. Those phases are a ways off, too, considering the city doesn't own either space, Padgett said.
Well, maybe not. Unless of course we simply purchase the parking lots from the Hilton and Coast Guard! Problem solved!

Hinnant says that more parks downtown will spur development and bring more people to the downtown area. Councilwoman Laura Padgett said that private partnership with the city is critical in this initiative "if it's going to get the desired manicured parks and amenities that draw residents and businesses". After all the money we have wasted, starting with a $35.5 million bond in 2006 on parks and amenities, one would think that it's way past time for a new argument.

The Star News just recently reported that Wilmington-area unemployment continues to plague its citizens. After all of the taxpayer money that has been spent in the last two years on parks and developments and handouts, all because it will be just the thing to "lure" and "attract" businesses and people here; it looks like we still have nothing to show for it - other than taxpayer-held debt of course. Unemployment in the Wilmington area has been hovering at and around 10% for over two years.

The power cabal in City Hall spends most of its time figuring out how to spend more money on the downtown area - and they do a pretty damn good job of pulling it off. However, there's always one more milestone to pass before we finally hit the pot of gold at the end of the great big government rainbow.

The newest idea is that now we need a more downtown-focused marketing campaign. Yeah, that's it. Then those elusive businesses and people will surely come from all over then. Mayor Saffo put it this way, “It’s going to take either all those people coming together to try to identify what they want, or it’s going to take some individuals willing to set out there and bring all those stakeholders together,”.

See? They've got it all figured out. It makes perfect sense. Building a convention center, four parking decks, a huge wooden walkway along the entire riverfront, purchasing every bare piece of land, dozens of parks, subsidizing private development, streetscaping downtown streets, and all other forms of taxpayer-funded enterprise wasn't quite enough to "lure" those darn businesses and people - even though at the time, each one of those projects was "just the thing" that we needed for total economic prosperity, according to our visionary leaders and downtown elites.

But now, we are to forget about the mountains of taxpayer dollars poured into the great gaping pit of government-sponsored downtown central planning, and believe yet again, that these new initiatives are the magic bullet that will finally bring all of that feel-good, utopian happiness to our fair city. After all, this newest project is courtesy of the federal government! The leaders of downtown are so proud of themselves, finding federal money to spend on something; other than just local tax dollars; as if our local taxpayers do not pay federal taxes as well.

Oh, and please pay no attention to the dirty little details like, who will pay in the future once the federal dollars run out; or who will pay for ongoing maintenance and upkeep; or who will pay for additional manpower; or who will pay for new utilities and services; and so forth. Just keep repeating to yourself "free money!" and all of your troubles will go away. Keep reminding yourself what Saffo, Padgett, Hinnant, and the rest keep telling you - that if only we execute this latest taxpayer-funded plan, program, or development; it will be just what we need to "lure" and "attract" businesses and epople to downtown Wilmington!

Monday, May 16, 2011

BREAKING: NHC Commission Passes $4 Mil Land Deal 4-to-1; Barfield Omits Nay Votes

During the New Hanover County Commission meeting Monday morning, one issue garnering a lot of press was that of the purchase of more than 80 acres in the Smith Creek area for parks and amenities for almost $4 million. Several initial reports stated that the vote was unanimously in favor of the expenditure; however, upon close examination, it was noticed that the call for "all those opposed" by Chairman Barfield was apparently never made, and therefore the lone dissenting vote of Brian Berger, was never heard.

The Wilmington Watcher was able to catch up with Berger immediately after the meeting. "I did not vote in favor of the measure; and since the call for those opposed was never made, I had to check with the clerk to make sure that she had properly recorded my vote against it", he said.

As of this writing, it is not known as to the legality of the procedure, and the omission of the nay votes. Stay tuned to The Wilmington Watcher for updates on this developing story.

The video of the meeting is available online, in which the omission can clearly be seen, as well as Berger's silence during the aye vote. See item #13, within the last minute of the segment here:

Also noteworthy, were the mathematical justifications of such an exorbitant purchase by county taxpayers by both Commissioner Davis and Commissioner Catlin. Davis, who calls those who question these actions "naysayers" and "skeptics", reports that David Swain, who bought the entire parcel that the county is purchasing a portion of, paid $6,255,000 for 140 acres. The county bought 85 acres for $3.8 million; equaling a difference of $27 per acre between what Swain paid and what the county is paying.

Much defense of the purchase was made based on the fact that it is being bought with parks bond money, which is issued debt that must be paid back by taxpayers with interest; a practice that is often criticized by conservatives as being presented dishonestly, as if it is money that has been set aside, or saved for a particular purpose; when in fact, it is nothing but potential debt with interest.

Interestingly, Davis, a Republican, said, "I realize we have this bond money; and I realize we don't have to use it - we don't have to spend it". It is often misreported that since the county has already been issued the bond money that it must be spent; however, the county commission, if being guided by concern for the taxpayer and fiscally responsible ideals, could decide to use the issued funds to pay down the existing debt, and relieve the taxpayers altogether, instead of continuing to spend the money, adding to the principle and accrued interest that taxpayers must pay back.

Commissioner Rick Catlin, also a Republican, echoes Davis by saying that the county got a great deal because if they had to purchase all of the land, instead of just what they wanted, they would have had to pay money for expenses and upkeep while waiting to sell it off in the next year or so.

Parks Director Jim McDaniel reported that the county got "90% of the lake frontage" in the 85 acres that the county purchased from David Swain's 140 acres. By all accounts, the county claims that it got the best land out of the total property, and even admits that Swain could have chosen to develop all of the land as homesites and make a fortune. However, for some reason, Swain purchased the 140 acres, and sold the very best part of the land to the county at cost, for no reported benefit to himself or his business whatsoever; truly a rarity among business philanthropy; especially when taxpayer money is at stake.