2013 State of the Town
State of the Town Address & Dinner
Feb. 18, 2013
Wake Forest Presbyterian Church
The Wake Forest Rotary Club presented sponsored the Fifth Annual State of the Town Address & Dinner on Monday, Feb. 18, 2013, at the Wake Forest Presbyterian Church.
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 2012. She also discussed several goals Wake Forest will strive towards over the next 12 months.
Good evening and thank you for being here tonight.
I am honored and our town is honored by your presence here this evening. Your interest in the future of Wake Forest is inspiring and reinforces my belief in the passion we all share for our community.
Before I begin, I want to express my appreciation to our host—Wake Forest Presbyterian Church—and to our sponsor—The Wake Forest Rotary Club.
In his budget message last year, Town Manager Mark Williams stated that 2012 would be a year of "new reality." He said that we can no longer do things the way we have always done them. Our old benchmarks of staffing levels, frequency of service delivery, and historical revenue growth projections are no longer valid. He suggested that we will now be forced to be more creative when it comes to stretching revenues and that elected officials may be forced to make some difficult and politically unpopular decisions. While he was right about all of these things, I am pleased to report that as a result of our history of operating efficiently and making prudent decisions, Wake Forest is well positioned to succeed in this new reality.
In 2012 we focused on our existing assets, services, and programs with a capital budget of only about 2.5 million. Most of that was spent on maintenance and upgrades to existing programs.
Nevertheless, we enjoyed a number of wonderful accomplishments.
We were able to complete the streetscape on White Street. It was a project that was difficult to go through but I believe when all is said and done, the benefit will be tremendous for our White Street merchants and property owners—and for our citizens. We appreciate the cooperation of the merchants and we especially appreciate your support for the merchants that sustained them during the construction.
This has been one of the most positive projects we have completed in my time as mayor. Everywhere I go, people comment on how beautiful it looks and what a pleasure it is to be in downtown. I have done quite a bit of reading and research over the last few years about what makes a community memorable and what I've learned is that we should be most concerned about the experience people have in our community. Our goal should be to try and provide them with an experience they will remember and that will make them want to come back again. I believe we can see this happening on White Street. You see more and more people walking around; meeting and mixing.
I hope you were able to come downtown for the First Annual Mardi Gras Street Festival on the 9th. Wasn't it a delightful day? The kids were all dressed up in their costumes, many people were wearing Mardi Gras masks—some purchased but many made at Storytellers Bookstore or Wake Forest Frame Shop. Brian Pate had everyone dancing in the street, the kids loved the hula hoops and bouncy toys, and we were proud of our Town employees Charlie and Scott who ate the most hotdogs in the Shorty's Challenge! There is no doubt we will have to make this an annual affair!
Our new and improved downtown adds to our quality of life and contributes significantly to our community's sense of place—where people care about each other and want to meet and share with one another.
One of the speakers at the Main Street Conference a couple of weeks ago said that the most visible barometer of a community is the downtown. Others have stated that your downtown is the front porch of your community. Our new governor put it more succinctly when he said that the health of your Main Street determines the health of your community.
The Town of Wake Forest has been and will continue to be a strong advocate for downtown. In October we brought the Downtown Revitalization Director position in-house. This is a model used in many communities, especially those in the Main Street program. We are pleased to have Lisa Newhouse working in Town Hall and have already seen the tremendous value in having her more accessible for greater collaboration.
Now I want to share a couple of other things that we accomplished this year.
The Wireless Research Center of NC finally kicked off and has caught the attention of companies located not just in the United States but all over the world. The Wireless Center promotes economic development in North Carolina by offering access to specialized facilities and expertise that is not available anywhere else in the State. It is beginning to realize its tremendous promise by serving as a hub for job creation and as a catalyst for university research initiatives in wireless and antenna technology.
The Town Board continues to support the Center in a variety of ways—with funds from the Futures Fund and even through Commissioner Zachary Donahue offering his expertise as a CPA to assist them with setting up appropriate reporting methods. Without everyone's input and support this project would never have gotten started.
In the continuing effort to implement the Northeast Area Plan, this year we refurbished the Alston Massenburg Center. How many of you have seen it? Isn't it just amazing! One citizen said to me that her favorite part was how bright and cheerful it is. With the small stage and meeting rooms, it can be used for many activities and will be a great resource not just for the East End but all of Wake Forest.
Thanks to our Greenways Advisory Board and especially to Berry Stevens who shared his expertise in building soft trails, we were able to open two soft trails this year; one behind Wake Forest-Rolesville High School going to Joyner Park and one behind Heritage High School. Many high school students helped with the construction and I understand they are using the trails for their cross country teams.
In November we had the grand opening of the Upper Neuse Connector pedestrian bridge. This bridge crosses the Neuse River and connects Wake Forest's Smith Creek Greenway to the Raleigh Neuse River Greenway. If you haven't been out to the bridge, I hope you will take the time to discover the beauty and serenity offered at this place on the river. By the way, this is the longest pedestrian bridge in North Carolina.
This bridge is a tremendous achievement for the Town and will ultimately allow us to connect with other towns in Wake County and eventually to the Mountains-to-the-Sea Trail. This will add to our greenway connections for years to come.
The Town of Wake Forest App continues to be a big hit. In fact, at last count, over 2000 iPhone and Android users have downloaded our app and now enjoy instant, two-way access to the town. If you don't have this app, then you've been missing out.
But not to worry! You can download the app tonight simply by scanning the QR code provided inside your program. Just follow the instructions—or, if you are not especially tech savvy—do what I would have to do, see Bill Crabtree after tonight's program! If you are watching this on Channel 10 or online, you can download the app off the town's website or by searching Town of Wake Forest on iTunes or in the iPhone app store or in Google Play.
Last year we held our first Planning Board Academy which is a training program for Planning Board members and others who are interested in understanding the processes that the Planning Board deals with.
Planning Director Chip Russell put this program together and brought in legal experts to lead the class. He offered the class again this year and we were amazed at the response! We had 45 residents who applied for the class. Our budget only allowed us to pay for 15 so we have 4 Planning Board members and 11 randomly selected citizens taking the class along with 5 from other jurisdictions who are paying the fee themselves. This program is certainly worth continuing so we can have more people with knowledge of how the process works.
We are so fortunate here in Wake Forest to have an excellent staff. I am able to interact with a lot of municipal employees throughout the county and state at meetings and conferences. I know that our employees are the cream of the crop and I want to share with you some of the ways they help keep our town one of the best.
We started a Cost Saving Quality Circle to give employees an opportunity to suggest ways the town could save money and be more efficient. This initiative has been extremely successful. We are pleased that so many employees have come up with great ideas. Just as an example, Evan Keto our Urban Forester will be starting a nursery to grow our own trees and shrubs to use for our street plantings. We know this will save thousands of dollars over time.
Our Wake Forest Power employees are very skilled and several of our linemen participated in the annual NC Public Power Lineman's Rodeo. This year two of our own, Scott Abbott and Hugo Mier won the opportunity to compete in the national rodeo in March. You may have recently noticed power poles and lines out at Joyner Park. Well, they are not permanent; they put those up for them to practice for the nationals. I think Scott and Hugo are here tonight. Stand up and take a bow; we wish you the very best!
And, speaking of electric linemen, this is such a valuable group of employees for the Town. We tend to not think about electricity as long as the light comes on when we flip the switch. But I think it is important for us to remember that there is a group of guys out there whose job is almost always uncomfortable—it's either too hot, or too cold, or rainy, or icy—and that doesn't even take into consideration the fact that it is dangerous and a simple mistake can kill you or your partner.
These guys not only keep your power on, they are willing to volunteer to go away from home to help others when something like Hurricane Sandy comes along. We had a group who went to New York. For two weeks they worked very hard and got very little sleep, but I can tell you, the people in Long Island appreciate the guys from Wake Forest Power. We had so many emails from citizens thanking us for sending them. And I had a long conversation with Mayor David Channer of Eastport, Long Island, who couldn't say enough about how great they were. The thing that really impressed me was that while they were all so very appreciative of getting their power back on, every one of the emails commented on how pleasant and caring our guys were. They are great ambassadors for the Town.
We have several of our linemen with us this evening and I would like for them to stand up so that you can see them and thank them for taking care of us. Thanks guys for all you do.
You have probably noticed the new design on some of our Police cars. Our Department submitted their new design to LAW AND ORDER MAGAZINE for their Police Vehicle Design Contest. The magazine had over 500 entries and our Department's design was the Grand Prize winner! The judges said, "This car is sharp!" We will be phasing in the new design on all of our vehicles as they are replaced. And just as a side note, the new design is a cost saving for the Town due to the new color scheme.
The Employee of the Year for the Town in 2012 was Tim Edwards in our Inspections Department. Tim believes in good customer service and making sure we have safe buildings in
which our citizens can live and work. His great smile makes the medicine go down just a little easier! Another employee who received acknowledgement for his work is Scott Graham. Officer Graham was named the North Carolina DARE Officer of the Year. He does a tremendous job teaching the fifth graders in our elementary schools how to respond appropriately to the many influences they face. Congratulations to Tim and Scott.
I hope you have driven down Wait Avenue recently and seen the rock wall built by our Streets Department employees. The wall is beautiful; it is a good thing to have employees who have the skill to not only make our town safe and comfortable, but to make it beautiful as well!
Last December, Bob Pittard from our IT Department was deployed with the North Carolina National Guard. He served a year mostly in Afghanistan. We are so happy to have Bob back safe and sound. Won't you give Bob a round of applause and thank him for his service to all of us.
We have an excellent Wellness Program that is headed up by our Human Resources Staff along with a Wellness Committee. They have Challenges and special events during the year to bring attention to ways we can stay healthy. Mark Williams also encouraged employees to be better consumers of health care by selecting the most appropriate providers when faced with health issues. As a result of all of this, the Town saw a 4.3% drop in health insurance rates for employees this year. This is a super accomplishment and shows the quality and dedication of our entire staff.
And speaking of Human Resources, I would like to recognize Tammy Moody. Tammy has been our Human Resources Director for over 15 years but she is retiring on March 1st and I wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you to Tammy for her excellent service to our community. She leaves big shoes to fill and we wish her well. Let's give her a round of applause and please be sure and speak to her before you leave.
Now let's talk a little bit about what we see happening in the future. At our midyear planning retreat in August of 2012, the Town Board began the process of developing a Strategic Plan for the Town and we continued that process at our retreat a couple of weeks ago. Always before, we planned what we would do in the next year; we talked about things we wanted to see happen as soon as possible. This has worked okay and we have accomplished a lot. But we need to be looking at the Community Plan and deciding how we can grow the Town that our citizens have said they want in twenty-five years. We can't do that well if we only plan year by year. The Community Plan vision statements require us to think ahead. We have to be deliberate in our planning if we want to be the leaders you have asked for.
We have identified four goals for the next five years and established objectives to help us achieve these goals. The first goal is to stimulate economic development with objectives like retaining and fostering businesses that create a diverse mixture of jobs and to make our Renaissance Area a cultural and entertainment destination. The Second goal, to enhance and promote community cohesion includes making sure we implement all the plans we have in place for the development of our town, and to ensure that our citizens are well informed about community activities and Town government. Our Third goal, to instill an organizational culture that embraces and reflects our core values of caring, commitment, integrity, and innovation primarily addresses maintaining our operations and developing a culture of excellent customer service. The Fourth goal, to maintain our fiscal strength will also include maintaining the public trust in the sustainability of our financial system and our practices. Staff is working on the strategies and implementation and how it will all fit into the budget and into their work program over time. We are excited about working together to achieve these goals and you will be a part of it as we provide opportunities for you to tell us how we are doing.
We have been diligently working on the Unified Development Ordinance with the help of a committee which includes engineers, builders, architects, etc. We expect to be having public meetings about the UDO in the next couple of months. The UDO puts into code the Community Plan vision for how our town will grow over the next twenty-five years and it makes navigating the development and building process much easier. I encourage you to go to the website, take a look at this document and come to the public meetings to give us your input. I certainly want to thank Chad Sary and Charlie Yokley in our Planning Department for their excellent leadership in the UDO process.
Getting the UDO completed at this time is appropriate because we see that development is picking up in Wake Forest. We were fortunate in the economic downturn not to suffer as badly as some areas although everyone was hurt in one way or another. One way to measure growth is through the number of residential building permits issued by the Town. Over the past ten years, our top year in permits was 2005 when we issued 1006. In 2008 that number was down to 689. Our lowest year was 2009 when we had only 212. Last year we issued 736 residential building permits. I believe this shows that we are slowly coming out of the recession and we should experience slow growth in the coming years. However, just as there is a new reality for budgets and capital projects, there is also a new reality for residential development. Because of changes in the economy, development will be different and more people will be renting apartments and buying townhomes. Of the permits issued in 2012 only 41% of them were for detached single-family homes. We also saw growth in commercial permits this year, issuing 76 non-residential permits for offices, warehouses, and other businesses. Our population continues to grow and we welcome all the new people with their ideas and enthusiasm.
Personally, I continue to advocate for the arts in our community. I recently attended the presentation of the State of the Arts & Culture in Wake County. We were told that the arts represent 6000 full-time jobs and $162.2 million dollars in the Wake County economy. We must take advantage of this resource. In our community we have a large, vibrant, active community of artists. We have citizens who have been staging short, varied performances on a regular basis in our downtown. We have other citizens who are putting together a community theater group. We have numerous dance studios that need performance venues. We have artists who have established storefronts to market handcrafted products and artworks to our community. The Town must support all of these efforts and help this cultural resource and economic resource to grow.
We must think of arts as a business, bring the arts community together and connect it to economic development. Creative workers want to live where there is a vibrant art scene. All of this is connected to place making; which includes quality of life amenities, great downtowns, historic preservation, memorable experiences, connectivity, tourism, and a well-designed, functional and attractive community. We have a lot of work to do; but we have a lot of people who want to help do it!
Throughout 2012 with the help of a group of stakeholders, I tried to acquire some grants to help us move forward with arts venues and programming. Our hope was to take the resources of town government and expand it with the leadership and spirit of our many community volunteers. We called our vision Roots to Renaissance and believed that we could enrich the lives of our citizens through education, healthy living, our heritage, and the arts.
Over the next few months you will hear more about how we want to connect and empower volunteers and community groups to work together for the greater good, to get under-used buildings refurbished for added programming, to integrate fundraising efforts, and to cultivate the expertise that we see in our citizens.
I am sure most of you heard about the Mayors Challenge offered by the Bloomburg Foundation and although they didn't give us a grant, we know that our citizens care about Wake Forest and that you are looking for ways to solve problems and seize opportunities. We know that public engagement is not a one-time event. It is a way of thinking and a way of working together which will make our community better. Wake Forest Arts has been involved in all of this planning and I believe they will be the point group to get this vision accomplished. I believe this quote sums up how I see Roots to Renaissance unfolding, "Imagine what a harmonious world it could be if every single person, both young and old, shared a little of what he or she is good at doing." (Quincy Jones). That is really what I hope will happen, that each person will share what they are good at doing and we can put all of that together.
In closing I want to share something my pastor recently said. She said that we are living in "cranky times." Having just gone through the most contentious presidential and gubernatorial elections in our lifetimes, we have had enough anger, criticism, and selfishness to last for rest of our lives. I want to share with you three things that my pastor said we could do to put this behind us and make our community better. We must do away with the negative and look for the positive. How wonderful our community can be if it is a place apart from angst and anger. We must speak the truth, but speak the truth in love, not demeaning or hurtful or disrespectful. We must build one another up—everything we say should be to build up our neighbor and our community. Let's put away these "cranky times" in Wake Forest. Let's stop concentrating on the negative. Let's go forward united in joy and expectation for what is ahead.