April 2014 Highlights

 

During April, work progressed on a proposed city capital needs bond referendum. First, though, here's a note regarding some major street work beginning this month.

Miller Street utilities work and related items:   Miller Street between Westover and Elizabeth has been closed for utility line replacement work. I expect a closure of at least three weeks, possibly extending in the event of complications. Uncertain weather and unexpected buried problems in the utilities lines being replaced can create delays. This work is part of the long-term Ardmore area utilities renovation project being undertaken to modernize the half-century-plus old lines in this area. The good news for area residents is that the Miller Street work should be the last needed in the sub-basin currently being worked. I have asked city staff to start now their re-evaluation of damaged streets in this sub-basin, preparatory to repavements which I am pressing to have done during this construction season. The cost of repaving streets significantly damaged by utilities line renovation work is now coming from Utilities Department revenue rather than the limited city streets budget.

Capital needs bond meeting:   A public meeting to review the proposed capital needs city bond issue and collect public comments was held in the Southwest Ward on April 23. About 50 district residents attended, discussed questions with city staff, and left comments. I'm still reviewing their responses and those from other similar meetings being held to collect public feedback around the city. As I noted in last month's report, the proposed bond package proposal includes $61 million for transportation projects, $31 million for public safety, $35 million for neighborhood and economic development, $31 million for parks and recreation, and $17 million for public assembly facilities. More complete details can be reviewed online here: www.cityofws.org/2014bonds

Example projects/project areas include these:

--$8 million for sidewalk construction and repairs

--$15 million for street resurfacing

--$3 million for greenways and other bike/pedestrian projects

--$10 million public safety center renovations

--$8 million for new district police offices

--$2 million for Miller Park renovations

--$2 million for pedestrian safety projects near schools

--$20 million for economic development sites and infrastructure.

 

Street repavement work:   One of the topics eliciting the most interest in the bond proposal is street resurfacing. As an information item, it's worth noting that the city spends about $600,000 annually out of operating revenues on street resurfacing work. We also direct additional other funds periodically to that task. For example, we're considering now using about $1.5 million from "two-thirds" bonds coming available this year for repavement projects. (Two-thirds bonds are municipal bonds allowed without a public vote, in the amount of up to two-thirds of the value of voter-approved bonds retired that year. They must be spent in the same category [for example, transportation] approved for the bonds being retired. These bonds are one way to stretch out city investment authority between public bond referenda.)

Baseball stadium refinanced:   In April, the city council approved a refinancing package for the city baseball stadium. The new package takes advantage of an additional $2 million in investment brought to the team (Winston-Salem Dash) by a group of investors associated with the Chicago White Sox, who have purchased a majority interest in the Dash. The refinancing permits lower interest rates on the stadium financing and places the operation on improved long-term footing, while maintaining the requirement that the stadium pay for itself through operating revenues. (The bonds used here are secured by the stadium and other properties, and so do not affect the city's revenue bonds capacity.)

RUCA (Revitalizing Urban Commercial Areas) guidelines updated:   The city council at our April 21 meeting also approved modified guidelines for our RUCA (Revitalizing Urban Commercial Areas) program. The modified guidelines are designed to strengthen security for city loans to help upgrade RUCA areas. The RUCA program is intended to help revitalize older urban commercial areas that have declined, thereby boosting economic activity in the city and helping nearby neighborhoods avoid or reverse decay. An example of a targeted RUCA in/near the Southwest Ward is the West Salem shopping area near the intersection of Academy Street and Peters Creek Parkway. More background on the RUCA program can be found here: http://www.cityofws.org/departments/community-and-business-development/development/ruca-program

 

Sidewalk and pedestrian safety update:

--Sidewalk project priorities:   The Public Works Committee, which I chair, is scheduled to look at updating our approved sidewalk construction options list at our May 13 meeting. There are more than 100 evaluated construction requests on the list of options for consideration. Ranking criteria are factors like connectivity value, cost of construction, safety improvement value (such as current traffic volume and speed along that street), and current pedestrian usage of that street.

--Griffith Road:   I've received repeated requests for the addition of sidewalk or sidepath on Griffith Road between Hanes Mall Boulevard and E. Kimwell Drive. That's been evaluated by Transportation staff--it's doable, but the complete distance would cost an estimated $860,000, nearly the entire amount of funding the Southwest Ward would get for sidewalks under the currently proposed bond referendum funding. We're looking at alternatives for constructing a shorter stretch of the high-priority area, and at the possibility of going for federal matching funds for the project.

--Watson Street:   I recently surveyed Watson Street residents about a proposed new sidewalk there. I received a good response rate, but also deeply divided opinions, so I am still studying options. I expect to contact a number of affected and interested residents again soon.

 

Bus system changes:   The Winston-Salem Transit Authority (WSTA, our bus system) recently completed a detailed operational analysis of its current usage. This included origin and destination data for all current riders. Based on that data, analysts took a first cut at a plan for reconfiguring the city's bus routes to make most efficient use of the current budget. The city council's Public Works Committee took a first look at that information in February. Our tentative conclusion was that it contained a number of useful changes, but also needed more detailed study before we would be ready to take it out to formal public hearings. For example, the draft new route configurations would leave two of the largest apartment areas in the Southwest Ward without a direct service line. I'm in the process of surveying those areas for reaction now. More generally, I and other city council members are meeting with WSTA staff to look closely at the details of new routes. I expect the issue to be back on the Public Works agenda either this month or in June.

Solar farms standards:   Over the past couple of years, there has been a rapid increase in the number of commercial solar energy production "farms" built and planned in North Carolina. (Costs of solar panels have been dropping fast, and demand for solar-produced electricity is increasing.) Counties around Forsyth have seen several new solar farms approved. While these facilities will usually be built out in the countryside where land for banks of solar panels is less costly, it's possible that some may be proposed within city limits as well. In order to be prepared, the city/county planning department prepared an update to our development ordinance with standards (mostly screening provisions) for solar farms, and the city council approved the changes at our April 7 meeting. If you're interested in the details, you can review them here: http://winston-salem.granicus.com/GeneratedAgendaViewer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=1637

 

Upcoming May activities:

--Historic Preservation Month:   Winston-Salem is participating in Historic Preservation Month during May, with local events scheduled May 7-31. Take a look at the details here: http://preservehistoricforsyth.onefireplace.org/

--Youth Citizens' Police Academy:   The Winston-Salem Police Department is now accepting applications for its Youth Citizens' Police Academy, to be held July 7-11 this year. See all the details here: http://www.cityofws.org/Portals/0/pdf/police/youth-academy/YCPA-application%232014.pdf

--National Police Week:   Winston-Salem will observe National Police Week May 11-17 this year. Each year at this time, we recognize and honor all law enforcement officers for their service to our communities, especially those who have given their lives in the line of duty to keep our communities safe. See more about WSPD's fallen officer remembrance program here: http://www.cityofws.org/departments/police/wspd-memorials/fallen-officer-remembrance-commemoration

--Bike Month:   May is also Bike Month, with local events scheduled May 12-21. See details on Bike Month activities here: http://www.cityofws.org/departments/transportation/news/id/14646/bike-month-activities-scheduled

 

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

 

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