April 2013 Highlights

Police chief finalists, neighborhood street repaving, sidewalk construction, and budget savings are all in the news for April.

Police chief finalists:    With current Police Chief Scott Cunningham set to retire in June, Winston-Salem is well along in the process of considering candidates for our next chief. Under our Council/Manager system of local government, the decision on hiring important positions like department heads is made by the city manager. (The Council directly hires, supervises, and replaces only two employees: the city manager and the city attorney.) Therefore, the final hiring decision for the new chief will be made by City Manager Lee Garrity. However, as is our practice, he is seeking public input along the way. Previously, there was an organized public comment opportunity on the qualifications and characteristics most needed in the new chief. Now, there will be a public introduction and forum for the finalists for hiring consideration. City Manager Garrity will take the feedback from that session into account as part of his final hiring decision. The Police Chief Finalists Public Forum will be held Tuesday, May 21, 4 to 5:30 p.m. at City Hall. All interested Winston-Salem residents are invited to attend or watch on WSTV 13. (That's Channel 13 on Time Warner Cable and Channel 99 on AT&T U-verse, or online at http://winston-salem.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?publish_id=29.)


Ardmore streets repaving:    It's time for an overview update on the street repaving needs created by the Ardmore water/sewer utility lines renovation work. As residents and travelers through the neighborhood know, this utility work is a massive project being conducted over a period of several years. It's necessary preventive maintenance due to the age of the lines in a neighborhood now more than a century old. As the lines are checked and replaced, block by block, it leaves a lot of patched and rough streets in its wake.

To address the problem, I've asked that city staff do a comprehensive review of street conditions significantly affected by the utilities work, and adjust the city's street paving priority lists appropriately. In response, the assistant city manager in charge of overseeing the various public works departments (Utilities, Streets, Transportation, etc.) has developed a standard of review for when Utilities will be required to cover full repaving costs, instead of throwing resulting problems into the general street repaving pool. Under the new standard, we expect accelerated repaving to be charged to Utilities for much of Academy Street as well as parts of Ardsley, Brantley, Brent, Corona, Gales, Gaston, Hausman, Madison, Sunset, and Watson. Work on the area including Craig, Elizabeth, Melrose, Miller, Queen, and Westfield is still underway, but I expect parts of those streets will qualify for this approach as well.

I will press to have as much of that repaving work as possible be done during this year's paving season.

In the meantime, the area of current line renovation work between Elizabeth and Cloverdale should be completed this spring. The primary blocks being affected now are Melrose Street from Rosewood to Cloverdale, and the 2200 blocks of Elizabeth and Westfield. After this, the utilities project work is expected to move north of Ardmore for the remainder of this calendar year. I will continue to send out updates on planned street closures while this project is continuing. City Utilities engineer Scott Jones also can be reached for questions about particular closures, at scottj@cityofws.org.

Sidewalk and pedestrian safety projects update:   

The Healy Drive sidewalk project has now been completed. This project was initiated by requests from the senior citizens resident at Healy Towers, to provide a safe route to walk (or wheelchair roll) to their shopping and cafeteria favorites down the street. Since neighborhood residents were central to getting this project going, the city will hold a celebratory ribbon-cutting event for the "official" opening of the new Healy Drive sidewalk this Friday, May 3, at 3 p.m., near Healy Towers.

The Cloverdale Avenue pedestrian safety project (phase 1) received final approval from the city council at our April 15 meeting and is expected to begin construction in June. This work will add sidewalk along the north side of Cloverdale for the many apartment residents who walk to and from the bus stops or shopping centers there. It will also reconfigure the intersections of Oakwood/Cloverdale, Magnolia/Cloverdale, and Melrose/Cloverdale, to narrow and mark the pedestrian crossings for safety.

The southward extension of the Gales Avenue sidewalk from Ardsley Street to Gales Court is scheduled to start construction on May 1.


Recycling program budget savings:    The report is in on the first full year of the rollout-cart recycling program, and the news is good. The new system simultaneously increased collection of recyclable materials by 22%, and saved city taxpayers a net $800,000 in avoided costs for the year. The cost savings came from reducing collection frequency from weekly to biweekly (the larger carts have much more storage room), and the savings from using automated collection trucks rather than having to pick up and dump each small bin by hand. The increased collection is attributable to the relative ease of tossing all recyclable items into the cart rather than separating them, and rolling it out instead of carrying the bin. Better service for less cost--I love it when we can produce that combination.


Budget schedule:    The city is about to swing into the final stages of budget preparation for the fiscal year beginning July 1. There will be several opportunities for the public to listen in on the discussions and add your comments. First, the city manager's proposed budget will be finalized over the next three weeks and released May 23. The Finance Committee will begin reviewing it the following Thursday, May 30. There will be a formal public comment session before the Finance Committee on Thursday, June 6, at 7 p.m. at City Hall. Following several additional committee sessions, another formal public hearing will be held Monday, June 17, during the City Council meeting beginning at 7 p.m. Any final amendment proposals will be considered at that time before a final vote is scheduled for consideration at that meeting. Throughout that time, of course, you are welcome to send comments and suggestions directly to me.


Coliseum, stadium sales:    Discussion of the possible sales of Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum and Bowman Gray Stadium continue this week. A special meeting of the City Council's Finance Committee will be held Monday, April 29, from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at City Hall. The committee will receive a report on comments and questions gathered during previous public input sessions, hear any further public comments (up to 3 minutes per person), and discuss next steps. No final action will be taken at this meeting.

Sale of the Coliseum would save city taxpayers about $400,000 annually in operating cost deficit, and avoid more than $14 million in taxpayer-financed repair and renovation costs. The veterans' memorial and Lawrence Joel name recognition can be protected as part of the conditions of sale. The future of racing at Bowman Gray is already protected by a long-term lease agreement which runs with the facility. Both facilities would only be sold for fair value, not "given away".


Other April notes:    There are several other work item notes from April which deserve a brief mention:

--The Salem Lake Park master plan was approved April 15. To see the maps and elements of the plan, look under Agenda Item C-9 here: http://winston-salem.granicus.com/GeneratedAgendaViewer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=1374

--The updated Downtown Plan was approved April 1. For details, look under Agenda Item 4 here: http://winston-salem.granicus.com/GeneratedAgendaViewer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=1360

--I was pleased to join members of the Hillcrest Homeowners Association for their neighborhood fun walk on April 21. Congrats to the Hillcrest residents who are activating your association!

--I was pleased to support the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina by volunteering at its Empty Bowls fundraiser on April 24 and attending the ribbon-cutting for its Philo-Hill Magnet Academy BackPack student hunger prevention program on April 23. For more information on how we can help to solve the problem of hunger in our community, please see www.hungernwnc.org.


Travel expenses:    Regular readers of these monthly updates will be used to seeing my reports on work I've done involving travel to conferences and meetings on behalf of Winston-Salem. Most recently, I wrote and posted a detailed report on my work during the National League of Cities (NLC) annual Washington conference in March. It's still available online here: http://www.danbesse.org/Issues/CurrentTopic3.aspx.

I'm aware that travel expenses are always a handy target for criticism, since they're easy to examine in detail and they can be abused. I always try to minimize expenses for the city on these work trips. For example, when attending meetings in Washington, I travel by train rather than by car or plane, at a substantial savings to taxpayers. I take public transit rather than taxis, and I pay for meals and other incidentals out of my own pocket rather than accepting a per diem.

Lodging costs are the hardest to minimize. When attending meetings in-state, I'm able to book my own economy lodging (like my usual Red Roof Inn). In Washington, however, all the hotel rates are high; and to book out of D.C. altogether would add the cost of car rental and parking, neutralizing the cost savings, plus reducing the productive meeting time by hours of metro traffic commuting. Wherever I stay, the city pays only for the cost of the room, not for room service, beverages, or other such junk.

Ultimately, the question of whether to travel on city business or not comes down to whether taxpayers get a good return on the costs involved. As I explain in an example of a $4.1 million savings, in my March report noted above, effective advocacy work at these conferences pays for itself for taxpayers many times over. As one additional quick example, I'll note that most of the costs of the Cloverdale pedestrian safety project (reported above) are being paid for from federal transportation safety program funds--funding that is available to us only because of successful advocacy in Washington over the past several years in protecting our access to that program.

These are working trips, not vacations. The bottom line on any job is that the worker has to go to the work site. As a city council member, most of the time my work site is City Hall or the neighborhoods I represent. Sometimes, however, the work site is at a meeting out of town. If I don't go, I can't get done some of the work you've hired me to do: protecting your interests as a city taxpayer and resident when the federal or state government is involved. Speaking frankly, not every city and town official understands that part of the job or takes it seriously enough. I do, because I've learned through 30+ years of public policy advocacy work how critical it is to protecting your interests.


Centennial celebration almost here:    On May 9, Winston-Salem will celebrate its 100th anniversary as a merged community. Centennial celebration planning has been underway for more than a year. Among the celebration plans are a special downtown gallery hop on May 10, on May 11 a Community Day at Old Salem, a Centennial Parade, and a celebration at Corpening Plaza, and on May 12 a symphony and interfaith service. Those who are interested in planning to participate in the May 9-12 activities can find more information here: www.ws100years.com

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