NCLGBA: The People Who Balance NC Communities
We invite you to hear from North Carolina’s local government budget professionals who believe in the value of public service and consider it an honor to bring value to their communities in their respective roles. We are highlighting NCLGBA members who are an important part to the balance in their communities.
Today we will hear from City of Concord’s Robin Barham.
Concord is a growing community, and one that honors its heritage and tradition while racing towards the future. Over the years, Concord has developed a diverse economic base that includes distribution, manufacturing, racing, hospitality, and professional services. The city is home to Charlotte Motor Speedway (despite its name, it is located in Concord), Concord Mills mall, Amazon, Fed Ex, Great Wolf Lodge, Alevo, Concord Regional Airport, and many NASCAR race teams.
Our City has grown tremendously from just over 30,000 people in 1990 to 85,600 in 2015. As NC’s 12th largest city, Concord is 7th largest in land size with just over 61 square miles of service area. Concord offers an excellent variety of entertainment options and leisure for visitors and residents alike, with the addition of mixed use/walkable development, extensive greenway options, the Clearwater Artists’ studio, and quality infrastructure that provide a high quality of life for our citizens. With all that Concord offers, the City lives up to its tag line “High Performance Living.”
What was the biggest challenge facing your community this fiscal year and how do you see it impacting the budget development process for FY 2017?
Managing growth is our biggest challenge right now, and the ever-present possibility that the state will change our revenue streams. With the recession squarely behind us, residential, commercial and industrial development are all occurring at a fast pace. At this month’s City Council meeting alone, 4 tracts of land for over 819 homes were voluntarily annexed into the City, with a build out anywhere from 2 to 7 years. Our commitment to the newly developed areas must be the same as the quality of services provided to our current residents; and as we all know, that takes resources. Revenues are growing, but not always at the pace that sustains this growth from year to year. We are working towards a balanced budget for FY17 that adequately funds staff and infrastructure to handle this growth. The number of positions requested for FY17 is astonishing, so it will be interesting to see how that all plays out.
Planning has become vital, especially within zoning, as we update both our Downtown Master Plan and our Land Use Plan. Multiple City departments are undergoing Master Plan development/revisions – all of these future plans for our City will be exciting to see. Certainly the budget office is a great place to see all of these plans come to life!
Just as we have a firm handle on our current revenue streams, we are ever watchful of the NC General Assembly and members’ efforts to redistribute sales tax and other revenues streams across the state. The loss of state revenue always remains a possibility.
What drew you to a career in public service?
As a child, I was always drawn to folks in my small town who made a difference, no matter what role they played in our community. I came from a family with limited financial resources, so I often found myself on the “receiving” end, taking advantage of the opportunities (whether programs or scholarships) that were available to participate in after-school activities, attend college and graduate school. So many people helped me over the years, I always viewed public service as my way of “giving” back. As a child, I often heard my grandmother say “Be a blessing, not a burden.” With that in mind, I have always sought a career with purpose, meaning and commitment to the community in which I live. One of the best compliments someone can give is to say how much they enjoy living in Concord. In my personal life, I am married to a firefighter (both paid and volunteer), so public service is a way of life for us. I hope that service to others is something that we are instilling in our children too.
What career advice do you wish someone would have shared with you when you started your first local government budgeting job?
The one who talks the most is not necessarily the smartest (or most respected). It’s common to see early career employees jump in and give assessments and/or opinions in hopes of impressing others with their knowledge and skill. I’m positive I did this on occasion (and likely still do). What I’ve realized over the years now is that listening to the group and putting idea connections together is a far better use of time than just blurting out whatever it is that I am thinking at that moment. Two of the best City Managers I have ever worked for were incredibly thoughtful contributors to the discussion, but in no way drove it. When they spoke it was sparingly, but what they spoke mattered.
What excites you most about what you have been working on during FY 2016 in your community and your department?
We just moved into a new City Hall, consolidating 3 separate buildings downtown into one. It’s been a delight in the budget office to first see the project as a CIP in our 5 year forecast, then to move to the architectural phase, construction and now, to show it off to the public. We are very excited to have a City Hall that matches the quality of service the City provides – if you have ever visited our old building, you know exactly why we are so excited!!
If you didn’t work in budgeting, what would you do?
I often joke that I should quit my job, open my own floral or photography shop, and run for City Council. But in reality (and to more consistently pay the bills), I would have liked to become a cardiologist.
Tell us something about yourself that others may not know.
I am a huge sports junkie. My television at home is almost always on sports and my weekend schedule revolves around my son’s sports games or my favorite teams (VT Hokies, Carolina Panthers, Green Bay Packers, and Boston Red Sox). My son Zach received a football from Cam Newton at a Panthers/NY Giants game back in December and was featured on a national sports segment on FOX. He still “thinks” he is the coolest kid at school, but he has a tough time keeping that ball away from his 6 year old little sister!!