February 2013 Highlights

The newly released tax revaluations have created a major headache for the funding of critical city services.

Tax revaluations released:    The new county property tax revaluation was released this month, and as projected there was an overall decline in real property market values in Forsyth County of about 10 percent over the past four years. This is associated with the nationwide decline in average market real property values resulting from the housing 'bubble' burst and major recession of 2008-09.

Regardless of its origin, the decline creates serious problems for funding local government services such as police, fire, sanitation, and streets and transportation. All else being equal, revenues from property taxes would decline by about 10 percent, but the cost of providing necessary services will not.

It's standard in a property revaluation year for property tax rates to be adjusted on a "revenue neutral" basis, which means changing the rate of taxation (cents per hundred dollars of real property value) so that the property tax overall brings in approximately the same amount of total revenue. In a normal year locally, that has meant adjusting the rate down, so that the average property owner's bill doesn't go up just because of the average change in the local market value of real property.

After the recent exceptional decline in average values over the past four years, however, a "revenue neutral" tax rate will be higher, not lower, than the current rate. That would still mean that the average property owner's bill in dollars for the same property would not rise.

The problem, of course, is that the theoretical "average" still leaves a lot of property owners paying higher actual tax bills. The issue is further complicated by the fact that the change in average values has not been anything close to even across the city. Some neighborhoods have been about average, others have seen dramatic drops in market values, and still others have actually seen their average market values increase, even during trying economic times. The Southwest Ward has a mixture of all three categories.

The good news for neighborhoods which have seen an average increase in market values is twofold: You know that your neighborhood is an especially desirable place to live, and that if you decide to sell your home and move you're likely to get good value for it. The bad news is that unless we cut spending so much that essential services take a beating, the average homeowner in those neighborhoods is likely to see a higher individual tax bill.

For neighborhoods which saw a larger than average decline, the concerns are reversed. You're likely to pay less in property taxes, but there's a legitimate concern about impacts on resale values. Some concerned neighborhoods are taking that issue up with the Forsyth County Commissioners, who oversee operation of the Tax Assessor's office. The problem with addressing that concern, however, is that North Carolina state law controls how evaluations are done. The commissioners can direct the assessor to review the process used to be sure that it complied with the statutorily mandated factors, but cannot simply disregard the results of the revaluation.

The city budgeting process is going to be wrestling with the fallout from revaluation over the next several months, looking for places to cut costs and spending without damaging the core services that city residents have a right to expect from your local government. I'll do my best to try to help protect your interests, and your comments and suggestions are welcome.

In the meantime, please remember that if you believe that your individual property's appraisal is excessive, you have a limited time window to appeal that appraisal value. When you get your reappraisal notice, check the value and read the appeals process information carefully, including the deadline information. Any informal appeal request should be filed as soon as possible. The Forsyth County Tax Assessor told the city council in his presentation to our February 18 meeting that the deadline for filing an informal appeal will be March 5. The deadline for a formal appeal is June 28, but that's also a more involved process. Please remember that the tax assessor's office is a Forsyth County agency; this process is NOT under city control. The city can't change the assessments, extend the process, or help a property owner who misses an appeal deadline. The county tax assessor office number is 703-2300.

A link to the County Tax Assessor's presentation to the city council is found here: http://winston-salem.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=1331&meta_id=152071

Business 40 overhaul to be accelerated:    The N.C. Dept. of Transportation (NCDOT) announced this month that it has moved the start of construction on the Business 40 improvements project up to summer 2016. That change in construction start date (from 2018) does not affect the public involvement work now underway on design and mitigation efforts. Work to improve planned detour routes is still to be completed prior to the start of highway closure for construction. (Business 40 between Peters Creek Parkway and Main/Church Streets is expected to be closed for up to two years to permit the bridge and highway renovations to be done as rapidly as possible.) Background and older information about the project is available at www.business40nc.com


Ardmore neighborhood public safety discussion:    The Ardmore neighborhood held its planned public safety discussion meeting with police representatives on February 19, with great attendance (about 60 neighbors present). The District 3 Police Commander, Capt. Mitch Masencup, discussed crime trends citywide and in Ardmore, how Winston-Salem statistics are compiled in comparison to comparable cities, and how neighbors can work with police for the most effective enforcement. Thanks go to Capt. Masencup, Lt. Mike Weaver, Sgt. Mark Snow, and Officer Adam Luffman, as well as Tiffany White and the leadership of the Ardmore Neighborhood Association. I am happy to work with other interested neighborhoods in the Southwest Ward to put together similar programs.

LATE UPDATE: The Winston-Salem Police Department today [2/27/13] announced the arrest of two Davie County residents in connection with some of the string of auto vandalisms which included a number of vehicles in the Southwest Ward. Investigation into the incidents is continuing, and more information will appear in local media.


Citizens Police Academy:    The Citizens Police Academy is a free course for city residents interested in learning in detail about how our police do their jobs. It's ideal for neighborhood leaders involved in community watch work, for example. It covers topics similar to those covered in police recruit training (in less detail, of course, due to time restraints). The spring class will start April 4 and run for 13 weeks on Thursday evenings from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. The class is limited to 30 students with the application deadline of March 1. Applications are available online at www.wspd.org


Pedestrian safety projects update:    The Healy Drive sidewalk has one block left to finish. That has been delayed while waiting for AT&T to move a fiber optic cable. That is supposed to be done by mid-March, after which the sidewalk will be finished immediately. The Cloverdale Avenue pedestrian safety project phase 1 (Oakwood to Melrose) has been sent to bid and should be ready to start construction in June.


Westbrook neighborhood and ATV issues:    Representatives of the Westbrook Neighborhood Association and city police tracked through utility easements and wooded areas along Silas Creek adjacent to their neighborhood on February 9, as part of efforts to deal with ATV riders loudly trespassing on private property of neighborhood residents. While on the hike, we intercepted one illegal rider, broke up an illegal campsite on private property near the creek, and posted a number of no-trespassing signs in strategic locations. Thanks go to the city officers involved, and neighborhood representatives led by Westbrook Neighborhood Association leaders Christopher Maginnis and Pat Marshall. City patrol officers and neighborhood property owners discussed coordination of ongoing enforcement efforts.


Creek Week, Medicine Drop:    Make plans in March to help celebrate Forsyth Creek Week, a week-long set of educational, recreational, and public service opportunities for local residents to connect with our waterways. Several city and county departments are involved in setting up this fun new event. It's March 16-23, with plenty of activities for both kids and adults. For details, see www.forsythcreekweek.com .
As part of the week, there will be an excellent opportunity to get rid of old prescription medicines safely. "Operation Medicine Drop" will be held Wednesday, March 20, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at LJVM Coliseum. Drop off unused or expired prescription medications there for proper disposal by the WSPD.


Park master plans approved:    Two new park master plans were approved this month after extensive work by city parks and planning staff and interested citizens. These are Jamieson Park, which will be located off Meadowlark Drive adjacent to the Muddy Creek Greenway; and Quarry Park, to be located between Reynolds Park Road and Waughtown Street, and include the old Vulcan Quarry site there. The Quarry Park property in particular includes the dramatic old quarry lake and sheer cliff walls, as well as acreage of mature woodland. These park master plans are subject to implementation over a number of years, according to funds available, and are open to revision based on experience and continuing public input. To see the approved plans as currently envisioned, go to http://www.cwsonline.org/sirepub/mtgviewer.aspx?meetid=696&doctype=Agenda  


Passing of leaders:    This month we have seen the passing of two pioneering community leaders, Judge Roland Hayes and former N.C. Representative Logan Burke. These two men were leaders among an early generation of African-Americans elected to represent our community in government. Judge Hayes was the first African-American to be elected to a judgeship in Forsyth County, from which post he served for decades. A teacher and school principal, former Representative Burke also served Forsyth County in the N.C. House of Representatives. Both men left a legacy of good work, including family who carry on that work, and their lives remind us of the importance of teaching our children about the pioneers and history of our local community.


"Citizens United" resolution:    As much as I try not to let noise level set the content of these reports, sometimes a topic of relatively minor local-government impact will receive so much attention that I need to include a brief explanation. The ongoing debate about a "Citizens United" resolution is one of those. In a nutshell, this is an important national policy debate that (for good or ill) is well beyond the scope of city government to impact in any significant degree. It has to do with constitutional law, campaign finance rules, and the regulation of electioneering by corporations and other artificial entities. It's the kind of policy topic that I try to avoid as the subject of city council resolutions and debates, since it's so far beyond our power to control. (It's in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court, the President, and Congress.) However, after persistent requests from a group of active citizens, a majority of the city council decided to take up the debate on this complex issue. That decision having been made, I'm in the position of trying to help ensure that whatever resolution the council adopts is at least consistent with the issues actually dealt with in that case. If anyone is just dying to hear more on this, let me know, and I can direct you to those who would love to talk with you about it, at great length.


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