June 2006 Highlights

Adoption of the 2006-2007 city budget was the most significant final action of the City Council in June.

 

City annual budget approved: The City Council on June 19 adopted the final city budget for fiscal year 2006-2007. Highlights of this year’s budget include these:

  • The property tax rate remains unchanged at 48.5 cents per $100 of assessed property valuation. I’m pleased that we were able to hold the line on the tax rate despite rising expenses. Winston-Salem was able to achieve that while the other large cities in North Carolina were raising tax rates, in large part because we experienced an unusually strong growth in property tax base last year—a sign that our economic development efforts are paying off.
  • We added an additional 10-person squad to the Police Department to help address street crime, including the rising threat of gang activity. Law enforcement experts tell us that outside street gangs are in the early stages of establishing a presence here, and that it is critical to discourage that trend now, while it is possible to do so most effectively.
  • We continued the market pay adjustment salary increases within the police and fire departments, bringing our public safety officers closer to salaries that are competitive with those of other large North Carolina cities. This decreases staff turnover, retains experienced officers, and shows the respect that our professional police and firefighters deserve.
  • Stormwater fees were increased to help pay for an estimated $15 million in seriously needed improvements to decayed or undersized stormwater pipes and infrastructure. At my request, city staff also studied the rate structure and the division of expenses between residential and commercial/institutional property owners. The information they gathered showed us that residential properties have been paying more than their fair share of stormwater management expenses, and in response we shifted the way rates are calculated. As a result, residential stormwater fees are increasing by only $2/year (to $51). The bulk of the rate increase was instead assigned to commercial/institutional fees. However, even those fees still remain significantly lower than the commercial/institutional fees in Charlotte, Durham, Greensboro, and Raleigh.
  • Beginning this year for the first time, the capital projects budget includes funds for "traffic calming" projects to help address traffic safety hot spots around the city. These projects will be considered in the order that they complete the neighborhood consultation and engineering design process. Projects in the advanced stages of development include London Lane, Tilmark Drive, Milhaven Road, and Lockland Avenue.

In a $357 million budget, there is obviously a great deal more detail to be discussed, and I will do my best to respond to any budget-related questions.

 

City manager search underway: Long-time City Manager Bill Stuart officially retires at the end of June (although he has agreed to serve longer, on a month-to-month basis, until his successor is in place). Stuart was honored at several events this month for his 26 years of service to the citizens of Winston-Salem. He is nationally recognized as an extremely capable local government manager, who has provided our city with an unusual degree of fiscal and administrative stability across three decades. The City Council and Mayor at this point are well into a national search process to select a new city manager. Interviews are set for July 8, and we hope to be able to announce the new manager during mid-July.

 

Two-thirds bonds authorized: At our June 5 meeting, the City Council authorized the issuance of about $4.4 million in "two-thirds" bonds for streets and sidewalks, parks and recreation, and fire station capital projects over the next two years. ("Two-thirds" bonds are a type of general obligation bonds, which local governments can use in expenditure areas authorized by public referendum vote, as earlier bonds issued in those areas are paid off.) Projects planned for those bonds include about $1.7 million in sidewalks and $900,000 in greenway.

 

Rats! For some unknown reason, I have heard more reports and complaints about rats during the last year than at any other time during my five years in office. The phenomenon is not unique to the Southwest Ward—other council members have similar reports. As a result of these increased reports, the Council voted last fall to approximately double the annual city budget for "vector" (primarily rat) control. In particular, the city will respond to reports of rat infestation associated with storm or sanitary sewers or housing conditions. If you see rats in your neighborhood, you can help by taking the following two actions:

  1. Report rats seen near sewer/stormsewer drains, trash, or run-down housing to the Housing and Neighborhood Services’ Code Enforcement office at 727-8486. The city will have rat baits placed in affected storm drains and sewers, and will require cleanup of trash or dilapidated housing.
  2. If you see rats in yards not associated with such visible problems, check with your neighbors to see if they are leaving food outside for pets. Rats breed where they find shelter and food. Pest control experts say that in the urban residential environment, a major problem food source for rats is pet food left outdoors.