Archive for July, 2008

In politics, there’s often quite a discrepancy between how much a legislator claims a bill will save taxpayers and what impact another group determines. Case in point is the bill sponsored by local Congresswoman Virginia Foxx that passed the U.S. House of Representatives this week.

By requiring that all federal employees be given the option to get their pay stubs electronically, the bill will save taxpayers millions in printing and mailing costs, Foxx’s office claims. It certainly could if lots of employees sign up for the option. A similar program in Idaho showed savings of 27 cents per stub that was electronic.

But the Congressional Budget Office’s initial assessment didn’t anticipate any new takers, determining that the bill will have no effect on the federal budget. That’s because it claimed that federal employees already have the e-stub option.

The real answer lies somewhere in between. The document attached below (provided by Foxx’s office) breaks down which federal agencies have the electronic option, showing that some employees don’t have the choice and many do. Participation rates among the agencies that do have the option are mixed.

So it comes down to how many folks are comfortable with electronic stubs, and whether advocating the option, as this bill does, spurs more employees to sign up: a wide ranging impact to be sure.

The other bill authored by Foxx that has passed the House is the HERO Act, which allows members of the U.S. armed services to set aside their combat pay into a retirement account. It was signed into law Memorial Day of 2006


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A couple months back I posted on the issue of the Pilot Mountain fire hydrants. Take a look at that post here, because I’m basically trying to bump it back up to the top of the blog.

Last night the chief of the Pilot Knob Volunteer Fire Deparment, James DeHart, came out strongly opposed to the colorful designs, saying they make it difficult for firefighters to locate the hydrants at night. There’s also a bit of a cultural debate going on here, with some seeing the flashy designs as artistic and others as a joke.

The town board is pretty much at an impasse on the issue of whether to keep the hydrants painted, but it’s something they’re likely to discuss in the coming months.

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For all the talk of public financing in the presidential election, its Congressional and Senate races where such a move would make a definitive impact. The mountain every challenger has to climb is the fundraising advantage of the incumbent, who has the name recognition and federal resources to communicate and assist their constituents. It’s no wonder that congressional reelection rates are staggeringly high during the past 40 years.

Our local Congressional race follows the national trend. In the latest campaign finance reports filed last month, incumbent Virginia Foxx has an 8-1 fundraising advantage and almost $1 million more in cash on hand than her opponent Roy Carter. Foxx, a Banner Elk Republican, rakes in a sizable amount in contributions in Mount Airy. Scroll through her list of individual contributions and it reads almost like a whos who of the local business community.

On the Senate side, the fundraising is a little more competitive. But the latest reports still show that incumbent Elizabeth Dole has a sizable advantage over Kay Hagan. This advantage has nothing to do with political parties. Democratic incumbents Heath Shuler, Brad Miller and David Price also have huge war chests compared to their opponents.

Public financing would end these discrepancies and put the campaigns on a level playing field. But is that really fair to the numerous local folks who want to fork over their money for Foxx and Dole?

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One of the beautiful things about the internet in this day and age is the ability to easily share creative endeavors. Photography is an especially good medium for this, and one of our loyal readers, Susan Hiatt, has taken advantage using the site www.PBase.com. You can view her photo galleries, many of them of local sights, at this link. I attached my favorite of the bunch above.

Susan wanted to put out a call to see if there were any other local PBase users sharing their photos online. There’s a number of other great photo sharing websites out there as well. Flickr is probably the most popular and the one I use for sharing photos. Anyone else out there with online galleries of local sites and sounds they’d like to share?

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Last fall, Surry voters very narrowly approved a quarter-cent sales tax increase under the premise of generating money for school construction. Many other counties said no.
Now we’re seeing the first big dividends with plans to construct a $12 million elementary school that would get rid of the 20 mobile units at Dobson and Copeland elementary schools. The question coming up is whether that does enough, given that the building will be nearly at capacity at the start. Some of the project costs are outlined below. The construction costs are just an estimate until the project goes out to bid in the winter. At that point, county commissioners will have to decide whether to spend more to make the school bigger, or at least give it the capacity to be expanded. I’ve also attached a site plan below.

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Technically Tom Bagnal won’t be retiring until the end of this month, but speculation is already taking place on who will be succeeding him as a North Ward representative on the council. This is for good reason. Take a look at the state statute for such appointments and the requirements are pretty vague. What’s more, the council is now a 2-2 split between newcomers (Deborah Cochran and Dean Brown) and veterans (David Beal and Todd Harris). Those two sides have often split on issues of taxes and water rates. They also seem to have different views on the issue of relocating the N. Main Street fire station. Plus the new commissioner can now come from the Cross Creek community, which was recently annexed into the city after a legal battle.


So it’s no surprise that Paul Eich, himself a Cross Creek resident, got a round of applause when urging the council Thursday for an open process selecting a replacement. The council is still mum on whether it will take applications for the position or nominate their own candidate(s). Whomever the nominee is, Eich said that person shouldn’t be there for political gain, and probably shouldn’t even seek election in 2009.


“I would hope the process you choose is indeed an open one that would have public hearings and a chance for discussion by the people,” Eich said. “Please do not meet behind closed doors and come out with a candidate who you vote through unanimously.”

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From a policy standpoint, Tom Bagnal’s real farewell from the Mount Airy City Council was his call for more detailed study on the project to move the N. Main Street Fire Station, a topic that will merit several other blog postings and plenty of newspaper ink of its own.

But the six-year veteran of the council, who resigns this month for health reasons, also had some rhetoric mixed into his farewell, fitting for a man always quick to connect modern day concerns with historical or literary references. Beal quoted the late Gen. Douglas MacCarthur Thursday in his last comments.

“Old soldiers never die, they just fade away,” Bagnal said. “I say that old commissioners never die. They just evade away.”

Yet Bagnal also pledged not to go totally invisible, saying he’d stay up to date on city council issues.

“Don’t be surprised if I end up sitting back there,” he said while motioning to the crowd, “so I can keep an eye on this bunch.”

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