What’s a moratorium, and why would Ramseur impose one on legal businesses?

In America, we’re not supposed to let the government pick winners and losers; that’s what the free market is supposed to be for, or so I was taught. Business moratoria are such a serious business that the state of North Carolina imposes very strict regulations on how, when, and why a municipality can ban, even temporarily, any otherwise legal business. Last December, our board of commissioners imposed a 120 days moratorium on any new ‘electronic gaming establishments’ in Ramseur.

I really don’t care about electronic gaming places one way or the other. I do think they send most of the money they collect out of our community, and that’s not ideal, and if they are breaking the law, then shut’em down, but if Raleigh says they’re legal, I thought the American way was to let the market decide whether they survive or not.

Here is a link to the relevant statute:  § 160D-107.  Moratoria

The statute says “local governments may adopt temporary moratoria on any development approval required by law, except for the purpose of developing and adopting new or amended plans or development regulations governing residential uses. The duration of any moratorium shall be reasonable in light of the specific conditions that warrant imposition of the moratorium and may not exceed the period of time necessary to correct, modify, or resolve such conditions.

Except in cases of imminent and substantial threat to public health or safety, before adopting a development regulation imposing a development moratorium the governing board shall hold a legislative hearing. 

Moratorium does not apply to any project for which a valid building permit [has been] issued, to any project for which a special use permit application has been accepted as complete, to development set forth in a site-specific vesting plan  [already] approved, to development for which substantial expenditures have already been made in good-faith reliance on a prior valid development approval, or to preliminary or final subdivision plats that have been accepted for review by the local government prior to the call for a hearing to adopt the moratorium. 

Required Statements. – Any development regulation establishing a development moratorium must include, at the time of adoption, each of the following:

(1)        A statement of the problems or conditions necessitating the moratorium and what courses of action, alternative to a moratorium, were considered by the local government and why those alternative courses of action were not deemed adequate.

(2)        A statement of the development approvals subject to the moratorium and how a moratorium on those approvals will address the problems or conditions leading to imposition of the moratorium.

(3)        A date for termination of the moratorium and a statement setting forth why that duration is reasonably necessary to address the problems or conditions leading to imposition of the moratorium.

(4)        A statement of the actions, and the schedule for those actions, proposed to be taken by the local government during the duration of the moratorium to address the problems or conditions leading to imposition of the moratorium.

No moratorium may be subsequently renewed or extended for any additional period unless the local government has taken all reasonable and feasible steps proposed to be taken in its ordinance establishing the moratorium to address the problems or conditions leading to imposition of the moratorium and unless new facts and conditions warrant an extension. 

Any person aggrieved by the imposition of a moratorium on development approvals required by law may apply to the General Court of Justice for an order enjoining the enforcement of the moratorium.

That’s a lot to keep track of, and I don’t think our board made much of an effort to meet all those requirements.

The commissioners held a mandatory legislative hearing that only one person seemed to care anything about, and he didn’t care much because he left before it ended. It was a very short hearing. Then, during the regular meeting that followed, Commissioner Parrish moved to impose a 120 days moratorium so our planning board – chaired by someone who lives in Greensboro – and our police department can “work on” our ordinances and/or figure out what occupied piece of real estate in town they can re-zone for ‘adult’ businesses. That way if anyone comes to town looking for a place to open an electronic game room, a gentlemen’s club, a bar, or any legal ‘adult’ business, the only parcel of land zoned for that use will already be occupied by a house, a lube shop, a grocery store, or maybe even a church; any developed real estate that won’t likely become unoccupied in the near future will do.

Does this sound ridiculous yet?

When imposing an economic moratorium a governing board must state what issues made the moratorium necessary; how it will address those problems; issue a statement addressing any pending zoning permits, special use permits, variances, etc. that will be subject to the moratorium; state how a moratorium on those ventures will address the stated issues; set an end date for the moratorium; say why it’s going to take that long; and produce a schedule of specific actions that will be taken during the moratorium.

I watched an elected Ramseur commissioner suggest, in a recorded public meeting, how to keep legal businesses out of our town, but if a business is legal and operating within the law that’s a really questionable thing for our government to be doing. I felt dirty after watching that video; like I needed to bathe. I thought chamber of commerce people were supposed to encourage business growth in a town, not tell them to stay away.

During the discussion, the commissioner spoke of police officers “going out there,” and “warning them about certain situations”.  Please tell us, commissioner, who is “them,” where are they, and what situations were you talking about. Give us details. Don’t roll up in our town hall and impose restrictions on the local economy without a stack of evidence to support your actions. Does the business in question have a name we might recognize? Is it located at an address we could find on a map? Are there police reports of actual incidents at that place of business that citizens could request and read?

I can’t speak for any other taxpayers in Ramseur, but I get really tired of all the fearmongering I hear coming from that seat on our board, used as excuses to spend more money or restrict commerce.  A simple statement like, “On (date) patrolman X responded to a call about Y at 123 Sesame Street about activity Z and took actions A, B, or C,” and a police report or three to back it up would go a long way towards helping everyone understand from what or whom you want to protect us.

If whatever is going on wherever it’s happening is so bad that it merits this kind of heavy-handed interference in the local economy – a moratorium on a legal business type – the board of commissioners and its planning board are both failing, because this isn’t the first moratorium that I can recall. We keep doing this again and again, like some bad remake of the movie, Groundhog Day, and there’s no excuse. As commissioners, this is your job, and in my opinion, you have all failed. If conditions somewhere are so bad that we need to take this kind of drastic action, we need to be provided with concrete facts, not vague fearmongering about bad elements and unspecified problems.

An assertion was also made that neighboring business owners have complained about a lack of parking for their customers. That’s a fair complaint, but it sounds like a problem caused by inadequate zoning regulations in the past, which allowed commercial development without adequate parking. I suspect the properties in question were developed long ago, maybe even before Ramseur had zoning ordinances. Perhaps we should ask that guy from Greensboro about it since he’s been meddling in our local government for decades.

Commissioner Parrish stated that problems “come around those businesses,” and that, in turn, leads to increased call volume for the police department and strains the budget. He further stated that the imposition of this moratorium “gives us time to work on our ordinances,” and “provide safety to our community.” A moratorium also “gives us time (120 days) to work on our ordinances”.

Would these be the same ordinances that we paid a consultant thousands of dollars to help us update a couple of years ago to meet the new chapter 160D mandates?  The same ordinances we now need to spend more money paying yet another consultant to review? The same ordinances that non-residents of Ramseur get to vote on now?

Exactly what are the “problems that come around those businesses.”?

Someone on the board must have asked that question because on the video members of the police department can be heard telling the board members about how a “bad element” follows these businesses, and how the patrons of these establishments often lose all their money and then break into nearby homes or businesses to steal more money to gamble.

I see headlines about people getting shot at nightclubs and bars, and maybe even at these gaming businesses too, somewhere, just like you do, but if people in Ramseur were being robbed by disgruntled fish skill players I think we’d all know about it. Show me concrete evidence of a crime wave like this in our community and I’ll be the first in line to look for ways to address it.

As for the commissioner’s statement that electronic gaming establishments cause an unmanageable increase in police calls and strain the budget; no, I’m sorry, you don’t get to tell us that more calls to 911 help justify increased funding for our police department, and then tell us that more calls strain your department or our budget. I mean no disrespect to our police officers. They have a very stressful, often dangerous job to do and limited funds to do it with, but you can’t have it both ways.

Worst of all was the bit at the end where the commissioner and the attorney sat there passing judgment on people who make a living letting other people waste money on electronic games. The commissioner actually sat there, in a recorded public meeting, and explained how a local government can re-zone any given property to keep otherwise legal businesses out of Ramseur. The recording doesn’t lie, and the scheme described would generate more paperwork and expensive permitting processes that, for now, only a paid consultant can walk our planning board through.

This moratorium was a bad idea and I’m having a hard time understanding how the statutory statements read into the record did anything constructive for our town, let alone how all of this doesn’t leave us vulnerable to expensive legal action from any competent land development attorney.

A little something positive.

Writing about problems facing Ramseur and the errors made by commissioner X, Y, or Z in any given meeting can be really depressing, and this blog is not and never was meant to be a personal attack machine. Four years ago, when I started this, questionable decisions were being made by several of our then-commissioners and I decided to shine a light on that. Some of those people chose to make it personal, so we all went down that road together. It got really ugly, and I didn’t like it, but I would do it all again the same way in the same circumstances.

Those of you who read these pages back then have probably noticed that almost all those articles are no longer visible. They’re all here, but I chose to hide them. Those people no longer serve our community as elected officials. In fact, one of those people has thanked me, on more than one occasion, because now that person is living a less stressful life and enjoying it. I see no value in leaving that sad chapter of our local history here where it can be found and dredged up for no other reason than hurting people.

I’m not here to “get” anyone. I’d much rather be spending my time playing music, painting, or playing with my grandchildren. I’m only here to point out that there are better ways to manage our affairs, and if a commissioner or the mayor, or even a town employee, depending on the circumstances, does something questionable or really stupid, I will shine a light on them. If you don’t want to see your name on this website, don’t do stupid stuff.

I re-watched the last two regular meeting videos today with one goal in mind: to find some positive things to tell you about Ramseur’s local government.

At the December meeting, all five commissioners voted to approve a resolution in support of the “Year of the Trail“. We’ve spent some serious money developing our segment of the Deep River Rail Trail, most of it, to my knowledge, from grants. Walking trails are great community assets, and this one will be even better once the state comes through with funding to finish it and tie all the other pieces of it together.

Another positive development of note is the return of local artists and artwork to our municipal building. Commissioner Brower has taken the lead on this project, beginning with a month-long display of artwork by local photographer Gloria Spinks in January, followed by a display of work by Darrell Williams this month. It sounds like the display area is not open to the public anytime the offices are open, so check with the office or the town website and be sure it’s open to the public before you make that long drive across town.

In December the board discussed costs and options for updating our water treatment plant to a chloramine-based process with Mr. Helton, our public utilities director. These changes will result in cleaner water overall and require less flushing at the end of the line on NC-22 south of town. The upgrades will also make our water compatible with treatment processes used by every other water operator around us, making it easier to work with our neighbors to meet the growing water needs of the eastern Randolph community. The upgrades will be expensive and take months to complete but are yet another step in the right direction.

Commissioner Parrish announced the award of a $35,000 grant to the fire department. He indicated that the funds would be used for purchasing new radios, and then the commissioner talked about a budgeted capital outlay of $62,000 to $65,000, but that only about $33,000 of that money will be needed. It was unclear whether this outlay was for the radios or for something else.

Our fire department, under the leadership of Chief Jay Ledwell, is in good hands. Chief Ledwell and his peers have learned where to find and how to win numerous grants over the years, and I thank them for their continued service to our community. You might have noticed that I don’t spend much time examining the particulars of fire and police expenses. That’s because I trust our fire chief and Police Chief Presley to know what they need and how to ask when a need arises.

I also try not to burden any of our department heads with requests for public records, and I ask for far fewer than I’d like to see most of the time. Their jobs are difficult enough, having to win approval from a committee for almost every decision they make and I hope that in the near future, we can streamline the chain of command so they all answer to a town manager.

Apparently, buzzards are still a problem, roosting on the water tanks. I like buzzards. They provide a valuable public service, cleaning up dead things that, left to rot, can become dangerous disease vectors, but if the birds are damaging the water tanks we need to find a way to keep them off the structures. Perhaps a wire barrier could be erected to prevent them from being able to roost, but I don’t know the rules, and turkey vultures are a protected species.

Captain Jessup gave a well-prepared presentation to the board regarding portable, radar-equipped speed limit signs the department wanted to purchase. The signs show drivers their speed and record the time of day and speed of each detected vehicle. In theory, this will alert drivers when they may be going too fast, and provide law enforcement with data they can use to deploy personnel more efficiently and issue citations to violators.

From what I gathered the cost of one sign and several mounts, which will allow it to be moved around town, was a bit under $4,000. The purchase was approved and the sign should be appearing soon on a street near you, along with a couple of sets of portable speed bumps. These are useful tools that will hopefully result in fewer drivers speeding through our neighborhoods. Money well spent.

That topic was followed by a report from Commissioner Cranford regarding the library, which the county government is in the process of taking over from us. This is an idea I began supporting several years ago when there was much debate over a new roof for the building. I understand that the town retains ownership and maintenance responsibilities for the building, and the county is handling day-to-day operations.

These are all positive steps toward creating a more modern, efficient, and responsive local government for Ramseur taxpayers. It is a little sad that the most animated discussion of the evening was about how to dispose of a piano someone donated to the library long ago. It is sadder still that so many of our commissioners, all members of the board for more than a year now, do not understand that there is a statutory process for almost everything the government does, including disposal of surplus property, but let’s not dwell on that today.

The discussion moved on to Sunset Knoll cemetery and a fence, installed in 2019, that leans badly anytime the wind blows. That is due to the fact that whoever built the fence didn’t install any support beyond the hollow plastic posts stuck in the ground. It too will be sold as surplus property on GovDeals.Com.

During one of the meetings, there was a discussion about library funds. Government is complicated, and certain funds have to be kept separate from others, such as the enterprise funds for water and sewer, the Powell funds that help us maintain our streets, and Hinshaw funds, which I can’t find a reference to anywhere online other than in Ramseur budgets. I might have this wrong, but it seems like the Hinshaw funds were privately donated to the town sometime in the past, invested and the interest earned earmarked specifically for our library to buy books. Rules must be followed.

In parks and recreation news, Commissioner Kearns presented the board with a $22,000 quote to get the tennis courts at Leonard park repaired and resurfaced. No action was taken, but it sounds as though that maintenance has been neglected too long and now the courts are unfit for use, and there’s a popular thing called pickleball that uses a similar playing area and, apparently, there’s some demand for that.

Maybe resurfacing the tennis courts is a good investment, maybe not. I’m not in a position to say one way or another, but it is a shame that they haven’t been maintained. Now we face another big expense to fix something that might have been preventable with regular inspections and maintenance; things a town manager would keep up with no matter who we elect to sit on the board every other year.

Finally, the town will soon be fully switched over to the new “Southern” accounting system they’ve been working on for a few years. This should result in better, more reliable accounting, and therefore better budgets. It was also announced that the LGC (local government commission, a part of the NC Department of State Treasurer) has accepted our budget audit for the fiscal year 2019-20, and progress is being made on the audit for FY 2020-21. A thank you is due to all involved in getting that work done.

So, you see, not everything I write is bad news, and I am more than willing to give credit where credit is due. The problem is that there’s so much still being done wrong and those things need to be pointed out so they don’t get swept under a rug or forgotten. I’ve only reported on two meetings this year and I’m still not finished pointing out the major problems I see.

Now I have a question.

It’s said that the articles I write are full of lies. If you’re one of the people saying that, please drop me a note at RamseurWatchdog@yahoo.com and tell me what part of what article I’ve written is a lie. I might miss a detail or make an assumption once in a while based on incomplete information, but every word I publish here is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth as I understand it. Why would I lie? That would destroy my credibility. What good would that do me or anyone else? What would I accomplish if I published a document with fake numbers or anything else in it? I’ll tell you what. Nothing.