May 2007 highlights

Sign ordinances, nightclub operations, and even climate change were on an active city issue agenda in May.

On-premises sign ordinance updated:     After a multi-year process of study and debate, Winston-Salem adopted a comprehensive overhaul of our on-premises business signs ordinance in May.  In general, the new ordinance should improve community appearance by reducing the size, height, and number of new signs.  In a compromise with business interests, existing signs which exceed the new standards will not have to be brought into compliance with the new rules for 15 years from the effective date of the new ordinance.  The final issue to be resolved involved electronic signs.  For driver safety and appearance reasons, the rate at which these "electronic message boards" can change will be controlled.  In another compromise, signs for entertainment venues (theaters, ballparks, coliseums, etc.) can change as often as every eight seconds, and all other electronic signs can change as rapidly as every two minutes.  Flashing or strobing signs are prohibited.

"Pull 'em or pay" to be enforced:     As of June 1, city staff will begin to enforce the new civil penalty provisions enacted last December against illegal signs placed on street intersections, medians, and utility poles.   These unsightly intrusions into our neighborhoods (I call them "litter on a stick") have proliferated unchecked for too long.  The fine will be $50 per illegal sign, per day.  This should finally serve as a real disincentive to the scofflaw repeat violators, who blanket neighborhoods with illegal roadside signs declaring "Foreclosure Stoppers!", advertising cheap furniture and flooring, and such.  To help clean up our streets by reporting violations, or for more information, call Inspections at 727-2628.

Nightclub operations and public safety:     After efforts to resolve the issue short of court reached an impasse, the city in May filed a nuisance action against the Red Rooster nightclub and the owner of the property in which it is located.  The lawsuit seeks permanent closure of the club and an order against any other club opening in that location.  There is a long history of problems associated with a series of clubs operated at that spot, culminating with the fatal shooting of a Winston-Salem police officer outside the club in February of this year.
     In the meantime, city staff and attorneys have continued work on a draft ordinance to strengthen safety standards applicable to nightclub operations more generally in Winston-Salem.  I asked for development of proposals on that topic, and we anticipate that a draft ordinance will be brought to the City Council's Public Safety Committee for review in June or July.

Winston-Salem joins Mayors' Climate Protection Agreement:     Winston-Salem citizens concerned with global warming will be pleased to hear that our city has joined with over 400 other communities nationwide, to do our part on climate change.  Under the agreement signed by Mayor Allen Joines and supported by the City Council, the city will start by reviewing its contributions to "greenhouse gas" emissions (especially carbon dioxide) which are creating global climate change.  After that, we will work to reduce our emissions through common-sense measures like energy efficiency programs (which both reduce costs and cut air pollution too).

Triad Commute Challenge:     One of the other ways to reduce our contribution to greenhouse gas emissions is to encourage greater use of more efficient transportation options, including carpooling, biking, and taking the bus.  To promote use of these alternatives, the Winston-Salem Transit Authority has joined up with other city transit systems and the Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation (PART) to sponsor the "Triad Commute Challenge".  The City Council in May adopted a resolution which I prepared, to encourage participation in this program.  Taking part in the challenge is easy—just fill out a pledge form to try one of these alternate transit options at least once between May 1 and August 31.  Details are available at www.TriadAir.org and www.PARTnc.org.

National Law Enforcement Month:     May is National Law Enforcement Month.  Around the nation, events are held in appreciation of the men and women who work to keep our communities safe.  Special attention goes to honoring the memory of law enforcement officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty.  During May, I took part as a city official in the Forsyth County opening ceremony and officers memorial service.  I try to participate each year in this important opportunity to help show our communities' appreciation to those who risk their lives to "protect and serve" the rest of us, and to their families.

Hanes Geo Components will bring new jobs:     The company which now owns the old Hanes Dye & Finishing plant in Winston-Salem agreed in May to a deal which will increase both jobs and local tax base at that site.  Hanes Geo will convert the plant to a light-manufacturing and distribution operation.  In the process, it will retain 120 jobs at the site which would otherwise have been lost with the dye operation's closure, and add another 92 jobs there.  It will also invest an additional $4 million in taxable improvements at the site.  In return, the company will receive economic development incentives over a period of ten years, equivalent to approximately 60% of the net new taxes from the new tax base value added there.  Winston-Salem was in competition with other potential locations for this new development.  Let me emphasize again that this deal will produce both new jobs and net new tax revenues for our city.

Budget preview:     The city manager rolled out his draft city budget for fiscal year 2007-08 in May.  Among the budget highlights was a recommendation to make no change in the city's property tax rate.  The City Council began the review process with two budget workshops this week.  Two formal public comment opportunities are planned:  the Finance Committee public hearing at 7:30 p.m. next Thursday, June 7, and the full City Council public hearing at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, June 18.

That's all for this month's report.  As always, please feel welcome to contact me with questions or comments at danbesse@danbesse.org or 722-1674.