June 2009 Highlights

In June, the City Council adopted Winston-Salem's annual balanced budget, without public service cuts and without a tax increase.

City adopts balanced budget:     I'm very pleased to report that despite the tough economic times we're facing, the City Council on June 15 was able to adopt a balanced budget without public service cuts, layoffs, or tax increases.  We were able to do that because our city management, with council oversight and approval, started proactive efforts last fall to prepare for the tightened revenue picture we knew would be coming this year.  Because of the global economic recession, budgets are having to be reined in everywhere, and our city is no exception.  In fact, our total spending for 2009-2010 is budgeted at $25 million less than 2008-2009.  In order to offset last year's tax revaluation, the city property tax rate will actually drop from 49 cents to 46.75 cents. 

     A hiring freeze on new staff continues (with exceptions for public safety and sanitation employees as necessary, and a few grant-funded posts).  A number of vacant positions are being eliminated, and a number of other employees were offered and took advantage of early retirement incentives.  There will be no city employee pay raises this year, but there will be no layoffs either.  Through careful budgeting and economies, we will be able to continue our fire, police, sanitation, water and sewer, streets and transportation, inspections and planning, parks and recreation, and other important city services undiminished.  My thanks go to all our city employees who are hanging in there and doing their usual good jobs in this tough economic environment.

Jobs and economic development:     When the economy is down, as now, this part of our jobs in local government becomes even more important than usual.  One of my responsibilities on the City Council is to represent Winston-Salem on the board of directors for the Piedmont Triad Partnership (PTP), our regional organization promoting job growth and quality economic development in the Piedmont Triad.  This board meets monthly to exercise oversight and make policy and budgeting decisions for PTP.  PTP's job is to help recruit new industry for our region, and to encourage efforts that will help our local businesses and job base grow.

     As part of that work, for the past three years PTP has implemented a major federal workforce development program grant for our region.  Our targeted "industry clusters" include health care, advanced manufacturing, and creative enterprises and the arts.  Over the past two years, we've approved many new specific workforce development projects to help local citizens get the training they need to fill expanding local job opportunities.  For example, during June two health care training projects were approved:

  • Forsyth Tech will get funding to develop a diploma Emergency Medical Technician Paramedic program, allowing paramedics to complete training requirements in just three semesters.
  • Davidson County Community College, just down the road for Winston-Salem residents, will get funding to develop curriculum for a new health care professional—Care Transition Coordinator—to work in N.C. Community Care Network physician offices.  That's the kind of work that will both improve quality of care for patients, and save on care costs, by helping to ensure continuity of treatment and avoid patient relapses and complications. 

     Using a regional economic development approach makes us more competitive nationally than we would be by trying to keep all our economic efforts constrained by local jurisdictional lines.  In fact, our PTP has consistently ranked among the top ten most effective regional economic development organizations nationwide.

Baseball stadium debate and action:     Over the past month, I probably heard as many good suggestions for dealing with the stalled construction of the downtown baseball stadium as I have constituents on this email report list.  Most constituents from whom I heard wanted to get that project finished, but didn't want the solution to reward anyone responsible for creating the delays, and wanted to minimize risk to our public investments.  After two public comment sessions and a lot of negotiation, the city council unanimously approved a plan which we expect to achieve all those goals. 

     The plan approved will bring an additional $18 million in private investment and bank loans, as well as a $12.7 million bank loan to the city, to complete construction of the stadium this year.  Repayment of that city-secured loan will come out of revenues from the baseball team and stadium use, not from tax revenues.  Grant funds from other sources will also be included. 

     All of these new revenues will go directly to the costs of completing construction.  None will go to private investor profits, and none will go to pay off the developers.  The city will get title to the land under the stadium and other security, including solid control over any proposal to relocate the team.  The stadium will be used for concerts and other public events in addition to the baseball games.  No taxes are raised, and no new tax burden is anticipated.

     As many of you may already know, construction of the stadium stalled late last year during the worst period of national banking system instability.  The problem was triggered by the breakup of the sponsoring developers' partnership over private matters, and prolonged by the nationwide banking credit crisis.  I'm satisfied, based on the city's investigations, and those of the new bank backers of the project, that the remaining private developer/investors are responsible individuals, and not at fault for the problems which created the delays.

     To help guard against the development of future problems, and to oversee the completion and operation of the stadium, the city is appointing a Citizen Oversight Committee.  This committee will receive regular and frequent reports and financial statements during construction and after completion of the stadium.

Lockland Avenue traffic calming project approved:     After a lengthy process of neighborhood options discussion, engineering, and neighborhood approval, the Lockland Avenue traffic calming project has been approved.  The council on June 15 gave approval to the proposal, which will use curb bulbouts and a center island to slow speeding traffic along Lockland Avenue (which connects Silas Creek Parkway and Academy Street).  That section of Lockland is relatively narrow and winding, and is lined with houses and driveways, but is heavily traveled by traffic exceeding safe speeds.  The combination of those factors, and availability of a workable traffic "calming" design, made it a high priority for an engineered project.

Tree ordinance public hearing set:     At our June 1 meeting, the city council voted to send the draft tree conservation ordinance to formal public hearing in July.  At my recommendation, the council sent three versions forward for public comment:  the original version sent to public hearing by the Planning Board last October; the modified version recommended by the Planning Board in December; and a compromise version which I drafted with input from community "stakeholder" groups.  Since then, I've continued to talk with representatives of neighborhood, development, and conservation groups.  I hope to have a final compromise recommendation ready for discussion in July.  The public hearing, with public comment opportunity, is scheduled for the City Council meeting on Monday, July 20, beginning at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.