The Winston-Salem City Council passed its more than $500 million budget for Fiscal Year 2014-2015 at its meeting Monday night after several weeks of discussion. Here are some of the highlights.
- A one-cent property tax increase to account for the loss of software tax revenue next year in addition to tax increases of 4.5 and 6.7 percent for water and sewer services respectively.
- Increases in merit pay of city of employees at rates between 1.5 and 3 percent based on performance ratings. The council also set the minimum wage at $10.10 per hour.
- The elimination of the West End Trolley, which is projected to save $116,000. That money will be transferred into the public transit fund.
- The purchase of five new boom trucks for brush collection at a cost of $145,000.
Many of the adjustments in the budget from previous years come in response to changes made by the General Assembly to North Carolina’s tax structure last year. House Bill 998 eliminated the software tax and restricted business privilege license taxes to businesses with a physical location. Council member Robert Clark said given the circumstances he thinks changes to this year’s budget are relatively minor.
“We’re pretty much doing the same things we do year to year with a few exceptions,” he said.
The merit pay adjustments come in response to a study conducted by the city of Winston-Salem which compared its pay structure to that of similar-sized cities in the state.
“I don’t believe the city of Winston Salem can take a stand on poverty if our employees aren’t being page minimum wage,” said council member Derwin Montgomery. He said he wants to see more citizen engagement and hopes the city can further its dialogue with state representatives.
Council member Jeff MacIntosh said he thinks the budget is sustainable despite the loss of some revenues.
“If we can avoid some weather shots, I don’t think we’re going to take it on the chin,” he said, while emphasizing that the political climate in Raleigh could create further challenges for the city in 2015 and that economic development will be crucial to the city’s ability to raise revenue going forward.
“If we’re going to have more money to work with, it’s got to come from the business sector. It can’t come from hardworking people.”
The Winston-Salem Police Department has installed a new notification system that allows residents to receive both emergency and non-emergency notifications via text, email or voicemail.
Residents are encouraged to visit CityofWS.org and click on the “Citizen Notification” link on the site. The new system requires that citizens give their address so that notifications can be sent based on where an individual resides.
Once an address is given, a map will appear on the screen that will require the individual to verify that the address that they gave is correct.
Winston-Salem’s previous system, Reverse911, was only able to reach citizens via landline telephones. This system, which allows citizens to register up to four telephone numbers, is able to send texts, emails or voicemails based on the individual preference. It also gives citizens the option to receive notifications about special meetings, notices, news and reminders when garbage collection is postponed by a holiday or disrupted by a winter storm.
“Emergency notifications provide an important means of alerting citizens of missing persons, criminal activity or hazardous conditions, such as flooding, fires, a chemical spill or a water main break in their neighborhoods,” Conley said. “As more and more citizens give up their landlines, finding a way to reach people who only have cellphones has become an important public safety issue. The new system gives us that ability and more – but we need our citizens to register.” (via press release)
Once registered, citizens can change notification preference or address at any time.
“We have structured this so citizens have control over their information and how it is used,” Conley said. “We urge everyone in Winston-Salem to sign up for the Citizen Notification System.”
Water service to Winston-Salem residents in Sunnyside and Washington Park neighborhoods will be shut off overnight while city crews replace two water valves and repair a section of a water main.
The affected streets will be:
Acadia St. from Sunnyside Avenue to Hollyrood Street
· Banner Avenue
· 100 block of Cascade Avenue
· 2000 block of Main Street
· 2100 block of Rawson Street
· Violet Street
· 2000-2400 blocks of Broad Street
· 1800-2100 blocks of Sunnyside Avenue
Residents are advised to take the following precautions:
· Store an adequate supply for cooking and drinking.
· Turn water heater circuit breaker to the off position. (Residents with gas water heaters should contact their gas company if they have any questions.)
· Avoid opening any faucets or flushing any toilets during this time. This will help minimize air in your pipes.
When service is restored it is recommended that users flush their system by running discolored water through the bathtub.