Today is Memorial Day, when we pause to remember those who have served our nation in the armed services, and to honor their sacrifices. I hope that each of you will have the chance to enjoy this day in the company of family and friends, and that all your family members and friends in the services today, especially those abroad, will be as safe as can be.
In city news this month:
City budget: Following the initial round of informal public meetings in April and May, the city manager finalized his budget proposal for FY2005. His final proposal looks much like his initial outline unveiled in March. The basic bad news continues to be a recommended 4.5 cent increase in the city property tax rate. As I reviewed in my March report, there are several factors which have produced the manager’s recommendation, including these: dropping sales tax revenues and decreased city staff turnover, both due to the slow economy; slow growth in property tax base; increased costs of employee health insurance; and routine employee pay raises.
Last week, in order to start discussion on how to avoid a property tax rate increase, I proposed several amendments to the proposed budget. Among other items, I proposed suspending city employee salary increases; eliminating a proposal to add to the city’s fund balance reserves; and directing the city manager to identify additional cuts from programs and offices not providing direct services to the public. Unfortunately, that last item could well require staff layoffs. I am not certain how these proposals will ultimately be received by my colleagues on the Council, but I am hopeful that they will at least encourage serious discussion of the hard choices that would be necessary to avoid an increase in the property tax rate.
Citizen comments are still actively being invited at this stage of the budget considerations. The next formal opportunity for public comment will be the Finance Committee’s public hearing on the budget. The hearing will be held this Thursday, June 3, at 7:30 p.m. in the Council Chamber (Room 230), City Hall. Please feel invited to come and bring your suggestions.
Hillcrest development: The mixed-use development of the Hillcrest Golf Course property on South Stratford Road, approved last year, is getting underway. The new owners and developers of the property include Mike Winstead of Mega Builders LLC of Greensboro. Winstead is a local builder with a good record of quality local projects and cooperation with neighborhoods in addressing issues of concern.
Under city ordinance, Planning staff may approve limited modifications to a previously approved site plan, so long as the changes do not infringe on matters which were addressed by the Planning Board or City Council as resolution to a controversy. In this case, Planning staff approved a slight shift in location of the development’s main entrance/exit onto Stratford. This shifted that entrance to line up with Cloverleaf Drive across the road, and should permit that main entrance to get a traffic light (instead of one of the secondary entrances). That should improve traffic flow all around, and in the process reduce the traffic which takes a secondary entrance onto Somerset Drive.
In the process of approving that change, Planning staff also approved some other internal street layout changes. Unrecognized by staff, some of those changes impinge on street design compromises that had been negotiated with representatives for the Ashford neighborhood. Planning staff and the developers have been alerted to that concern. They appear to be prepared to voluntarily reset the relevant part of the internal street layout to the previously negotiated plan. I will continue to monitor the situation, but I am optimistic that it will be resolved without further controversy.
Greenways update: I’m very pleased to report that the city has received a grant from the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund for construction of the Strollway South extension and to start the Waughtown Greenway connector. These are two of the high-priority extensions of the existing Salem Creek / Salem Lake Greenway network. The Strollway South extension will start from the south end of the existing Strollway (which goes from downtown to Old Salem), pass through the new Southeast Gateway (under development now), and go all the way to the N.C. School of the Arts. The Waughtown Greenway will spur off the Salem Creek Trail at Reynolds Drive (near WSSU) and go southeast through a beautiful wooded area beside the old Vulcan quarry to the Waughtown Street neighborhoods. Have patience—it will probably take two to three years before completion.
Meanwhile, the city has also submitted a grant request to the N.C. Dept. of Transportation for "enhancement project" funding for the first phase of the Salem Creek Greenway westward extension. If funded, this extension will start from the existing western terminus of the Salem Creek Trail at Marketplace Mall, and go further down the creek, along Link Road and Silas Creek Parkway to the Forsyth Tech main campus. It would provide a safe bike/pedestrian link between FTCC (and the southeast corner of the Ardmore neighborhood) to the Salem Creek Trail system and its multiple adjacent neighborhoods and campuses.
The proposed Little Creek Greenway, on my nomination, has also made the list of "Transportation Needs Report" projects approved by our metropolitan area Transportation Advisory Committee. Because it does not connect to and expand other existing pedestrian routes, however, I could not get it ranked as highly on a transportation utility scale. I have asked city staff to help search for other possible funding sources for this project.
Summer jobs program: The CHANGE community organization earlier this year proposed a set of job development initiatives for Winston-Salem, including additional funding to support summer youth employment and training programs. At the request of the City Council’s Finance Committee, city staff identified funds which could be used for that purpose. The identified funds were $25,000 from the prior year’s fund balance for construction training programs. In May, the Council agreed to make these funds available for the more immediate summer youth employment and training program, on a matching basis to encourage additional private contributions for these efforts. Eligibility for the program is limited to Winston-Salem residents.
Hannaford Road buffer: The City Council approved a request from residents of the Hannaford neighborhood for a "landscape buffer license" to plant and maintain leyland cypress trees in the city street right-of-way at the end of Hannaford Road. The trees will add additional noise and visual buffer between the neighborhood and commercial traffic to the south. Thanks go to Barry Boneno and Frank Bender for this community service.
Constituent service notes: The repaving project of the block formed by Phillip St.-Lester Ln.-Gould St.-Walter Ct. was completed after residents of the area contacted me about its lengthy delay. The assistant city manager for public works made contact with the paving contractor to resolve the problem. Missing trees in the median of Watson Avenue are to be replaced by city vegetation management, following a timely reminder from a Watson resident.