June 2003 Highlights

Traffic calming policy adopted: On June 16, the City Council gave final approval to Winston-Salem’s new “traffic calming” policy for existing neighborhoods. “Traffic calming” refers to steps taken to address traffic safety issues, especially speeding or excess traffic volume. Depending on road and neighborhood circumstances, traffic calming measures can include low-cost items such as lane striping and raised pavement markers, or more expensive items from raised crosswalks to median islands. Thanks once again to the citizen task force which drafted the policy, and to the neighborhood advocates who helped work it through the Public Works Committee.

The newly adopted city policy does two main things:

(1) It describes a variety of traffic calming techniques and discusses the circumstances under which each may be appropriate; and

(2) It lays out a process for neighborhoods with traffic safety problems to have those issues studied and addressed, with extensive neighbor involvement.

Overall, the adoption of this policy should get us moving forward in applying the traffic calming approach to the traffic and pedestrian safety problems in our neighborhoods. When I ran for city office in 2001, these problems were probably the top concern more people wanted to discuss than any other issue. I have worked on trying to address a number of site-specific problems since then, such as lane markers on Jonestown Road and Knollwood Street; sign-related visibility problems on Mission Road; a new traffic signal on First Street; speed limits on Osbourne Road and Kinnamon Street; speeding buses on Melrose Avenue; and a four-way stop on Madison and Ardsley. It’s always seemed clear, however, that we need a more systematic approach to traffic issues.

For example, the large Ardmore neighborhood has special traffic problems associated with its layout and location. It’s situated between the city’s two major medical centers and gets much of the traffic related to them, as well as traffic related to busy shopping areas along Stratford Road and Hanes Mall. In addition, its open-ended grid layout is conducive to a pattern of multiple cut-through routes. I receive calls about these issues from all corners of the neighborhood—Lockland Ave., Elizabeth St., Magnolia, Martin, Irving, Melrose, etc. To begin the process of examining traffic calming approaches for that area, I’ve set up a discussion meeting on Tuesday, July 22, beginning at 7 p.m. at Miller Park Rec Center.

I also am ready to begin working with other streets and neighborhoods in the Southwest Ward to help you study and address traffic calming approaches in your neighborhoods. I expect to spend a lot of time on this over the next two years.

City 2003-04 budget adopted: On June 17, the City Council adopted the city’s $325 million budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. I am pleased that despite the continuing slow economy, and aid cutbacks from the federal and state levels, the adopted budget should be able to maintain city service levels, and contains no property tax increase. Of the general fund budget of $138 million, a special problem was the anticipated $4 million increase in costs for city employee benefits, especially in health care costs, reflecting the continuing nationwide upward spiral of health care expenses.

Other items of note in this budget include the 2% market pay adjustment for certified firefighters. This is a down-payment on addressing the huge gap between the earnings of our city firefighters and those in comparable cities in North Carolina. I had also encouraged the Finance Committee to identify funding for a market pay adjustment for police officers as well, but they were unable to do so under these budget circumstances. I must say in fairness to that committee, that even though I’m not on Finance I attended most of their budget workshops, and I also could not identify additional cuts to pay for that goal without cutting important city services.

There are other smaller items which I consider good news. For example, the city’s support of the District Attorney’s Domestic Violence Unit will continue uncut, along with county support for that important effort. The people of that unit dealt with over 2,500 domestic violence complaints last year, helping abuse victims to deal with the legal process and to access shelter and other emergency services. We also found ways to make city street mowing services more efficient, saving money, and restoring the early-season mowing which had been cut out (and which resulted in roadside appearance problems this spring).

If you have questions about other budget items or issues, please feel welcome to contact me for more information.

Annexation adopted: On June 23, the City Council gave final approval to the modified annexation proposal. The annexation is scheduled to take effect June 30, 2004, as provided by state law. The required one-year waiting period was adopted by the state legislature a few years back in order to permit the usual court challenges to be resolved before the scheduled effective date of an annexation. Anticipating that on such a controversial topic, I owe a full explanation for my vote, I wrote and read one at the meeting, and have included it essentially in full below:

There are three basic justifications for considering involuntary annexation: tax fairness, prevention of urban decay, and good growth planning. Some of all three are involved in the annexations adopted June 23.

  • First, around Winston-Salem, as with most cities, neighborhoods have been developed that are essentially identical to the suburban areas within the city’s present boundaries. Those neighborhoods are not countryside; they’re suburban subdivisions. Their development is overwhelmingly a result of the fact that Winston-Salem is here in the first place, and provides an economic engine with jobs and commerce, and medical, educational, and cultural opportunities. There are individual exceptions, but for the most part the residents of those neighborhoods rely on the fact that Winston-Salem is here--for jobs, clients, customers, and the other benefits of living in a metropolitan area. They just live on the other side of an artificial legal line.
  • It is basically unfair to the 186,000 residents who currently pay full city taxes, for others who share in the benefits of our metropolitan area to pay less than a fair share of the cost of keeping our whole city a thriving and successful community. [This isn't just about "more revenue"--whatever your tax rate is, it's too high if you're paying more than your fair share of costs because others are paying less than their fair share.]
  • I can’t blame individuals who say that they don’t want to be annexed because they will pay more in taxes. In many individual cases, a household will pay more in additional city property taxes than they will gain in immediate reduced service costs. [Most already receive the critical but less easily quantified benefits noted above.] But in the long run, all of us—both inside and outside the city lines—will lose if we always base our decisions on short-term arguments.
  • Where state law or the local political environment does not permit cities to annex developed suburban areas, and development and tax base flee to the borders, the result is a disaster for the metropolitan area as a whole. The costs of maintaining a city’s urban core in good working condition will always be relatively higher than the costs of maintaining a suburban bedroom community. But when that urban core declines, those surrounding suburbs lose value and opportunities as well.
  • Finally, the artificial tax line can even encourage urban sprawl. When developers believe that a new subdivision just outside of the city line will be more attractive to buyers, because they believe that they can take advantage of city amenities without paying city taxes, then that tends to promote sprawling suburban expansion instead of infill and restoration of declining urban areas. That accelerates the loss of farms and open rural space.
  • If an area is already rapidly developing anyway, it’s also appropriate to consider annexing it now, so that at least good growth policies and guidelines can be applied to the new development. Good planning in the extension of roads, water and sewer lines, and other services, helps to avoid problems later. Without that good planning, suburban growth can turn into a sprawling mess that eats up countryside, increases air pollution from longer commutes, and increases water pollution from more leveled, clear-cut land and the resulting stormwater runoff.
  • While these are reasons to consider annexation, it’s just as important to be careful that annexation not be misused. The initial annexation study area would have brought in too much farmland and rural area, and extended fingers of the city unnecessarily into the countryside. The revised plan pares that substantially back, and allows truly rural areas the opportunity to stay rural. I hope that they will.
  • There are places where suburban growth has jumped over open areas to form full-fledged suburban neighborhoods that can’t be brought in without also taking in some territory that I’d prefer to leave out. But the plan as a whole was an acceptable compromise as revised, and I believe that its adoption was in the best long-term interest of our community as a whole—both today’s city residents and tomorrow’s.

Regional clean air plans move forward: As I’ve discussed before, I chair the Piedmont Triad regional “stakeholders” committee charged with preparing clean air plans for our Early Action Compact with EPA for reduced urban smog. The committee passed its first deadline in June by submitting to the EPA a list of possible clean air strategies. Between now and next January is the toughest part of the process. By September, we should have North Carolina state air quality data on how much pollution reduction we still need in order to meet public health protection standards. Meanwhile, the regional committee will be gathering public comments on which cleanup strategies are least expensive and most practical. The possible strategies include items such as switching industrial boilers to cleaner fuel sources, and requiring that public construction projects use cleaner-emission equipment. When public comment meetings are set, I’ll let you know the dates.

WinstonNet program starts: On June 12, I attended the startup announcement of the WinstonNet computer/internet access program, which will provide a free email account and computer training/access to students and other citizens without such access at home or work. With funding from a variety of private and public sources, the computer labs will be placed in dozens of city and county locations, including South Fork, Little Creek, and Miller Park Recreation Centers.

Also during June-- I met with Knollwood Street residents about a planned sidewalk extension; met with Northwest Boulevard / Hinshaw Avenue neighborhood watch participants about continued crime control efforts; dealt with noise, stormwater runoff and street parking complaints; participated in a fundraising walk for the Project Hope assistance program for homeless children and families; and enjoyed meeting neighbors at the Lawndale Drive block party.