2007 State of the Town
By Mayor Vivian Jones
2006 was a great year for the Town of Wake Forest and I want to take this opportunity to share with you some of our accomplishments. Much of what we achieved over the past year is obvious – visible reminders of a project completed and a job well done. Other initiatives undertaken by the Board of Commissioners and Town staff may not be as apparent or as easily recognized – yet they are just as important to the life of our Town with far-reaching benefits for our citizens.
One of those far-reaching accomplishments was the upgrade in our bond ratings by Moody's and Standard & Poor. These upgrades illustrate how the Town's board and staff are working to ensure that Wake Forest is financially sound and equipped for the future. The decision by Moody's Investors Services to upgrade us two steps was especially good news. As a result, we are now rated Aa3 by Moody's and AA by Standard & Poor.
These ratings are important because they allowed us to reduce our anticipated debt service interest over the life of the $9.5 million general obligation bonds sold in September by approximately $900,000. Not only that, but the ratings will continue to have a long-term effect on interest rates when we borrow money for pay-as-you-go financing of vehicles and other capital expenditures.
The rating agencies based their upgrades on our growth, and also on our conservative fiscal management, longevity, and consistently solid reserves – telling indicators of the Town's commitment to sound fiscal planning and operation.
Another accomplishment with far-reaching implications was our town being named in September as one of four new NC Main Street communities. As the driving force behind this designation, the Downtown Revitalization Corporation deserves much of the credit.
NC Main Street is administered by the NC Department of Commerce. As a NC Main Street community, Wake Forest will begin a three-year partnership with the Department designed to help us tap into resources necessary to implement our community vision.
Our partnership with Commerce will be a tremendous boost in our ongoing efforts to implement and bring to fruition the Renaissance Plan. So stay tuned because you will be hearing "Main Street" a lot over the next few years.
Sometimes, we begin to realize that things are working better and that processes seem smoother for reasons that aren't always obvious. I believe that is happening in Wake Forest now, largely because we are doing a better job of communicating and utilizing technology to make Town business easier, more efficient, and more accessible to our citizens.
This year we added E-Notifier to our communications toolbox. E-Notifier allows us to deliver important Wake Forest news and information directly to our residents'email inbox at no cost. To date, nearly 2000 Wake Forest residents have recognized the value of this service and have subscribed to E-News and E-Notifier.
In addition, we have continued to enhance our website and the use of Channel 10. Our commitment to better communication was recognized in August during the ElectriCities Annual Meeting when Wake Forest was presented with the Public Power Communications Award of Excellence.
2006 was marked by traffic cones and rerouted traffic! But temporary frustrations have given way to many long-term benefits.
First, we completed the roundabout at South Main and NC 98. Although we had a time getting it built and functioning, it is now working exactly as it was designed. I frequently have folks tell me how much they like it because the traffic flows through that intersection like never before.
We also opened the second leg of the 98 Bypass. It now provides a good alternative for us to go from the east side of town or from downtown to Capital Blvd.
The new bridge on Stadium Drive was completed on time - mostly over the summer - with minimal disruption to high school and seminary traffic.
The long-awaited Allen Road sidewalk was finally completed. This project was funded by a partnership between the Town, NCDOT, and Wake County. And then, late in the year, perhaps as a holiday gift, NCDOT finally finished the resurfacing of Durham Road and South Main Street.
But that's not all.
We finalized a Pedestrian Plan and initiated a Bicycle Plan with the help of grants from NCDOT. These initiatives will serve to complete our multi-modal array of transportation plans.
Last year we adopted a new identity for our Electric Department - Wake Forest Power. Although the name has changed, our employees' commitment to providing outstanding public power service to our citizens has not. Yet not only are our employees dedicated to providing reliable energy - they are committed to performing their jobs safely.
This commitment to safety was evidenced last year when we received the North Carolina Association of Municipal Electric Systems Safety Award. The award is presented to public power cities in North Carolina that experience zero lost workdays due to accidents on the job. Our electric department has received this award 7 out of the past 9 years.
In order to make paying your utility bill more convenient, we began offering online utility bill payment last year. Over 800 Wake Forest Power customers have enrolled in this program which allows our customers to view complete historical consumption, billing and payment data as well as current billing information.
There are other convenient payment options including automatic bank draft and credit card draft that we continue to offer.
We highlighted these and other programs in October when we sponsored our 6th annual Energy Fair. Town staff was on hand to discuss energy savings programs such as Load Management and our new free residential energy audit program.
Staff also highlighted the H.O.P.E. program, which encourages residential and commercial customers to round up their monthly utility bills to help financially disadvantaged families keep their lights on.
In 2006 we began installing automated electricity meters. Our Automated Meter Reading program will increase efficiency and accuracy, will provide customers with more information, and will make restoration of service easier when power outages occur.
In 2006 we established a new advisory board - the Greenways Advisory Board, which will continue to promote and encourage the development of our greenway system as called for in our Greenway Plan.
The greenway along Smith Creek was extended this year. This trail is now nearly one-half mile long and extends from the Smith Creek Soccer Center to the bridge at Rogers Road.
The tennis courts at Flaherty Park were resurfaced and renovations were completed at the Alston-Massenburg Center.
We purchased a 68-acre tract on the Neuse River with funding from a partnership between the Town, Wake County Open Space Bond money, and Clean Water Trust Fund.
All together, approximately 50,000 children and adults participated in our many recreational, cultural, and instructional programs and special events offered by our Parks & Recreation Department.
In 2006 we purchased property on Brooks Street which will serve as the site for the new Town Hall.
In December, Little Diversified Architectural Consulting presented a preliminary design for the Town Hall and government complex. Plans call for us to break ground by November 2007.
Also in December, we teamed with Clarion Associates to sponsor a community meeting that kicked off the small area redevelopment plan for Northeast Wake Forest. Over 100 people attended this meeting and offered their input about needs, wishes, and opportunities for this area of town.
The Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2006 shows our Town in good financial condition. Ad valorem taxes increased $1-1/2 million or 18.5% due to growth in the tax base to $1.7 billion assessed value. We estimate our population growth at 12.5%.
Clearly, 2006 was a happening time in Wake Forest. 2007 will be no different. Some of the things we will work on over the next 12 months:
- the Land Use Plan Update we started last year; with the help of an 11-member steering committee and Town Hall meetings with our citizens, we will have a community plan that will help keep us focused and moving forward toward our vision;
- the Northeast Neighborhood Redevelopment Plan will be completed and we can begin to address some of the issues identified;
- the last phase of development at Flaherty Park;
- the development of the Heritage High School park, and beginning of development at Joyner Park will be the major Parks & Recreation projects for 2007;
- We have just unveiled FOCUS ON WAKE FOREST - a monthly news and information program designed to keep you informed about Town programs and services. This is a continuation of our commitment to keep you informed;
- enhancing Franklin Street with roundabouts and landscaping;
- beginning the downtown streetscape implementation as called for in the Renaissance Plan, and of course,
- finalizing plans for the new Town Hall.
Personally, there are 3 things that I plan to emphasize this year:
- Youth Advisory Board – The Town Board agreed two years ago to work on establishing a Youth Board. We will begin with a community forum in the spring. The purpose of the forum will be to get ideas from the youth about how an Advisory Board would be formed and how it would function.
- I want to spend more time listening and talking to citizens. I will be contacting groups, clubs, Home Owners Association's, and offering to come and meet with them. Please call if you are part of a group. I would love to come and hear your ideas and issues.
- Finally, I will begin explaining ways in which the town can be a catalyst to expand and enhance cultural programs in our community.
I believe our citizens can feel good about what is happening in Wake Forest.
We are fortunate to have a Town Board and staff that are dedicated to providing the best service possible to our citizens. But at the same time, we are fortunate to have a community of citizens that work together in so many ways to make Wake Forest a great place to live.
We all have a vision for what we want Wake Forest to be, but in the words of an anonymous sage, "Great vision without great people is irrelevant."
So, as we strive to attain our vision, let's remember the people around us who make it all worthwhile.
Thank you very much!
The Mayor's State of the Town address will air on Community Channel 10 throughout February on Mondays and Tuesdays at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.