May 2014 Highlights

In May, the city council approved new rules on door-to-door solicitors, and the city manager released his proposed 2014-15 city budget. First, for Ardmore area residents, there are two street closing alerts.

Ardmore area street closings: For the week beginning June 2, there are two street closings associated with utilities work:
--Elizabeth Avenue will be closed between Magnolia Street and Leisure Lane to replace a sewer line.
--Miller Street will be closed between Hawthorne Road and Westover Drive as part of the ongoing Ardmore area utilities line renovation project. The good news on this item is that this section should be the last of the planned Miller Street closings for utilities work in the near future.

New rules on door-to-door solicitors approved: Responding to resident complaints regarding suspicious or intrusive door-to-door sales solicitations, the city council at our May 19 meeting adopted new rules for door-to-door solicitors. Here are some of the high points of the new city code provisions:
--Door-to-door soliciting is limited to the hours of 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. or sunset (whichever comes first). This applies to all solicitors (people who are going to a resident's door without a prior invitation), whether commercial, non-profit, religious, or political.
--Commercial solicitors must obtain business licenses, and the information submitted to the city must include names, contact info, and photos for all individuals who will be doing the soliciting. Solicitors are subject to criminal background checks.
--Commercial solicitors must wear their city-issued photo badge while soliciting.
--The effective date for the new ordinance provisions is July 1, 2014. After that date, if you're approached by anyone soliciting in violation of these rules (or who is otherwise acting in a suspicious manner), please call the police and let them know. We're working to boost the safety of our community.

City Manager's budget proposal released: City Manager Lee Garrity released his proposed city budget for 2014-15 on May 22, and the city council's committees have begun to review it. Overall, the budget is proposed for about $507 million, including $305 million for operations, $36 million for debt service, and $166 million for capital spending. It's balanced with a 54 cent property tax rate, up one cent from last year's 53 cent rate. The proposed one-cent rate increase is to compensate for an action by the state legislature to exempt custom software from property taxes. That legislative action, taken last year and effective in the upcoming fiscal year, costs Winston-Salem at least $1.6 million in revenue. It's a legislatively-mandated tax break for a handful of large businesses, passed without any offsetting revenue increases to local government. Local governments have the option of cutting services or shifting the load to other taxpayers--a wholly unsatisfactory set of options created by state legislative action. Since the city manager released his recommended budget, the state legislature has passed additional legislation to eliminate business privilege fees, currently a major source of revenue for local governments. Again, the legislation provides no adequate replacement revenues. We will have to re-evaluate revenue levels and consider how to adjust budget and other tax levels as a result.

On the expenditure side, the manager's proposed budget includes a net reduction of five staff positions, and other savings such as continued automation of curbside trash collection. However, another major area of budget stress is the need to adjust salaries for a broad range of job categories in which Winston-Salem has been paying substantially less than market rates. The category of light equipment operator (e.g., brush collection equipment) is one example of those: We've been paying 37% less than competitive market rates, resulting in a 13% voluntary turnover rate. In other words, we've been training operators--and when they're proficient, they've got better salaries available elsewhere, knocking our efficiency back down again. We see similar problems in several other areas, including police officer. Our police officer salaries are14% under competitive market rates, contributing to a 6% annual voluntary turnover rate. That has to change. It's why the manager has proposed, in addition to a standard merit pay adjustment, a 1.5% market pay adjustment for employees whose actual pay is below the average actual market salaries for their positions.

The operations budget proposal alone is 200+ pages of detail, and the council will be going over that detail looking for other needed changes over the next weeks. You can find the city manager's news release, along with links to the full draft budget documents, here: http://www.cityofws.org/news/id/14684/budget-proposed-for-2014-2015
Included in that schedule will be a Finance Committee public hearing on the budget at 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 5, at City Hall; a Finance Committee workshop (open to the public) at 4:30 p.m. on Monday, June 9, at City Hall; and the scheduled final city council vote on the budget for 2014-15 at our meeting at 7 p.m., Monday, June 16, in City Hall. In the meantime, I'm open to your comments and questions.

State rule changes put Business 40 construction schedule in doubt: The state Department of Transportation (DOT) recently released its list of statewide priority funded highway and other transportation projects under its new scoring system (as mandated by the governor and state legislature). Despite the high need level for safety improvements to Business 40 through Winston-Salem, including the bridges and the on/off ramps, this project completely dropped off the funded list. That puts in jeopardy years of planning and public input work on a project which had been scheduled to start in 2016. The city, other local governments, and business and community leaders will be working to address this problem, including the possibility of getting the project into the DOT regional funding priorities.

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