2012 State of the Town

State of the Town Address & Dinner - February 20, 2012
Tuxedo Junction

The Wake Forest Rotary Club presented the 4th Annual State of the Town Address & Dinner on Monday, Feb. 20, 2012, at Tuxedo Junction.

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 2011. She also discussed several goals Wake Forest will strive towards over the next 12 months.

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Full Text of 2012 State of the Town Address

The following is the full text of Mayor Vivian Jones' State of the Town address, as delivered Feb. 20, 2012:

When thinking about how to begin my remarks, I kept coming back to the one issue that has been on everyone's mind in the past few years—the economy—and the tremendous impact it has had not only on Wake Forest, but on virtually every other city and town across and our state and nation. As I have noted before, thanks to the foresight of our commissioners and staff, we have managed to weather this economic storm better than most. 2011 was no exception.

Revenues were slightly above projections and expenses were slightly lower than last year. Our total debt at the end of 2011 was only about 8-1/2% of what we are allowed to have by the Local Government Commission.

In my original draft for this speech I had a bunch of other statistics about fund balance, debt, assets, liabilities, and our AAA credit rating which shows our good financial shape but as usual I asked my sister, Jonnie, to read over it. She said—well, I won't tell you exactly what she said, but the gist of it was that I had a lot of boring statistics that nobody wanted to hear and nobody would remember and that I should just tell you that we are in a pretty good financial position and we are going to do everything possible to stay that way. So that is my message to you to night. If you want to see those statistics, just go to our website or give me a call.

One of the ways we are dealing with the economy is to hold up on hiring a couple of positions that have been approved and we have not filled several positions when employees left or retired. As you know, we have not given any cost of living adjustments for three years although we have been able to do minimal merit increases. Our employees are working hard to help with our cost-cutting endeavors. We are much leaner in staffing than many other towns. Our department heads strive to make the budget process as easy as possible for Mark, Aileen, and the Town Board and our employees are always willing to work a little harder to get the job done. I have received comments from a couple of employees this year thanking us for the benefits and appreciation shown to the employees. I can assure you that the Town Board and Senior Management count our employees as our Number 1 asset.

We have experienced reduction in our Electric Department. Four employees in the Electric Department have retired in the past couple of years. These four employees represent many years of experience and industry knowledge. We have, through attrition, reduced our staff by one whole line crew. With fewer employees and less experience, our Electric guys have stepped up and they are doing a tremendous job for the Town. And, they are doing it safely. Let me assure you that working in the Electric Department is a very dangerous job—you are putting your life on the line every time you climb into that bucket truck—especially when you are dealing with severe weather events. In the past 17 years since we have been keeping records, Wake Forest Power employees have marked 14 years with 100% safety records. It has been almost 9 years since an accident occurred. These guys leave their families to deal with their own cold or heat or ice or wind and go out and work through the night to get YOUR power back on. I have heard John Thrift say that the Electric Crew is a force for the community and I must say that I agree wholeheartedly. If you have a problem with your power, you can call the Police, but they can't get your power on; you can call the Fire Department but they can't get your power back on; you can even call the National Guard but they can't get your power back on. The next time you see an electric crew working, wave to them and give them a thumbs up to let them know you appreciate what they are doing.

This year the Police Department implemented the Wake Forest P2C system on our website. Police to Citizen allows citizens to obtain many records from their computer that used to require a visit to the Police Department. This will save you time and will save the department money by providing the information directly to citizens. Any incident or arrest that is considered a public record can now be searched by name, date, or location. Police Chief Leonard says this has completely changed the way they are able to share information and I salute them for their efforts.

Speaking of the police, I wanted to send out thanks to Detective Sattler who spearheaded the 5th Annual Turkey Drive. The Police Department collected 547 turkeys to distribute to folks at Thanksgiving. And thanks also to Detective Kim Warren who organized the annual Shop with a Cop program for kids. They always include at least 30 kids and give each child $175 to spend. And let's not forget Officer Scott Graham who leads our DARE program. He will have over 1000 students this year. The Police Department sponsors a golf tournament to raise money for their kids' events. They sponsor and coach t-ball teams and softball teams and raise $6000 each year for Special Olympics. These guys and gals are developing relationships with students and families that will benefit our community for years to come.

Last year the Communications Department oversaw the redesign of our website and updated the home page. Navigation of the website was streamlined making it more user friendly and more accessible and compatible with smart phones and tablets. The E-news and E-alert programs have almost 4000 subscribers and we have 2100 fans on Facebook so these programs are being used by our citizens. The free community calendar and "The Week Ahead" notification of events is a wonderful service to the organizations in the town. Now we have exciting news for all of you technology geeks out there—you have seen the app commercials on TV. Bill Crabtree just announced that the Town of Wake Forest now has an app for that!

Thanks to Chip Russell, the Planning Department began a Planning Board Academy this year. This is a program that teaches you about zoning issues, special use permits, site plan reviews, and other things that the Planning Board deals with. We plan to continue this academy and it will be available to anyone in the community who would like to learn more about the planning process. Our Inspections Department is doing a very good job making sure buildings are built according to the N.C. State Building Code. They are constantly learning and training due to frequent changes in the Code. Inspectors in most other towns are only certified to inspect one trade but our inspectors have received certification in all trades so they can do any inspection that needs to be done. We are in the process of writing our Unified Development Ordinance which will put all of our development ordinances in one document. This will simplify the development process and make it easier for all of us to understand what is required. On March 1, we are having a public meeting at three times during the day so you can see the work done so far and give input. Please plan to join us.

I have to give a big thank you to Mike Barton, Director of Public Works, and Betty Pierce, Public Works Office Assistant. Our historic cemetery is an important location and resource in our community. They have done a tremendous job over the past couple of years getting all the burial records up to date and correct. Now they have taken those records and entered them into an on-line data base that can be accessed through the Town's website. You are now able to search for the burial records online. It will even be possible for families to record historic facts about their family in this program. This is a great resource for persons researching their family records.

One of the Town departments that many of you may not know much about is our Fleet Maintenance Division. The town has 265 vehicles to be maintained as well as bunches of small equipment like leaf blowers and chain saws. We have 5 guys on our Fleet Maintenance staff and they not only handle routine things like changing oil and rotating tires, they can also resurface brake rotors (whatever that means!) , install and wire lights on police cars, and actually fabricate parts. For example, instead of replacing the $5000 hydraulic waste compacting system on a sanitation truck, they were able to fabricate replacement pieces for the broken portion which only cost $1000. They stay up to date on new methods and new requirements using not only wrenches, pliers, and screwdrivers but computer systems for troubleshooting and identifying issues. Supervisor Donald Cooke and the Fleet Maintenance staff are working hard for our community every day.

Our Streets Department is in charge of keeping streets and sidewalks maintained, but they do so much more than that! They have expanded their knowledge and skills to the point where they actually design and build all new sidewalks, curbs, gutters, retaining walls, etc. in Town. Fourteen of our seventeen fulltime employees in this division have completed the Roads Scholar Program offered by IETRI at NC State University. They also keep our cemetery maintained and they are the ones who pre-treat and clear our roads during a winter storm. Supervisor Ronald Moore and the entire Streets Division work hard, often in difficult weather, to keep us moving.

Our Environmental Services Division picks up yard waste, leaves, Christmas trees and material like that, and they assist the Streets Division, Parks and Rec., and others when needed. We get lots of compliments from citizens about their work and I just wanted to share one letter we received. A citizen asked for leaves to be delivered to him for mulching. Because he did not have room for a whole truckload in his yard, he contacted Reggie Forte, our Environmental Services Supervisor and asked if it would be possible to get a few bags full. Reggie delivered 6 bags full of leaves. This citizen said that it was so pleasant to find a worker who goes the extra step to do an excellent job. He said, "Reggie is not only a nice fellow, he does his job and then some."

In Parks and Rec our programs have grown tremendously to serve our growing population. You know we only have 2 program managers—most towns our size have 5 or 6. Just to give you an idea of how busy Cindy and Ed are, ten years ago we had 682 participants in our baseball and softball programs. This year, we had 1985! That is almost a 300% increase! In our program of classes for all ages, in ten years ago we had 5 classes. In 2011 we had 285 classes! And, with the growth in our parks and our ball fields to be maintained, an 8-man crew supervised by Jimmy Thrift mows over 200 acres every week in the summer.

This year Town Manager Mark Williams implemented an employee cost-saving suggestion program. Our employees made 22 suggestions in the first round. After review by our Quality Circle, two of the suggestions are being implemented and eight of them were sent back to the employees for more information. This program caused our employees to think about how to streamline and make their jobs more efficient. We anticipate this being an important part of our planning in the future. It is exciting to think that all of our employees now feel empowered to present ideas for making a difference in costs.

Now I'd like to introduce you to a couple of new employees. We were able to fund two new positions this year. I will ask them to stand as I introduce them. Please hold your applause until I have finished. First, Mickey Rochelle, our Facilities Manager. Mickey has worked with the Town since 2008 and he took over this new position in February of 2011.

Next, Evan Keto is our Urban Forester. We are all excited to have his expertise in helping maintain our urban forest.

Now, Ruben Wall. Ruben came in March as our Director of Parks and Recreation.

Ruben and Evan have been working on the tree sculpture at Holding Park. We anxiously await the unveiling of the sculpture at our Arbor Day Celebration on March 15.

Let's give these three guys a big welcome. (Applause)

I have shared with you ways that we continue to provide good service to our citizens even in a down economy. I wanted you to know that all of the town employees are giving extra effort. And I wanted our employees to know that we have noticed their work and we appreciate them. I heard Jack Welsh, CEO of GE say at a meeting that "…great people not great strategies are what make it all work." I do believe that is true in Wake Forest.

Another resource that is of great value to our Town is all of the men and women who volunteer.

I would like to recognize our Town Advisory Board members who are here this evening. These folks make a three-year commitment to give hours of their time and their expertise so we can all enjoy living here. Please stand and let's give them a big round of applause.

And, we have volunteer groups, civic clubs, and faith-based organizations that do valuable work with kids, seniors, and the underserved in our community. It is impossible to tell in this venue all of the things done by volunteers to benefit our Town each year.

This tremendous base of caring people is what makes living in Wake Forest a magical experience. I encourage and challenge each of you, if you are not already, to be a part of this army of volunteers who are making Wake Forest an exceptional place to live.

Now, let's talk about some projects that we worked on this year. In the transportation area we completed about 2/3 of a street repaving project and it will be finished in the spring when the weather is more stable. We completed paving about half of our unpaved roads this year. You can thank Commissioner Margaret Stinnett for her perseverance to get this done. We were able to complete the realignment of Chalks Road in conjunction with NCDOT replacing the two bridges on Jones Dairy Road. This project went on longer than we intended or hoped but it certainly proved that Dan Rather was correct when he said, "the country will tolerate almost anything as long as you don't block traffic." Work on North Allen Street and its sidewalks was completed. The sidewalk design for Juniper Street was done and our Street Division has started the construction there.

With help from an energy grant of stimulus funds we were able to upgrade the HVAC systems in the Police Department and the Community House and to replace the windows in the Community House. It looks great and is much more energy efficient.

We finally received word from the U.S. Green Building Council that we were awarded the LEED Platinum certification for the Town Hall. We are very proud of this. There are only 3 buildings in Wake County that are LEED Platinum and we are only the third Town Hall in the United States to receive platinum. I think this is something all of our citizens can be proud of—it makes a statement about our community and what we are trying to accomplish. I want to especially recognize Roe O'Donnell for his persistence in pursuing this: without Roe's stubbornness we would never have received platinum. He just would not give up! Roe, Stand up and take a bow! We will be unveiling the plague and celebrating on Tuesday, March 20, at 6:00 p.m. just before our Town Board Meeting that evening. We are inviting State and County dignitaries and we hope many of you will come and celebrate with us.

Just three weeks ago we received the Best Infill Building Project Award for our Town Hall at the North Carolina Main Street Conference. Our thanks go to Lisa Newhouse and the DRC for nominating us for this award.

Now I would like to talk a little bit about economic development. The initial operational funding for the Wireless Research Center of North Carolina was approved by the Town Board in conjunction with the grant for capital expenses from The Golden Leaf Foundation. The Wireless Research Center will promote economic development in Wake Forest and North Carolina by offering access to a specialized facility and expertise not available anywhere else in the state. It will become a national destination for antenna/wireless development, research, and testing. It will assist small and mid-sized companies across North Carolina and the world that integrate wireless antenna technology into the products they produce. Even though the Center is not 100 percent operational at the present time, we have several companies that are already paying to use it and quite a few who are scheduled to use it over the next few months. These companies are not just from North Carolina but from Sweden, China, Japan, and several states. In March we will welcome the United Kingdom Trade & Investment group who will use the Center regularly to work with UK companies considering an expansion in the Carolinas and companies here that want to expand into the UK. UKTI is an arm of the British Embassy and has previously worked out of Atlanta and D.C. In the next couple of weeks when you hear "the British are coming" you will know it is entirely different from 240 years ago when Paul Revere rode through Boston!

We had so much help getting the Wireless Center started: Marla Akridge at the Wake Forest Chamber put in hours of time. Chris Haire and Matt Isley who are businessmen and citizens of Wake Forest used their expertise in technology and business to help us make our case to Golden Leaf and get the word out to businesses that might use the facility. These guys gave way beyond for their community because they saw the tremendous benefit that could be attained. Big thanks go to Senator Neal Hunt and Representative Marilyn Avila, both of whom embraced the idea of the Center from the beginning and used their influence to help us accomplish this project. Senator Hunt is with us tonight and I just want to say a public thanks to Senator Hunt for his help and attention to Wake Forest while he has served in the Senate. We really appreciate you.

Now, I want to introduce Gerry Hayes to you. Many of you already know Gerry because he and his wife Elizabeth have been active, involved citizens in our Town for almost 20 years. Gerry is the President of the Wireless Center and it was his idea. Gerry has the experience and knowledge necessary to run this facility. I also want to introduce Rodney Dixon. Rodney is the Manager of Operations at the Center and he brings a background and expertise to the Center that meshes well with Gerry to provide the consulting and testing experience needed for a facility of this type. We are fortunate to have these two men in this place at this time. Please stand so we can say thanks to you.

You should know that the Town Board embraced the vision for the Wireless Center but only after insisting that it be done in a way that will provide the highest likelihood of success. Their support was critical to the Golden Leaf Foundation. You can be assured that your Town Board is open and looking for different ways to bring jobs and prosperity to our community. They are doing everything they can to promote new and expanding businesses.

We have 25 to 30 active non-residential developments at the present time. We are all excited about having a craft brewery in downtown Wake Forest. Marla Akridge at the Chamber responds almost daily to individuals and companies that are looking at Wake Forest to begin a business or to relocate. We are beginning work on a project that could be really big and you will hear more about that as we firm up the details. We have a Business Retention Program that involves visiting existing businesses to discover ways we can help them thrive in our community.

This coming year we will complete the White Street streetscape project that will really make our downtown stand out. We have some design work that we will be doing for Stadium Drive, and for sidewalks around Joyner Park. The sidewalk and greenways to give access to Heritage High School should be completed and the Dunn Creek greenway will be opening soon. The pedestrian bridge across the Neuse River is under construction. This bridge will connect our greenway system to the Raleigh system and eventually to the Mountains to the Sea Trail. Candace Davis, our employee of the year, is doing a great job getting sidewalk and greenway money through the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization.

This year one of our focuses will be the creative economy in Wake Forest. We need to recognize and promote the arts and entertainment sectors in our community. The creative economy is growing and we have a large number of creative workers in Wake Forest. This is a field that is maturing and ripe for harvest. Research shows that the arts help communities prosper and contribute to community vitality. The community that is creative serves livability, diversity, and economic development goals. We plan to work with Wake Forest Arts, the Wake Forest Area Chamber and the DRC to coordinate all the creative groups and lead the way on arts-based economic development activities.

To finish up, I just want to say that any community can provide the basics of what we need. It is the extra attitudes that make the difference. We know that we are still facing challenges. We have budget concerns. We have to do what you expect from your town staff and elected officials. We have to be thrifty, we have to be accountable, and we have to be transparent. I promise you we will not lose sight of those goals. But we must also continue moving forward. So, to close, I would like to share a quote from an unknown source and challenge all of you to adopt this as your motto this year:

"Now is not the time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is."