June 2005 Highlights


The city budget for FY05-06, adopted on time at the June 20 City Council meeting, was the big city news for June.


City budget for FY05-06:

 

The City Council voted 6-1 on June 20 to approve the city budget for FY05-06. The overall budget is about $334 million, including $272 million for operations and debt service, and $62 million for capital expenditures. The general fund budget (the city’s primary general operating budget fund) comprises about $148 million of that amount. I voted for the budget, which I believe is a fiscally responsible one which addresses important city service needs, improves fairness to public safety officers and other city employees, and keeps us building for the future of our community. Here are some of the highlights:


--The city property tax rate is reduced by 4 cents, from the current rate of 52.5 cents down to 48.5 cents (per $100 of property value). The reduction is intended to help offset the effects on property owners of the county-wide property revaluation. Whether your individual city tax bill will go up or down depends on how your property value fared in the revaluation. It’s also worth noting that the city property tax rate was cut by the City Council by a larger percentage than the county tax rate was cut by the County Commissioners. (Please remember that the city does not control the county tax rate, county budget, or the revaluation process.)


--City police and firefighters received a "market rate adjustment" in their pay (six percent for firefighters, three percent for police), designed to help close a big gap in average pay between Winston-Salem’s public safety officers and those in other similarly-situated North Carolina cities. This is basic fairness for the people who work hard and risk their own safety to keep our families and community safe.


--The budget does not increase stormwater fees. When the City Manager’s proposed budget suggested an increase in those fees, I asked for more information about what expenses would be covered and how our fee structure impacts residential and non-residential property owners. After further review, it was agreed that the city’s stormwater fee structure needed further study before any fee increase was considered. The needs (especially for repair or replacement of aging stormwater drainage pipes and structures) are real—but homeowners should not have to pay more than their fair share of the costs.


--The capital improvements budget for FY05-06 includes several important items related to street and pedestrian safety. They include $2.6 million for street resurfacing projects, $2.6 million for sidewalk repair and construction, and $920 thousand for greenways development. (By the way, for those who think we don’t spend enough on roads, another $8.9 million in this year’s capital budget goes to road widenings, extensions, and realignments.)


--The budget does not include an earmarked amount for traffic calming projects, and that is of concern to me. However, my colleagues agreed in budget discussions that they would work to find funds for these important safety projects as they come forward for approval, and I count on them to hold to that commitment.


I will be happy to try to address any other questions you may have about this year’s budget.


Brownfields training grant:

 

Among other news from June, the Council agreed to accept a grant from the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to fund training of up to 40 individuals as environmental technicians for "brownfields" projects. "Brownfields" projects involve the cleanup and reclamation of contaminated sites to be safe for new industrial and commercial development. They’re a great way to remove potential environmental problems, and create new jobs and tax base at the same time. This brownfields training program, conducted by Northwest Piedmont Workforce Development and Forsyth Technical Community College, has previously trained 51 individuals, more than half of whom have already landed jobs in environmental careers.


Pedestrian safety:

 

Another tragic car-pedestrian accident took place in Winston-Salem on June 8, when a man was seriously injured when hit by a car as he walked up Silas Creek Parkway beside Forsyth Tech. There is no sidewalk along that stretch of road, which is heavily used by pedestrians. At my request, the Winston-Salem Urban Area Transportation Advisory Committee included a sidewalk along that section of parkway among our requests for state Transportation Department funding earlier this year. We’re waiting for a final decision on that and other projects.


Hillcrest modifications:

 

The City Council on June 6 approved modifications to the site plan at the Hillcrest (former golf course) property development on Stratford Road. The revised site plan retains all the important provisions regarding buffers, use restrictions, pedestrian connections, and other safeguards negotiated with adjoining neighborhoods as part of the main rezoning case in 2003. The main change was to eliminate the requirement that a street connection be made to Hewes Street at the northeast corner of the site. The developer asked for (and received) permission to drop that street connection because it would have created enough stream and wetlands impacts to require another water quality permit and study for the entire project (another cost factor). In place of the street connection, the revised site plan contains an additional pedestrian connection easement and two acres of additional dedicated green space (much of which is covered by mature trees).


Bicycle plan:

 

The City Council on June 6 also discussed the draft Winston-Salem Urban Area Bicycle Plan, including its recommended priorities for bike lanes, on-road markings and signs, greenways and other shared-use paths, and striped or paved shoulders. This plan will encourage important public safety policies that will make our city safer and more attractive for bicycling. That’s a health-promoting activity, fun for all ages, and can even help with air quality as a transportation alternative. It’s also the kind of community quality-of-life amenity that businesses look at for their employees when they’re deciding where to locate. The bicycle plan has already been recommended by the City-County Planning Board. It will be discussed again at committee meetings in July, and potentially voted on by the full City Council on July 18. It can be reviewed at

www.cityofws.org/DOT.


Noise complaints:

 

The Public Works Committee in June discussed noise issues associated with private garbage dumpster collection in early morning hours. Some neighborhoods are being repeatedly afflicted with this problem. It was agreed that tightening of the city noise code on this point is probably appropriate. A draft proposal will be brought back to committee in August or September.


Constituent service notes:

 

Answering constituent question calls this month reminded me of an area of common complaints that would be useful to discuss--oversized, abandoned, or broken-down vehicles parked in residential areas. Here are some of the main points to remember:


--It’s against city code to leave any vehicle parked on the street for over seven straight days. If a vehicle has been parked on the street without being moved for that long, it can be treated as abandoned. In practice, city inspectors are more likely to "sticker" a vehicle as abandoned if it is showing signs of decay like flat tires.


--Once a vehicle has been "stickered" as abandoned, the owner has seven additional days to remove it. If that doesn’t happen, then it is eligible to be towed away by the city. In busy periods, it may take longer for the city to get to it.


--To report a junked or abandoned vehicle on the street, call Housing and Neighborhood Services at 727-8486 during business hours. Include as specific as possible description of the vehicle (make, model, color, license if available) and location (street name and block; street address number if possible). If a vehicle on the street has been actively vandalized (such as broken windows), call right away. That can create a public safety problem which can be addressed more quickly.


--There is no city code prohibition against a commercial vehicle as such being parked on a residential street. However, there is a city code provision against any oversized vehicle being parked on the street other than for immediate loading/unloading. By city code, "oversized" means wider than 80" or longer than 30 feet. The Police Department (773-7700) normally enforces this prohibition.


--City code provisions can address junked vehicles on private property, especially if the vehicle creates public safety issues through conditions like broken windows, missing doors, up on blocks with tires missing, etc. Call 727-8486 to report these.


--There is no city code provision specifically limiting the number of functioning cars which can be parked in a driveway or yard.


--As always, if you have tried to report one of these problems without success, please feel welcome to contact me at 722-1674 or

danbesse@danbesse.org.


I’ll end this month’s report before I completely exhaust your patience (I hope). Have a safe and happy Fourth of July Independence Day celebration!