March 2014 Highlights

March saw important progress toward funding city capital projects needs, plus a successful gun buyback event and other news.

Capital needs bond referendum proposal:   The city council on March 31 agreed to present for public comment a possible $175 million city bond issue. The draft 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.

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

All of these numbers are preliminary at this stage and subject to further adjustments. The next steps in consideration of the bond package include setting up eight public comment and discussion meetings around the city (one in each ward). The city council must decide the final amounts and contents of a bond package no later than August. City voters this November would be able to vote yes or no on each of four spending area packages (transportation, public safety, parks and recreation, and economic development).

More details on the draft proposal can be found here: http://www.cwsonline.org/sire/cache/5caedsxiok2oiix45vog3ze453858440328201409110875.pdf

Winston-Salem's last bond referendum was in 2000. Since then, much major deferred maintenance has built up, and our size and population have grown. It's time to consider a new influx of citizen-approved capital investment in our city's needs.

Gun buyback event successful, second event scheduled:   The gun buyback project held its first event on March 15 and was a success beyond the anticipation of its strongest proponents. Local residents brought in 364 unwanted guns, including 220 handguns (the weapons most likely to be misused in accidents, crimes, and suicides). This gets out of our community a significant number of unwanted guns, reducing the opportunities for thefts and accidents, especially in households where the residents may be uncomfortable, unprepared or untrained on safe firearm storage and use.

The second scheduled event is set for April 12. Full details can be found online here: http://www.cityofws.org/home-center/gun-buy-back
This program is also an opportunity for continued public education on the issue of gun violence and community safety. It is intended as one part in a comprehensive approach to improve community safety.


NextBus tracking system makes riding more convenient:   On March 25, the Winston-Salem Transit Authority formally rolled out its NextBus free tracking service to make bus ridership easier and more convenient to both regular and occasional users. Using GPS technology, NextBus makes it possible to check from your smartphone or computer when the next bus on any route will arrive at the stop nearest to you. Time until expected arrival is displayed on the screen. A program also can be set to alert the user via text when a bus is [xx minutes, your choice] away from your stop, at any designated time of day. NextBus information can be accessed through the web, and a mobile app is available. To try NextBus, go to www.wstransit.com.

Potential streetcar route approved:   The city council on March 24 approved the Winston-Salem Urban Circulator Alternatives Analysis report, designating a "locally preferred alternative" for a technology and initial service route for this potential project. This vote did not involve approving any funding for the potential streetcar project. It designated a proposed design and route for the project, and directed the city manager to put together information on possible next steps toward seeking grants and funding for the project. The route approved would start at the Wake Forest/Baptist medical center on its western end, and run through downtown, the research park, and Winston-Salem State to East Winston.

A streetcar system like this is designed to help pedestrians circulate around a destination area (such as a downtown or city center) without using a car. Properly sited, a streetcar is a powerful economic tool for a city, drawing new development to the area served by the streetcar. While the total cost of building the proposed system would be $179 million, the positive economic development impact of the project for Winston-Salem is estimated at $2.8 billion. Those billions in new development dollars would provide property taxes to help fund city services across our city.

The economic impact estimates are based on study of specific local information about developable property in the affected area. These estimates are consistent with the rates of return seen on streetcar investments in other comparable cities which have installed modern streetcar lines in recent years. Those cities include Little Rock AR, Tampa FL, and Memphis TN. For those interested in looking at the details, a wealth of additional information is available online here: http://www.cityofws.org/departments/transportation/urban-circulator

Sidewalk and pedestrian safety update:

--"Safe Routes to School" funding opportunity: In March, the city submitted several sidewalk construction projects for state Dept. of Transportation funding consideration under the "Safe Routes to School" program, which is designed to make it safer and easier for students to walk to schools near their homes. One of the projects submitted is in the Southwest Ward: sidewalks for the currently unserved blocks of Watson Avenue, Madison Avenue, and Deborah Lane. That construction would provide the missing parts of continuous direct sidewalk connections from that area to schools on Miller Street and Link Road.

--Keep sidewalks clear of brush: With recent storm events and the start of spring, this is a good time to remind residents to please maintain a safe open walking path for pedestrians when you stack brush at the edge of streets and sidewalks. Just as with a road and drivers, if pedestrians can't pass along the sidewalk because of a brush pile, the property owner is subject to being cited and fined. Thank you for helping to keep our public travel paths clear!

--Other sidewalk projects: A number of other sidewalk construction requests (including several in the Southwest Ward) have been evaluated by city transportation staff, and are on hold pending the identification of available funding sources. The main potential source of new funding for requested sidewalks (like the one on Griffith Road) is a city bond referendum.

City slogan input invited:   The city of Winston-Salem is inviting public comment now on a possible slogan for the city. The question came up at this time because the state Department of Transportation has asked whether the city wishes to include a slogan on new city limits signs on highways entering or passing through Winston-Salem. Before responding, city council members decided to solicit public comment on what slogan, if any, to use. While several have been devised over the years, there is no one official slogan for the city at this time. Residents who would like to make a suggestion can make one up, or recommend one that's currently in informal or unofficial use. http://www.cityofws.org/news/id/14604/city-soliciting-citizen-input-for-city-slogan

NLC conference report:   I and two of my city council colleagues represented Winston-Salem this month at the National League of Cities (NLC) conference in Washington. These conferences are important opportunities for our city to participate in programs on essential city functions like transportation and public safety, exchange "best practices" information with our counterparts from around the nation, and speak to our national government representatives (including Congress and the Administration) on critical issues affecting cities. At this month's conference, we met with the legislative staff of Senators Hagan and Burr on federal budget issues affecting Winston-Salem, including transportation program funding and municipal bonding authority. I also participated in conference sessions specifically working on transportation program funding issues, and represented Winston-Salem and North Carolina cities generally on the NLC Transportation Infrastructure and Services committee.

Other March notes and April activities:

--Homeless Veteran Leadership Network:   Winston-Salem is one of 16 founding cities which this month announced creation of the Homeless Veteran Leadership Network. This is an initiative organized by the National League of Cities with the goal of ending homelessness among veterans.

--Health care enrollment events held:   I and five of my city council colleagues set up two public information and assistance sessions during March on enrolling for affordable health insurance through the new federal insurance marketplace. The programs were well attended and helped a number of families sign up for coverage.

--Second Harvest Food Bank's "Empty Bowls" fundraiser April 23:   This annual major fundraiser for the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest NC is set for Wednesday, April 23, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Millennium Center downtown. I'll be there as one of the "celebrity servers" again this year. Please come down and support the efforts of Second Harvest with a contribution for the important cause of addressing hunger in our community.

--Weatherwood Court Community Outreach Fair:   The Human Relations Department is organizing a Hispanic Community Outreach Fair with information about city departments and services. The fair will be held Thursday, April 24, from 2 to 5 p.m., at the Weatherwood Court Apartments (near Forsyth Tech's main campus, in the Southwest Ward).

 

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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