July 2010 Highlights

In July, we received good news for local job opportunities.

Caterpillar picks Winston-Salem: After months of working on persuading American heavy-machinery manufacturer Caterpillar to locate its new assembly plant here, the city of Winston-Salem and state of North Carolina announced the win. We have aced out other finalists Montgomery, Alabama, and Spartanburg, South Carolina, to get the $400 million, 500-job plant built here. N.C. Governor Bev Perdue came to town this Friday to make the announcement.

Drawing private industrial development of this scale is strongly positive news for our local economy as we come through a rough economic period. In addition, I want to emphasize that we won the project with a responsible package of incentives that will pay for themselves, and do not divert tax revenues from other public services. The incentives package will also contain the same strong “claw-back” provisions that completely protected local taxpayers when the Dell computer plant closed prematurely. In fact, we're using a portion of the Dell refund to help draw in the Caterpillar plant. Under the agreement with Caterpillar, those funds will be repaid over the first five years of plant operation, to go back into the city's Economic Development Fund and leverage more local opportunities. More jobs, responsibly financed—this is an entirely positive deal for our community.

Transition to curbside pickup: As I reported in June, one of the major cost-cutting measures included in this year's budget is the elimination (as of this October) of most back-yard trash pickup. The city has started the transition process with public education efforts about the change. For that minority of households which had not already switched voluntarily to curbside pickup, the new rollout carts will be delivered automatically between now and October. Until you get the new cart, continue to use your old cans.

I've received a number of inquiries about options for dealing with the old cans themselves once the new carts are received. Here are some suggestions:

  • After you get your rollout cart, you can leave your old cans at the curb on collection day with a note asking that they be taken away.
  • You can use the old cans for garden composting.
  • You can put the old cans out at your next yard sale.

Please remember that the curbside collection rules as adopted contain an exception for homes in which no permanent resident is capable of rolling the new cart to and from the curb without physical hardship. That will protect those citizens who are truly physically limited in their capacities. They need only fill out and return a city form certifying that fact.

The savings from this change will be phased in over the next few years. In this upcoming fiscal year, the savings will only be an estimated $176,000, due to the costs of buying enough additional rollout carts to cover the households which don't have them yet. In future years, however net annual taxpayer savings are expected to reach about $500,000 per year.

Duke Energy's tree-trimming: I hate seeing the Asplundh trucks rolling into any neighborhood I represent, because I know that they will soon be followed by reduced greenery and furious homeowners. The more nicely tree-lined the streets start out, the madder are the comments that come to me. That's been taking place over the last few weeks in parts of Ardmore, as Duke Energy's tree-trimming contractors clear out limbs and trees along a major circuit route in that area.

This is an issue which has been of concern to me and several other city council members for several years, and we've worked on it as effectively as possible, under the limits of state law. Under North Carolina state law, cities have no authority to limit or regulate Duke's tree-trimming practices. Our staff does the best it can to monitor and moderate the cutting of street trees within the city's rights-of-way. Staff and council members have met with Duke representatives and discussed our concerns. Council committees have had Duke people in to public meetings to hear objections and answer questions. They listen; they're polite; but we cannot force them to change their standards.

Duke's bottom line priority in trimming near their power lines is to protect the lines from storm damage. Behind that top goal, they also try to stay within arborist technical guidelines that will protect the physical health of trees trimmed, but they also choose to cut back far enough that their crews don't have to come back to that route for another 15 years. It's a money-saver, but it doesn't do much for the aesthetics of the streets they pass through.

Homeowners with concerns, questions, or damage complaints about the current trimming underway now can contact the Asplundh crew foreman at 336-464-5134. Concerns or questions about the broader policy can be sent to Duke's regional representative at Jimmy.Flythe@duke-energy.com. Beyond that, the only ones who can require Duke to modify its policies would be the N.C. state legislature. If you're aggravated enough about the issue, you may wish to call your state representatives.

New graffiti-control ordinances: At our July 19 meeting, the city council gave final approval to two new ordinances intended to help in the control of graffiti on public surfaces and private buildings. The ordinances do two main things:

  • prohibit the possession of spray paint by minors in designated public places such as parks, playgrounds, and recreational facilities, and within 50 feet of underpasses, bridge abutments, culverts, and similar infrastructure; and
  • ban the sale of spray paint to minors unaccompanied by their parent or guardian.

I confess to doubts about how effective this particular set of ordinance changes will prove in dealing with this problem. However, police representatives supported it as another tool in their box of options, and some of my fellow council members representing areas with the most severe current graffiti problems appealed to us to give it a chance. Under those circumstances, I'm ready to give it a try. You can read more details on the new ordinances at http://www.cityofws.org/Home/Departments/MarketingAndCommunications/NewsArchive/News2010/Articles/SprayPaintSignForStoresAvailableOnline.

Volunteer opportunities on city boards and commissions: If you have time and community commitment to spare, the mayor is looking for qualified candidates to nominate for city boards and commissions such as the Human Relations Commission, Recreation and Parks Commission, Winston-Salem Transit Authority, Zoning Board of Adjustment, and more. For details, see http://www.cityofws.org/Home/Departments/MarketingAndCommunications/NewsArchive/News2010/Articles/MayorSeeksApplicantsForBoardsAndCommissions.

More green vehicles: In our continuing effort to make Winston-Salem a greener and cleaner community, on July 19 we also gave final approval to an application for a grant to fund cleaner city fleet vehicles. If approved, the Clean Fuel Advanced Technology Project Grant from the N.C. Solar Center would fund the purchase of three more compressed natural gas vehicles for the city fleet.

Abusive towing practices: From time to time, I've received complaints about abusive practices by towing companies working under contract with various private businesses around town. Those who have been concerned about this issue should be pleased to hear that the state legislature this summer approved a bill which places new limits on how far a car can be towed, requires the posting of towing company contact information at the location from which it is towed, and places other limits on the companies' financial practices. For details, see http://projects.newsobserver.com/under_the_dome/tow_bill_gets_final_approval.

National Night Out this Tuesday, August 3: This Tuesday, August 3, is the annual National Night Out around the country, celebrating the partnerships between police and neighborhood crime watch groups in boosting neighborhood safety. From 6 p.m. on that night, I'll be shuttling between neighborhood watch potlucks and other events all over the Southwest Ward. I hope that I don't get pulled for speeding...