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DECISION TIME

by Daniel Schere

Winston-Salem Council forwards bonds package to voters

daniel@yesweekly.com @Daniel_Schere

Voters in Winston-Salem will vote on five bond issues totaling $139.2 million in the fall. At their meeting on Monday night, members of the Winston-Salem City Council unanimously voted to put the items on the November ballot, which include $42.3 million for street and sidewalk repairs, $31 million for public safety, $30.85 million for parks and recreation, $10 million for housing and $25 million for economic development.

The meeting included a public hearing on each of the items, and many residents spoke out on both sides of the sidewalks bond. Residents Carolyn Highsmith and Robert Leak showed the council photos of streets in their respective neighborhoods that need to be repaired. Highsmith, a member of the New South Community Coalition, said there are three roundabouts on West Clemmonsville Road that have not been landscaped.

A few residents said they felt that their voices had not been heard in the past and wanted to make sure their communities would benefit. Jack Fisher, who lives in Pfafftown, said half of his community has been annexed by the city of Winston-Salem but the other half is unincorporated. This concept even extends to Yadkinville Road, which has been annexed on only one side. Fisher said as a result he has not received basic services like sidewalks and streetlights despite paying taxes to the city of Winston-Salem.

“Everything I see spent seems to be spent downtown,” he said. “We are supposed to be a part of this city. Please pay attention to this area.”

Joanne Allen said she will not support the streets and sidewalks bond because she feels council members are not representing the will of the people, and there is too much red tape.

“You’re going to come back in three more years and tell us again with a new set of repairs that are needed in Winston Salem,” she said. “Maybe you all have forgotten when you were elected legally or illegally, that you are representing the people of Winston- Salem, not yourselves.”

Councilman Robert Clark said he understands the frustration of those who have not received repairs to streets and sidewalks in their neighborhoods, but said it is important to be realistic in deciding which roads should receive priority.

“We’re not going to fix every pothole, but what we need is a step change,” he said.

Clark noted that 60 percent of city roads have sidewalks and joked that “most roads have two sides,” when laying out the cost of putting sidewalks on streets.

Councilwoman Molly Leight said because there has not been a bond referendum since 2000, progress on many road projects have fallen behind, creating a backlog.

“It would take over 50 years to repave streets in Winston Salem,” she said.

Councilman Derwin Montgomery said the council originally identified $700 million worth of needs for the city and that the council had to determine which needs were greatest, calling it “the tip of the iceberg.” He compared this process to deciding which repairs an homeowner should make on his or her house.

“We’re taking care of those things just like you would take care of in your own home to make sure that our house is still standing,” he said.

Councilwoman Denise Adams encouraged the public to support the referendum, especially in light of this year’s winter storms that worsened the condition of many roads by creating additional potholes. She compared the needs of the city to a wish list where items are checked off over a period of time.

“Our city’s growing,” she said. “We chose not to raise taxes, and hence our infrastructure has suffered.”

Councilman Dan Besse said city staff would soon be compiling a list of roads that are in desperate need of repair. He said the three factors to consider when asking the public to support the bond referendum are inclusiveness, transparency and involvement.

Councilman Jeff Macintosh told reporters at the council’s meeting on July 21 that although the city has not had a bond referendum in 14 years, the recession caused leaders to rethink their strategy for raising funds.

“Having gone through the economic downturn, it’s been very difficult to ask people to step up,” he said on July 21. “Now that things are beginning to turn around a little seems like a good time to ask people to invest a little in infrastructure.”

The council also approved an installment purchase contract of $58 million in limited obligation bonds. The money will fund a number of capital improvement projects that include the restoration of the historic Union Station building at 300 South Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, improvements to the M.C. Benton Jr. Convention Center, Acquisition of Bryce A. Stuart Municipal Building at 101 East First Street and improvements to the Business 40 corridor.

In addition, the council held a public hearing on a rezoning of land located near Wedge Drive and Rock Hill Road in Pfafftown. Resident Susan McLamb, who lives at 4151 Wedge Drive said she is concerned about the addition of 72 homes to her neighborhood because there is currently only one exit to Reynolda Road, and this would lead to more traffic and possibly unsafe conditions for pedestrians. McLamb added that there are no sidewalks in her neighborhood and all of the mailboxes are located on one side of the street.

“We’re used to pulling over to that side of the road and getting mail from our car,” she said.

McLamb said it was not until recently that she was notified of the development and she did not have an opportunity before Monday’s meeting to voice her safety concerns.

“I understand he’s within the limits but the point is there’s 72 houses going up and that means 150 plus cars and there’s only one road out of there and we’d like to see another,” she said.

Justin Mendenhall, the manager of RS Parker Homes Llc, said he made an attempt to reach out to one homeowner but did not receive any opposition to the project until 3pm Monday.

“We honestly didn’t foresee an issue due to the property being less dense,” he said.

Councilman Jeff MacIntosh noted that 50 residents on Rock Hill Road will be directly impacted by the construction, and said he thinks residents of the community deserve more time to ask questions of the developer and express themselves.

“There’s going to be more construction traffic and there’s going to be more vehicular traffic, and they need to know what’s coming at them,” MacIntosh said as he addressed Mendenhall. “And from your standpoint, it probably would have been a non-issue tonight had there been more outreach to the surrounding neighbors.”

Monday’s meeting happened to fall on councilwoman Vivian Burke’s 80th birthday, which she was recognized for by the council and those in attendance. Burke is the current council’s longest serving member, having arrived in 1977.

“We can always do something to enhance this city, and what God has given to me, I’m giving back,” she said. !

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