In June, the city council adopted Winston-Salem city government’s FY2016-17 city budget. We also saw major progress continue on street resurfacing and other projects financed using the 2014 city bonds funding.
First, a quick note about city sanitation collections for the week beginning July 4, Independence day: Garbage will be collected on the usual schedule. Recycling (Red Week, which covers most of the Southwest Ward) and yard waste collections will all be postponed by one day (Monday routes collected on Tuesday, Tuesday routes collected on Wednesday, etc.).
City budget adopted for FY2016-17: The city council at our June 20 meeting adopted the city budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The biggest change in this year’s budget reflects a significant investment in salary increases for city employees, recognizing and responding to the fact that a great many of our staff—from light equipment operators to sanitation collectors—are underpaid compared to those in similar positions in other peer cities in North Carolina. These adjustments include funding the stepped increases in police and fire salaries that we committed to make earlier this year. Those increases in particular are intended to respond to an unacceptably high rate of loss of trained police officers to other nearby cities who pay higher salaries. We can’t afford to continue training good officers only to lose too many of them to other jobs within five years. In addition to the salary increases, we funded an assertive police recruitment program with signing and referral bonuses, additional scholarships, and moving expense reimbursement. City pay adjustments more generally included increasing the minimum hourly wage for city employees from $10.10 to $11.
Other changes to the budget included adding two crime analyst positions to assist the police department in crime investigations and projecting crime trends. To cap the focus on public safety, we added an additional fire inspector and three fire training and safety officers.
Unlike Congress, the city council can’t just print more money and pretend we don’t have to pay for public safety and public service quality. To cover these additional investments in keeping and treating fairly our hard-working employees, we had to raise the property tax rate by two cents, from 56.5 cents to 58.5 cents.
As usual for a year in which I voted to raise the tax rate, I have instructed city payroll staff to not add any increase in salary or expenses to my pay. The amount involved is trivial compared to the $442 million city budget, but I want my constituents to be certain that personal finances were not a factor in my actions.
City street repaving: Unusually heavy street resurfacing schedules for the past year have many people asking me the question: How do streets get selected for repaving? The answer is a function of how much funding is available for a given year, what the costs of paving materials are that season, and which streets’ surfaces are in the worst condition. Since our city maintains over 1,000 miles of streets, we have to limit the amount of repaving we do each year, or the impact on taxes would be enormous.
The annual budget for street repaving this year will be about $1.14 million. In addition, we are in the process of completing the final contracts of a burst of “catch-up” repaving funded by part of the 2014 bonds money. A total of $15.25 million was approved by the voters for street repaving as a part of those bonds. (These amounts do not include patching and other more routine street maintenance, which are accounted for separately.)
The lists of streets to be repaved in a year is approved by the city council, based on lists recommended by city Transportation Department staff. Those staff start with the amount of funding available that city, estimate the cost per paving mile for that season, and divide that total in eight (for each of the eight city geographic wards, including the Southwest Ward). They then go to their updated list of street condition scores. Each street in the city has a numeric score (on a scale of 100) reflecting the state of its surface condition. The scores are determined by city professional streets staff, based on their visual survey of street conditions, and are updated annually. Using those scores and the total funding available, staff prepare the recommended list of streets to be repaved that year. The intent is that the streets in the worst condition should be repaved in each area of the city. The evaluation is re-done each year. (Again, this complete repaving does not count patching, which is done on demand for potholes, sunken spots, and other serious specific problems.)
Naturally, no system is perfect, and there are no doubt many cases where an argument can be made that Street A was actually in worse shape than Street B and perhaps should have gotten the call-up first that year. Every system based on human judgment is subject to human error. However, this is the process used and is the fairest and most efficient we’ve been able to devise thus far.
Bond projects progress update: Solid progress continued this month on implementing the bond projects authorized by voters in the 2014 referendum. Here are some update notes that I think will be of interest to Southwest Ward residents:
--The concrete foundation and steel frame are in place now for the new District 3 Police Patrol Station near the intersection of S. Stratford and Somerset.
--Site preparation has begun on the sprayground construction at Little Creek Park.
--We authorized the new sidewalk and pedestrian safety improvements along Miller Street (Cloverdale to Five Points) and Cloverdale Street (Miller to First Street).
--Design, permitting, and engineering work continues for the stream rehabilitation and trail renovation work at Miller Park.
--At Salem Lake Park, construction has started on the new marina facility. That will have much of the fishing and boating put-in waterfront area closed for most of a year. We’ve set up an alternative location for bank fishing and kayak/canoe put-ins. The trail around the lake will remain open.
--We approved the contract for construction of the new aquatic park facilities at Winston Lake Park.
--Work continues on the new Quarry Park and greenway.
--Work is underway on the new Jamieson Park and Muddy Creek Greenway connectors.
You can check on the progress of any 2014 bond project here: http://www.cityofws.org/2014bonds
Neighborhood and public safety meetings: I was very pleased to take part in constructive neighborhood public safety meetings with residents and police representatives in several neighborhoods over the past month: Mar-Don Hills on May 31, Ardmore on June 2, and Atwood Acres on June 29. In addition, the Police Department and Human Relations Department at my request held a well-attended “Trust Talk” program at Little Creek Recreation Center on June 28. I am always interested in meeting with neighborhood and homeowners’ associations in the Southwest Ward.
Fairground Fridays: The city of Winston-Salem is holding “Fairground Fridays” activities for teens through the month of July (July 1, 8, 15, 22, and 29), from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds. Included are music, dance contests, prizes, and free arcade games. Admission and parking are free and concessions are available.
That’s my report for June. As always, you are welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with comments or questions. Thanks.