5/19/2020 meeting summary: Dix Park, budget, bond, shared streets!

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Our (virtual) City Council meeting this week lasted 5.7 hours, but we got a lot done! Below is a summary:
 
1. We took action on the “Shared Streets” initiative. We authorized staff to close or restrict traffic on certain streets to provide more space for bicyclists and pedestrians. Staff will quickly analyze the 2016 Bicycle Plan, Sidewalk Priority List, and Neighborhood Traffic Management Program Priority List and begin implementing soft closures for 30-60 days. I also asked staff to look at our Separated Bikeways 10-year Priority List for additional spaces to implement temporary installations. Now is a great time to “test” these projects we intend to invest in and install on a permanent basis.
 
We also discussed ways to increase shared spaces for outdoor dining. As we slowly begin to reopen under the governor’s guidance it’s important that we give our bars and restaurants every opportunity to rebound and succeed. Options for expanding dining areas include expanding sidewalk seating or installing parklets (dining in parking spaces) or pedlets (dining in the right of way, pedestrians shifted to parking spaces). All of these options will require temporary changes to our ordinances and permitting processes and special permission to comply with ABC laws. We are coordinating with our partners in the business community to identify the best option and to weigh and address other important concerns, like ADA accessibility and access to curbside pickup. It’s way more complicated than simply placing some cones in the road (as I’ve seen some people suggest on social media), but I am confident that we will be ready to act at the next City Council meeting.
 
2. We executed a 15-year Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Dorothea Dix Park Conservancy (the private group promoting and raising funds to develop the 308-acre park). This MOA will support the implementation of the Dix Park Master Plan and is a demonstration of the strong commitment between the city and the Conservancy.
 
3. The City Manager and staff presented the proposed budget for FY2021 (our fiscal year begins in July, and budgets are titled by the year in which the budget ends). The budget process began in December 2019, initial projections were shared with Council in February 2020, but then COVID-19 happened, and now there is an estimated $30 million budget gap (the total city budget is about $1 billion). To close the gap, the City Manager proposes a hiring freeze, reduction in travel and training, and other departmental reductions. Despite the budget gap, the City Manager proposes no tax increase.
 
However, there are additional needs in our Police and Fire Departments. We received a presentation on their staffing and funding needs, including a request for about 50 additional police and fire personnel. Collectively, this “Public Safety Package” would require $5.2 million in additional funding, which would be a tax increase of $.69 cents. For the average household in Raleigh, the increase would cost $17 total for the year. The mayor asked the public to please weigh in on this Public Safety Package. Over the next few weeks, Council will work through the budget before we vote. There will be a public hearing on the budget the first week of June. We want to hear from you: CityCouncilMembers@raleighnc.gov
 
4. We received the report and recommendation of the Affordable Housing Bond Advisory Group. You may recall, we created a 24-member committee to explore the feasibility of a bond referendum on the November 2020 ballot. The committee recommends an $80 million bond package, with focus on producing more housing units affordable at 30% AMI (area median income). Attached is a link to the bond recommendation presentation, which includes an explanation of their process and engagement strategies: https://go.boarddocs.com/nc/raleigh/Board.nsf/files/BPRMJV5A8F7C/$file/20200519HNReportandRecommendationsNovemberBondReferendumPresentations.pdf
 
Council will vote upon whether to place the bond on the November 2020 ballot and in what amount. If the bond is placed on the ballot, we have several months to continue engaging the community about the bond and specifics on how the money will be used. I think we all identify that this process was hindered by COVID-19, but I feel the need for affordable housing may be even greater after COVID-19.
 
5. We appointed the 15 members to our Hispanic and Immigrant Affairs Board. Upon the mayor’s request, we created this board several months ago to create an opportunity for collaboration and stronger community engagement with immigrant communities. The board will advise Council on barriers that impact the Hispanic and immigrant community in social, economic, and vocational pursuits.
 
We plan to continue virtual meetings through June. We are also resuming our committee meetings in June. I look forward to being back in Council Chambers with all of you, hopefully sometime in July.
jonathan.melton@raleighnc.gov

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