June 2019 Highlights

The city budget for FY2019-20 was finalized in June.  First, here are important reminders on sanitation collections during the week of Independence Day, bulky-item pickup, brush collection, and recycling:

Independence Day week sanitation collection changes:     July 4 falls on Thursday this year, so it really scrambles the collections.  Here are the changes, by category:

--Garbage:  If your trash pickup is normally on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, put out your trash a day early.  Tuesday routes will be collected on Monday, Wednesday routes on Tuesday, and Thursday routes on Wednesday.  Friday routes will be collected Friday.

--Recycling:  Monday through Wednesday routes will be collected on their usual day.  Thursday and Friday routes will be collected a day late.

--Yard waste carts:  Monday through Wednesday routes will be collected as usual.  Thursday routes will be collected on Friday.

Bulky item pickup:     The bulky item collection weeks for part of the Southwest Ward are still to come in July.  Don’t miss your chance!  Check out the rules and get the week of your scheduled collection here:  http://www.cityofws.org/departments/sanitation/collections/bulky-items 

Brush collection:     Yes, we know that brush collection is running slowly.  It’s happening city-wide, in part because there is a lot of competition for equipment operators, and city salaries haven’t kept up with what people with that skill set can make on the private market.  (See my discussion of the budget.)  Here’s how you check to get an estimated time for your neighborhood’s next collection:  http://www.cityofws.org/Departments/Sanitation/Collections/Brush-Collection   As of this writing, brush crews are currently in the quadrant that comes before the one which contains most of the Southwest Ward, so they’ll be coming our way next. 

Recycling:     From time to time I’ll get questions about what can be recycled in Winston-Salem.  In general, it’s paper, glass bottles and jars, plastic bottles and jugs, cans, and flattened cardboard.  Please remember NO plastic bags or pizza boxes!  If the containers had food or other stuff in them, rinse them out first.  And yes, I know that there are a lot of things not included on this list that may be chemically “recyclable”, but they’re not be on the list of items our recycling contractor has a market for—so they aren’t taken here.  For the details, extras and exceptions, see here:  http://www.cityofws.org/departments/sanitation/collections/recycle-today/preparing-materials

City budget approved:     The city budget for fiscal year 2020 was approved by the city council at our June 17 meeting.  It contains a four-cent increase in the city property tax rate, which will go to pay the costs of the city bonds authorized by voter referendum last fall.  Those are streets and sidewalks, public safety, parks and recreation, housing, and economic development projects.  The city stated clearly and often during the bond campaign what the projects would be and that if the voters approved them, there would have to be a four-cent tax increase to pay for them.  They were approved by the voters by large margins.  Details of the bonds can be found here:  http://www.cityofws.org/2018bonds

I voted against the budget and new tax rate, however, for a different reason.  It includes no chance for a merit or cost-of-living wage increase for over 1,500 city employees.  Winston-Salem has just gone through a multi-year process of digging our employee salaries out of the hole into which they fell during the “Great Recession”.  We’ve finally just gotten to the point where we’re competitive again for the best police officers and other hard-to-hire positions like equipment operators.  With this year’s budget and its absence of merit raises, we will start falling back into the same hole.  Our competitor cities, including Greensboro and High Point, are giving merit raises, and so we will start again immediately to lose good staff to them.  That’s very poor planning. 

I also objected to the fact that the “market increases” which took effect in April of this year included disproportionate increases for city council members.  In my opinion, if the council determined that we could not afford merit raises for other city employees, then we should at least have returned our own salaries to their pre-April level.  I have declined to accept that raise and will continue this year to decline to accept it.

I proposed amendments to the budget to include a merit increase averaging 2% for all city employees, and to reduce council salaries to their level as of March 2019.  When both of my proposed amendments failed, I voted against the budget.

Details of the approved budget, which otherwise included a lot of important and necessary items, can be reviewed here:   http://www.cityofws.org/Budget

Gun violence investigatory improvements:     The city council’s Public Safety Committee this month received an excellent briefing on the efforts underway to improve and speed up investigation of gun violence in our city.  Due to the Police Department’s good work in implementing some important investments we’ve made in investigative equipment and programs, we’re making good progress.

 

Our Police Department's VFIT (Violent Firearms Investigation Team) works with other local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute acts of gun violence. In connection with that, we also participate in the NIBIN (National Integrated Ballistic Information Network), which enters and shares test data on guns and spent bullet casings which are associated with crimes.  And finally, we contract for a local crime evidence lab.

Just to note a couple of high points from these efforts, Winston-Salem is the first city in North Carolina to be admitted as a contributing member of NIBIN, and our in-house work as a member of that network has already since early April contributed to seven local arrests and the seizure of almost 200 weapons. Plus, our local contract crime lab helps provide other turnaround of evidence information in days or weeks instead of the six to 12 months required by reliance on the overworked state lab.

We understand that even the best police work cannot be the only answer. We must do a better job of both addressing the over-supply of and easy access to dangerous weapons on the street, and addressing the root causes of crime. That work must be done on all levels, and the hamstringing inaction by Congress and state legislatures must be dealt with. In the meantime, we are working hard at the local level to do all that we can.

The report materials and a video of the meeting presentations is are online and can be viewed here, starting at about the 57:30 time point of the video:  http://winston-salem.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=4&clip_id=3255&fbclid=IwAR25GbKEtnb_RJRfWygbxH-Yi0uMNSe4HyHZsWOtGY-GQ350b7W1kLI2sN0

Citizens Fire Academy:     The Winston-Salem Fire Department is accepting applications for the Citizen Fire Academy, to be held weekly Aug. 5—Sept. 23, each Monday from 6 to 8 p.m.

        Participants will learn about fire department operations and receive hands-on experience in fire and life safety, including an opportunity to ride along on emergency calls. Topics include 9-1-1 calls, eliminating fire hazards in the home, hands-only CPR training, and child passenger seat safety. Activities will include a "search and rescue" simulation, a scavenger hunt, installation of fire safety equipment and more.

        The Citizen Fire Academy is free and is open to residents 18 and older. Participants will be selected through an application process and must commit to attending all seven class meetings. Class size is limited.

        Applications must be received by July 19. Apply online at www.CityofWS.org/CitizenFireAcademy.  For more information call 336-773-7965 or send an e-mail to sabrinas@cityofwsfire.org.

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