Neighborhood safety, as well as recycling and trash pickup, lead my report this month.
House break-ins: An increase in the number of home break-ins has been reported to me frequently as a concern over the past several months. I have passed this on to police, and the problem is receiving increased focus. While this trend is not unique to our city, it has been seen here and is being taken very seriously. Our police department formed a House Breaking Task Force since last October, and it has been working to coordinate investigation, pursuit of responsible individuals, and related public education efforts. Police Chief Scott Cunningham reported this month that between January 1 and February 14, individuals were arrested and charged with 65 of the house break-ins. A more comprehensive report is being prepared on the status of ongoing efforts on this issue.
Police also continue to strongly recommend the creation and maintenance of active neighborhood watch groups as a part of public safety efforts. Through these groups, neighbors help to watch out for each other, and are able to effectively report suspicious activities in their area to police on a real-time basis. (There's no substitute for a neighbor calling the police immediately when they spot a strange person in their neighbor's back yard or loading items into a car in that neighbor's driveway.) For more information on starting or participating in a neighborhood watch group, use this link: http://www.cityofws.org/Home/Departments/Police/NeighborhoodWatch/Articles/NeighborhoodWatch
Recycling and the new blue rollout carts: The new blue rollout recycling carts being delivered now to residences citywide will go into use the week of April 2. In the meantime, please keep using the old green bins until that week, and then follow the directions for when and how to put out the rollout carts. Please help spread the word to any neighbors who didn't see those instructions are have started putting out the blue carts early. Those carts won't be emptied until the the new automatic collection trucks go into use in April!
Full details on the new carts, plus answers to frequently asked questions, can be found here: www.cityofws.org/Home/Departments/RecycleToday/Articles/RolloutRecyclingCarts
Bulky item pickup: Bulky item pickup begins this year on March 1. For details on how to participate and when to expect it to reach your address, use this link: www.BulkyItems.CityofWS.org. One point to remember this year is that the city pickup crews will no longer be collecting electronic items--such as computers, printers, and televisions--because of the new state law prohibiting the disposal of those items in landfills. The good news is that recycling of electronics is easy. Multiple Goodwill Industries collection locations around our city accept them, as does 3RC The Enviro-Center. For more information on these locations, call Goodwill at 714-3066 or 3RC at 784-4300.
Budget preparation underway: Preparation of the 2012-2013 city budget is underway, and unfortunately the advance picture looks difficult. The most serious problem is a holdover from the 2008-09 recession and housing bust. In the four-year local property revaluation, for the first time in decades it appears certain that the net size of the local property base will have declined--a result of the nationwide dropoff in average housing value when the "housing bubble" of the first decade of this century burst. That means a "revenue-neutral" property tax rate, just to maintain current levels of public service funding, will likely be 49.76 cents instead of the current 47.5 cents.
Several other circumstances add to the financial pressure. Federal assistance to local governments is declining, as Recovery Act revenues expire. For example, Winston-Salem has 25 police officer positions funded by these federal grants. We could in theory eliminate those officers' jobs. However, most of us believe that it would be especially foolish to cut police officers at a time when we need their help in improving community safety.
We're working hard to find areas of expense where we can cut back, without cutting important public services. The city has recently sold two downtown parking decks to private ownership, and we're looking now at prospects for selling two of our major sports and assembly facilities--the Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum and the Bowman Gray Stadium--to university ownership. If this is done, it would save the city significant ongoing operation and major maintenance costs.
In general, the budget is a subject of major concern this year. Our challenge is to maintain fiscal responsibility and solid public services at the same time. City staff will be working on draft budget preparation through the spring.
Sidewalk dining ordinance: The city council approved final compromise adjustments to the sidewalk dining ordinance at our meeting on February 20. The changes allow sidewalk dining downtown to continue its evening hour services, while adding provisions that will control specific late-night noise problems that had been identified by some downtown residents.
Citizens' Police Academy: There's still time to apply for the spring session of the Winston-Salem Police Department's Citizens' Police Academy. This is a 13-week program which meets once a week starting March 29. Classes are held from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Thursday evenings. The curriculum covers subjects similar to new officer training, including department functions, search and seizure laws, crime prevention, criminal investigations, and more. The classes are intended to help citizens understand the processes and challenges of police work, improving police-community relations.
Applications will be accepted until March 8 from people 18 and older who live, work or attend school in Winston-Salem. Applications are available and can be submitted online at www.wspd.org.
Northwest Area Plan: The draft Northwest Area Plan has been approved by the City/County Planning Board and is scheduled for consideration by the City Council on Monday, March 5. That meeting is set to begin at 7 p.m., and the agenda will include a public hearing and comment opportunity on the plan. The Northwest Area contains that part of the city between Business 40/US 421 on the south, Silas Creek Parkway on the west, Northwest Boulevard on the southeast, and the coliseum area and University Parkway neighborhoods on the north/northeast. A link to the draft plan, including more detailed maps and recommendations, can be found here: www.cityofws.org/Home/Departments/Planning/Publications/Articles/PlansAndMaps. Like other small area plans, the Northwest Area Plan will serve as guidance for city planners in evaluating zoning and development requests, as well as city project and services planning for the area covered.
Community Development committee meeting time changed: The regular meeting time of the Community Development, Housing, and General Government Committee of the City Council has been changed slightly. Beginning in March, the CDHGG Committee will begin its monthly meetings a half-hour earlier, at 6 p.m. instead of 6:30 p.m. The committee will continue to meet on the second Tuesday most months. However, the committee's next meeting will be March 20, in order to avoid a conflict with the National League of Cities conference.
Knollwood Manor award: Finally this month, congratulations are in order to the Knollwood Manor Association for being recognized by the Garden Club Council and the City of Winston-Salem for their new entrance-way flower bed. Check out KMA's award-winning sign and flowers at the corner of Birchwood and Bethesda.
That's my report for February. As always, you are welcome to email me at email@example.com with comments or questions. Thanks!