May 2002 Highlights

Talk back: Looking for that chance to tell your representatives how to do things right? Here’s one good opportunity: The Southwest Ward will host the second of Mayor Allen Joines’ "Talk of the Town" meetings, the evening of Tuesday, June 25, beginning at 7 p.m. at the Little Creek Recreation Center (610 Foxcroft Drive). I’ll introduce the mayor, he’ll make a few comments regarding ongoing city efforts, and then we’ll open the floor to your questions and discussion. Any city or community topic will be fair game. Please drop by if you can. If you have a particular issue you know you’d like to see discussed, let me know in advance and we can try to be better prepared with relevant information.

Budget: One likely hot topic will be the city’s continuing efforts to balance its budget in the face of the economic slowdown and state revenue seizures. During May, the city manager released his proposed budget for the 2002-03 fiscal year. His proposed budget recommends a 15% overall cut in city spending, down to $268.6 million for the fiscal year.

The city’s budget crunch this year has two principal origins. One is that the economic downtown has resulted in lower projected revenues from sales taxes and other sources affected by the economy. That has created a $6.2 million gap to be filled. The city manager’s budget recommends closing that gap through about $4 million in spending cuts and $2.2 million in user fee changes. The biggest recommended change there would be a new $50 annual fee for yard cart waste collection.

The other principal origin of the budget crunch is the possible loss (again) of revenues which are collected by the state and distributed to local governments. That loss could be as much as $7.6 million. City officials are lobbying the state legislature to guarantee those revenues for the coming year. However, with the state facing its own massive budget crisis, the outcome of that effort is uncertain. Under those circumstances, we have to prepare alternatives to deal with the possible loss of those revenues.

The city manager’s budget recommends filling that gap by taking $3.3 million from a variety of city reserve funds, and making up the remaining $4.3 million through a 3 cent increase in the property tax rate.

Detailed discussion has started in the Finance Committee of the Board of Aldermen about the details of the city manager’s proposed budget. These budget workshops have included participation from some other members of the board who are not on the Finance Committee, including myself.

I’m researching ways to reduce spending, without major cuts to needed city services, that could be substituted for part or all of the proposed tax increase. At the budget workshop this week, I requested a list of the currently vacant city staff positions (outside of the police, fire, and sanitation departments) which could be added to a hiring freeze. I also suggested the accelerated review of energy efficiency options which could be used to reduce spending. I am continuing to review the November 1999 Citizens Efficiency Review Committee reports for other possible savings suggestions. A number of those recommendations have already been implemented, and others wouldn’t produce immediate results, but they’re worth thorough review.

Have your own suggestions? Want to review the process? In addition to the June 25 meeting—and of course just emailing ideas directly to me—you can sit in on any of the upcoming budget workshop sessions or comment during the public hearings. The earlier your ideas are suggested, the more opportunity there will be to review them in detail.

There will be at least two more Finance Committee budget workshops: Tuesday, June 4, 4-6 p.m.; and Wednesday, June 26, 4-6 p.m. Both will be held in the Third Floor Conference Room at City Hall South.

There also will be two formal public hearings on the budget: Tuesday, June 18, 7:30 p.m.; and Monday, July 1, 7:30 p.m. Both public hearings will be held in the Board of Aldermen’s meeting chamber, Fifth floor, City Hall South.

Public Assembly Facilities Commission: One new efficiency move which the Board of Aldermen has just approved is the consolidation of management of all the city’s major public assembly facilities under one commission. Those are the Benton Convention Center, Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the fairgrounds, Bowman Gray Stadium, and Ernie Shore Field. Collectively, these facilities are a major resource for the city. However, there have also been inefficiencies in their operation and marketing. By consolidating their management (a step recommended by SERC and other efficiency studies), we hope to control costs and increase public usage and revenues.

During the consolidation process, organizers of the Dixie Classic Fair raised concerns that the quality of the fair would suffer under the reorganization. To prevent that, we made adjustments in the consolidation to ensure that the fair itself would not be used to subsidize other facilities’ operations.

Constituent service notes:

"Children Playing" signs: I’ve received several requests this past month for help in getting "children playing" signs put up in neighborhoods. I looked into this and discovered that Winston-Salem does not put up those signs. The city’s transportation staff say they’ve studied that question and that those signs do not appear to have any effect on traffic. However, they are ready to study streets that are identified as of traffic safety concern, and see what other means can be used to help slow or "calm" traffic there. As I’ve reported before, the Transportation Dept. in the process of a systematic study of "traffic calming" measures that can be instituted in trouble spots around the city.

In the meantime, I’ve found the Transportation staff to be very responsive to requests to look at particular spots/streets/intersections and see what might be done to help. (For example, we just got a new four-way stop put up at a problem location at the intersection of Madison and Ardsley. Just a note, though: Four-way stops are not the answer everywhere! If the traffic through an intersection is not about equal going in both crossing directions, they don’t work well.) If you have a trouble spot that hasn’t been looked at yet, let me know.

Fire station relocation: The city is proposing the relocation of the Griffith Road fire station to near the intersection of Somerset Drive and Stratford Road. The move is to provide more space for the equipment needed to better protect this part of the city. In order to explain the proposal and respond to neighbor’s concerns, at my request the city manager’s office and the fire department held a neighborhood meeting this week to discuss the proposal. About 30 neighbors attended, and I was pleased that most questions and concerns seemed to be satisfactorily answered. It was particularly persuasive, I think, that the new station location should help to get a needed stoplight placed at the intersection of Stratford and Somerset. The quicker response time to medical emergencies will also be a good benefit to the neighborhood as well.

Meetings and more meetings: This was a busy month for meetings and public appearances. To give you an idea of the variety of events, here’s a list of some where I spoke or otherwise participated over the past month or so: National Law Enforcement Week opening service; Mt. Tabor High School civics classes; Special Olympics Spring Games; Memorial Day service at Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum; Forsyth Park Baptist Church service honoring emergency responders; Forsyth Academy public officials day assembly; Carolina Chamber Orchestra symphony.