Emergency budget amendments: At the start of the month, we learned that the governor intended to deal with the state’s deepening fiscal crisis in part by withholding hundreds of millions in scheduled payments to local governments. Winston-Salem’s share of the loss ran to $8.1 million. Since by law, local governments are required to balance our budgets, that faced us with immediate decisions on where to find $8 million with less than 20 weeks to go in our fiscal year. It took three special budget meetings to reach final decisions, but the mayor and aldermen approved a combination of budget cuts and reserve fund drawdowns sufficient to plug the hole.
A little more than $4 million came from the city’s general budget reserve, which is built up over time. Much of the rest came from various smaller reserve and leftover fund balances. Travel and training funds were cut, as well as transportation reserves, grants to community agencies, economic development funds, and some city services.
The good news in the short term is that we were able to avoid some of the original suggested cuts—like eliminating yard waste cart pickups, and closing some pools and recreation centers. The bad news is that many of the cuts and reserve draw-downs were one-time-only responses. Those reserves will not be available to buffer the expected problems in next year’s budget—problems resulting from the economic slowdown and the state’s own continuing budget squeeze.
The service cut most likely to be noticed by many citizens will be the elimination of bulky item pickup through August. If you need to discard bulky items during that period, call the city at 661-4900, and ask for Sandra Jessup. Everyone who pays property taxes in the city is eligible for two free passes to the Hanes Mill Landfill per year. And wish us luck with next year’s budget planning.
Transportation system planning: Better news came this month in our transportation planning processes. As I reported last month, I was one of two board members appointed (along with the mayor) to represent Winston-Salem on the Forsyth metropolitan area Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC). Today the TAC approved both the updated countywide thoroughfare plan and the 2025 Multi-Modal Long Range Transportation Plan. The long-range plan includes an emphasis on developing a balanced transportation system, including public transit, safe bikeways and pedestrian options, as well as a sound road system. Local leaders just received encouraging reports this week on the studies of passenger rail development. Our prospects for being included on the high-speed rail route between Washington and Atlanta, as well as developing regional rail here in the Triad, continue to improve.
On the thoroughfare plan, we responded to neighborhood concerns and removed two proposed road extensions from the plan—the Kester Mill Road extension and the Bethabara Road extension. I’m pleased to have made the successful motions to remove those proposals from the plan at both the Board of Aldermen and the TAC meetings. Neighborhoods in the areas which would have been impacted by those roads have been very active and vocal in opposing them, expressing concerns about the adverse environmental and community impacts.
Recycling improvements: Here’s another piece of good news: The board approved this month an agreement with Waste Management to expand our recycling options. Your curbside recycling bins can soon include cardboard. You’ll get a notice of the effective date for cardboard pickup inclusion. Limitations—no pizza boxes, they’re too oil-soaked; and the cardboard must be flattened into a size that will fit in your recycling bin, and tied into a bundle with string (no wire or fishing twine). Sorry about the limits, but they’ll help to keep the cost of the service to the city down.
Group homes ordinance: For those of you who have been following the proposal for a spacing requirement for location of new group homes in the city, I can report that the board reached final action this month. The zoning ordinance change which we adopted incorporates all the compromises which came out of a mediation process between operators and advocates for group homes, and neighborhood groups. The new ordinance will require that new group homes which locate in single-family residential zones be located at least 1,200 feet apart. As is now the case, only the smallest group homes (up to six unrelated adults plus staff) can locate in the single-family zones. This ordinance is intended to ensure that these homes (which combine some institutional and residential characteristics) don’t "cluster" on a single block or street in a way which would change the character of the area from family-oriented residential to a more institutional setting. I can provide more details of the compromise proposal adopted or the background of the issue for anyone who is interested.