May 2013 Highlights

The city manager's proposed budget, a new police chief, and decisions on the coliseum and stadium are among the news items for May. First, a word on road closings in June:

Road closings in June:    Users of Cloverdale Avenue between Melrose and Oakwood have seen construction work ongoing recently involving shifting lane closures. This is part of the water/sewer lines renovation ongoing in that area. The Utilities Department has announced that it will need to completely close Cloverdale between New Drive and Melrose Street for one day as a part of that work. The scheduled closure day is Thursday, June 6, with a 'rain date' of Monday, June 10. On the closure day, through traffic will be detoured via Magnolia to Queen to Melrose.

Also for June, the N.C. Dept. of Transportation has announced plans for maintenance work of the I-40 bridge over the Yadkin River that will require weekend closures of all lanes of I-40 Westbound between Harper Road and NC 501 between 8 p.m. Friday and 6 a.m. Monday on May 31--June 3, June 7-10, and June 14-17, weather permitting. During that time, there will also be weeknight partial closures between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. through June 17, weather permitting.

City budget:    The city manager's proposed budget was released on May 23 and discussion began in the City Council's Finance Committee on May 30.

Here are a few high points of the city manager's proposed budget:

--The recommended budget cuts city spending from $392 million overall ($332 million operating) in FY 12-13 to $379 million overall ($307 million operating) in FY 13-14.

--Without recommending major cuts in city services, the budget includes $1.5 million in efficiency cuts and $400,000 in general fund savings from the sale of the coliseum and stadium.

--It continues a downward trend in authorized city staff positions, cutting 52 full-time posts.

--Despite those cuts, it includes a recommended 3.9 cent increase in the property tax rate, from 49.1 to 53. That increase is intended to partially counteract the effect of the 10% decrease in real property value in the city between the 2009 and 2013 county tax revaluations. The combined effect of the revaluation and the change in tax rate would mean that the city property tax bill in dollars would decrease for taxpayers whose property value fell by 8% or more (about 60% of residential taxpayers).

In order to further reduce the percentage of taxpayers who would see an increase in their tax bills, the council will be looking for other cuts that could be made without reducing city services quality. 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. A final vote on the budget is expected that evening. Throughout this time, you are welcome to send questions, comments and suggestions regarding the budget directly to me as well.

 

New police chief:    After an open public-input process and interviews with a good set of three finalists, City Manager Lee Garrity today announced the appointment of Assistant Chief Barry Rountree as Winston-Salem's new Chief of Police, effective June 30. Chief Rountree is a 25-year veteran of the WSPD, with a good community reputation, well regarded by his fellow officers, and came out first after a thorough review including input from elected officials and the public. He currently is in charge of the Investigative Services Bureau, and has previously served as commander of the Field Services and Support Services bureaus, as well as having overseen the Professional Standards Division, the Special Operations Division, and Recruiting, Training, and Information Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in business administration (WSSU) and a master's degree in public affairs (UNC-G), and has graduated from the Administrative Officers Management Program (NCSU) and Municipal Administration Program (UNC-CH). I look forward to working with him for the continued improvement of public safety in our community.

 

Coliseum, stadium sales:    Following a lengthy public comment and review process, the city council on May 20 voted to authorize the sale of Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum to Wake Forest University. (The final sale was subject to an "upset bid" process, during which other bidders could have come forward to make a better financial offer.) The final terms of authorized sale continue the association of the name of Medal of Honor winner Lawrence Joel with the coliseum, including on the marque and the building itself, and continue the protection and maintenance of the veterans' memorial on the grounds. They also include the protection of public events at the coliseum honoring veterans, as well as high school graduations and other traditional public uses of the facility. The sale of this aging facility will save city taxpayers an estimated $30 million over the next 20 years, including the immediate savings of avoiding $400,000 a year in operational losses. Finally, the sale will clear the way for WFU to put in a required minimum investment of $10 million in capital improvements to the facility.

At the same meeting, the city council agreed to a memorandum of understanding with Winston-Salem State University to sell it the Bowman Gray Stadium under specified conditions. That sale is still subject to approval by the North Carolina state legislature of WSSU's proposed plan for financing the purchase. Public access to the greenway and playing fields on adjoining property, as well as protection of the water quality and wildlife habitat value of the riparian buffer and wetlands on that property, are also guaranteed. The Bowman Gray name will remain on the stadium. Finally, the sale would be subject to the long-term lease already guaranteeing the maintenance of racing at the stadium.

 

Sidewalk, greenway and pedestrian safety projects update:    The construction contract for phase one of the Little Creek Greenway received final approval in May, and I hope to see construction of this long-awaited project begin in July.

Utilities line renovation work is underway preliminary to beginning construction on the Cloverdale Avenue pedestrian safety project (phase 1). 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 crossing improvements at Melrose/Cloverdale in particular will boost safety of neighborhood residents walking to the Cloverdale Shopping Center. I still anticipate construction of these improvements themselves to begin in June.

 

Other May notes:    I'm now Winston-Salem's city representative on the board of trustees for the Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation (PART), which gives me another opportunity to expand my focus on improving our transportation system.

I joined more than 100 citizens who turned out for the Memorial Day service at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum to honor our veterans, especially those who have lost their lives in defending our nation.

 

Parks programs news:    There are several new or renewed city recreation and parks programs starting for the summer this coming month:

--Bike Smarts Safety Town:  A marked training course for children who are new bike riders is now open adjacent to the city tennis courts near Kimberley Park Elementary School. It includes a practice and test area for kids to develop skills such as riding straight in bike lanes, looking over their shoulder without swerving, and making hand turn signals. Use of the course is free. Helmets are required.

--Children and adults swimming lessons at city pools:  Free swimming lessons begin in June at city pools. Interested participants (adults, or parents for children) should contact the pools the week before they would like to participate. For details on the city aquatics programs, pool hours, and swim lessons, see www.WePLAY.ws.

--Summer day camps at Little Creek and Miller parks:   Camp Little Creek is a half-day camp ( 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.) for children 4-7 years old, for $25/week. Camp Discovery at Miller Park is a day camp (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.) for young people with intellectual disabilities between 8-21 years old, for $50/week. More info is available from the Recreation & Parks Department at 727-2831.

 

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

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