2009 State of the Town

State of the Town Address & Dinner - February 16, 2009
The Forks Cafeteria

The Town of Wake Forest, the Wake Forest Chamber of Commerce, and the Wake Forest Rotary Club sponsored the inaugural State of the Town Address and Dinner on Monday, Feb. 16, 2009, at The Forks Cafeteria.

Wake Forest Mayor Vivian Jones delivered the State of the Town Address, providing Wake Forest citizens an opportunity to reflect on an impressive list of accomplishments in 2008, including the introduction of bus service in Wake Forest and the start of construction on the new town hall. She also discussed several goals Wake Forest will strive towards in 2009.

 

 

Full Text of 2009 State of the Town Address

The following is the full text of Mayor Vivian Jones' State of the Town speech, as delivered Feb. 16:

This is an exciting time in the Town of Wake Forest as we take time to look back and celebrate the past one hundred years. You may not know this but we have almost 75 years of history prior to 1909 and for a number of those years we were known as the Town of Wake Forest College. We look forward to the next 100 years, knowing this will always remain a special place.

We began our Centennial Year with First Light Wake Forest on New Year’s Eve. We estimate between 5 and 6000 people came out over the course of 6-1/2 hours on a cold, cold December 31 to have fun, dance, listen to music, watch the fireworks, and just enjoy and celebrate being in our wonderful town to begin the new year. 

I hope you have had a chance to read our centennial book, “Connections”, which uses pictures and words to chronicle our first 100 years as the Town of Wake Forest. If you haven’t already, be sure to get your copy of this special keepsake.

This coming Friday, the 20th, at the Ledford Center on the Seminary campus, we will celebrate the Party of the Century. This is the date our charter was approved by the General Assembly. 

At the party, over 30 organizations will have displays sharing their history as our town has grown and changed. We will have lots of birthday cake and door prizes. Introductions will be done at 5:45. Please join us for this event. 

Several other events are scheduled throughout the year culminating with the Centennial Christmas Gala on December 5, at the new Town Hall. Once again many citizens are volunteering to make these events fun and meaningful for everyone. Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric once said that great people, not great strategies are what make it all work. The Centennial Committee has been working for almost two years planning and each event has many volunteers to finish the planning and do the work. Come help us celebrate all through the year.

In spite of the economic news you hear on TV or read in the paper every day, the Town of Wake Forest has just completed a banner year. I want to share with you some of the accomplishments from 2008 and give you an idea of what you can expect from the Town in 2009.

In case you have not heard, I wanted to let you know that we have a bus in Wake Forest now! This is the first step in what will be an on-going process of working on public transportation. 

The bus service addresses several needs in the Town and our citizens are using both the express bus and the local bus. The ridership has exceeded what we projected for the first year.

I am proud that we were able to get it started. I have gotten a lot of credit for the bus service but many people worked to make it happen. We were pleased to work with Triangle Transit and the City of Raleigh. Their people took the lead in getting some grants and facilitating the meetings to get the program started. 

We are grateful to Eric Langfried and David Eatman for their leadership and continuing help with this project. I want to give special recognition to Eric Keravuori for his leadership on the Wake Forest side. He spent many hours working to make this project a reality. As I said, I got all the credit but Eric did all the work. Thank you Eric. Stand up and take a bow.

Between March 1st and April 15th Triangle Transit will spearhead a marketing program to promote bus ridership, carpooling, and bike riding. This will be an individualized marketing program; by that I mean we will actually work individually with persons who are interested in using the bus or other alternative transportation methods. 

We will design specific routes to get them where they want to go. This is an opportunity for everyone to try out the bus and see how it can help them with their transportation needs. We will even have a “Ride the Bus with the Mayor” Day.  I hope you will come out and ride with me and see what a benefit this is to all of us.

I want to share with you some of the ways we are addressing environmental issues in the Town. We have received from the NC Division of Air Quality a $400k natural gas vehicle supply plant. This equipment was provided free by the State. When it is in operation, the State will also provide 4 natural gas vehicles for our use and we will probably turn some of our fleet into natural gas vehicles. The natural gas station will be accessible to the public. It should be up and running in the next couple of months. 

We have conducted energy audits on all Town buildings and have calculated the Baseline Energy Usage for each building. We have adopted an Energy Plan for the Town with the goal of reducing our kWh usage by 10 percent per square foot in all of our buildings. We will be applying for gold level LEED certification on the new Town Hall. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. This is a certification done based on steps we are taking to make the building energy efficient, to reduce water usage, to be innovative with the use of natural light, to use materials in the building process that are local and not shipped from long distances, etc. 

Gold is the second highest level of certification. To my knowledge, there are no public buildings in North Carolina that are gold certified. We are extremely proud of this and expect that any future Town buildings will be built to the highest certification level possible.

Our new landscape ordinance adopted this year strongly encourages drought tolerant grasses and other plants. It increased the requirements for replacing trees that are removed during construction projects, especially dealing with landmark-sized trees. 

We are trying to honor the Chinese proverb that says, “This generation plants the trees under whose shade future generations take their ease.”

We passed an ordinance disallowing connection to the Town water supply for in-ground irrigation systems. We made this decision based on our belief that preservation and conservation of our water resources are necessary in order to assure a viable supply of water for the needs of future generations.

Commercial development has continued at an encouraging rate in Wake Forest. There have been many projects completed and several large commercial ventures are being worked on as we speak. We have a couple of good sized retail developments that will be completed this year but there have been numerous office buildings and small commercial projects that have added to our tax base and also brought jobs to our community. 

At the end of the 2007 fiscal year, the tax base was 80 per cent residential and 20 per cent commercial. At the end of the 2008 fiscal year, this had changed to 76 per cent residential and 24 per cent commercial. 

On a two billion dollar tax base this is a tremendous change and is a good direction in which to be moving.  

I enjoyed attending the groundbreaking for the new building at 900 Franklin Street. This is the first, from-the-ground-up project in the Renaissance area. It is an office building being built by a group of local folks. Allied Rehab and Everything But the Bride will be two of their tenants.   Craig Briner’s refurbishing of the old Wake Forest Plaza is looking great and will soon have a new restaurant and dancing! The face of downtown will be very different this time next year.

The Franklin Street project is on target to be completed this spring with landscaping done in the fall. I receive comments frequently from people who are beginning to see how attractive this street will be and what an enhancement it will be to our downtown when it is completed. 

The White Street project is underway and the first phase is scheduled for completion in April. When everyone sees what a difference it makes to downtown, I have a feeling they will be clamoring for the next phases of this project to be completed also!

The first phase of Joyner Park development will be completed in late March. This park is going to be a jewel in the Town of Wake Forest with its open space, trails, amphitheater, log buildings, and educational opportunities. Please watch for the ribbon cutting so you can come out and see this wonderful facility.  

The Six Sundays in Spring concerts will be held at Joyner Park this year beginning on April 19 with another Centennial event featuring the Wake Forest Singers performing songs from the past 100 years. What a great way to break in Joyner Park!!

The new park at the Alston-Massenburg Center is being worked on and will be completed by late spring. This will be a great gathering place for the East End community. 

We have approved the design for the sidewalk project on Juniper Avenue to Ailey Young Park and the sidewalk from Spring Street out to Flaherty Park is under construction. These were all projects that were identified as priorities in the Northeast Neighborhood Redevelopment Plan.

Over the past year we have continued to add to our communication efforts. The Town Board meetings can now be seen on the website as well as TV. 

We have expanded the offerings on Channel 10 with extra programming in addition to Focus on Wake Forest

We continue to add to our website to make more information available and make it more user-friendly. We were able to offer on-line payments for utility bills this year and we will be expanding our on-line programs to include applying for parks and recreation programs, applying for advisory boards, and many other ways our citizens can use the computer to send information TO us as well as receive information FROM us. 

We also introduced the Connect CTY program that allows us to call all of our citizens or specific areas of town to give important or emergency information.

We changed the way we handle the cost of trash pickup. For a long time, the Town had billed separately for this service but we decided to begin paying for it through property tax revenues. 

This meant an increase in property taxes, but at the same time, 95 PER CENT OF OUR CITIZENS actually realized a savings in the cost for this service.

I have the pleasure every year to attend most of the D.A.R.E. graduations at the elementary schools in the area. I want to congratulate our Police Department for this excellent program. It is impressive to see how the boys and girls respond to and respect Officer Graham. 

This is a great program for our young people and Officer Graham has represented the Police Department very well. Officer Scott Graham and his wife, Debby, are with us tonight. Stand up and take a bow. 

I would also like to congratulate our entire Police Department for the many extra ways they serve our community. Our policemen and women spend a lot of their personal time working on fund raising so they can have their Shop-With-A-Cop program. They always have a great booth at Meet In The Street, and at the Fourth of July Fireworks program, making themselves available to everyone but especially to our children so that our children know that these guys and gals are there for them when needed. 

We have a dedicated force and I just want to give them the recognition they deserve.

I would also like to recognize Ed Austin. Ed is responsible for programming in our Parks and Recreation Department. He has worked with the Town for 20 years and does an excellent job. When Moe and Nick Savage came to him last year and asked if the Town could start a baseball league for special needs children, he was quick to respond, “yes.” As a result of his work and the work of the Savage family, the Dream League was born.

Let me tell you, you have never seen anything quite as wonderful as watching a kid heading to first base with a huge smile on his face because he just hit the ball in a ball game for the first time in his life! 

And to see the young people who came out to act as mentors for the players. These kids gave up their Saturday morning so the players could have their league. 

Throwing out the first pitch for the Dream League was one of my proudest moments as mayor of this Town because I know this program made a difference in people’s lives. 

Thank you Ed for your leadership, stand up and take a bow. And thanks to the Savage family who is also here with us this evening. Stand up so we can thank you for your work and leadership.

This year the Town Board was introduced to the possibility of our being able to connect to the Mountains-to-the-Sea Trail. The City of Raleigh is building a 28-mile section of this trail from Falls Lake dam to the Johnston County Line. We were invited to be a part of this project by connecting our greenway system to the trail by means of a bridge across the Neuse River

Our Greenway Advisory Board agreed that this was an important connection to make. Raleigh expects to complete this project in 4 to 5 years. 

We will connect our present section of the Smith Creek greenway to the bridge over the Neuse. This will give our citizens an opportunity to access the entire trail through Wake County.

Another exciting thing for the future is the plan that is being developed for a walking trail parallel to the high-speed rail system being planned through our area. 

When this trail is completed, our greenway trails and this bridge we are building will be a part of a system that goes all the way from Maine to Florida!

We have continued developing our Community Plan throughout the year. The steering committee has met regularly putting together vision statements and strategies to implement the vision expressed by our citizens at two public meetings last year. The last public meeting was held on January 27, giving citizens another opportunity to give final suggestions. We had great participation with over 150 citizens reviewing the plan and giving their comments. 

The completed plan will be presented to the Town Board for approval in early summer. This Community Plan will be a benchmark as we go forward guiding our decisions on growth, development, and quality of life issues in the future.

At the Town Board planning retreat in January, the Board established our goals for this year. 

The Board realizes that this time of slowdown in our residential growth gives us an opportunity to step back and look at where we are and where we are going and make sure we are still going in the right direction. This review of where we are is the focus of our plans for this year. 

We do not plan to start any new programs this year. Our Town Manager Mark Williams and Finance Director Aileen Staples and previous Boards have done an excellent job of keeping Wake Forest in good fiscal shape. The conservative approach to forecasting revenues that Mark uses has served us well. 

We ended the 2007- 2008 fiscal year with a 24 per cent increase in undesignated fund balance. This increase is just one of the results of sound fiscal management in Wake Forest. We are in much better shape than most towns across the state.   

For example, we have already collected 100 per cent of our projected property tax revenues for the 2008-2009 fiscal year. Our sales tax receipts are almost 4 per cent above projections for the first one-third of the fiscal year. We expect this figure to go down but any additional property tax revenues we collect could help cover any shortfall in the sales tax.

But we will not continue with business as usual during this economic downturn. Mark and Aileen have indicated their plan to enhance our long-range financial planning to be sure we have financial sustainability in the face of crises in the future. They are leading the staff in setting clear priorities for expenditures and they are keeping the Board informed about our revenues and expenditures at all times.

In the area of transportation the Board has set some priorities to look at sidewalks and streets and use this time to try to get our sidewalks connected and do some maintenance on streets in order to prevent much more costly repairs and repaving later. 

We will be evaluating the bus ridership and service and making appropriate changes and additions. The Board indicated that public transportation would continue to be a priority with us.

The Board decided to use the I.D.C. monies for economic development projects. The money was originally used for that purpose and we have both the original I.D.C. project and the South Forest Business Park project as examples of how public funds can be used to bring jobs and businesses to the community. 

These projects also have the added benefit of returning the public money so that it can be used again. This is the model that we are proposing for this money. I think it will be interesting to see how this money can benefit the Town again in the future.

We have presented to NCDOT and are working with Congressman Brad Miller’s office on transportation projects and other projects that could possibly qualify under the federal stimulus package. We will be ready to begin those projects if money is available.

On a personal note, I intend to work to strengthen the projects I focused on last year beginning with Cultural Arts. The Board approved hiring a Cultural Arts staff person for our Parks and Recreation Department in this year’s budget. We have delayed that hiring until we determine our financial situation, but it will be done when we feel confident that our finances are stable. 

We continue to believe that cultural arts is an important quality of life issue for our citizens and we want to support that in every way that we can. We received a grant from the State Department of Cultural Resources to develop a Public Art Vision and with the financial support of several organizations in town we are moving forward with that plan. 

We have a very diverse group coming together to discuss public art and to develop a vision for public art in Wake Forest. It is an exciting group to work with and I am looking forward to this plan being brought to the Board for approval in late spring.

I am also committed to focusing on business retention and development. The Town is working closely with the Chamber on economic development initiatives. 

They have been putting together an Economic Development website and identifying potential development sites including the possibility of a certified site to market. We began last year to develop a program to focus on business retention. I believe we should emphasize business retention in the current business climate. 

It is important to remember that keeping businesses and helping them grow is frequently more productive than recruiting a new business. I have talked with the Chamber and I will personally begin spending some time each week visiting our local businesses to let them know that we appreciate them being here and to learn if there are ways we can help them stay successful and grow in this economic climate.

 The third thing I will spend my time on is Public Transportation. Last year I worked on the bus project for Wake Forest. As the Vice-Chair of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, I will be in a position to help determine how the Triangle addresses the need for public transportation. 

The STAC Committee has made a number of sound recommendations for a new approach to transit. Now CAMPO, the Wake County Commissioners, and the citizens of Wake County have to decide just how far we can go. 

The plan calls for expanded bus service throughout the county and the possibility of rail in certain corridors. I have made sure that the plan now shows the rail line going all the way to Wake Forest

US1 has been identified as one of the most congested corridors in the Triangle if not in the State. If we decide to build the rail, I will be advocating for it to come all the way to Wake Forest perhaps as commuter rail in the beginning. In addition, I want to be sure that we put adequate emphasis on expanded bus service and other aspects of public transportation. 

I do not know what will happen in the near term but I want you to know that we have a seat at the table and our voice will be heard. 

We must look at transit, land use, and innovation methods of handling traffic. There will probably be some innovative road projects proposed for our area and we must consider them with open minds. 

The Triangle, including Wake Forest, cannot continue to prosper if we do not address traffic congestion. This is an issue about which many people feel passionately in one way or another. I would really like to hear from the Wake Forest business community and citizens about this as we go forward. Please let me know what you think we should do.

At our Board retreat this year we talked a lot about our hopes and concerns for the Town. We want to focus on preserving and maintaining a sense of place for our citizens. We want our town to be beautiful, affordable, and walkable. 

We want our citizens to feel united to each other and important to each other. We want to foster an attitude of respect for each other and provide quality service to each person.

Let’s use this Centennial Year as a time to reflect on our past and take from it that sense of having been guided to the right place. 

And let’s use this Centennial Year as a time to set our sights on the future with great expectation for good things to continue happening in Wake Forest