November 2004 Highlights

The hot topic of the past month has certainly been Dell Computer. I’ll review that and a few other items of interest from November.

Dell Computer: The City Council yesterday (Nov. 29) voted unanimously to set a public hearing on a proposal for economic incentives to attract the new Dell Computer manufacturing plant to locate here. The public hearing is scheduled for the Council’s second regular meeting in December: Monday, December 20, at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall. Public comment is invited at that time. Details of the proposed incentives package will be published well before that date. Due to the fast-track decision-making process used by Dell, we should also know by that time whether Dell will in fact locate in Winston-Salem if the package is approved. Winston-Salem and Forsyth County would contribute approximately equal parts to the package. We are competing with offers from Greensboro/Guilford County, High Point/Guilford County, and Davidson County. Dell will select one of the sites.

It should come as no surprise that I have mixed feelings on this matter. I am not an enthusiast of economic development incentive schemes in general, but I also am not willing to forego local use of such packages while other competing jurisdictions continue to use them. Our area has been particularly hard hit by the loss in manufacturing sector jobs in recent years, and we do need to encourage the development of local job growth for the long-term economic health of our community as a whole.

The Dell situation in particular is challenging. On the one hand, landing this facility would guarantee the biggest single job influx of recent years for our area, with associated additional facilities (and their jobs and tax base) essentially guaranteed as a result. On the other hand, getting Dell to locate here would require an unprecedented package of infrastructure improvements and incentives payments (tied to the size of their job and tax base investments here). On balance, it seems to be a deal that we literally cannot afford to pass up if we can get it. In any event, we will hear Dell’s response to the competing local jurisdictions’ bids within about two weeks. I’ve heard the views of many of you already, and if the Winston-Salem/Forsyth bid is chosen, your opportunity to stand up and declare your advice in public will come December 20.

Housing code enforcement: One of the problems in cleaning up housing code violations, even major problems, has often been the length of time required to get action when the owner/landlord is uncooperative. On November 15, the City Council approved an ordinance change which should reduce the delay in code enforcement action on the most serious violation cases. Under the previous code provision, the city had to give owners 12 months to repair or demolish unfit dwellings and abandoned structures, from the time an order to repair or demolish was issued. The city asked for and received this year permission from the state legislature to shorten that time to six months. On November 15, the City Council voted to approve that shortened notice period. Now for all new repair or demolish orders, we will only have to wait six months before enforcing the orders against uncooperative owners/landlords. This gives us leverage to insist on faster cleanup of serious housing eyesores and hazards in our neighborhoods.

Voluntary curbside garbage collection program: The City Council approved on November 15 the initiation of a voluntary curbside garbage collection program. Information on how to sign up for the program will be sent out to residential households over the next two-three months. Participants will receive a large rollout cart from the city without charge, and will be responsible for taking it to the curb weekly on their collection day. Non-participants will NOT be affected. Backyard pickup will continue to be available for everyone who does not volunteer for the curbside pickups. The theory behind the program is that once enough residents have volunteered for the program, collection routes can be reconfigured to take advantage of reduced collection times, and collection crews reduced as a result. We shall see whether it works. The program was approved on a split vote, after I unsuccessfully tried to reduce its marketing costs as a money-saving efficiency measure. (P.S.—I know that many of you, my friends and constituents, continue to have strong feelings on this issue. I have heard from you, and I will continue to take your thoughts into account. But please have mercy! We don’t need to re-debate the pros and cons again at this time. Thank you, thank you, thank you.)

Transportation infrastructure update: Once again, the holiday shopping season brings…bigger traffic jams on Hanes Mall Boulevard! Shoppers, take heart: At the November meeting of our regional Transportation Advisory Committee, I asked the regional N.C. Dept. of Transportation representative for a status update on the Hanes Mall Boulevard and bridge widening. (I’ve been nagging them on this project for the past two years.) The project is now scheduled to have the construction bid let on March 15, 2005, with state Board of Transportation contract approval likely in April, and construction expected to begin within 60 days after that. The project had been delayed three months from an earlier projected timetable in order to incorporate plan revisions.

Talks and events: From time to time, it’s interesting to note where I’ve been asked to appear as your council representative. November included the Miller Park Circle Homeowners Association on flooding problems; the Mayor’s Forum on resolving racial tensions; the Bank of Granite opening on Jonestown Road; the R.J. Reynolds health and safety committee on local environmental issues; the N.C. League of Municipalities reception; the Ardmore 5k footrace and "Ardmore Remembers" neighborhood potluck; the Winston-Salem/Bethania 250th anniversary event; the Winston-Salem Regional Realtors’ Property Management Division meeting; and the Winston-Salem Fire Department firefighter training graduation. Busy month.