March 2013 Highlights

Advocacy for the interests of Winston-Salem residents at the national and state levels took a lot of my time during March. I've prepared reports on both. First, though, I'll note a major temporary street closing for utilities renovation work in the Southwest Ward during the week of April 1.

Ardmore street closing:   The major utilities lines renovation project in the Ardmore neighborhood will result in one street closing for the week of Monday, April 1. During the week of April 1, Miller Street will be closed between Elizabeth Avenue and Rosewood Avenue for lines renovation work. Detours will be posted as usual. City Utilities engineer Scott Jones can be reached for questions at scottj@cityofws.org.

National and state conferences on city issues:   National and state conferences on issues important to city residents took much of my time in March.

The National League of Cities (NLC) annual Washington conference focusing on advocacy in Congress for cities' concerns took up about a week of my time in March. I've prepared a detailed report on the issues I worked on there for Winston-Salem, which I posted here: http://www.danbesse.org/Issues/CurrentTopic3.aspx

Later in March, the N.C. League of Municipalities held its annual "Town Hall Day" state legislative advocacy event in Raleigh, where I and other Winston-Salem representatives participated. Along with other city and town officials from around the state, we met with members of our local legislative delegations to discuss proposed legislation that could eliminate city revenue from such sources as utility franchise taxes and beer and wine excise taxes. This would create such big local budget holes that either major local service cuts or property rate hikes would result.

While there, I was also able to work with other city advocates and legislators to obtain sponsors for a budget cost-saving idea that originated in Winston-Salem. This proposal would reduce costs of greenway construction by requiring the state Department of Transportation to set design standards for greenways that reflect their actual use by pedestrians and cyclists, instead of the heavier demands produced by motorized traffic.

Work continuing on budget savings ideas:   All four standing committees of the city council continued during March to review suggested places to find city budget savings. For example, the Public Safety committee approved recommending that we limit medical emergency responses by the Fire Department to life-threatening emergencies only. In the city, EMT-trained fire personnel can normally respond to 911 calls minutes faster than county Medical Rescue EMTs. That can save lives when dealing with heart attacks and strokes. However, eliminating Fire Department responses to lesser medical problem 911 calls can still cut costs. This is estimated to produce about $145,000 in annual savings.

Homelessness count drops:   Mayor Allen Joines announced this month that the annual January count of chronically homeless people in Forsyth County showed the lowest numbers of the past decade, a 58% drop since 2005 (82 compared to 194). Chronically homeless people are the hard-to-serve individuals who are homeless for a long time or repeatedly. They often resist helping attempts and frequently suffer from serious addiction or mental health issues. The total "point in time" one-night count of homeless individuals also showed a reduction to its lowest level (407) during the past decade. These point-in-time annual counts of homeless individuals include both people in shelters (the largest part of the count) and those literally on the street (normally only about 10 percent of the total).

Winston-Salem and Forsyth County began a planned ten year effort to address chronic homelessness in 2006. I'm currently the Winston-Salem City Council representative on the commission overseeing that effort. Since 2006, we've added 530 permanent housing units targeted to help homeless individuals, including apartments for persons with disabilities and homeless veterans. New strategies have focused on getting homeless people into stable housing situations (instead of shelters) first, and then focusing on long-term helping services once they're in that housing. Previously, strategies were based on relying on an interim period of connecting homeless individuals with supportive services while they remained in emergency-shelter environments. The new approach has been shown to be more effective in getting and keeping people off the streets.

Copper theft report:   I'm pleased to be able to report that the problem of copper metal theft from vacant homes and construction sites has been reduced by new strategies under use in Winston-Salem and North Carolina. New state legislation took effect last fall which requires secondary metal recyclers to keep improved records of purchase transactions and recycled metal sellers, which can be used to trace stolen materials. A city police detective is now also assigned to investigate copper thefts within Winston-Salem, and city crime prevention officers are circulating information on how to better protect sites from these thefts. (Theft of copper wiring and tubing can be especially destructive to buildings, and even result in seriously dangerous situations like gas leaks.) Copper thefts declined by over 37 percent in Winston-Salem between 2011 and 2012 (400 reported thefts down to 251), and we hope to see those numbers decline further as the new strategies continue to take effect.

"Complete Streets" policy adopted:   The Winston-Salem Urban Area Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) in March formally adopted what's called a "complete streets" policy for our regional transportation programs. A complete streets policy says that new and reconstructed streets should include safe pedestrian and biking facilities whenever feasible. As this approach spreads, we'll have fewer situations where people walking or biking in the city are cut off from safe access by uncrossable roads and bridges or the absence of sidewalks or bike lanes on busy streets. For example, at the same TAC meeting in March, the N.C. Dept. of Transportation regional representative's report included a planned replacement of the Salisbury Ridge bridge over Peters Creek Parkway. When I asked about application of the complete streets policy to that project, she investigated and reported back that planning for the new bridge design would be updated to accommodate a sidewalk and bike lane there. That will avoid/eliminate a major bike/pedestrian bottleneck there. (I'm one of Winston-Salem's TAC representatives.)

Centennial celebration activities:   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. Those who are interested in planning to participate in the May 9-12 activities can find more information here: www.ws100years.com If you're interested in applying to be an official "walking delegate" in the May 11 parade, the application deadline is April 1. (Sorry about the late notice in this report. Announcements went out through other means, but the event planning timetable just didn't mesh well with my monthly report schedule.)

Sidewalk projects update:   The Healy Drive sidewalk extension is almost complete. When the weather warms up, I'll have a ribbon-cutting to celebrate with Healy Towers senior citizen residents their new access to safely walk (or roll) to their favorite cafeteria and small shopping area. Some of you also may be interested to learn that the sidewalk project (over in the Northwest Ward) on St. Claire Road, which stirred up news earlier in the month as unneeded, has been canceled following a survey of neighborhood residents there. Other sidewalk projects around the city which have strong neighborhood support continue to move forward.

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

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