May 2003 Highlights

City news has been dominated this past month by hoopla about annexation, but that is far from the only matter of interest in progress. Here’s some of what’s happening:

Annexation: Last year, the city manager requested the city council’s instruction to study potential areas for city annexation. The council approved, and authorized a review of all areas which could legally qualify for annexation. That study and public comment process has been underway for months now. In the last month, public information meetings and the large formal hearing have intensified attention to the issue. At the same time, council members (including myself) have been making more detailed individual review of the areas legally eligible for annexation.

During that process, I have concluded that some of the areas which are legally eligible for annexation are in fact still too rural to be appropriate for annexation. I believe that annexation should be used to promote good urban planning and equity in taxation. That means bringing into the city areas which have already urbanized or are rapidly urbanizing. We should be careful not to encourage urban sprawl by annexing areas which are still functionally rural in character. The mayor has been very receptive to expressions of concern about this from me and others. The full council will convene early this Monday evening at a special called meeting, to discuss reconsidering annexation boundaries with that and related issues in mind.

City budget: Given the attention normally devoted to the city budget process, it’s remarkable how that has been overshadowed this year by the annexation debate. At this point, the city council is probably only about two weeks away from a final debate and vote on the 2003-04 fiscal year city budget. The good news is that the budget proposal under review does not propose any increase in the property tax rate. The bad news is that the slow economy, plus increasing costs for hard to manage expenses like health insurance for city employees, make the budget tight again. As a result, the draft budget proposes many reductions in discretionary spending items, still without having room for desirable cuts in taxes and fees. I anticipate that the city council’s Finance Committee will vote on a recommended budget sometime during the week of June 9. Although Finance is not one of the committees on which I serve, I have been attending as many of their meetings as possible, in order to look for additional savings to suggest.

Transportation projects update: The Winston-Salem Urban Area Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC), on which I’m one of the city’s representatives, met again in early May. I can report an update on several items which I think are of interest to many Southwest Ward residents. First, the resurfacing of Business 40 from Silas Creek to Stratford is well along, and scheduled to be completed in early June. Second, the replacement of the Hanes Mall Boulevard bridge is scheduled for right-of-way acquisition effective this September, and contract issuance effective September 2004. Finally, the state Dept. of Transportation has approved the city’s request to revise construction schedules for the Muddy Creek and Brushy Fork greenways, allowing segments which are ready to go to move forward sooner.

Traffic problems: I’ve been pressing for faster progress on finalizing the city’s new "Traffic Calming" policy, so that we can begin formal application of its systematic approach to neighborhood traffic safety problems. I plan to ask the Public Works Committee to approve a recommended policy in June, so that final City Council action is possible (I hope!) in July.

In the meantime, work in specific problem areas continues as well. In April, the Police Department was asked to investigate speeding and traffic issues on Mission Road (which winds between Stratford and Westview). Officers canvassed homes on the road, and undertook a directed patrol there from April 11—30. In May, the Police Department was asked to investigate similar problems on Lockland Avenue between Academy and Silas Creek Parkway. A directed patrol there is underway. Finally, I have just asked the city Dept. of Transportation to begin preparing information on a number of problem streets within the Ardmore neighborhood, with an eye toward beginning a systematic public discussion of traffic calming options at a meeting sometime around late July.

Other items of interest: I routinely spend a lot of time passing on residents’ city service requests to the right city departments and managers. Trash pickup, street drainage, rodent control—you name it and people probably call about it. Now there’s a new, faster way to pursue fixing many city service problems. Go to www.cityofws.org, and click on the big green button on the left side of the screen, labeled "Request for non-emergency information or service." That will take you to a menu allowing easy service requests on 65 specific problems, from "Brush collection" through "Mud in road" and "Sidewalk cracked or broken" to "Yard waste collection". Have a routine problem like that? Check this system out and let me know how it works for you. You can always still call me if it doesn’t.

Do you have a project (residential, commercial, institutional) that you’d like to nominate for a Community Appearance Award? Entries can still be postmarked by June 16. If you’d like more information, contact project planner Diana Miles of the City-County Planning Department at 727-2087 or dianam@cityofws.org.

Concerned about homelessness in our community? The City Human Relations Commission (HRC) reports that there are on average 60 homeless children in local homeless shelters on a given night in Forsyth County. HRC is co-sponsoring an event on Saturday June 14 to raise awareness and funds for efforts to address this problem. For more information, contact them at 727-2429 or garryw@cityofws.org.