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by YES! Staff

Winston-Salem to get 10 new hybrid buses

The Winston-Salem City Council approved two federal grants that will be used to purchase 10 hybrid buses for the Winston-Salem Transit Authority during the council’s regular meeting Jan. 26. The federal grant money will cover 90 percent of the estimated cost of the buses, which totals $5.8 million. The state and the city will each cover 5 percent of the cost of the new buses. The city’s 5 percent — an estimated $289,090 — will come from the public transit allocation of the $5 motor vehicle privilege tax the city approved in 2006. The transit authority will have to pay $58,000 in costs for inspection, travel, training for mechanics, and registration, for a total cost to the city of $347,090. In other business, the city council approved plans by Winston-Salem State University to locate its new motorsports management program at the Bowman Gray Stadium field house. The estimated cost to renovate space for this program totals $120,500, which will be covered 100 percent by the university. — KTB

Congressional roll call

The federal stimulus bill passed on Jan. 28 in a vote that down neatly along party lines, with only 11 Republican defectors. Reps. Howard Coble and Virginia Foxx, the two GOP-ers who represent parts of the Triad, were not among them. Reps. Brad Miller and Mel Watt, Democrats both, predictably cast their votes in approval. Coble said he opposed the bill because it doesn’t provide enough tax incentives to working families and small businesses. Rep. GK Butterfield, a Democrat who represents North Carolina’s 1 st Congressional District, noted that five of the counties he represents suffer from double-digit unemployment. He outlined the following spoils to North Carolina from the stimulus package: $2.3 billion in additional Medicaid funding, $1.9 billion to help state and local governments fund education and other services, $626 million in additional food stamp funding, $117 million in funding for Supplementary Social Income, $67.4 million for job training, and $29 million for emergency shelter grants. Another recent vote was the Jan. 29 decision to extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program, by a vote of 66 to 32 in the Senate. North Carolina’s senior senator, Republican Richard Burr, voted no, while Democrat Kay Hagan voted in favor. — JG

City council proposes advisory board for new Obama agency

During the 2008 presidential campaign, President Obama dedicated a key part of his platform to improving the lives of citizens living in urban areas. Obama proposed the creation of an Office of Urban Policy within the White House “to develop a strategy for metropolitan America and to ensure that all federal dollars targeted to urban areas are effectively spent on the highest-impact programs.” Since Obama’s inauguration, the proposal has gained momentum, and last week, the Winston-Salem City Council endorsed a resolution that suggests the new administration seek the counsel of public officials, administrators and urban planners from medium-sized and large cities during the council’s Jan. 26 meeting. Southwest Ward Councilman Dan Besse said he suggested the resolution after learning of a similar measure recently passed by the Seattle City Council. The purpose of the advisory board would be the same as the overall goal of the Office of Urban Policy — to facilitate a dialogue between major cities and the new administration with the goal of stimulating economic prosperity and making housing more affordable in urban areas, Besse said. — KTB

Mississippi Truth Project launched

Jackson Free Press Editor Donna Ladd announced on the alt-weekly’s website that the Mississippi Truth Project, modeled in part after the controversial Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission, officially launched on Jan. 30. Ladd, a native Mississippian, said she served on a committee that drafted the project’s declaration of intent, and called the initiative “ a very exciting effort… one that I believe can make Mississippi a better place for all its residents.” The declaration proclaims: “From 1945 to 1975, racism cast a shadow over the experiences of all Mississippians… [resulting in] crimes against the body, crimes against property, the collusion of public and private institutions in preventing access and opportunity to all people, and conspiracies of silence.” The drafters intend to focus attention on individuals and institutions: “While it is true that vigilantes terrorized the night, it is also true that public officials and community leaders shaped the daily experience of oppression. Moreover, the white establishment enabled the violence that occurred. The failure to understand this connection has allowed the premature declaration of closure following instances of individual justice that have happened.” — JG

City council endorses grant application to HUD program

Winston-Salem and Forsyth County have made a joint application for $5 million to the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which is administered by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. The city council approved the application for federal grant funds during its regular meeting Jan. 26. Under the auspices of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, the program was established to respond to the current housing crisis. If Forsyth’s application is approved, the money would be used for second mortgage assistance, housing rehabilitation and housing counseling for city and county residents. The federal government is expected to provide $52 million to the state for disbursement. The application for $5 million represents the maximum grant amount to be given to any single municipality. The program is designed to reduce urban blight and stimulate the local real-estate economy by allowing municipalities to purchase foreclosed vacant parcels and redevelop them with the goal of improving property values. — KTB

Pricey promises protest petition NC Rep. Pricey Harrison

(D-Guilford) said in her Jan. 29 newsletter that she hopes to file a bill this week with fellow Guilford County Democrat Maggie Jeffus to restore the protest petition to Greensboro, at a threshold of 5 percent. Under current state law, of which Greensboro is exempt, if 5 percent of the neighbors of a proposed rezoning register their opposition, a 75 percent super-majority is required to approve the change. The Greensboro City Council voted unanimously on Jan. 21 to recommend restoring the protest petition, with the addendum that two civic organizations representing developers and neighborhoods negotiate new thresholds.— JG

NC union membership up, but still at the bottom

North Carolina and Florida topped the list of Southern states that saw gains in union membership in 2008, according to a new study by the Durham-based Institute for Southern Studies, while Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas saw the biggest losses. Even with the increase in union labor, North Carolina remains the state with the lowest union membership, at 3.5 percent. In comparison, union membership in West Virginia — the most unionized state in the region — stands at 13.8 percent. Overall union membership in the South stayed at 5.3 percent, while union membership across the state increased from 12.1 percent to 12.4 percent, the study found. — JG

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