November 2006 Highlights

In November, the City Council gave final approval to an improved recycling services contract, the creation of new "neighborhood assistance specialist" city staff positions, and expansion of the Triad Research Park.

Recycling contract: After a careful review of how to improve curbside recycling services, the City Council on November 20 gave final approval to a new contract with Waste Management. When the new contract begins April 1, all plastic bottles (not just ones made of #1 and #2 plastic), as well as aerosol cans, will be collected for recycling. In addition, it will become easier to recycle cardboard; it will no longer need to be bundled with yarn, but can instead just be stacked in boxes of up to 3'x3'. These changes should make it easier for citizens to recycle more of our residential waste. We also studied the option of changing from the use of small bins to larger roll-out carts. That option was rejected after determining that it would substantially increase costs without notably increasing participation. A majority of public comments favored continuing the use of weekly bin pickup. Finally, the city will undertake an increased public education effort next spring to promote recycling participation. Thanks to everyone who submitted comments on this issue.

Neighborhood assistance specialists: The Council also approved on November 20 a budget amendment to authorize creation of four "Neighborhood Assistance Specialist" positions within the Housing and Neighborhood Services Department. (The amendment shifted funds within city department budgets and did not increase city spending.) The Neighborhood Assistance Specialists will help residents and neighborhood groups deal with city service issues such as street conditions, sanitation service problems, abandoned vehicles, and the like. They would also actively help to identify and address broader issues and concerns. Each of the four specialists would work within geographically defined areas of the city, including maintaining liason with the city council members representing those areas. The intent of the new positions is to improve service delivery to residents, and the ease of dealing with city departments on service issues. The new positions will be advertised and filled as soon as possible.

Research park investment: The Council gave its approval at the same meeting to the investment of a little less than $5 million over 16 years in the further expansion of the Piedmont Triad Research Park. City participation in this economically key project will help Wake Forest University Health Sciences to leverage construction over the next ten years of new research facilities with an estimated taxable value of almost $50 million. Most of the city's investment will help pay for public infrastructure improvements such as road and bridge construction and railway relocation. As a condition of the agreement, all covered facilities in the research park must remain taxable for at least 20 years. New taxes generated by the project should produce a net positive tax revenue flow for the city by year four. Moreover, the jobs and spinoff economic benefits to the city and region should be much greater, and continue for many years.

Talk of the Town meeting: Thanks again to all who participated in the Southwest Ward Talk of the Town meeting on November 9. As expected, the meeting included a lot of discussion of stormwater issues, traffic and transportation concerns, and neighborhood safety. Your suggestions were heard, and we'll be working for improvements.

Bike lanes: More than 100 interested citizens came out to participate in public comment sessions on Winston-Salem's first proposed bike lanes during November. The reaction was primarily positive, with some specific suggestions for improving the way lanes would interact with parking and vehicle traffic. The city Department of Transportation is taking those comments to work on putting together final plans.

Clean air: During November, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced approval of the final year of suspension of the Triad's "nonattainment" status for ground-level ozone air pollution. The bottom line: Our air is improving rapidly enough to meet our commitment to be in compliance with federal ozone pollution standards by the end of 2007. If we achieve that goal, then we'll move straight into the "maintenance" status, in which our challenge will be keeping our air clean. That will be challenge enough over the next generation of expected population and economic growth. I'm again pleased to be part of the Piedmont Triad Early Action Compact for clean air, which is helping scores of local governments and private actors to cooperate in pursuing effective clean air strategies. This is a big boost for both public health and our economy.

Utilities Commission report: As part of the City/County Utilities Commission's annual report, we reviewed the status of new facility construction. I note with interest and approval that the new "biosolids drying facility" at the Elledge sewage treatment plant will use the excess methane generated by biodigestion of waste, to provide heat to help power the drying process. The improved facility will result in a dried product usable as a safe fertilizer. Now, that's an environmentally friendly process. It's expected to be in operation by early 2008.