The city council in June approved a new budget which reduces spending through efficiencies while maintaining or enhancing city services. (And unlike Congress, our budget is balanced, as always.) First, here's a note on collection changes for Independence Day week.
Sanitation pickup schedule changes, week of July 1: If you live in an area which receives Winston-Salem sanitation collection services (garbage, recycling, yard waste) on Thursday or Friday, don't forget that your pickups on either of those days will be delayed by one day this week. (Garbage scheduled for collection on Thursday July 4 will be collected July 5. If your garbage is scheduled for collection on Friday July 5, it will be collected Monday July 8.)
City budget controls costs, maintains services: The city council on June 17 approved a $379 million budget for FY 2013-2014. The total is a 3.4 percent decrease from the FY 2012-2013 budget, incorporating 14 recommendations from the Citizens' Organizational Efficiency Review Committee. It also benefits from $400,000 in annual general fund savings from getting rid of the operational losses connected with ownership of the coliseum.
The savings come without cuts in city services. The budget includes one major improvement in transportation services, the addition of Sunday bus transit service. Until now, Winston-Salem has been the only one of North Carolina's larger cities to operate its transit service only six days a week. Winston-Salem Transit managers estimate that Sunday service can be up and running by November.
The budget also addresses deferred maintenance and capital needs, including the purchase of more efficient new side-loaded garbage trucks, automated leaf-collection trucks, and hybrid buses; the installation of automatic locators on city vehicles that will facilitate improved accountability, reduced fuel costs, and more efficient route development; and major maintenance items at city fire stations and recreation facilities.
This year's budget contains a merit pay increase for city employees meeting performance expectations, of 1.5 % to 3% depending on performance level. (Only a small percentage of the best performers can get the highest level of increase.) I supported the salary increase. I did so because reviews of comparative pay rates with other comparable NC cities indicated that our employees are relatively low-paid, and that this has begun to affect our recruitment and retention of key positions like police officers. The city council voted not to accept a pay increase for ourselves.
The property tax rate was set at 53 cents. This is an increase from the previous tax rate. However, because average property values dropped following the 2013 county tax revaluation, more than 60 percent of city taxpayers will see a drop in their actual property tax bill.
Street repavings: Also at the June 17 meeting, we approved several street repaving contracts. These included one contract package specifically to address a number of streets damaged during the ongoing water/sewer utilities lines renovation project in the Ardmore area. (Utilities funds will pay for most of those repairs.)
Southwest Ward streets included in these summer/fall 2013 repaving schedules are the following:
--In the regular streets repaving contracts: Ashleybrook Lane (Vest Mill to Healy); Griffith Road (Clemmonsville to E. Kimwell); Griffith Plaza (Griffith Road to end); New Home Road (Tucker to Olympia); Old Mill Circle (Healy to end); and Westbrook Plaza Drive (Westgate Center to Genia).
--In the utilities damage repair contract: damaged blocks of Academy, Ardsley, Brantley, Brent, Corona, Gales, Gaston, Hausman, Madison, Sunset, and Watson.
Other streets in the Southwest Ward will be included in seperate spring 2014 repaving bid packages which have not yet been finalized.
Brush collection guidelines temporarily modified: Due to the extensive tree and limb damage from the severe storm on June 18, city curbside brush collection guidelines remain temporarily modified for this week and next week. Normally, brush is only collected curbside if it is no more than six feet in length and no more than six inches in diameter. To assist residents who had to clear trees felled by the windstorm, city trucks are temporarily picking up larger branches or trunks, so long as the truck grapple is able to pick them up safely. (Very large branches or trunks are probably still too large for city equipment.)
As always, don't mix in any trash or other bulky items like construction materials. Don't block the sidewalk, and don't extend brush piles into travel lanes. Thanks!
Additional recycling carts available: Residents of Winston-Salem have been able for some time to pay a fee for an extra garbage cart or carts as needed ($40 a year for each extra cart). We voted in June to make extra recycling carts available as well. As an incentive to recycle as much as possible, instead of sending recyclable materials to the landfill with the garbage, the per-cart fee for extra recycling carts is set below the extra garbage cart fee ($30 a year for each extra rollout recycling cart, $10 less than the extra garbage carts).
Pedestrian projects update: At our June 17 meeting, the city council authorized the long-requested completion of the Magnolia Street sidewalk (Westover to Queen). This project will close the remaining gap in walking safety for the heavy pedestrian traffic along that street. Construction of the Gales Avenue sidewalk extension is near completion. The Cloverdale pedestrian safety project has just begun construction. Construction of phase one of the Little Creek Greenway is expected to begin soon, hopefully in July. I'll be walking that project site with the contractor next week, to discuss maximizing tree protection in its construction.
"Gateway Environmental Initiative": This local non-profit effort to preserve a wooded green area along Salem Creek has been raising contributions and preparing a grant application to the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund. The property sought is currently owned by Southeast Gateway Ventures (SGV), which cleaned up and redeveloped the new commercial area between Old Salem and the new YWCA. The remaining 26 acres adjoins the creek and Washington Park, much of it with high bird/wildlife habitat value, or utility for the westward extension of Salem Creek Greenway. The city council in June authorized a partial loan forgiveness to SGV, contingent on its sale of the property to GEI for park use. The loan amount reduction would count as part of the project's match toward the Clean Water grant.
Other June notes:
--Relay for Life: This fundraising/community participation event at BB&T Ballpark on June 21 for the American Cancer Society involved over 200 volunteers and raised more than $32,000 for cancer education, family assistance, and research. I was pleased to speak there, representing the mayor and city council.
--Burke Park neighborhood: We had a great meeting on June 2 with over 40 neighbors, and police patrol officers for the area.
--PART and public transit retain funding eligibility: The Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation (PART) board successfully worked to retain funding for the Winston-Salem-High Point AMTRAK connector service, and eligibility for state transportation funding for regional public transit. I represent Winston-Salem on the PART board.
--I-74 working group: The Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce has kicked off an effort to elevate state funding priority for the Interstate 74 project, which includes the beltway connection between US 52 north and I-40 east. As the vice chair of the Winston-Salem Urban Area Transportation Advisory Committee, I'm participating in the I-74 working group at the Chamber's invitation.
--Southwin, Griffith Road neighborhoods: I spent time on three Saturdays in June walking areas in the Southwin and Griffith Road neighborhoods that were moved into the Southwest Ward as a part of district line changes following the 2010 census. It was a good opportunity to meet residents and learn what's on their minds connected with city services and neighborhood issues there.
--Independence Day Ardmore neighborhood picnic: The Ardmore Neighborhood Association will hold its annual July 4 potluck this Thursday, July 4, from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Miller Park shelter #1. Neighborhood residents are invited to come and bring a dish to share.
That's my report for June. As always, you are welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with comments or questions. Thanks!