Adoption of the 2007-2008 budget was the big city action for the month of June.
City budget increases public safety salaries, investments in stormwater management: On June 18, the City Council adopted the City of Winston-Salem budget for fiscal year 2007-2008. The total budget of about $385 million includes approximately $273 million for operations and $112 million for capital projects.
Winston-Salem was fortunate to enjoy a fairly strong revenue growth year in 2007 (separate and apart from the effect of annexations). As a result, we did not have to debate dramatic cuts or rate hikes for the purpose of maintaining service levels.
The largest challenges came in two areas:
The budget adopted by the Council makes progress in both areas. By the end of the fiscal year, police and firefighters will have market pay adjustments which should bring Winston-Salem's salaries up to a competitive level with other Triad cities. I supported this movement. I did not vote for the final general budget and property tax rate ordinance, because it included a half-cent property tax rate increase which I concluded was not necessary. In general, I believe that it is important to avoid general tax rate increases except when they are demonstrably necessary to provide good service levels. In this budget meeting, I proposed an alternative (which did not pass), that would have implemented the public safety salary increases sooner, but through modest cuts in other items would have avoided the rate increase.
The stormwater management budget and fees were also adjusted, in part to pay for federally-mandated work toward improving water quality, and in part to pay for efforts to better manage stormwater runoff volume. (For example, it will pay for more projects to control erosion, and to adjust stormwater pipe and culvert sizes to manage runoff volume more effectively.) To pay for these efforts, stormwater fees are increased on commercial and institutional land, and on larger residential lots. The new fee schedule includes for the first time a set of tiered rates for residential property owners, so that those with more impervious surface on their lots will pay a higher fee than those with less such surface. (The amount of impervious surface on land determines how much stormwater will run off into the culverts and streams instead of soaking into the soil.) I supported these changes, because I concluded that the expenditures were necessary to protect the public's interests, and the new rate structure is fairer to all concerned.
Naturally, a $385 million budget can't be fully explained in two pages. If you have other questions, please let me know, and I will try to get you answers.
Police, city attorneys roll out draft nightclub regulation ordinance: I discussed in last month's report that city staff were working on a proposed new ordinance to strengthen Winston-Salem's management of nightclubs and reduce public safety concerns there. In June, staff rolled out the proposed draft for the start of public discussion. In summary, the draft does the following:
The intent of this ordinance is to provide a safer environment for nightlife business staff, patrons, police, and the general community. We hope that it will reduce the number and severity of violent incidents like the several shootings which took place earlier this year. The draft ordinance has incorporated review and suggestions by nightclub owners, and will go the Public Safety Committee of the City Council for the start of full public discussion on July 9.
Comments still open on draft sidewalk plan: Many residents of the Southwest Ward (and the rest of Winston-Salem) are vitally interested in improving our sidewalks and safe pedestrian opportunities. There's one more chance to make public comments on the Draft Sidewalk and Pedestrian Facilities Plan before it goes to the City Council. That's at the City/County Planning Board meeting on Thursday, July 12, at 2 p.m. at the Stewart Municipal Building (formerly City Hall South). Comments may also be emailed to city staff member Lynda Schwan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
City commitment to equal opportunity: The City of Winston-Salem includes its anti-discrimination policies in its Personnel Policies which are reviewed and updated at budget time each year. Of course, the city does not discriminate in employment opportunities or treatment on the basis of any legally prohibited factor. For years, its written policies have explicitly barred discrimination by the city on the basis of race, creed, color, sex, pregnancy, age, religion, political affiliation, national origin, or handicap (unless a bona fide occupational qualification exists). It has also been the practice of the city not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. As a clarification, therefore, this year the prohibition against discrimination on that basis has been added to our formal written policies. I suggested this clarification and supported its adoption. I consider this to be a positive reflection of the city's commitment to fair treatment and equal opportunity for our employees, and should be reassuring to potentially affected staff members.