July 2003 Highlights

“Panhandling”/solicitation ordinance changes:  This topic was discussed again in the Public Safety Committee in July.  I’m not on that committee, but since this issue is of interest to a number of constituents who have contacted me about it, I attended the committee meeting to participate in the deliberations.  (I’m a voting member of two other City Council committees:  Public Works, and Community Development/Housing/General Government.)

Proposals to add restrictions on public “panhandling” and commercial solicitation have been debated within the City Council and its Public Safety Committee over the past year.  Differences of opinion within the council have slowed the process.  I’m one of the council members who believe that a “curb to curb” ban on all solicitation would be a useful contribution to public traffic and pedestrian safety.  It would be simple and legally enforceable, and could be used to remove the solicitors who dash around in the traffic lanes at major intersections, seeking contributions.  However, several council members object to the proposal, primarily because it would force the newspaper vendors to move to the sidewalks, with probable reduction in their sales.  Unfortunately, state and federal law do not allow us to make an exception for them.  As a result, discussions have been stalled while alternatives are considered. 

At the July Public Safety Committee meeting, several alternatives were discussed.   Among them were proposals to prohibit solicitation at certain locations (such as transit stops, taxi stands, or outdoor dining areas) or times (between sunset and sunrise) or under other circumstances (such as while inebriated).  Another proposal is to require that all solicitors get a city permit, and complete a safety training workshop to be offered by the city.  That might have the effect of discouraging some of the more problematic solicitors.  The city attorney’s office is investigating the legal enforceability of these ideas, and will report back to the Public Safety Committee in August.

Longevity pay:  “Longevity” pay bonuses are one means of encouraging the retention of experienced personnel, used by some organizations, including the city of Winston-Salem.  Winston-Salem currently provides a year-end pay supplement, based on salary level and years of experience, to some personnel.  The city discontinued offering this incentive to new hires effective August 31, 1996.  Only those employees hired prior to that date, and who therefore started work for the city with the understanding that their salary structure would include this incentive, are eligible.  As a cost-saving measure, the Finance Committee recommended in July that longevity bonuses be capped at the level reached this December.  The full City Council discussed this proposal, and returned it to the Finance Committee for further deliberation.  In particular, some of us were concerned about the possible impact on retention of experienced staff in the public safety departments, Police and Fire.  Those departments’ salary scales are not at present competitive with salaries provided by several other cities of similar size in North Carolina.  (At present, 540 of Winston-Salem’s 910 Police and Fire Departments’ staff are eligible to receive these payments.)   This issue will also be discussed further in the coming months.

Little Creek greenway:   If you’ve been reading these reports for a while, you know of my interest in expanding Winston-Salem’s greenways.  Greenways are linear parks that provide excellent safe outdoor recreation opportunities, especially for walking, biking, and running.  (They’re also good for preserving outdoor green space, streams, and wildlife habitat.)  We have some good greenways, along Salem Creek and Silas Creek and around Salem Lake—but they’re heavily used and the need for park space is growing.  Some areas, including parts of the Southwest Ward, are especially underserved with safe outdoor recreation opportunities for the young people and families who live here.

For several months now, I’ve been actively encouraging investigation of an ideal greenway development opportunity along Little Creek, between the Little Creek Recreation Center and Somerset Drive.  The green space is there, already used for trails along most of its length, and not readily usable for other development.  There are several possible access points which would make it a uniquely valuable resource to the thousands of people in neighborhoods on both sides of the creek, including Salem Woods, Atwood Acres, and Ashford.

Such projects are always greeted with concern by some residents, but national studies prove that greenways enhance nearby property values, as well as providing safe recreation for everyone from children riding bikes to seniors walking for health.  My inquiries into a possible Little Creek greenway have reached the stage at which I’m seeking public interest and feedback, especially from residents of the areas which would be most directly served by the greenway.  Please contact me about this idea if it is of interest to you.

Traffic calming update:  We had a good discussion of traffic problems in the Ardmore neighborhood at a “traffic calming” meeting at Miller Park Recreation Center on July 22.  Residents of several streets have jumped to the opportunity to look into possible traffic calming measures for their areas.  As I said in my report last month, I expect to spend a lot of time on traffic calming issues over the next two years.  Please let me know if people on your Southwest Ward street would like to discuss your traffic issues in more detail.

Constituent questions:  As usual, I learned some new things this month en route to answering questions from constituents.  Regarding street tree removal, I learned that the city’s Vegetation Management division does not remove street trees (other than in emergency situations such as severe storm damage) without checking with the adjacent property owner first.  There’s also a program for replacing the trees.

On questions of parking laws, I learned that the Housing and Neighborhood Services Inspections office is responsible for dealing with vehicles parked on the street without tags.  You can call 727-8486.  On the other hand, a commercial vehicle that is too large for a residential street, parked there consistently for other than loading/unloading, is a matter for the Police Department.

When it comes to curbs and gutters, if your street doesn’t have them and you want them, sorry—there’s no city budget to pay for the installation.  Property owners on that block can request their installation, if they’re willing to pay the costs.  I’m informed that getting the city to pay for a curb and gutter retrofit would require getting the full City Council to vote to change the city ordinances and budget.  On the other hand, sidewalks are being retrofitted into some streets—but doing that at city expense (rather than individual property owners’) requires getting the project onto a city sidewalk priorities list, again through City Council vote.