December 2009 Highlights

In December, the city started discussions on how to best put the Dell incentives refund to use for job development and economic security.

Economic development and jobs:     The city council this month began discussing the options for use of the Dell incentives refund.  There is a general consensus that at least some of that money needs to go toward local job and economic development efforts, as we work to pull our area out of recession.  At the same time, I and others also understand that some of the funds must be put aside as a cushion against another year of likely shortfall in local tax revenues.  We coming out of the recession, but unfortunately both job creation and tax revenues are among the factors that tend to recover most slowly.

     For that part of the refund that we can afford to invest in new development efforts, the council reviewed several possible options, including these:

  • Small business job creation incentive program;
  • Economic development recruitment and expansion fund;
  • "Revitalizing Urban Commercial Areas" (RUCA) expansion; (RUCAs are existing commercial areas which have decayed over time.  By giving these areas an infrastructure facelift, this program helps improve neighborhoods and increase economic activity within the city.);
  • Special technology company expansion program; (This program would be designed to boost the recruitment and expansion of our city's growing biotechnology and nano-technology industry.)

     For these and other possible projects discussed, I believe that several factors are crucial.  Programs need to be designed to produce sustainable development over time, not short-term make-work jobs that go away after a few months.  Projects helped also need to produce a net benefit for our local taxpayers.  In general, simply shuffling jobs and investment around from one local business to another doesn't help our community in the long run.  Within that general rule, though, there can be value in encouraging development and economic activity especially within neighborhoods/areas that have gone into decline.  Helping those areas recover improves public safety, brings jobs and services where they're most needed, and ultimately strengthens our community as a whole.  Finally, helping develop promising new economic areas like biotech is critical for our long-term prosperity.  Lost jobs in our legacy manufacturing industries like textiles aren't coming back.  They have to be replaced in industries that will grow here over the long haul.

     The council should be able to start making investment decisions for these funds in early 2010. 

Parks and recreation funding:     Also in December, the council had the opportunity to approve bond funding for a good number of repairs and new projects in our city parks and recreation centers.  As always, we worked to include projects in all parts of our city.  Among the projects to be funded in the Southwest Ward area are the following: 

  • Playground renovation at Hanestown Park.  (Little Creek Park playground renovations are also scheduled this spring from another funding source.)
  • Pathways renovation at Miller Park.
  • Tennis courts resurfacing at Bolton Park and South Fork recreation center.
  • Little Creek Greenway, phase one, providing safe pedestrian/biking connections from the Atwood neighborhood to Little Creek Recreation Center and for both the Atwood and Salem Woods neighborhoods.

     These bonds were approved under what is known as "two-thirds" bond authority.  In sum, that means that a city can issue bonds for capital improvement needs in an amount up to two-thirds of the value of general city obligation bonds retired that year.  Under this process, the city general bond debt gradually diminishes over time.  The bonds can only be used for projects in the same category (such as parks and recreation) for which voters had earlier approved issuance of bonds.  Most of the capital project needs which the city could fund in this round were in the parks and recreation category, because that is the area for which the original bonds being retired were issued.  Eventually, as the voter-approved bond authority is exhausted, a city must hold another voter bond referendum in order to continue paying for capital project needs.  Winston-Salem's last general obligation bond referendum was in 2000.

Other bonds funding:     "Two-thirds" bonds were also approved for renovations to fire stations ($300,000), and street resurfacing (about $1.2 million). 

Cloverdale Avenue safety study:     Many of you may have seen the recent Journal article which featured the idea of a traffic circle at Miller and Cloverdale.  Relax—that was just one possible idea reviewed as part of a pedestrian and traffic safety study for the Cloverdale Avenue area more generally.  The whole study will be presented to the city council for review in early 2010.  No decisions have been made, and any major changes would clearly require much more public discussion.

Fire Department staffing:     During December, the council also approved application for a federal grant to improve Fire Department staffing levels.  If the grant is received, additional firefighter positions would improve response times for fire suppression and rescue efforts.  That additional firefighting capability should also help limit local fire insurance rates in our community.  If received, the grant would cover the first two years' costs of the increased firefighter staffing.  The city would need to pick up the costs after that.

Christmas tree recycling:     If you have a Christmas tree to take down this season, you have two easy options for recycling.  First, single-family homes can leave the trees on the curb for regular brush pickup.    Remember, this is still leaf pickup season through January, so many city crews are busy with that duty.  Regular brush pickup takes longer in the meantime.  If you don't want to wait for that (or if you live in an apartment building), you can also take your tree to a drop off site at one of several city recreation centers.  Each drop off site will have a sign indicating where trees can be place.  Drop off sites nearest the Southwest Ward drop include Little Creek Recreation Center, and the Hanes Park tennis courts parking lot.

     Please also remember—whether you leave the tree at the curb or take it to a drop off point, all lights, decorations, stands, and nails must be removed first.

     Speaking of leaf and brush collection schedules, remember that you track where they are by checking the city website:  www.cityofws.org/Home/Departments/Sanitation/Articles/Sanitation

Fundraising scam:      The Winston-Salem Police Department this week warned city residents to beware of a telephone fundraising scam using the names of the late Sgts. Howard Plouff and Mickey Hutchens to raise money for something called the "Police Protective Association".  The department warned that it has no connection to these calls and that it never solicits funds by telephone for police memorial projects.  Don't be fooled into giving credit card information to phone scammers!  Legitimate memorial funds for the families of both Sgt. Plouff and Sgt. Hutchens have been established at Wachovia Bank by the Police Benevolent Foundation.  Contributions can be made at Wachovia branches and will go to the families.  No account number is needed to make a donation.

"City of Winston-Salem University":     Finally this month, here's one more reminder:  Would you be interested in learning in greater detail about how the city budget is put together and how city departments are run?  Then the "City of Winston-Salem University" (CWSU) class may be for you.  There is no charge for the 11-evening class. The application deadline for the next class is today (December 31) at 5 p.m. and may be made online.  Classes start in late January.  For details, see www.cityofws.org/Home/Departments/MarketingAndCommunications/CWSU/Articles/CWSUniversity