February 2017 Highlights

In February, we dealt with building city bond projects, reviewing transit fares, and more issues.  First, here’s a word about bulky item pickup.

Bulky item pickup begins:     The ever-popular bulky item pickup service for 2017 began this week.  For those new to this service, it’s an annual curbside pickup for old furniture and other household items not suitable for placing in the regular trash, and not eligible for recycling.  City sanitation “claw” trucks make a single pass through each residential street on a pre-announced schedule.  The basic drill is to have items you want collected out at the curb (but not blocking the sidewalk or extending into the roadway) by the Sunday evening preceding the week for which your area is scheduled for pickup.  (Collection trucks will get there that week, but we can’t predict in advance which day of that week.  They don’t come back for a second pass, so don’t be late.)  You can get all the details on what’s eligible for pickup and what isn’t, along with the week your neighborhood is scheduled for collection, by checking online here:  www.cityofws.org/departments/sanitation/collections/bulky-items

Lockland Park sinkhole repairs:     Over the past several months, I have fielded recurring questions about when the sinkholes at Lockland Park will be fixed and the temporary fencing there removed.  The short answer is that I do not have a date certain, but the preparation is in progress.  The sinkholes are caused by very old underground drainage pipes that have collapsed and must be replaced.  The long delay in making the repairs is a result of what city inspectors and the contracting engineers discovered when surveying the extent of the repairs needed.  The problem lines that must be addressed extend through and beyond the park.  These problems create a larger and more expensive project that must be done at the same time to fix it and keep it fixed (not just shift the collapse to a different spot).  The city has contracted with private engineers to complete the evaluation and design the fix.  That’s mostly completed.   Then we’ll have to contract the work itself.  The timeline is extended and the work complicated by the need to avoid completely tearing up this small urban park in the process of fixing the problem, as well as not tearing up the downstream homes past which the outfall runs.  I’m continuing to press for completing the work as fast as the engineering and the public contracting laws permit.  Once the actual pipe replacement gets underway, you’ll see it progress quickly.  In the meantime, your continued patience is appreciated. 

Ebert Street Sidewalk extension:     At our February 20 meeting, the city council approved a contract for sidewalk construction work that will include extending the Ebert Street sidewalk from Cherokee Lane to Silas Creek Parkway.  That section has been requested by residents for years, and will provide safe walking connections to the sidewalks on Cherokee Lane and Hawthorne Road.  It will ultimately tie in to the planned sidewalk along Silas Creek Parkway itself. 

TransAid fare increase:     As part of a plan to put our city transit system on sound financial footing, the city council on February 20 approved starting the process of considering an increase in the TransAid service fare.  The TransAid buses are the small green buses that you will see running around on the side streets as well as the main routes.  They do not have a fixed route or schedule.  Instead, they collect passengers by appointment at their homes and deliver them directly to work, shopping, or appointments.  The TransAid service is required of cities like ours which receive federal funding to assist in overall transit system expenses, and is operated by very specific federal rules.  It is available only to disabled or senior (60+) riders.  Because it operates on a passenger-specific door to door basis, TransAid service is much more expensive per rider than fixed route service—about five times the cost per rider to operate.  Cities are allowed to charge up to twice the fare for a TransAid ride as they charge for a fixed route ride.

     Unique among our peer North Carolina cities which operate full-service transit systems (Greensboro, Durham, Raleigh, Charlotte), Winston-Salem actually charges less for a TransAid ride than for a fixed route ride.  We currently charge only 50 cents fare for TransAid, compared to $1.00 for fixed route bus fare.  Further, we offer an unusual exemption from even paying the 50 cents:  If you show a Medicaid card to the driver, you can ride for free.  As a result, most riders using TransAid in Winston-Salem pay nothing for the ride.

     Over the past five years, there has been a large increase in TransAid ridership, while fixed route ridership has slightly declined.  TransAid operating expenditures have increased more than 35% since FY 2012-13, in part due to increased riders, and in part due to federally required increases in system staff in order to provide faster service.

     During the same time frame, Winston-Salem has taken several steps to improve the quality of service on our fixed route system.  Improvements included starting Sunday bus service, extending evening and Saturday hours on many routes, and providing more direct cross-town and circulator routes that don’t require riders to go through the downtown transit center to transfer buses. 

     The resulting higher costs for both the TransAid and fixed route systems, combined with cuts in federal/state assistance, have left city transit finances in a precarious situation.  The Winston-Salem Transit Authority Fund Reserves will go negative next year if we don’t act now, and therefore revenue and expenses must be re-balanced as a part of this year’s budget process.  Under current projected revenues and costs, we have a roughly $1.8 million annual deficit to cover. 
     The proposed TransAid fare increase is one of the approaches under consideration for restoring balance to the transit fund.  The amount of direct revenue which it would provide is modest (about $95,000/year).  However, the addition of a more realistic price signal to riders would be expected to help control the rapid rise in demand for TransAid rides (and therefore the rising costs of operating TransAid).  We especially want to encourage riders who can take the fixed route bus to do so instead of using the much more costly TransAid service.  it’s difficult to do that when the TransAid ride is free while the fixed route fare is $1.  TransAid is supposed to be an affordable service, but not a free one. 

     Even if the full proposed fare increase were approved, Winston-Salem’s TransAid fares would continue to be the lowest in the state—just $1 compared to $1.50 for Greensboro, $2 for Durham, $2.50 for Raleigh, and $3.50 for Charlotte.

     Between March 24 and April 24, 11 public hearings are scheduled to explain the basis for the proposed fare increase and gather public comments.  The hearing scheduled in the Southwest Ward is set for April 11, from 10 a.m. to noon at Miller Park Rec Center.  Other hearings are set for afternoon and early evening hours, all during times that the bus system is in operation and at locations served by bus routes.     

Welcoming City resolution:     At the February 14 meeting of the city council’s Community Development, Housing, and General Government (CDHGG) Committee, I introduced for discussion what I am calling a “Welcoming City” Resolution.   My proposed resolution is in response to the current debate over treatment of immigrants and refugees in our community.  I believe that it is important to reaffirm that our nation is a diverse society built by immigrants from many lands, and that we respect and protect all our citizens and residents regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, or national origin.  In Winston-Salem, we also have a proud tradition of welcoming legal immigrant refugees from war and hardship abroad to a new home of safety and community in our city.  My resolution reaffirms our community support for this tradition as well.

     My “Welcoming City” resolution is not the same as a so-called “sanctuary city” ordinance.  My resolution does not include or call for the violation of any federal or state law.  It includes no action that would subject the city to federal or state financial penalties of any kind.

     I do not recommend city resolutions on policy matters beyond our local authority, and I am not doing that in this case.  I believe that immigration law itself is properly set at the federal level, not by states or local governments.  Unfortunately, the actions of federal policy-makers in Washington are forcing this issue down to the local level.  Federal executive orders are creating problems in our cities, including Winston-Salem.  Careless and even flatly false claims about immigrants and refugees have stirred up hatred and threats against local minority faith communities.  The new presidential administration is even attempting to press local law enforcement agencies to take over what is properly the federal government’s role of enforcing national immigration policy.  Under these circumstances, it is important for our local citizens and residents to know that their local government will do everything we legally can to protect their safety and include them as respected parts of our community.  My proposed resolution will come up for consideration in committee this month, and if approved by committee will go to the full city council for discussion and a vote.  You can read the full resolution at the end of my February monthly report posted online here.

Other March events and meetings:     These are the other meetings and events I’d like to call to your attention this coming month:

--Stratford Manor Neighborhood Conservation Overlay (NCO) district:     The proposal to create a special NCO district for this neighborhood (also known as the Hannaford Road neighborhood) is coming to the City Council for approval on March 6.  This proposed NCO has gone through a neighborhood petition process, Planning Department staff design and recommendation, and Planning Board approval, and is now ready for final action.

--Ardmore Neighborhood Association (ANA) city issues forum:    The ANA is holding a public forum on city issues of concern to the Ardmore neighborhood on Thursday, March 9, beginning at 6 p.m., at the Redeemer Presbyterian Church on Miller Street.  I’ve been invited to present a report on the status of issues like the proposed changes to “accessory use” rules, and then participate in Q&A and discussion. 
--South Suburban Area Plan:     The process of collecting public input into updating the South Suburban Area Plan will continue on Tuesday, March 21, starting at 6 p.m., at the Southside Branch Library on Buchanan Street.  (The South Suburban planning area includes a small part of the Southwest Ward located east of Ebert Road and south of Silas Creek Parkway.)  To see the existing South Suburban Area Plan, go to http://www.cityofws.org/Departments/Planning/Area-Plans/South-Suburban .  

That’s my report for February.  As always, you are welcome to email me at danbesse@danbesse.org with comments or questions.  Thanks.

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WINSTON-SALEM IS A WELCOMING CITY

Whereas, the City of Winston-Salem is a diverse community which draws strength from that diversity; and

Whereas, the City of Winston-Salem is a welcoming community which takes pride in serving and protecting all our citizens, other residents, guests, and visitors, regardless of race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity; and

Whereas, the City of Winston-Salem has a proud tradition which continues today of welcoming refugees from war and hardship to a new home of safety and community in our city; and

Whereas, the City of Winston-Salem opposes any measures which target populations within our diverse community for legal scrutiny or other challenges based on race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity; and

Whereas, the City of Winston-Salem recognizes that our whole community is safer when victims and witnesses of domestic violence or criminal activity feel safe in contacting our police for assistance without fear, regardless of their immigration status; and  

 

Whereas, the current national environment of excessive fear and suspicion directed by some toward immigrants, refugees, and other newcomers calls for cities like Winston-Salem to reaffirm our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive community for all.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED BY THE CITY OF WINSTON-SALEM:

The City Council of the City of Winston-Salem reaffirms that ours is a welcoming city for newcomers, immigrants, and refugees who come to our nation and our city for a peaceful new beginning, including those escaping war, disaster, or persecution abroad; and

The Department of Human Relations and the Human Relations Commission, in consultation with the Police Department and City Attorney, are directed to study and provide to the City Council recommendations regarding additional appropriate and lawful steps which the city may take to reinforce our commitment to providing a safe and welcoming environment for immigrants, refugees, and other newcomers to our community, and thereby to enhance the health and safety of our entire community.