by Jordan Green


Winston-Salem council cuts fire inspector positions

Winston-Salem City Council took a machete to the budget on Monday, chopping out three fire inspector positions in a split decision as part of review of a set of recommendations by a citizen committee to find cost savings through either spending cuts or fee increases.

Supporting the elimination of three fire inspector positions were Mayor Pro Tem Vivian Burke, who chairs the public safety committee, Councilwoman Wanda Merschel, Councilwoman Molly Leight and Councilman Robert Clark. Mayor Allen Joines does not vote unless there is a tie. Councilwoman Denise D. Adams was not present for the vote.

“I want to make clear to the public that we will not be jeopardizing safety,” Burke said before making the motion to cut the positions. She added that she was relying on the expertise of the city manager’s office to make that judgment. The cuts will save the city an estimated $135,000.

Councilman Dan Besse, Councilman James Taylor Jr. and Councilman Derwin Montgomery opposed the cuts.

The organizational efficiency document prepared by the city manager and the budget office states that the city’s inspection schedule exceeds state requirements, and that by bringing the city’s schedule in line with state standards five suppression personnel could take on the workload currently performed by the three full-time inspectors. Deputy City Manager Derwick Paige said the suppression personnel would have to each spend an additional hour and 30 minutes per day performing fire inspections to make up for the loss of manpower.

Local 682 President David Pollard took issue with Paige’s reasoning after the vote.

“The point that was brought out as far as being able to cut those inspectors and put the load on the other inspectors is, those three inspectors, that’s all they do,” Pollard said. “They do nothing but fire inspections. The other employees in that office, they have a lot of other responsibilities that they do with fire investigations in the city, with a lot of their training, with a lot of the teaching opportunities that they do. So there’s a lot more responsibilities there. They cannot focus on all these additional fire inspections as well as these three inspectors can.” The organizational efficiency document warns that the “recommendation could lead to an increase in the number of preventable fires resulting in property damage, injuries and death.”

The vote to eliminate fire inspectors was by far the most contentious item on the slate of recommendations considered by council, which amounted to a total savings of $1.5 million.

Council members unanimously voted to have the fire department respond only to life-threatening EMS calls, saving $145,000 and to increase parking fines from $10 to $15, raising $70,000 in additional revenue.

A proposal to tighten up the city’s backyard garbage collection program by requiring a doctor’s note from residents who wish to take advantage of the special service was sent back to the public works committee. The recommendation had previously advanced from public works to the committee of the whole on a split 1-1 vote, with Clark in favor and Besse opposed.

The change would save the city an estimated $114,000.

In other news, City Manager Lee Garrity announced on Monday that the city has received a formal offer from Wake Forest University to buy Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum, while Winston-Salem State University has made a tentative offer to purchase Bowman Gray Stadium, pending approval from the NC General Assembly.

Dog park opens at tanglewood

The new Dog Park at Tanglewood opens on May 5 from 1 to 5 p.m. The 2.3-acre park at Tanglewood Park in western Forsyth County will feature fenced-in play areas, benches, poop-stations and water fountains. The park will be open seven days a week and operated free of charge.