June 2011 Highlights

In June, the city council approved Winston-Salem's 2011-2012 city budget.

Budget balanced without tax increases or service cuts:      The city council on June 20 adopted a $390.8 million budget for the City of Winston-Salem's 2011-2012 fiscal year. The budget retains the same property tax rate as last year while avoiding cuts in public services. There are no new user fees. There is a small net reduction in city staff except for the addition of 14 new police officers to serve as school resource officers at high and middle schools within the city. Those new positions are primarily paid for by the school system.

Of the budget, about $64 million is for capital projects. Nearly 80 per cent of that amount is for water/sewer, stormwater, and solid waste disposal facility improvements. More details on the budget can be found here: http://www.cityofws.org/Home/Departments/Budget/Articles/Budget.

Cloverdale pedestrian safety project:      Funding to start implementing intersection and pedestrian safety improvements along Cloverdale Avenue is included in the Winston-Salem city capital improvements budget for 2012. Thanks go to Ardmore Neighborhood Association president Lonnie Clark for helping ensure that this inclusion was formally clarified during the city budget adoption meeting on June 20.

Greenway groundbreaking:      Anyone who's heard me talking about them over the past decade knows that adding greenways to Winston-Salem is my favorite city project. On that topic, I'm delighted to report that in June we finally started construction on the long-delayed Brushy Fork Greenway, which will ultimately connect the Salem Creek/Salem Lake trails with Winston Lake Park and the northeastern quadrant of Winston-Salem. Greenways--especially ones which make such connections--provide both safe biking transit options and great running and walking recreation. We're still working on getting phase one of the Little Creek Greenway started ASAP, as well as on other greenway additions. If you saw the newspaper coverage of the groundbreaking this week, you'll have read about some of the red tape challenges we have in getting these projects going.

Salem Woods recognized:      The revitalized Salem Woods Neighborhood Association received a recognition award from the Neighbors for Better Neighborhoods annual conference on June 4. Congrats to Salem Woods!

Development review committee:      Continuing our efforts to strengthen our economic climate, the city council on June 20 approved creation of a Development Review-Related Advisory Committee. The committee will be appointed by the city council on recommendations from the mayor, and will consist of citizen volunteers with experience in various business fields affected by city permits and regulations. The committee will work with city staff to identify points of confusion or unnecessary delay in the review of permit and development applications. It will then make suggestions for better coordination, clarification and streamlining for city council review.

In one example of a recently implemented change to help small business projects in Winston-Salem, the Inspections Department is now offering a new commercial building evaluation service. The service will offer an advance review of building space and determine what changes (if any) would be needed to comply with building and other codes and zoning rules for that space to be used for a new business purpose. For example, the space may have been retail sales and a potential buyer may be interested in opening a restaurant there. For information on the new service, including fees and procedures, contact Charles Norton at 727-2422 or charlesn@cityofws.org

Historic preservation:      Winston-Salem has a well-deserved reputation as a city that cares about our history. We have widely-known public attractions in Old Salem and Bethabara, restored public historic landmarks like City Hall, and a variety of National Historic Register entries including both individual buildings and neighborhoods (including Ardmore in the Southwest Ward). We're also one of a number of North Carolina cities which encourage private owners to restore and maintain historic properties through a local historic landmark program.

Through the historic landmark program, we leverage the preservation of many more historic properties than we could possibly afford to protect through direct public purchase and maintenance. It requires very little in terms of direct public investment. One of the program's most important tools is the partial property tax deferral which N.C. state law provides for designated historic properties. That deferral is designed to encourage owners to maintain the properties in good shape and their historic condition by offsetting part of the extra costs of doing so. The landmark designation comes with special restrictions on the owners' right to make changes to their property, and if they lose the landmark designation they can be required to pay the deferred taxes to the city and county. The standards are high for property eligibility for historic designation, including an architectural review and recommendation by the Forsyth County Historic Resources Commission. A few more than 100 properties in Winston-Salem have received the landmark status designation.

The historic landmark program periodically becomes the subject of debate when an additional property is proposed for designation. That happened this month when local media coverage on one nominated property played up its relatively high value, out of context with the purpose of the program and how eligibility is determined.

I think that our city gets good value for a relatively modest total investment in this program. The presence of recognized historic landmark properties in good condition boosts the value of surrounding neighborhoods (adding to our tax base). Having these historic homes and other buildings kept in good condition in their original forms also provides a valuable amenity for our entire city. They're unique windows into our local history, a connection that is too easy to lose when there are no visible physical reminders of those earlier eras and events.

I've asked our Historic Resources staff to study and report on the estimated financial return to our city from the landmark program, and compare that to our total revenue foregone from it. If it does not in fact more than pay for itself, we can consider adjustments to the program as a whole. In addition, I've asked that the staff compile a comprehensive list of designated properties, their locations, and their historic significance, and consider how we can further boost their visibility and value to the community.

Independence Day celebrations: The Ardmore Neighborhood Association will hold its annual Independence Day potluck and kids' bicycle parade this Monday, July 4, from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Shelter #1 in Miller Park. (Neighborhood associations in the Southwest Ward are always invited to let me know of your major open events.)

For all my constituents throughout the Southwest Ward, I hope that you will be able to take advantage of neighborhood events to enjoy a community-friendly American birthday celebration this July 4!