2016 State of the Town

The Wake Forest Rotary Club presented the 8th Annual State of the Town Address & Dinner on Monday, Feb. 15, 2016, at the Wake Forest Renaissance Centre.

Wake Forest Chamber of Commerce President Ann Welton served as the evening's emcee and the Capital Christian Homeschool Band provided the dinner entertainment.

During her address, Wake Forest Mayor Vivian Jones provided Wake Forest citizens an opportunity to reflect on an impressive list of accomplishments in 2015. She also discussed several goals Wake Forest will strive towards over the next 12 months.

Full Text of 2016 State of the Town Address

The following is the full text of Mayor Vivian Jones' State of the Town address, as delivered Feb. 15, 2016:

I would like to begin this evening with a big thank you to the Wake Forest Rotary Club for your support and your sponsorship of this event every year. You are such an important player in our community. You have done so much philanthropic work for so many years. We appreciate so very much all that you do.

I want to share with you a quote from Charleston, SC, Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Mayor Riley is the dean of American mayors and is respected by government leaders all over the country. When he leaves office later this year, he will have served as mayor of Charleston for 40 years.

Mayor Riley said, "Someone said that being alive gives you the opportunity to do two things every day; be nice to people, and make the world a better place. Mayors have a wonderful opportunity to do both of these every day. Come to work and find ways to help make the community better, and be nice to people—whether that's hugging a child in a school or looking a city worker in the eye and thanking them. It's the best job in public service."

I must say I agree with Mayor Riley; being the mayor is the best job in public service and I thank you for the opportunity to be your mayor and to share with you this evening.

2015 was a year of transition. In July Kip Padgett came from Gainesville, Georgia to be our Town Manager. He has spent his first months learning about the town and our staff, and getting to know our community and you, the leaders of our community. I believe he has been impressed by the experience and dedication of our town employees and by the involvement of our citizens in making this a great community. At our Town Board retreat three weeks ago, Kip outlined several initiatives he expects to begin this year to lead us to a better use of resources, better understanding and accountability, and more informed decisions based on expected outcomes. We are excited about the possibilities ahead under his leadership.

Before we talk about the future however, I would like to recall some of the accomplishments from the past year and say thank you to all the people who helped make this another great year in our history.

One of the big events for the Town this year was the North Carolina Eastern Municipal Power Agency selling our power generation assets to Duke Progress Energy. The generation ownership was a good idea back in the 1970's but in recent years the debt had made it difficult for us to offer competitive rates to our customers.

We are pleased this sale was negotiated and finalized this year. As a result, we are conducting a rate study to determine what our rates need to be going forward. We should have everything in place to make changes along with the Wake Forest Power budget process. All I can say at the moment is that we are sure our electric rates will go down but we are not sure yet how much. 2

This sale of assets puts us in a much better position going forward as we reduce our rates and are able to keep them stable.

We continue to see the value of being a public power community because we know that we are able to provide more reliable power than the investor owned utilities or co-ops. Look no farther than the recent ice storm when we had very little outage. We have an excellent staff who once again this year earned the designation from the American Public Power Association as an RP3 Platinum utility. That means Reliable Public Power Provider which is based on our efficiency in reliability, safety, workforce development and system improvement. Fewer outages are the result of this year-round work.

This year I was able to attend my first lineman's rodeo in Wilson. Justin Higging, William Westen, and Hugo Mier all won events at the rodeo and Hugo was named Lineman of the Year. The rodeos are fun and it is fascinating to watch those guys climb the poles and change out lines and bars so quickly at 30 feet above ground.

They are so good at their jobs and they do that stuff every day for you and me to keep our lights on. When you see them working anytime of the year, give them a thumbs up to show your appreciation.

Thanks to Ruben Wall and all the Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Resources staff who began this year offering more programming for our special needs community. After hearing from parents about the need, staff explored ways to make events more comfortable for these kids. This year they held ten programs for special needs kids; events like Movie nights and Valentine Party and Family Bingo night. They also offered a Resource Fair to highlight resources available for families. The participation was outstanding and showed how important this program is. I applaud the staff for offering these programs and activities for citizens with special needs.

The entire Parks & Rec staff has begun the process of becoming a Certified Parks and Recreation Department. This involves making sure they are using all the best practices and providing stellar programming and information for our citizens.

This is a huge undertaking and will take about 18 months to accomplish along with all the other work they do. We are proud they have accepted this challenge and especially applaud Ed Austin for taking the leadership role in this effort.

I also want give a shout out to the Parks maintenance staff who do a great job. Earlier this year I received a post card from a citizen who walks at Joyner Park everyday and he just wanted to thank them for keeping Joyner Park so nice.

With all the events happening downtown, you would think Downtown Development is a big department but for years it's just been Lisa Hayes! We are pleased that Lisa now has a part-time helper because every time I turn around, Lisa is coming through town hall pulling her little wagon full of stuff to take for another event. With all the events and programs, she stays busy all the time coordinating with the Wake Forest Downtown group.

This year they added Beach Night On White and ended up with over 8,000 people having a fantastic time listening to beach music and dancing in the street.

And who would have ever guessed that Dirt Day would win the award for the Best Downtown Special Event by NC Main Street?

Cathy Gouge and her staff at the Renaissance Center have provided unbelievable entertainment and cultural programs for us this year, starting with the New Year's Eve Party and going through the Broadway Ball Anniversary Celebration and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. We have had wonderful musical performances from country to classical and everything in between. Forest Moon Theater has given us beautiful theatrical offerings and the kids have had opportunities for all kinds of programs from puppet shows to Squonk Opera to Raleigh Little Theater classes to a tea party with the queen!

And I am very excited about the new Rockin' the Forest concert series that began in January with Tres Chicas and will continue in March with The Backsliders. It just keeps getting better and better here at the Renaissance Centre.

All of our departments are doing great work. Bill Crabtree, Bess Martinson and Anna Bolton won three first place awards and one second place award at the North Carolina City and County Communication Spring Conference. There were over 100 entries in 20 categories and they won 4 of those awards! Our Communications Department keeps all of us informed about what the Town is doing and what is going on in the community and they are the envy of every town in Wake County.

Our Urban Forest Coordinator, Jennifer Rall, put together our Arbor Day Celebration in March. This was our 36th year being named a Tree City, USA. Even with all the growth and development, we have over 15,000 street trees in Town and we add over 1000 to that number every year.

This year we were honored to also be named a Tree Line USA Utility. Wake Forest Power received this designation due to their attention to correct tree planting and trimming procedures around power lines and working with the Urban Forest Coordinator. We are only the second N.C. town to earn both Tree Line and Tree City awards.

We are also pleased to announce that Jimmie Kearney, Wake Forest Power tree trimming supervisor, earned Certified Arborist Utility Specialist certification. The exam for this designation was established to improve technical competency of utility personnel in tree care practices. We are proud that Jimmie is using his passion and skills to help keep our urban forest in good shape as part of the electric department work. Those Wake Forest Power guys get involved in everything!

In the past ten years we have gone from 20,000 to almost 40,000 in population. This growth has brought growing pains and I truly mean pains, especially for our Police Department.

We have had more incidences this year which brought outside media to town than I can ever remember. With more people coming to our community, it is inevitable that we will continue to experience more law enforcement challenges. However, one thing that has been proven is that we have a Police Department made up of dedicated professionals who are well trained and compassionate.

The Police Department received an $85,000 grant from the Governor's Highway Safety program to establish a motorcycle patrol unit. They focus on traffic enforcement in subdivisions and participate in community events and they were able to host motorcycle safety classes for citizens this year. Also, some of our officers used their ATV's to patrol greenways and offer water to people on the trails. We thank local businesses who donated cases of water to them.

Sgt. L.N. Collie, a member of our Narcotics Unit, was named Narcotics Officer of the Year for Eastern NC. This award is given for innovation in drug investigation and other impacts made in that area. We congratulate Sgt. Collie for his excellent work.

This year I received several notes from citizens thanking our police for their service. One person commented on how pleasant and respectful an officer acted when pulling him over and giving him a ticket. The officer must have been really nice because the guy got a ticket and he still said thanks. Someone else wrote in appreciation because an officer stopped him to let him know something was wrong with his lights.

Then we had a letter from a young man telling about how Lt. Larry Danforth had arrested him for fighting when he was a young man. Lt. Danforth's thoughtful treatment of him had such an impact that nine years later this young man wrote to say thank you. That young man is now a deputy sheriff in a nearby county because of the influence of Lt. Danforth.

This year the Thanksgiving Turkey giveaway was bigger than ever thanks to the overwhelming generosity of our community. Doesn't it make you feel good about our town when you see our police officers handing out turkeys and interacting in such a positive way with people in our community? And doesn't it give you hope for the future when you see police officers taking kids shopping to give them an opportunity to have a good Christmas? Special thanks go to Officer Kim Warren for starting Shop With a Cop back in 1999. The Optimist Club recently recognized Officer Warren with their inaugural Community Servant Award.

I am so proud of the men and women in our Police Department.

In 2008, Smith Creek Watershed was listed as impaired on the NC Department of Environmental Quality 303d list for fair benthic macro invertebrates. I didn't know what that was either until Holly Miller; Assistant Town Engineer told me that it is just a bug!

We began a restoration project funded by a $100,000 grant from the NC Department of Environmental Quality. The Town of Wake Forest and our volunteers have dedicated over 1000 hours, $84,000 in kind and 62,000 contact hours over the past 3.5 years to this restoration project.

As part of the project, the Town started a Smith Creek Watershed Adopt a Stream Program. About 32 volunteers adopted 20 different sections of stream and measured water quality parameters once a month for one year. In the process of taking samples, they discovered 2 illicit storm water discharges and 3 sediment violations.

The Town was able to assist with 3 Eagle Scout Awards, high school community service hours, and multiple stream clean ups. Eagle Scout candidate Ross Keyser aided in the relocation of certain bugs from the upper Smith Creek Watershed into Sanford Creek. The bugs were able to survive for two years and begin to repopulate. These findings have aided in the probable delisting of the Smith Creek Watershed which is under review at this time.

The project also received an American Civil Engineering Association award for engineering excellence in scientific research and studies. Our thanks go to Ward Mariotti, a former Planning Board member and an engineer with WK Dickson Company for his help on this project.

The data collected by all the volunteers over the past 3.5 years has provided the town with important information which could not have been collected without them. They have provided a value and a service to our community that is immeasurable. Did you have any idea that 32 volunteers were a part of our Adopt A Stream Program? And the number is growing. Isn't that fantastic?

Do you remember last February's brush fire out near Joyner Park? That was a scary time. It happened at night, it was windy and it was dry! Wake Forest Fire Department handled this potential disaster with great skill. Not only did they attack the fire, they made sure all the necessary evacuations were implemented.

They also did a great job keeping the surrounding houses safe when the historic Collum House burned on North Main Street in March. We appreciate so much having these guys watching out for us when these potential disasters occur or when we need a first responder to care for us. The Wake Forest Fire Department and the Town of Wake Forest have an excellent working relationship and we are fortunate to have this professional dedicated group in our community.

There were a number of historic events that occurred in the Town of Wake Forest this year. The Wake Forest Museum hosted an exhibit from the Smithsonian called Home Town Teams: How Sports Shape America. It was appropriate for this exhibit to be in our museum because of the excellent permanent exhibit we have of sports in Wake Forest and how they shaped our town. We are pleased to have this museum facility here which attracted almost 10,000 visitors this year.

Olive Branch Baptist Church celebrated their 150th anniversary in 2015. What a legacy they have in our town. Wake Forest Baptist Church celebrated the 100th year of their sanctuary that is such an iconic building in downtown. Wake Electric Membership Corporation opened their new building downtown while celebrating their 75th anniversary. And this was the 35th anniversary of Meet in The Street. In 1980 when Meet in The Street began, Fran Vick was the only Chamber employee and they had 20 booths that first year. This year Meet InThe Street attracted about 30,000 people and had 175 booths. I missed the first one because I came to town in 1981. How many of you were here in 1980?

I want to congratulate Wake Forest Memorial Post 8466 VFW which was recognized this year as an All State VFW Post. Only 3 in the state received this honor out of over 120 posts. It was based on their commitment of service to veterans and to their community. They have also been instrumental along with several other groups in helping the Town honor deceased veterans at our monthly flag-raising ceremonies. Our thanks go to all of you.

We lost some special people in our community this year as we always do; people like Tom Dimmock, Neil Holden, Donald Kroohns and Joyce Wilson. People like Evelyn Carter and Romas "Chick" Lucas. These are just a very few of the deaths I noted this year and I mention it just to remind us that life is uncertain and we are continually blessed by the wonderful people who live here and who have worked so hard over the years to make this a great community.

And now we are looking forward to 2016 and wondering just exactly what is going to happen this year? What are we going to be doing?

Well, one thing we know for sure is that whatever we do, it will involve some kind of technological device! In the future, everything will be connected to the internet—not just your phone but your front door and your microwave and your blender and probably your comforter. It's the Internet of Things that we hear about. Every gadget and appliance is connected and talking to each other—and it is changing our world.

So, what does this have to do with local government you might ask? This level of connectedness and shared knowledge that we have today has changed the relationship we have with our elected officials and how elected officials address complicated policy issues.

We have all this information and our challenge is to make sense of it and figure out how to put it to use in our government policies and in our communities.

Are we harnessing this new power of information effectively, efficiently and fairly? What are we learning from the data? How is data-based decision-making changing the way our community meets its challenges.

We need to incorporate data into our internal and public conversations about our priorities. Improving access to information provides an opportunity to re-establish trust in government, to engage residents in meaningful conversations, and provide effective city services.

After a number of years when we partnered with the Chamber to provide economic development for the town, we recently made an important change. When Marla Akridge left the Chamber late in 2015, it was a good time to evaluate our strategy and decide how to proceed in the future.

We are in the process of hiring an economic development director to work for the town. The success of the Wireless Research Center of North Carolina has given us the opportunity to attract technology startups and rising companies.

Our growth has brought a lot of highly educated people to our community and we want to provide more jobs so they can work here as well as live here. We think this change will benefit the town. Our good relationship with the Chamber will continue as we work together to support all of our businesses and to provide the services they require.

All of this, of course, is directly related to the first goal of our Strategic Plan which is to stimulate economic development.

I read recently that 50-80% of the products in the Internet of Things will come from companies that do not exist today. We have to make a case to those companies that we are an innovative community and we are not going to thwart their innovation by setting standards that will limit them too much---things are changing so rapidly and we all know government is slow and usually doesn't react quickly enough. We have to be prepared to at least stay up with the changes even if we can't get ahead of them.

The Wireless Research Center is helping us reach these new companies in part through the NC RioT program that Larry Steffann at the Center helped start in our region and which is now expanding into the Triad area. All of the technology innovators in the state are hearing about and connecting to the Wireless Center.

Our second strategic goal is to enhance and promote a safe and connected community. We have sold the first portion of the bonds from the referendum you passed in 2014. The first projects are in design and planning. We will be adding to our greenway system, to our transportation system, to our parks, and our senior center. You will see all of that beginning to happen this year.

Speaking of being a connected community, all of you know that we will have a brief period of "disconnectedness" this year when the Rogers Road bridge replacement begins.

We understand the pain this will cause many of you trying to get around town. We recognize it will impact many businesses. But let's all do our part to work through this together by allowing ourselves more time to get where we need to go; and let's all make it a point to support the businesses on Rogers Road so when the bridge reopens they will be stronger than ever. The same contractor working on this project has done the other bridge projects in our area and he has a good reputation for staying on schedule. The bridge is supposed to be closed 135 days and that seems like a long time right now, but when it is finished, we will enjoy a five-lane bridge, a pedestrian underpass, and sidewalks. Let's do our best to focus on the end result and together we will get through this even better connected than ever.

There are plans for more events downtown including concerts called Friday Night on White. The police department just started a program called Coffee with a Cop where they invite citizens to sit down and talk.

We will update the Renaissance Plan this year to continue our efforts to keep our downtown vibrant and growing. I read recently an article from Main Street America. They said, "A community is only as strong as its core. A place's distinctive characteristics and older and historic buildings are its greatest assets. Fostering a strong, local business environment creates enormous rewards." This is why we focus on downtown; this is what keeps that small town feeling that our residents love.

We have to continue to expand the mobile accessibility of our website and information. The majority of smart-phone owners use their device to share and access information about local and community events. We have to be totally mobile friendly. Our new responsive design website which will be introduced in the coming days will continue to strengthen our connections to our citizens by allowing them to perform tasks quickly and easily on any device they use.

Our third strategic goal is to instill an organizational culture that reflects our core values. We will continue to strive for performance excellence. We need to enhance our responsiveness to customers. We need to increase the capacity of our existing workforce through technology and efficiency. We want to empower and motivate our employees, and improve our organizational communication. We have a tremendous staff and it is our plan to continue to support them and help them grow and develop in their professional careers.

Our fourth goal is to enhance our fiscal strength. The fiscal and political challenges coming from the federal and state governments are forcing us to decide which services are important and how we can pay for them. We will continue to identify our priorities and figure out how to go forward.

I am sure you have all heard of the additional leaks that have occurred at Town Hall. If you think you are disappointed, I guarantee you, we are even more disappointed. We are proud of Town Hall and the location it holds in our downtown. We are proud of the LEED certification which emphasizes our commitment to conservation and environmental sustainability. As I said at our retreat, we could scream and yell and point fingers and try to blame various people for this disappointing discovery. But it would do no good and it would just make us even more unhappy. So the best thing to do is just fix it. We'll do what we always do when faced with a challenge; we'll roll up our sleeves and meet it head on. We will fix it and continue to enjoy our beautiful Town Hall.

We have a well-deserved reputation for maintaining good fiscal policies. During the Great Recession we were able to sustain our positive momentum because we are conservative in our projections and in our spending.

Many cities had to cut back. We reduced our capital spending but maintained our operation and employee positions.

We are keeping our fiscal policies strong making sure our debt position and our fund balance position are more than adequate for us to provide the services we must provide. If you ever question how your tax dollar is being spent in Wake Forest, look no further than our AAA bond rating. They don't hand out those ratings like Halloween candy; you have to earn them.

The North Carolina League of Municipalities publishes a magazine six times a year called Southern City in which they share information about towns in North Carolina. In the July-August issue my picture was on the cover of the magazine and they featured an article about Wake Forest telling about our growth, all the events occurring here; they talked about the Wireless Center and the impact it is having throughout the state, they told about our bus service and how gratifying it has been to all of us; and they talked about the importance of our history.

They ended the article with a quote from me, "I'm excited about our community, and I think a lot of good things are still to come." They titled the article "The Best is yet to come in Wake Forest."

I am excited about this year. I am so pleased we can work together and not have the acrimony we see in government in other places. We have all the ingredients here to be a model community. Another person who died this year that I wanted us to remember was Yogi Berra. Yogi gave us some good advice to think about as we look forward to this exciting year. He said, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." We are going to follow Yogi's advice and take that fork that we have come to. We are going to continue to go forward.

Yes, I do believe the best is yet to come in Wake Forest as we continue to build on our foundation of good governance, great community spirit, sound financial management, and innovation.