In June, Winston-Salem acquired both a new annual budget and a new chief of police. Looking ahead, proposed restrictions on front-yard parking will be the subject of a July 7 public hearing.
New budget strengthens transit service: Winston-Salem's city bus system will see a number of significant improvements under the 2008-2009 city budget approved June 16. The impetus for this action includes the soaring price of gas, the resulting increased public demand for public transportation services, and our overall need to reduce air pollution emissions from vehicles. The budgeted improvements are scheduled to go into effect in September.
Under the approved budget, transit system improvements will include
The total additional cost of these service improvements is about $500,000 in this budget year. We were able to identify sources of funding which will not require any tax, fee, or fare increase this year.
In addition, the city is creating a special committee, with citizen involvement, to look into more comprehensive overhaul and improvements to our transit system. The committee should be created later this summer with a December reporting deadline, so that its recommendations can be considered for next year's budget.
The city's total 2008-2009 budget of just under $400 million is funded with no increase to the property tax rate. The final budget as approved has not been officially posted online yet, but it should be available before too long at www.cityofws.org. If you can't wait to dig through every detail, there's always the paper copy route, down at City Hall.
New police chief sworn in, and related news: Winston-Salem's new Police Chief Scott Cunningham was sworn in to his new post on June 27. Chief Cunningham was selected after a national search gave City Manager Lee Garrity a slate of strong candidates from which to choose. Chief Cunningham brings both personal skill and valuable diverse experience from his service as assistant chief for operations in Tampa, Florida; and chief in Cary, NC. His challenges here will include reviewing our police patrol deployment systems (more on this below), dealing with gang-related issues, addressing diversity concerns, and completing the modernization of our criminal investigations resources and processes. He will enjoy the opportunity to come into a fundamentally solid department and make it even more effective.
My thanks go also to retiring Chief Pat Norris, with whom I have enjoyed working throughout her tenure as chief. Chief Norris retires after an outstanding 30–year career with the Winston-Salem Police Department. During her four years as chief, she provided steady leadership in a transitional period. Chief Norris helped to reassure concerned citizens of our commitment to fair treatment of all; reassure her fellow police officers of our community's respect and appreciation for them; and begin the implementation of procedural reforms that will serve our community, police, and the causes of justice and community safety in general. Chief Norris later this summer will also begin a new challenge, still here in Winston-Salem, as Chief of Police at Winston-Salem State University.
As most of us know, we have seen a troubling rise in robberies and home break-ins citywide over the past year. The causes of such problems always go well beyond the mechanics of law enforcement. (It's no coincidence that this rise in property crimes comes at a time of deepening national economic distress.) However, the Police Department's strategy of intensified patrols of identified "hot spots" has produced good short-term results in targeted areas. One of the things the new chief will study is whether systematic changes in patrol deployment systems can provide an increased crime preventive effect.
Residents of Ardmore and West End neighborhoods should be particularly pleased by another recent development concerning home break-ins: The person believed responsible for possibly dozens of home break-ins and larcenies in those and nearby neighborhoods has been arrested and is in jail under a high bond. Within the Southwest Ward, break-ins on Craig, Queen, and Magnolia streets are among the incidents which have been charged to this individual. Further related investigations are continuing. Good job, patrol and CID officers.
While I look forward to seeing further refinements and improvements in patrol deployments, please keep in mind that effective community policing needs active neighborhood involvement. Neighborhood Watch programs complement police patrols with alert citizen observation, reporting, and neighbor-to-neighbor communications. For more information about starting or participating in a Watch in your neighborhood, contact the WSPD Neighborhood Watch coordinators at 773-7944 or 773-7935.
Front yard parking limits to be considered: Over the past year or so, several city council members have received persistent complaints about parking on front lawns. Most complaints appear to relate to rental homes in which multiple tenants use the front lawns for regular parking. In response, some members of the council have proposed a new ordinance which would restrict parking on front lawns. Under the proposal, parking on front lawns would be limited to the area of "improved" (paved or graveled) driveways and parking pads. Driveways and parking pads would be limited to no more than 30% of the front lawn area of a dwelling. This proposal has been drafted by city staff and reviewed by committee, and is on the July 7 City Council meeting agenda for consideration and possible approval. Recognizing that this is a potentially controversial proposal, I requested that a public hearing opportunity be included at that time. If you want to weigh in, pro or con, regarding the restriction of parking on front lawns, please plan to attend and comment at the public hearing on Monday, July 7, during the City Council meeting which begins at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.