Supporters make final push for bond package
If the Winston-Salem City Council were the judge in the court of public opinion, it heard the closing statements for and against a five-part bond referendum totaling $139.2 million at its meeting Monday night.
Dressed in a “High Five the Bonds” T-shirt, Sarah Smith expressed her support for the measure. Smith is a member of the committee Forward Together Winston-Salem, which has worked to educate citizens on the areas of need that would be funded by the bonds.
“Our committee has been working the early voting polls and there’s been a good turnout and a lot of support for the bonds and we’re going to continue to push this final week before Election Day,” she said.
Resident Joanne Allen, a vocal opponent of the bonds, again voiced her frustration with the pace of progress in the city, citing a 73 percent increase in poverty since 2008. She also said she felt the city’s legacy plan that was started in 2001 and runs until next year was ineffective.
“It takes more than a smile and a handshake or charismatic actions to bring progress to Winston-Salem,” she said. “A city just like a football team is only as good as the leadership that presents itself. Unfortunately Winston- Salem, as well as Forsyth County’s leadership, has kept us stuck in a time capsule.”
During the meeting, Mayor Allen Joines said Winston-Salem had the highest credit rating and the lowest taxes and fees of any major city in North Carolina.
“These items will allow the city to move forward,” he said of the bonds.
In an interview, Allen said Joines’ comments did not address the problems facing the city’s urban core.
“The problem is that these repairs didn’t just come up last night,” she said. “These repairs should have been mandated throughout the years, whether it was 10 years ago, 15 years ago, that’s how you run a city. You maintain each year. You don’t wait until something’s completely falling apart, and that’s what I see.”
In addition to hearing public comments, the city council approved the ordinance allowing golf carts to operate as vehicles for hire in the central business district and central industrial district. This will allow local entrepreneurs Reid and Kirsten Hinsley to begin operating their golf cart taxi service Camel City Caravans at night. Reid Hinsley posted on his Facebook profile that the service would likely begin January 1.
At the meeting the couple was honored with a $5,000 check from small business liaison Ken Millett.
Council members also approved the allocation of $275,000 in Housing Finance Assistance funds as a match fund for a $1.1 million grant from the Department of Labor Youth Build Grant. The Youth Build program aims to help underprivileged students between ages 16 and 24 earn their high school diploma or GED by having them participate in housing construction projects.
Councilman Robert Clark asked why more than $17,000 was being spent on training the program’s participants. Community and Business Development director Ritchie Brooks replied by telling him that the number included both the cost of training the participants and the cost of rehabilitating two structures.
Council members also discussed the need to eventually move away from construction toward more 21st century-relevant skills that could be taught in the program””something that councilman Jeff MacIntosh said is important but cannot happen quite yet.
“I don’t think we’re ready to move beyond a post-construction society,” he said.
The council was scheduled to discuss a rezoning petition for a property located at the northeast corner of New Walkertown and Waterworks roads, but it was pushed to a meeting in December. If approved, the property would be properly zoned for an electronic sweepstakes operation that currently exists. Many are worried that this change could result in too many of the cafes opening in one area.
“Allowing sweepstakes to be in additional zonings is a trend that has the potential to affect all neighborhoods in Winston-Salem as there may be continuing requests to allow sweep stakes in these and a variety of other zones,” George Bryan wrote in a letter of opposition.
Councilman James Taylor Jr. said he is not opposed to allowing sweepstakes businesses in Winston-Salem as long as it is done responsibly.
“I support every business and everyone’s right to frequent those businesses but I do think we need to take a look at where these sweepstakes operations are located and how we continue to operate them in relation to the state government going forward,” he said.
Taylor said while the city can tax the cafes, they often “strip the life out of certain communities.” He cited an area off of Clemmonsville Road that at one time had three sweepstakes businesses within one quarter of a mile.
“We will yield to state government and comply with the state constitution, but ultimately they do need to be regulated to a certain area, and we don’t want those areas to be high crime, high poverty areas,” he said.
Sweepstakes businesses have been a controversial topic in North Carolina during the last few years, with court rulings both allowing and disallowing their operation. A number have been shut down around the state, but Assistant City Attorney Jerry Kontos said Winston-Salem allows them in areas that are zoned HB, or Highway Business.
“Basically the city tried to regulate where these uses were going to be allowed, given their various impacts on traffic and the like,” he said. “Given that the industry has been around for so long, the thought was that the city would regulate it because of that potential for that industry.” !