Thank you to the people of the Southwest Ward for the opportunity to represent you again. I expect this to be a challenging and exciting four years in Winston-Salem.
Challenges ahead: There's no doubt that we've got our work cut out for us in our city over the next four years. Our national economy is only slowly pulling out of the worst recession since the second world war, and that's reflected locally. Unemployment is elevated, but local tax revenues are down, so funding for economic development efforts is limited. Local crime rates are down from last year but still high compared to two years ago—again reflecting that tight economy. This is an especially challenging fiscal environment in which to address our public safety concerns, and continue building the infrastructure (especially transportation) necessary for our economy, while keeping taxes low and overall service quality high. At the same time, I am determined to continue attending to the overall improvement of our neighborhoods and our community attractiveness and quality of life. As the saying goes, if it was easy, everybody would have already done it. I look forward to working together with our active neighborhoods and concerned citizens to get this tough job done as well as possible.
Dell incentives have been repaid in full: Just in case you didn't catch the bright spot news concerning the unfortunate premature closing of the Dell plant, let me confirm it. Winston-Salem and Forsyth County have already received, three months early, repayment of the $22 million we invested in site preparation, infrastructure, and incentive payments for the Dell project. Much of that must go to retiring the bonds which financed the investment, but a substantial amount will remain to be invested elsewhere. Both the City Council and County Commissioners will be considering over the next few months how best to put that money to use for the public.
Green jobs will help fuel the recovery: Speaking of economic development opportunities, Forsyth County based companies will receive two of the 18 grants recently announced by the N.C. Dept. of Commerce's Green Business Fund. Cumulatively, these 18 grants are putting about $1.3 million in federal Recovery Act funds to work on alternative energy development projects with commercial potential. In Forsyth County, the two funded projects are the Algaen Corporation's development of a process which uses animal wastewater in the production of biodiesel fuel; and PureLux Inc.'s commercialization of an energy-efficient lighting system and fixtures.
Bicycle & pedestrian projects: On the topic of improving community quality of life, here is an opportunity of special interest to many in our community. It involves helping to direct federal funding that is available to our urban area for high-priority bicycle, greenway, and pedestrian projects. The Winston-Salem Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) has up to $2.4 million tentatively available for allocation to greenway, pedestrian and bicycle projects to be built during the next two fiscal years. Projects must be submitted by a local government within the Winston-Salem MPO area, and a 20% funding match from the sponsoring local government is required. The MPO area includes all of Forsyth County and parts of Davidson, Davie, and Stokes counties.
The public information meeting nearest to the Southwest Ward will be held Monday, December 14, from 5 to 8 p.m., at the Central YMCA, 775 West End Blvd., Winston-Salem. These meetings are drop-in activities, so that interested citizens can come, get information, and leave comments at any time during the session.
NLC conference connects city to latest opportunities: During mid-November, I spent four days representing the City of Winston-Salem at the National League of Cities (NLC) annual conference, held this year in San Antonio, Texas. These NLC conferences are always among the best chances we have to gather information on opportunities for our city. This year, I brought back city action recommendations on grants available for energy projects and parks development; pedestrian safety improvement ideas; economic development opportunities in renewable energy; and other info. I've circulated recommendations and follow-up requests to the appropriate city staff. I can send a copy of my more detailed report to any interested constituents—just email me with the request.
"Change of use" steps approved: While funding for infrastructure is critical for our local economy, we also have to attend to regulatory barriers that can unnecessarily impede positive business development. At our November 16 meeting, the city council approved changes to the zoning code that we believe may be helpful in this regard. In particular, we approved the consolidation of 12 commercial zoning uses into four broader categories. Of these changes, probably the most significant is the consolidation of several types of "office" use into a single category. This should help facilitate re-use of vacant office buildings for other office uses with similar traffic and other impacts, without the unproductive expense of going through the full zoning change process. Most retail uses were also consolidated into a single retail zoning use. We did hold out motorcycle dealerships as a separate zoning use. That was done to avoid the problem of loud test-driving in "neighborhood business" zones.
Action delayed on non-residential building and structure code: On November 16, the city council heard public comments on the proposed new Nonresidential Building and Structure Code. As I reported in October, the North Carolina state legislature recently gave cities and towns the authority to address problem conditions and repair needs for non-residential structures. In order to use limited staff time wisely, deal with the most severe problems first, and avoid disruption to ongoing businesses, the proposed new Winston-Salem nonresidential code is drafted to apply only to vacant nonresidential structures. The purpose is to help get repairs or demolition of dilapidated vacant buildings. At the hearing and during council discussion afterwards, there were viewpoints expressed that the proposed draft is either too intrusive, or not broad enough. In the absence of a consensus, the council referred the issue back to committee for further deliberations.
"City of Winston-Salem University": 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 December 31, and the classes start in late January. For more details, see www.cityofws.org/Home/Departments/MarketingAndCommunications/CWSU/Articles/CWSUniversity