2014 State of the Town

The Wake Forest Rotary Club presented the Sixth AnnualState of the Town Address & Dinner on Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, at the Wake Forest Renaissance Centre.

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 2013. She also discussed severalgoals Wake Forest will strive towards over the next 12 months.

Full Text of 2014 State of the Town Address

The following is the full text of Mayor Vivian Jones' State of the Town speech, as delivered Feb. 17, 2014:

I would like to thank everyone for being here tonight and especially the Rotary Club for their continued support and sponsorship of this event. Thanks also to Rebekah Maul for giving the invocation. Rebekah and Derek are new to Wake Forest this year and we are delighted that you have joined us.

It has been another great year in Wake Forest. Several organizations have ranked us as being a good place to live in one way or another. You know you really have it made when NerdWallet ranks you one of the top five in anything!

Of course, they were not telling us anything we didn't already know! Ten years ago, people in Wake Forest were frequently complaining about our community—the Town was not helping anyone, the downtown was not thriving, we were letting development get out of control—and I could go on. Now there is an attitude of excitement! Everyone talks about how much they love living here. Everyone loves Joyner Park, everyone loves the new downtown look, everyone is excited about our thriving community! People tell me all the time that they just looked us up on the internet or came to visit someone and they fell in love with our town and moved here! As you have heard me say before, I love the new ideas; and I especially love the new energy and enthusiasm people bring when they move here looking for a new start, or a good retirement place, or to be near their grandchildren.

I just want to say thank you to everyone—thank you to the natives and long-time residents for embracing all of us "newbies"; thank you to the "newbies" for getting involved and adding your voices and your talents to our community. I am looking forward to our wonderful future here together.

I want to begin tonight with a memorial. All of us who work with the Town were saddened in November by the death of Jon Ray. Jon had worked for the Town since 1999 in our Street Department. He was a model employee, always giving valuable service and helping citizens and co-workers. Even when he was struggling with treatment for cancer, he stayed dedicated to his work. In December, Jon was posthumously named the 2013 Employee of the Year. Town Manager, Mark Williams, announced that this will now be called the Jon A. Ray Award.

Each year it seems we lose citizens who have meant so much to the community over the years. We can never repay or replicate the dedication of Hope Newsom to our community. Her husband was the police chief and then she served as a Town Commissioner. She was instrumental in getting our Senior Center built. I loved to hear her stories about the bake sales, spaghetti dinners, and yard sales they held to raise money for the Center. I especially liked her story about having to hold onto about $15,000 after a successful Saturday sale. You know, back then we didn't have ATM's or night deposit boxes. She said she carried that bag of money with her all the time, even when she went to the bathroom, until she could get to the bank on Monday!

We also lost this year John Wooten, Lib Bartholomew, Dorothy Arrington, and Jenny Brewer who had lived here most of their lives and given so much to our community. And Bob O'Neal, who was a new-comer; he had only lived here about 30 or so years. And we were saddened by the too-young death of Steve Tarangelo who added so much to our downtown with his LaForesta Café and his kind and friendly demeanor.

In July we celebrated the long life of Juanita Dent Core Hopkins. Juanita was honored at our Centennial Celebration in 2009 as one of our centennial citizens. I had attended her 100th birthday party in 2003. She was born on October 22, 1903, the granddaughter of slaves, and lived to be almost 110 years old.

Just a few weeks ago, we lost Barbara Brown who came to Wake Forest in 1949 to attend Wake Forest College. She was a powerhouse in athletics, lettering in five different sports. She stayed in Wake Forest as a teacher and coach and brought the first ever Girls' State Basketball Championship to Wake Forest High School. Her volleyball and track and field teams were undefeated for 17 straight seasons. She was the first female athletic director in the State of North Carolina. After retirement Barbara worked passionately on the Town Recreation Advisory Board and was instrumental in the creation of multiple parks, facilities, and programs in our community. We need to remember to honor these folks who came before us and built the foundation on which we stand and expand.

In July we adopted our Unified Development Ordinance which was the result of two and one-half years of meetings, discussions, and discussions, and discussions about how we want our town to grow in the coming years! The UDO was developed as an adjunct to the Community Plan to maintain our small town character while continuing to encourage smart growth---growth that is well planned, comprehensive, and environmentally responsible; Growth that includes a balanced and efficient multi-modal transportation plan; Growth that promotes quality mixed-use neighborhoods, expansion of parks, recreation, and open space; and growth that ensures that commercial development is balanced and provides enduring value to the community. It was an arduous process but well-worth the time. We appreciate so very much the time and effort given to the community by the committee of dedicated citizens who stuck with us during the whole two and one-half years. And we appreciate all of the input from the community. I believe we have a sound ordinance that will serve us well as we go forward.

Please understand that we will be tweaking this ordinance over the next year or so to be sure we have covered everything appropriately.

One of our Town Engineers, Holly Miller, has been quietly but aggressively focusing on water quality and soil and erosion issues over the past few years. She has been invited to be part of a state-wide group of environmental professionals trying to set up a way to share information and resources. I want to share with you about some of her work. When the State declared Smith Creek an impaired watershed in 2008, Holly went to work to rectify this situation. In very simple terms, when Smith Creek was named impaired it meant that there was a lack of good bugs in the stream—we had bugs, just not the good bugs! With the help of a $100,000 EPA grant through the Division of Water Resources, we hired a consultant to study the Smith Creek watershed and its 13 sub-watersheds to identify where there has been erosion and sedimentation deposition from construction. Holly started an Adopt-A-Stream Program which has proven to be extremely successful. We have 20 monitoring groups; individuals, families, neighborhoods, and businesses, who go out once a month and collect samples from monitoring sites and record what they find. They have been doing this since April. Kids love this program and it is a great way for them and adults to get to know their environment and to understand the impact each of us can have on it. Rolesville has started a similar program and Holly supports their work also. You can find the readings from this monitoring on the Town website under Environmental Education in the Engineering Department. This program gives us extra eyes out there to keep up with our streams and watersheds. We actually have already caught an illicit discharge happening through this monitoring. In the latest State report, Smith Creek is still impaired but we have discovered that some good bugs have come back. We are making progress as we continue to study the stream and identify best management practices that can enhance the watershed and get it back to a healthy state.

Another program Holly spearheaded this year was the Children's Science Program through the North Carolina Museum of Science. At Town Hall we hosted five different programs which were presented by the Museum personnel. It was an opportunity for children to learn about the main animals we have in our stream corridors; to touch them and then go out in the outdoors and try to find them and see them in their natural habitat. We had over 225 children participate in these five programs. Holly is with us tonight and I'd like for her to stand up and be recognized for the important work she is doing.

Before we leave Holly, I just wanted to mention that this year she applied for two Clean Water Management Trust Fund Grants to help us purchase property along stream corridors to preserve water quality and protect water resources. We were not successful in obtaining these two grants in 2013, but we have applied for the 2014 funding cycle. We hope the Legislature will restore the Clean Water Management Trust Fund to its former numbers as soon as they possibly can. Senator Barefoot has told me that he supports urban conservation efforts and I am sure Representative Malone is also supportive. We can take the opportunity this evening to ask for their help with this issue. Thanks to both of you for being here tonight.

Candace Davis, one of our senior planners, filed an application for a Wake County Open Space grant for our greenway system this year. We have partnered with the County in the past but they decided to reprioritize and our projects did not fit their list this year. I am pleased that Sig Hutchinson is with us tonight. Sig has been the open space and greenway guru in Wake County for years and he was instrumental in helping us get the open space money several years ago to purchase and develop E. Carroll Joyner Park. Sig, we appreciate what you have done for Wake Forest and Wake County over the years.

Last year I reported that one of the money-saving ideas from employees was to start our own nursery to grow street trees and shrubs. Evan Keto, our Urban Forester, got the nursery started this year at Joyner Park and he began a Tree Steward program to involve citizens in maintaining our urban forest. Did you know that we have over 14,000 trees in our urban forest? That is just the trees that belong to the Town.

We now have 40 Tree Stewards who have gone through a four-hour training session. These local residents are volunteering to plant and maintain trees in our parks, greenways, and street corridors. They have planted hundreds of seedlings at the nursery and they are collecting seeds from their own backyards to be used to grow trees at the nursery. J.D. Yoakum built a shed at the nursery for his Eagle Scout project. Once again, our residents proved they are committed to our community.

Evan also began a Kids-in-Parks TRACK Trails program at Joyner Park. Through a grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield, the N.C. Recreation and Parks Association is coordinating this program to encourage kids to register their hikes and earn incentives designed to keep them motivated to explore nature in a fun-filled way. It provides brochure-led adventures at Joyner Park to get kids "unplugged" and reconnected to nature and the outdoors for their health and the health of our parks.

The National Main Street Program accredited our downtown program for strong revitalization in strengthening the local economy and protecting historic buildings. It is affirming to have others notice the efforts we have made to make our downtown more inviting. Over the past 3 or 4 years the Town has invested heavily in the Renaissance District and this investment has spurred over $6 million in private investment in the District since 2011. We have seen a significant increase in the number of people visiting downtown. Our downtown merchants are reaping the benefits. Many have reported that 2013 was one of their best years ever.

Another way we have supported downtown is with our first public art installation dedicated in June. The Public Art Commission did a fantastic job searching for an artist and contracting for decorative seating for the new streetscape. They chose ideas presented by Robert Tully of Colorado. Tully is an internationally known artist whose emphasis is to develop artworks that are reflective of their place in the community. We believe his designs are representative of our community and add immeasurably to the experience of visiting our downtown. This year we are developing a plan to include public art on our greenways also.

Wake Forest Downtown, which is the old DRC, and the town continue to have events in an attempt to make coming downtown a habit for citizens and surrounding residents. We sponsored our first Mardi Gras Festival this year. It was a blast! Everyone had a great time; lots of people dressed up or wore masks; there was dancing in the streets; and a family parade for all to enjoy. We are making this an annual event so please plan to join us on Saturday, March 1.

And actually we are adding to it this year and bringing back the popular Renaissance Ball for all the adults to end the day. I hope you have seen the Mardi Gras video and the Downtown video on the Town website; it really makes you want to be here for the fun. Greg Winters with Kino Mountain Productions does a fantastic job producing all of our videos.

Wake Forest Downtown held their first Classic Car event—a big success with about 150 cars and thousands of visitors. The Farmers Market, the White Street Brewery, the refurbished shopping center with the Brooks Street Bowl, and the Renaissance Area townhome project approved for this coming year are changing the experience our citizens and visitors have when they come downtown.

But it's not just downtown where the all the action is. The Chamber expanded the ever popular Meet in the Street this year and it was a huge success; and once again, The Mad Hatter's Tea Party by the Wake Forest Garden Club, the Artist Studio Tour, the Friends of the Library Book Sale, the Kiwanis Club Bingo Mondays at The Factory, the Rotary Club Comedy Night, and all the other events throughout the town that keep us engaged and involved. Our citizens always step up to the plate when it comes to honoring others or raising money to help persons or groups in need—for example, the Wake Forest Runners held a tribute run for those who were so helpful after the Boston Marathon; and the Gobbler's Run on Thanksgiving to support the Boys & Girls Club, I understand had over 1000 runners! And, the Koinonia Foundation raises funds every year to help our neighbors. The Wake Forest community is generous with time and money to help others.

This year I believe I received a record number of congratulatory notes and phone calls about our employees; about how they have offered extraordinary service to citizens in so many ways. This has never been more evident that during the snow event last week. Our public works guys were out quickly and did a superb job making our streets safe and communications kept everyone informed about what was happening. What a great job they did!

But, the Town employees are not just service providers; they are a part of our community. Just think about our police department and the time and effort these men and women spend—mostly personal time. They have been doing the golf tournament for 18 years to raise money for the DARE program and shop with a cop and other events where they can get close to kids. They have gone shopping with over 400 kids since 1999 in the Shop-With-A-Cop program. They help every year with Special Olympics and the turkey giveaway and the community response team is ready to help when needed. What great ambassadors in our community. The police have wonderful stories to tell about how kids have touched them and we are sure the kids will always know that Wake Forest police are their friends and are there to help them.

I hope you have had the opportunity to see the video "Home Grown Power" either on Channel 10 or on our website. This video is another one produced by Kino Mountain and presented at the American Public Power Association annual communication meeting where it won the Audience Choice Award. A copy of the video was provided to all public power communities in North Carolina to use as part of their Public Power Week programs. This video was just another way to show how much these guys do for our town.

In an effort to expand our communication with citizens, we launched an on-line forum which we call "What Do You Think Wake Forest." We realize that we don't have a monopoly on good ideas at Town Hall and this is a way to encourage you to give us input on specific questions we put before you from time to time. It has been amazing to read the responses and see how many citizens are paying attention and want to be a part of what is going on in their community.

And we really do listen to what you say. For example, over the past few months we asked for ideas about what you want for the second phase of Joyner Park development. One of the things mentioned by many, many people has been to have park bathrooms open all year round. Well, we have heard you and after the bathrooms are opened this spring, they will stay open all the time.

Another thing we listened to were the residents who want to have more options to play Pickleball. Ruben Wall, our Parks and Recreation Director has informed me that we are preparing 4 Pickleball courts at Wake Forest Middle School and a couple of outdoor courts at Flaherty Park.

Speaking of Parks and Rec, did you know that we have 9 people on our park maintenance staff and during the summer they have 200 acres of grass to mow? Every week?

And, our programs have grown tremendously! In the past ten years participation in baseball programs has almost doubled from 896 to 1673 kids. And our basketball program has more than doubled from 335 to 802 kids!

The Town expanded our Arbor Day Celebration by going to Joyner Park this year and adding the tree seedling giveaway. Of course we held the ever-popular Easter Egg Hunt with over 1600 kids. And the Spooktacular at Flaherty is becoming one of our most popular events with almost 1000 kids this year!

I would like to introduce our new Human Resources Director, Virginia Jones. Ginny has been with us almost a year now. She has 10 years of experience in human resources and is settling in very nicely. I believe the biggest problem she has had so far is the mail and email mix-ups since we now have two V. Jones' at Town Hall!! Ginny, please stand up and let us welcome you to Wake Forest.

As you know, people come but unfortunately, sometimes people go. This year in just a couple of weeks we are losing a long-time employee. Agnes Wanman is retiring. Agnes has been with the Town for fifteen years and worked in State government for 23 before that. She is a Senior Planner and has been a valuable resource for the Historic District Commission and more recently the Public Art Commission. Agnes please stand. We wish you well in your retirement.

I am so proud of all our dedicated employees. What an asset they are to our community!

In November, several of the Town Board members had the pleasure of attending the mass of dedication of St. Catherine of Sienna Catholic Church. Those of us who can remember the very small congregation of Catholics in our predominantly Baptist community thirty years ago, found it mouth-dropping to enter this large, lovely edifice and realize that we have the congregation in Wake Forest to support this sanctuary. It gives us another perspective of how our Town has grown and diversified. Our congratulations go to Father Tighe and the parish leadership for this wonderful addition to our community.

I am almost afraid to say anything about it, but I do believe we might possibly finish the Safe Routes to School projects around Wake Forest Elementary School this year. They have only been in the works for three years—but after all, you know it does take a long time to build a few sidewalks!! Yes, Sheldon, that is sarcasm!

Wake Forest High School was highlighted in athletic news this year. Their football team, softball team, and gymnastics team all played in the state championships. We are so proud of our students who not only succeed in the sports arena but also in the academic arena gaining access to over a million dollars in college scholarships. And speaking of students, most of our Youth Advisory Board members are here tonight. Would you please stand and be recognized?

You have heard me talk a lot over the past few years about the importance of our creative class and you have heard me advocate for increasing and enhancing the cultural arts programming for people of all ages in our community. Now, this year, I can report that we are doing it! In fact, you are sitting in it!!!

Because of our strong financial position, we were able to take advantage of the opportunity to purchase this facility. Our conservative budgeting and attention to financial detail, with our AAA bond rating, allowed us to borrow the $1.2 million for this purchase at a 1.34% interest rate.

This space where we are this evening is our debut in fulfilling our dream of having a venue that offers space for performing arts, exhibits, and concerts. We had our grand opening in November; a weekend of music, comedy, theater, good food, and art ending with a sold-out crowd enjoying an evening with Marcus Anderson and his great jazz.

The Wake Forest Renaissance Center will be a tremendous asset for the Town in the years to come. We now have a center not only for cultural arts but a venue that has space for meetings, trade shows, and conferences that can be used by businesses and organizations in the community.

We have launched a website for the Center which gives all the reservation and event information. I encourage you to make looking at this website a regular thing so you will not miss out on activities being held here. I would like to introduce you to Pam Stevens, our Renaissance Centre Manager, and Kathy Gouge, our Renaissance Center Specialist. They are getting all of the details for events and programs at the Centre worked out. Please call on them if you have questions or ideas. Stand up, ladies, we appreciate all you are doing to get this program off the ground.

I am so excited about the possibilities for the Renaissance Center that I can hardly sleep at night. I just do not have the words to describe what a wonderful opportunity I believe this is for our community, but I believe Kino Mountain Productions has accomplished that description with this video:

"Imagine the Possibilities" video

Thank you, Greg, and thank you, Meadow, for that wonderful video. Now I would like to introduce you to the man behind all the videos I have mentioned tonight; Greg Winters and his family. Greg is the owner and producer of Kino Mountain Productions. All of his family is with us tonight. As Brian told you earlier this evening, several members of his family have appeared in our videos. Greg, I hope you will get Liam into a Wake Forest video very soon! Greg does an outstanding job producing videos for the Town. Thank you so much for the way you present Wake Forest to the world.

The upgrades to the Renaissance Centre highlighted another asset we have at the Town of Wake Forest. I have always praised Mickey Rochelle since he came on board as our Facilities Manager three years ago. He brings to this job a great deal of knowledge and experience. I have been impressed with his ability to identify and handle facility issues in an efficient, cost effective, and professional manner. When we began the Renaissance Centre upgrades, Mickey's true value was very evident. He was determined to end with an excellent product that was within budget and something we could all be proud of. He also has hired Joe Pendleton to assist him and Joe has the same work ethic and professionalism as Mickey. I would like for you to meet these two men who are so valuable to our organization. Mickey and Joe, would you please stand.

I want to bring you up to date on the Wireless Center of North Carolina. As you know, the Town provided a capital grant and an operational loan to help the Wireless Center get started and they started paying back the loan this year. They finally got off the ground in 2012 and are beginning to realize their potential. They received another grant from the Golden Leaf Foundation this year to purchase equipment for a project with an emerging state-wide company that will have a local impact in Franklin County. The equipment will also be used for other projects in the future with other companies. The Department of Commerce has used the Center for several initiatives they are working on and looks to them as a leader in wireless, asking for their assistance in many initiatives, for example, asking the Center to support the implementation of a wireless project the Department is working on in Granville County. Secretary of Commerce Sharon Decker visited the Center a couple of weeks ago and is excited about connecting the Center to individuals and organizations she feels would be good to partner with. She is also interested in exploring how the Center might help in the last mile wireless effort for North Carolina.

The Wireless Center's Commercialization Center, which is an incubator/innovative entity, is slated to become a stand-alone center coordinating with Economic Development and University organizations to leverage its product and IP centric focus to create a safe environment for commercially scalable companies. The Center currently houses 5 small businesses with several others considering a move to the Center.

The Wireless Center now has 8 positions filled with 7 of them full-time. In addition, they use graduate students and interns from time to time with special projects. We continue to be proud that we were able to get this innovative and important facility started in our community.

At the Wake Forest Chamber annual meeting last spring, Ted Abernathy from the Southern Growth Policies Board told us that he had nothing profound to say to us….except that many of the things we used to know that we knew, have now changed! How true this is. We constantly have to reposition ourselves.

At the Town Board Retreat week before last, I believe we were able to agree on direction for the next year. The biggest issue before us will be getting the bond referendum ready to present to the voters in November of this year. At this point we are considering two bond referendums totaling about $25 million for streets, sidewalks, parks, and recreation facilities. Because this bond money will be leveraged with grants we expect to receive, we anticipate using this money to pay our portion for over $56 million worth of projects. You will be hearing more about this over the next few months and you will have an opportunity to give input during this process and, of course, you will have the final input with your vote in November.

At our Retreat we talked about how we would continue to keep a focus on economic development, downtown development, and greenways; how we would continue to review our plans and keep them up to date; how we would emphasize taking care of the infrastructure we have as well as building more. We talked about broadband and Wi-Fi and how we might possibly work with companies to provide world-class service to our businesses and citizens. We talked about our Strategic Plan and how we are trying to establish a culture of customer service and continue to enhance our sense of community.

Community development is a long-term and transformative process. Slowly, entrepreneurs take local opportunities and begin new businesses with local ownership and local roots. Government tries to help but the outcomes of this community development are not always realized in a typical political cycle. It takes time. It is important to have continuity in government policy; to have continuity in government backing and support.

I love this quote I recently heard; "To lead, by definition, is to plan ahead. Therefore, to not plan ahead means you are not leading."

I want to be a leader, I want our Town Board to be leaders, and I want our community to be a leader.

We must keep our plans in front of us, reprioritize, add to them, and even change them when necessary; but all the while keep working toward the same goal; the development of our community. We are implementing our Strategic Plan, we are creating our vision, we are charting our future, and we are ready to seize the good opportunities that come along. You have heard that a goal without a plan is a wish. Well, we have a plan and we WILL reach our goal.

Now, in closing, I want to borrow a question first posed by the Pope when he visited New York. He asked the people to reflect on whether they used 2013 to make the place where they reside more livable and welcoming. So I ask you, did you use 2013 to make Wake Forest more livable and welcoming? What are you going to do in 2014?

Thank you.