February 2009 Highlights

Winston-Salem is preparing to take advantage of funding available for city needs through the recently-adopted federal economic stimulus bill.

Economic stimulus bill opportunities:     Winston-Salem city staff and elected officials are working now on proposals to take advantage of money in the federal stimulus bill to meet identified city needs.  With the help of allies within the National League of Citizens, we've been briefed on the types of assistance available, and have initial estimates of the amounts which we can look to obtain.  By law, the funds are targeted at projects which can be ready to go within 120 days of Feb. 17.  Among the areas in which we expect to seek funding, and the estimated amounts available (to the extent that is known at this point), are the following:

  • Local transportation system needs (including intersection improvements, sidewalks, bike facilities, and greenways), a substantial part of $8.2 million.
  • Public transit (WSTA bus system), estimated $3.8 million.
  • Community Development Block Grants (primarily housing assistance), estimated $489,000.
  • Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants (energy efficiency, renewable energy, conservation projects), competitive grants, amounts will vary by quality of application.
  • Homelessness prevention, estimated $789,000.

I should emphasize that these are preliminary estimates only, subject to correction.  They're listed here to give you an idea of the kinds of programs and sums we're looking at, and why so much attention is being devoted to these opportunities.

Budget savings measures:     At the same time we look at stimulus opportunities, we're also looking for ways to control local spending.  City employees have already been forewarned that the budget probably cannot include merit pay increases this year.  Most hiring has been frozen since last fall.  Most recently, an early retirement incentive plan has been offered to about 100 employees who meet years-of-service eligibility standards.  The city hopes to be able to avoid any staff layoffs.

Hybrid cars and fuel economy:     On February 16, the city council approved another step to reduce long-term operating costs, by approving the purchase of 10 additional gas-electric hybrid cars to replace old cars aging out of the city fleet.  (That's in addition to the hybrid buses approved last month.)  This continues our plan to gradually replace our city vehicle fleet with more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Crime prevention:      I've previously reported on the revised police patrol deployment plan, in which the number of patrol "beats" has been increased, and the average size of patrol areas reduced, in order to speed response times and increase patrol officer familiarity with their assigned neighborhoods.  Many of you will have seen or heard accounts of a daytime armed home invasion in our ward this month.  Fortunately, there were no serious injuries, and the suspected perpetrators were captured within minutes of the crime.  Police were close to the scene in part because a neighbor had already made a suspicious-persons report, even before the 911 emergency call went in on the crime itself.  This helps to underscore how active neighborhood watch efforts can help boost the effectiveness of our police.  If you are not already involved in a neighborhood watch program, this would be a good time to start.  The WSPD neighborhood watch office number is 773-7944, and I am always happy to help work with groups interested in getting a watch started.

Sign ordinance clarified:     Following a number of complaints last year over confusing interpretations of our city sign ordinance, staff started work on possible clarifications.  The principal problem was uncertainty in how far back temporary signs had to be set from the street.  These signs typically include realty signs, political yard signs, and other similar signs.

     In theory, private signs are illegal to post in the public right-of-way.  However, the width of the right of way will vary on private lots.  As a result, some fines were issued to parties who weren't aware that they had posted a sign over the lines, and interpretations were inconsistent in some cases.  That needed to be remedied.

     At our February 16 meeting, the city council adopted a standard clarification of how to apply the right-of-way sign-posting restriction on private lots.  To be out of the right-of-way for sign-posting purposes, the sign must be behind the sidewalk, utility pole, fire hydrant, or utility meter—whichever is furthest from the street's edge or curb.  If none of those is on the lot in question, the sign must be at least six feet from the curb (or paved surface edge, when there's no curb).

     Signs posted on utility poles, at intersections, in parks, or in medians are still illegal, regardless of distance from the street.  The fine is $50 per sign for all illegally posted temporary signs.  As before, the purpose of the restrictions and the enforcement efforts is to keep our neighborhoods and thoroughfares cleaner and more attractive.