March 2012 Highlights

Public safety and budget items top my March report.

 

Joint Firearms Training Center opens:    The new Joint Firearms Training Center for the Winston-Salem Policy Department and Forsyth Sheriff's Department opened in March. This modern facility includes indoor firing ranges and classrooms. It will eliminate the need for training trips to a range in Thomasville, and permit officers to re-qualify on their departmental firearms two to four times annually instead of just once. This kind of increased training is needed to maintain Winston-Salem's position of having one of the best professional police departments in the nation. While we all hope that our officers never have to use their firearms, it's our responsibility to see that they are as safe and effective as humanly possible when they do.

 

Metals theft action sought:    Winston-Salem shares in a national problem of increasing incidents of theft of copper and other valuable metals. These thefts especially hit vacant homes and other properties and unsecured outdoor items such as air conditioning units. This not only victimizes homeowners, churches, and other property owners, but can also create other severe safety hazards. I have seen a residential block in the Southwest Ward blocked by fire trucks on a weekend morning after an overnight theft of copper piping left an uncontrolled natural gas leak in its wake. In March, the city council approved a resolution asking the N.C. General Assembly to consider legislation which would require that secondary metal recyclers be licensed in a manner similar to pawn shops, and increase penalties for dealing in stolen metals. This could reduce incidents of this crime by cutting off avenues for disposing of stolen metals and making it easier to catch perpetrators.

 

Coliseum, stadium sales discussed:    As I reported in my February update, the city council is discussing the possible sale of two of our major public assembly facilities, Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum and Bowman Gray Stadium. As is typical of such facilities, both of these operate at a substantial annual loss of expenses over revenues. However, city ownership is not the only option available for responsible operation of such facilities which primarily serve to host large revenue-producing sporting and entertainment events. There is interest from two of our major universities in possible ownership. Wake Forest University and Winston-Salem State University already use the coliseum and the stadium, respectively, for home basketball and football games and practices. A successful sale of these facilities could save Winston-Salem taxpayers approximately $1.6 million annually in combined net operation and debt service costs. I strongly favor negotiations to pursue this possibility, as do most of my council colleagues.

 

Budget clouds darken:    If the city is able to successfully negotiate sale of these two public assembly facilities, the benefit to our budget will be extremely timely. The city manager has reported this month that the picture for property tax revenues over the coming two years looks even bleaker than previously thought. The latest projections from the Forsyth County Tax Office indicate a likely larger drop in county-wide tax base following revaluation than originally projected. Although the manager's recommended budget will not be finalized until later this spring, in light of the negative projections he is already recommending that the city consider delaying a bond referendum until 2014.

 

Fuel conservation measures:    One of the other factors negatively affecting city budget projections for next year is the rising cost of fuel. The city has previously taken steps to control fuel usage, including our current policy requiring the examination of all city vehicle purchases to ensure that we're selecting only the most fuel-efficient alternatives among those vehicles that will serve the needed uses. In addition, the city manager has this month ordered fuel conservation measures to achieve a 5% reduction in city government fuel usage. These include no-idling, efficient routing, carpooling, and other department-specific measures that will be monitored on a monthly basis.

 

Youth Police Academy:    It's time to apply for the summer session of the Winston-Salem Police Department's Youth Police Academy. This program is offered to young men and women ages 16 to 18, who are interested in a career in law enforcement. It will be held the week of June 25-29 at the Public Safety Center. The curriculum covers subjects such as police field operations, criminal investigations, and the training provided to incoming new officers. The youth academy is free.

Applications will be accepted until May 18. Applications are available at all local high school guidance offices and online at www.wspd.org.  More information is also available from 773-7935.

 

Fair Housing grant:    Winston-Salem's Human Relations Department this month received a $53,000 federal grant through the Fair Housing Assistance Program to help provide public education and outreach on the new fair housing guidelines from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development. The guidelines apply federal anti-discrimination law, and are intended to ensure that housing opportunities are open to all families, regardless of sexual orientation or other prohibited discriminatory factors. Among the newly emphasized goals is to ensure that there is no housing discrimination against victims of domestic violence. More information is available from the city's Human Relations Department at wandea@cityofws.org

 

National League of Cities conference:    I participated in the National League of Cities conference in Washington during March. As one of the newly elected members of the NLC national board of directors, I was kept constantly on the run for four days, with meetings ranging from 7 a.m. until deep into the evening. A particular focus this year was the re-authorization of the federal surface transportation program, which helps plan and finance most transportation systems around the nation: roads, highways, bridges, rail, bus systems, and even sidewalks and greenways. This is a critical source of assistance for many of the mobility and safety improvement projects being planned and built in Winston-Salem, as well as our road and bridge maintenance and public transit system operation. I had the opportunity to consult with city colleagues from around the nation on this key topic, as well as speak with Sen. Kay Hagan and other representatives' staff members on how the programs serve Winston-Salem and North Carolina. I was also among the NLC leaders receiving a White House briefing on small business assistance programs and national economic projection updates. I will put this information to work on both the NLC board and Winston-Salem-specific program planning.

 

Great Winston-Salem Cleanup:    Finally this month, don't forget that this year's spring cleanup of city streams and other neighborhood areas will be held Saturday, April 21, at locations around our city. For more information, go to www.kwsb.cityofws.org or email georges@cityofws.org

 

That's my report for March. As always, you are welcome to email me at danbesse@danbesse.org with comments or questions. Thanks!