June saw final action on the city’s FY2004-05 budget, as well as a new "traffic calming" policy, important zoning decisions, and economic development efforts.
City budget adopted: After months of public meetings and workshops, the City Council adopted the final city budget for FY2004-05. The budget as ultimately adopted included $140.2 million in general fund operating expenditures, a cut of approximately $2.5 million from the City Manager’s recommendation. This cut permitted the reduction of the manager’s proposed property tax rate increase of 4.5 cents to the 3 cent increase adopted. However, I voted "no" on final budget passage because I believe that expenditures could have been reduced further, and the tax rate increase thereby avoided or at least reduced.
Despite my no vote, I believe that there were signs of improvement in the budget development process. In particular, the Council agreed to instruct the City Manager to reduce staff position expenditures by $750 thousand, and to cut other departmental expenditures by another $423 thousand. This approach of directing expenditure cuts while leaving some flexibility for the details holds promise of getting us past the usual roadblock to controlling expenses—finding a majority of votes to agree on the fine print of the reductions. I had proposed a similar approach earlier, and I believe that the approved cuts represented a response in the right direction. I will continue to press for finding greater efficiencies in city spending without cutting basic services.
"Traffic calming" for new developments: "Traffic calming" is the term used by transportation planners to refer to measures like median islands, crosswalk markings, and street design changes, intended to slow down (calm) traffic through residential areas. Last year, the Council approved a process for considering "traffic calming" measures in existing neighborhoods. In June, the Council finalized the part of traffic calming policy intended to deal with the traffic impact of new developments on existing neighborhoods. Under this policy, when a new development connects to a street or streets in an existing neighborhood, the developer can be required to help mitigate adverse impacts from the additional traffic volume. The trigger threshold is 500 or more additional trips per day on an existing neighborhood street. When that level of impact is predicted, the developer would post a bond to pay for new "traffic calming" measures on the impacted street(s). The city Transportation Department would then work with neighbors to select and design the control measures.
Zoning ordinance changes: The Council in June approved an additional restriction on the location of "adult establishments". New businesses of that nature can no longer be located in the HB (Highway Business) zone. While the effect of the change is citywide, it was triggered by concern that the Peters Creek Parkway corridor was at risk of becoming the "strip club strip". Given the reluctance of many businesses to locate near such establishments, that would have interfered with ongoing efforts to encourage the commercial revitalization of that area—and address the higher crime rates which it experiences.
Another development ordinance change approved in June addresses what are called "reasonable accommodations". Under the Federal Fair Housing Act, whenever a zoning restriction may interfere with providing housing for the handicapped (as broadly defined by federal court cases), the local government must consider making an exception to the restriction (a "reasonable accommodation"). The new change to city ordinance sets up a process for neighbor notification of such a request. This will guarantee notification and opportunity for comment by adjacent neighbors, before any city decision is made on the request.
Finally, the Council unanimously voted to endorse the application for an Ardmore Historic District. This application is for recognition of the Ardmore neighborhood on the National Register of Historic Places. If approved by the National Park Service, it will not add any additional legal restrictions on private property owners. However, it would provide tax credit opportunities for restoration work by many homeowners and other property owners, and act as a boost to neighborhood protection efforts generally.
Economic development efforts: The Council in June approved having the City co-sponsor a grant application to the Economic Development Administration for a $2 million grant in public infrastructure improvements for the Piedmont Triad Research Park. The other co-sponsors of the grant application are Forsyth County and Wake Forest University Health Sciences. The Research Park expansion which will be leveraged by this grant totals over $70 million in added property value and more than 100 new jobs.
The Council also approved a development agreement to provide public parking for the Unity Place downtown development project. (That’s the one which will include the new Krispy Kreme headquarters.) The agreement approved ensures that the new parking investment will pay for itself through contractually guaranteed lease agreements and new property taxes generated by the development.
Both of these projects will help to fuel our region’s economic recovery efforts—both jobs and tax base. Promoting an economically dynamic city center also provides critical quality of life benefits for our city as a whole. By encouraging growth and redevelopment in existing developed commercial/industrial areas, we reduce urban sprawl. That in turn reduces auto drive times, air pollution, and the loss of green space and farmland around the city.
City services notes: A constituent question this month leads to a reminder on how to deal with household hazardous wastes. Old paint, thinners, solvents, strippers, used car batteries, and other poisonous or corrosive household wastes can be disposed by city residents without charge at 3RC—The EnviroStation. It’s located at 1401 S. Martin Luther King Drive, across the street from Bowman Gray Stadium. The hours are 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to noon Saturday. Its phone number is 784-4300. This year-round drop-off service replaced what used to be a once-a-year curbside pickup of such wastes.
And here’s a reminder about dealing with a question that comes up from time to time: burned-out streetlights. Report a burned-out light to city Traffic Engineering at 747-6873, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include a specific address for the light (i.e., across from, beside of, in front of); and if you’d like a call-back include your own phone number.