How about some good news first:
Rehab code adopted: One of the barriers to reuse of existing buildings has now been taken down in Winston-Salem. Capping a long process, the board of aldermen voted on April 15 to approve the new North Carolina building rehabilitation pilot code.
Under the general building code, when a structure is renovated, that triggers a potentially broad array of new code requirements, to which the building must be updated. When dealing with older structures (such as many downtown commercial buildings) that can be so expensive that the building stays unused and its economic potential is wasted.
The rehab code promotes constructive reuse of these older structures by limiting the amount of upfitting required. If the building is basically sound, then required renovation is limited to what’s necessary to keep or make it safe for the intended new use. This approach is already used successfully in other states, and the North Carolina legislature acted last year to permit local governments to adopt a model rehab code here. Winston-Salem representatives have supported this process, and we’re now one of the first cities to take advantage of it.
That’s good news for economic development and for the environment. Reusing and renovating existing structures—especially in our city centers--makes good sense from both perspectives.
Greenway plan adopted: I’ve talked about greenways in several previous reports, so I won’t go back through all that again now. (If you missed them, they’re available at www.danbesse.org.) The good news this month is that the board of aldermen voted 7-1 in April to adopt the draft greenway plan. Over the next several years, that should translate into more safe opportunities for individuals and families to bike, walk, and run in Winston-Salem.
We also just dedicated the city’s first new greenway to open in several years, the first section of the Brushy Fork Creek Trail. It hooks up to the roads through Winston Lake Park for a nice long traffic-safe stretch.
Cardboard now recycled: As of May 6, Winston-Salem’s curbside recycling program accepts corrugated cardboard. To recycle your cardboard, just fold or cut it into a stack no wider than 3 feet by 3 feet. Tie a string around it (no wire or fishing line). Place it inside or next to your green recycling bin. Don’t include pizza boxes or other greasy cardboard—they gum up the works and will be rejected. For more info on the city’s recycling program, check out www.cityofws.org/recycling.
Expanding recycling reduces both the adverse environmental impacts—and the costs!—of landfilling our solid wastes.
Sara Lee: Sara Lee announced at the end of April that it will consolidate its Sara Lee Branded Apparel administrative offices at a new $35 million facility to be built in Winston-Salem. The announcement completes Winston-Salem’s successful recruitment of the expanded facility, beating out other cities (such as Chicago) which are also Sara Lee Corporation centers. In addition to shoring up the retention of roughly 2,300 existing jobs in Winston-Salem, this new facility is expected to bring about 575 other jobs to the city, including 150 from outside of Forsyth county and 50 more being relocated here from out of state.
In order to recruit this expansion, both Winston-Salem and Forsyth County agreed to incentives for the facility. Winston-Salem’s role will consist of up to $500,000 in reimbursement of costs for utilities, road widening, and site preparation. Due to the additional property taxes which will be paid to the city by Sara Lee Corporation on the new construction, the city will realize a net gain in revenues of more than $500,000 over seven years. Therefore, this is a net gain, not a net cost, to other city taxpayers.
As I’ve discussed before in these reports, I am cautious about supporting business recruitment incentives. One of my requirements for supporting an incentive proposal is that it must provide a clear net benefit to taxpayers. This project easily met that test, and as a result was supported by the board of aldermen on a 7-1 vote.
Now the bad news:
Budget troubles deepen: Preliminary reports on state tax revenues for this year, released in April, make it even less likely that the state will release the funds withheld from local governments (including Winston-Salem) earlier this year. The projected state budget shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year also looks bad, and these funds may be withheld again for that year.
Winston-Salem and other cities are considering suing the governor on the legal theory that the local payments were illegally withheld this year. We are also asking our legislators to support legislation that would more clearly prohibit the governor from tapping those intended local payments as a means of balancing the state’s budget in future years. However, we won’t know the outcome of either of those efforts for months.
In the meantime, we’re still wrestling with how to balance the city’s budget for the coming fiscal year. Substantial budget cuts are certain, including freezing the filling of many vacant city job positions. About $4 million in budget cuts have already been identified as likely to be included in the city manager’s proposed budget.
That still leaves a possible big gap to be filled. If all state outlays to the city’s budget are cut out next year, the budget gap could be as large as $13.3 million. Options for plugging that gap include possible tax increases. At this stage, however, none have been approved by the board of aldermen, or even formally proposed by the city manager.
The board did vote last month to ask for legislative authority to increase the vehicle registration fee. That motion passed by 6-2, and I was one of the two votes opposed, because I do not think that the vehicle registration fee should be increased to help close a general revenue shortfall. In any event, however, there has been no legislative action on the proposal as of yet, and there is no guarantee that the fee would be increased even if authority to do so were granted.
The city budget staff and the finance committee of the board of aldermen are looking hard for additional cost-cutting measures that will not result in severe service cuts to citizens. I’m also reviewing the efficiency studies prepared for the city three years ago for suggestions which could be implemented now (again, without severe service cuts).
Constituent service: I feel that I’m learning new things every month from running down service requests on behalf of constituents. For example: