January went out with a "whump" as a second heavy snowfall of the season socked in the city.
Snow daze: A second heavy snowfall (the first was in December) blanketed Winston-Salem for the final weekend in January. Coupled with widespread minor flooding following a torrential rain earlier in the month, January was a month for weather-related stressors on city services. I received a number of calls related to stormwater management problems earlier in the month. Given the volume of snow (more than 5" accumulation) and extremely low temperatures through the weekend, residential streets, driveways, and backyards will likely continue to be a mess for the first several days of February.
Please check the city website, www.cityofws.org, this week for updates on how sanitation service schedules may be affected. Also, in general after winter weather, I encourage residents to minimize driving until streets have been cleared. Since our part of the country rarely has snow this heavy, we don't purchase equipment and hire staff to the scale which would be needed for immediate clearance of all neighborhood streets. Thanks for your patience; it helps keep our tax rates low.
Lockland Avenue traffic calming: The long-planned Lockland Avenue traffic calming project is finally underway. Street surface milling began in January, with construction to be completed over the next month. Drivers using Lockland should please be alert for construction crews during this time, and be aware that you will need to keep your speed down on this street thereafter. After a full engineering study of options and consultation with Lockland residents, the project was designed to include strategically placed curb "bulb outs" and center islands on the stretch between Academy Street and Silas Creek Parkway. As with other traffic calming projects, the purpose is to persuade impatient or incautious drivers that they must take the street more slowly, for their own safety. Weather issues (such as the snow) may slow the completion of construction somewhat.
Business 40 closure: The state Dept. of Transportation (DOT) has announced that it will pursue repairs to the bridges across Business 40 through downtown Winston-Salem through a two-year complete closure of the affected section (4th Street bridge through Church Street bridge). Work will begin no sooner than 2015, and could be delayed further by state budget limitations. DOT has pledged to work with the city on financing and completing surface street and intersection improvements designed to deal with local bypass traffic before the Business 40 work itself begins. Traffic model studies show that little additional traffic should be added to streets in the Southwest Ward by the temporary closure.
Budget early outlook: City Council members were briefed in January on the early outlook for the upcoming budget year. The picture at this stage looks somber, as local sales tax revenues are recovering slowly following the severe national recession of 2008-2009. Expect to see another tightly constrained budget for the fiscal year beginning July 2010.
In some relevant good news, Winston-Salem's careful fiscal management continues to earn our city top ratings from the major bond ranking services. Standard & Poor, Fitch, and Moody all rank Winston-Salem bonds as AAA investments. That's very important to holding down costs on city bonds for capital improvements (transportation, water and sewer, public safety, etc.).
Gang prevention efforts: Winston-Salem and Forsyth County are aware of the serious issue of youth gangs and are working on steps to combat the problem. In early January, U.S. Rep. Mel Watt announced that $450,000 had been included in the U.S. Justice Department's appropriations budget for this year to assist local gang-intervention and prevention efforts here. City and county officials had successfully lobbied in December for the funding.
This assistance comes in addition to work already underway by the Winston-Salem Police Department, which now has a special gang unit dedicated to helping prevent, investigate and address gang-related crime. Local law enforcement and youth assistance agencies also held a series of outreach and educational events during the last week in January, titled "Gang Awareness Week".
Other continuing crime issues: The Police Department is aware of and working on the citywide spike in home break-ins. In this effort, active neighborhood crime watch groups are especially helpful in prevention education and reporting suspicious behavior that can help result in more rapid response.
Police are also aware of the recent widely-circulated alerts regarding reports of aggressive solicitors in retail parking areas on Stratford and Hanes Mall Boulevard. They have the descriptions and are looking for the individual reported. If you are approached by any aggressive solicitor on the street or in a private parking area, please call the police immediately, with as complete a description of the individual's appearance and behavior as possible.
Free flower bulbs: In late January, Keep Winston-Salem Beautiful received a shipment of more than 500,000 donated flower bulbs. These bulbs are available to individuals and groups to plant in Winston-Salem in public areas such as parks, schools, along streets, and in other areas visible to the public. (As always, permission is needed before planting on public or someone else's property.) The bulbs are available on a first-come, first-served basis so long as they last. For more information, contact Keep Winston-Salem Beautiful through CityLink at 727-8000, email to George Stilphen at firstname.lastname@example.org, or online at www.kwsb.cityofws.org.
Citizens Police Academy: Finally this month, the Winston-Salem Police Department is accepting applications for the spring session of the Citizens' Police Academy, which will begin March 16. This is a 13-week program which offers citizens a close look into how policing works in Winston-Salem. Classes meet Tuesdays from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., and include a mix of classroom and hands-on training. The program is designed to help increase informed citizens, and is not a job-training or job-application program. To apply for the class, call the WSPD at 773-7788 or visit the WSPD website, www.wspd.org. The class is limited to 30 students and applications must be received by March 1.
That's my report for January. Weather notwithstanding, I hope that your new year is off to a great start.