In June, the city council approved the FY2018 budget. First, here are some important notes on Independence Day week sanitation service changes.
Independence Day week city service changes: Winston-Salem city sanitation collections next week will be adjusted for the Independence Day holiday July 4.
--Garbage collections Tuesday July 4 through Thursday July 6 will be postponed by one day (Tuesday routes collected Wednesday, etc.). Friday routes will be collected Monday, July 10.
--Recycling routes Tuesday through Thursday will be postponed by one day. (This is a Red Week, which includes most of the Southwest Ward.)
--Yard-waste carts will be collected on Monday routes as usual; Tuesday-Thursday routes will be postponed by one day.
Budget includes improved pay for police, other city employees: The city council on June 19 gave final approval to our city budget for FY2018 beginning July 1. Two major ongoing adjustments drove this year’s budget discussions. The first and largest factor was the necessity of increasing employee pay in order to recruit and retain good employees in key categories, especially police officers. Because other competing cities have been paying their officers better we have been losing good young trained officers to better pay elsewhere. We started making changes to respond to that problem last year, and continued that commitment this year. As any responsible budgeter can tell us, however, there is no such thing as a free lunch. To pay for the higher costs, we had to adjust the property tax rate upward. The new rate is 58.5 cents, an increase of 1.24 cents.
Transit improvements constituted the other major driver of increased costs in this year’s budget. In this area (city bus services), Winston-Salem had also lagged behind other comparable North Carolina cities for decades. A few years ago, we began a planned effort to bring our bus service up to par with those offered elsewhere, and this year we have continued that. We now provide seven-day-a-week service (like other comparable NC cities), and are operating with new, more efficient routes that take only 30 minutes from end to end instead of 45. We’ll continue to observe and make efficiency and service improvement adjustments. I believe in a transportation system that has multiple options and works for everyone in our city, not just those of us fortunate enough to be able to drive everywhere we need to go. Most of the thousands of riders who use our city bus system use it for work, and do not have a car. We’re working to attract more discretionary riders too, but we can never forget that the system must work well for those who do not have an affordable alternative.
In addition to these major budget items, the budget also included some small projects with potentially major public safety benefits. These were
--Providing $45,000 in operating support for the District Attorney’s Domestic Violence Unit, which provides assistance to victims of domestic violence in navigating the court system, so that they can get the protection and services they and their families need.
--Providing $35,000 in matching funds for the Forsyth County Drug Court, which focuses on nonviolent minor offenders who may be routed into treatment and alternatives to incarceration, with potential benefits to them, their families, and society through reduction of repeat offenses.
Finally, we made adjustments to the fares for our TransAID bus service, which provides door to door service for senior citizens and disabled residents. Specifically, we increased the TransAID fare to match the regular bus route fare ($1 per ride for a single ride, or $30 for a monthly pass). We did that not for the increased revenue, which is modest, but to correct a structural problem which has been stressing our ability to keep up with rising costs of providing the service.
Winston-Salem has been the only city in North Carolina to provide the much more expensive TransAID service at a lower fare than the regular bus service. That has inadvertently encouraged people who are able to use either service to use the one (TransAID) which is four times as expensive per ride for the city to provide. As a result, TransAID ride demand went up more than 26% over the past four years, while regular bus ride numbers were flat. (By comparison, Greensboro has the next-lowest TransAID fares in the state: $1.50, the same fare it charges for a fixed-route ride. Greensboro experienced less than a 2% increase in TransAID ride demand over the same period.)
Over the past five years, Winston-Salem has put more than one out of every three dollars we’ve spent improving our bus service into skyrocketing TransAID costs—despite the fact that TransAID provides less than seven per cent of the rides. This had become an unsustainable accelerating rise in costs that we had to act to control, or jeopardize our ability to fund service on the regular fixed bus routes that serve many more low-income riders. That’s why we acted to make the TransAID fares the same as the fixed route fares. Even with the change, Winston-Salem will continue to have the very lowest TransAID fares in North Carolina. Plus, to further cushion any adverse impact on the lowest-income riders, we’re taking the additional revenue anticipated from the extra TransAID fares (estimated at about $90,000/year) and putting it all into free bus passes that will be distributed to riders needing financial assistance.
More information, and the entire FY2017-18 budget, can be accessed here: http://www.cityofws.org/Budget
Two-thirds bonds include street resurfacing, sidewalk, maintenance priorities: At our June 5 meeting, the city council approved issuing this biennium’s round of “two-thirds” bonds, for public safety, parks and recreation, and streets and sidewalks projects. The bonds include $840,000 for street resurfacing costs. Of particular interest to a number of Southwest Ward residents, the bonds also include the city’s anticipated share of the costs of extending the Silas Creek Parkway sidewalk from Bolton Street to Lockland Avenue. That’s an area where many pedestrians already walk along the shoulder of the parkway, a dangerous situation which we should now be able to improve with the new sidewalk.
Business 40 closure schedule announced: The anticipated schedule for the reconstruction of Business 40 through downtown Winston-Salem has recently been announced in detail. In sum, the reconstruction of the Peters Creek Parkway/Business 40 interchange will start first, sometime this fall (2017). Both Peters Creek Parkway and Business 40 (to be renamed “Salem Parkway”) will remain open to traffic during this period, which is expected to last until fall 2018. Sometime during summer 2018, reconstruction of the interchange of Peters Creek Parkway and Academy Street is expected to begin, also to finish fall 2018. Sometime during fall 2018, the reconstruction of Business 40 itself is expected to begin. That’s when Business 40 is expected to close between Peters Creek Parkway and Main Street. It is expected to re-open in mid-to-late 2020. The N.C. Department of Transportation will hold public meetings to discuss the plans and answer questions this September. In the meantime, these details and more are available at www.business40nc.com.
PART updates: The Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation (PART) provides intercity bus and vanpool service for the Piedmont Triad region. I represent the City of Winston-Salem on the PART board and serve as the board chair. At our June meeting, we gave final approval to a set of route improvements that will provide faster service and better connections on high-use routes. The new routes go into effect July 3, and in order to encourage new riders to try the system all rides will be free July 3-7. All the details of the routes and schedules can be found at www.PARTNC.org.
That’s my report for June. As always, you are welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with comments or questions. Thanks!
Happy Independence Day!