December 2005 Highlights

December was a fairly quiet month for city policy action, as the regular first meeting of the month was a ceremonial affair for the swearing-in of the mayor and council members. Still, there are a few items of interest to report:


National League of Cities Conference: The NLC annual conference, held in Charlotte earlier this month, proved to be a good source of useful information and contacts. Of the issues of importance on which I went looking for ideas, the best return may have come in the area of health insurance cost control. As is the case for businesses and families, soaring health insurance costs are a major budget headache for Winston-Salem and other cities. In workshops and discussion, I picked up information such as the following points: a) We’re on the most important cost-saving track by emphasizing employee participation in wellness programs and preventive care. I picked up several suggestions and program examples for making these programs more effective. b) The interesting idea of "health savings accounts" (HSAs) is being tried by a number of cities, but with very little success in reducing budget costs. Employees show little interest in accepting higher co-payments or deductibles in return for matching contributions to HSAs. Without that buy-in, HSAs produce no systemic benefits. c) City parks can be an important tool for public and employee health through walking and fitness programs. Partnerships with outreach entities (like the county Health Department), posting of walking route maps, and walking partner matchup programs are among the tips for increasing participation.


In these and other issue areas, I came away from the conference with additional sources of information for future research and consultation. I have already begun following up on matters such as fuel and energy conservation, traffic safety and transportation efficiency.


Vector control: "Vector"—also known as rat—control should arguably be a responsibility of the Health Departments under county government, but Forsyth has done little in that regard. Therefore, the city council this month approved re-starting the city’s vector control program, in response to a series of complaints around the city about rats in neighborhoods. The principal target will be storm sewer locations which have become sources of infestation. Of course, environmental code enforcement against housing and trash violations will continue as well.


Christmas tree collection: Curbside tree collection has started in Winston-Salem, and will continue into January. Please remove all ornaments, stand, lights, and tinsel before leaving a tree out for collection. (The trees are mulched for compost, not added to the landfill, so those items can’t be included.) For those who live in apartment complexes, or just don’t like leaving the tree out at the curb until it’s collected, you can use any of several city drop-off sites through January 31. The two sites in or closest to the Southwest Ward are at Little Creek Recreation Center and the Hanes Park tennis courts parking lot.


Zoning: Among the largely routine zoning cases heard this month, I would note one item of interest to some Southwest Ward neighborhoods. A rezoning to business uses of a land parcel near the largely medical- and business-office area off Vest Mill Road was approved, after I received on-the-record assurances regarding traffic impacts. The intersection of Vest Mill/Ashleybrook/Westgate Center, currently a four-way stop, will be upgraded as soon as traffic counts meet the trigger threshold for a signal.


Coming in January: The noise control ordinance is scheduled for another round of discussion by the City Council’s Public Works Committee, which will meet January 10 at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall. I will again urge the committee to recommend prohibiting trash dumpster collection between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. in or adjacent to residential areas. Of several possible changes under discussion, that is the one which would respond to the most persistent concerns I have heard from constituents.


As always, please feel welcome to contact me with questions or suggestions, at danbesse@danbesse.org or 722-1674. And a Happy New Year to all!