2017 State of the Town

The Wake Forest Rotary Club presented the 9th Annual State of the Town Address & Dinner on Monday, Feb. 20, 2017, at the Wake Forest Renaissance Centre.

Lisa Jacobs served as the evening's emcee and the Heritage High School Jazz Ensemble provided the dinner entertainment. Prior to the Mayor's remarks, Rotary Club President Subir Mukherjee provided an overview of the club's mission and highlighted several of its recent initiatives.

During her address, Wake Forest Mayor Vivian Jones provided Wake Forest citizens an opportunity to reflect on an impressive list of accomplishments in 2017. She also discussed several goals Wake Forest will strive towards over the next 12 months.

Full Text of 2017 State of the Town Address

The following is the full text of Mayor Vivian Jones' State of the Town address, as delivered Feb. 20, 2017:

Thank you so much for being here tonight. This is the ninth year we have partnered with the Wake Forest Rotary Club to present the State of the Town. My thanks especially go out to the Rotarians for your continued support; you make a big difference in Wake Forest and we are grateful for all you do. This event has continued to grow each year and it is truly encouraging that all of you are interested and want to stay involved in what is happening in the town. Thank you again for being here and thank you for supporting Wake Forest.

You know when people talk about their community they almost always talk about quality of life. And yes, that's important. We all are seeking quality in our lives and want to feel that we are experiencing the best that is possible for our families and us.

Politicians and elected leaders in particular talk a lot about providing quality of life for their citizens. But tonight – you are going to hear a different message from me. I am here to tell you that I am not trying to provide quality of life for you. I have thought about it and concluded that your definition of quality of life really depends on your perspective – so it's a personal thing.

You want things differently than I want. This person (use a name) wants something different from (use a name) this one. This person (use a name) needs something different from (use a name) another one.

Because of this, I believe we as community leaders need to work to provide a PLACE of quality. We need to focus our efforts on making Wake Forest the best PLACE it can be. I read somewhere that creative place making, done well, can deliver high value to the community.

That is what we in Wake Forest have always been about—creative place making and creating a place of quality; however, defining it that way helps us, especially me, to focus on the things that actually create quality.

At our Board retreat last month, I suggested that for each program and each policy we consider, we remember to ask ourselves – "How does this enhance the quality of our community?"

I also reminded our commissioners and staff that we are in this together.

We are a diverse community made up of different people from different places who have had different experiences. It is not important to linger on where you are FROM, but rather concentrate on where you are NOW and what you can do to keep this special place the place you want it to be.

You know, I counted it up the other day – and we have 130 people who have volunteered to be members of our fourteen advisory boards. They work every day to make Wake Forest the very best place it can be. If you are a member of one of our advisory boards, please stand and allow us to recognize you. (APPLAUSE)

There is an old saying, "If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." Let's keep going together so we can go far.

Our Strategic Plan is a way of saying we want to enhance the quality of our community, and it provides a road map of how to accomplish this. We reviewed our Strategic Plan at our retreat and decided the four goals established a few years ago are worth continuing. We reviewed the strategies we have accomplished and asked the staff to present new strategies to keep us moving forward. We will continue working to accomplish more objectives as the year progresses.

The first goal in our Strategic Plan is to stimulate economic development. This year, as part of that goal, we established an Economic Development Department. By doing so, we aim to retain and foster more businesses and create more jobs and more diversity of employment in the community.

Jason Cannon, our Director has been busy making connections with local businesses and other economic development groups that can be a resource for us. In addition, we have established a business and industry partnership to help with the work of attracting new employers and providing assistance to new and existing businesses when needed.

We are excited about where this will take us.

As part of our economic development initiative, we have produced a new video that highlights not only the business opportunities that exist in Wake Forest, but also Wake Forest as a quality PLACE as I talked about earlier. We want to share the video with you. (RUN VIDEO)

You may have recognized one or more town staff members who participated in the making of this video. A special thanks to them and everyone who had a hand in producing what I believe is a wonderfully accurate depiction of our community.

Businesses will continue to come to Wake Forest and our population will continue to grow.

Did you know Wake County grows by 64 people every day? That means that by Friday, the County will have grown by the number of people sitting in this room.

Governing Magazine said in July that one-half of the new businesses started in the nation since 2010 were created in just 20 counties out of over 3000 counties nationwide. Wake County is one of those 20. The majority of the country lives in metro areas of more than one million people. People are moving to cities or metro areas of which we are a part. All people, the rich and the poor, and the well educated and less educated. In North Carolina, this may be even more extreme than in some other places.

We are using a variety of tools to manage this growth including several excellent plans we have in place.

If you want to learn more about the town's efforts at managing growth, sign up to attend the Wake Up Wake Forest forum hosted by the Town and Chamber on April 4.

Planning Director Chip Russell will be giving a presentation on the many ways we address growth management.

However, when you get frustrated with growth issues, just remember, it is much easier to deal with growth in a community than to deal with no growth.

Our Technology Advisory Board started a blog this year called TAB Bytes. Each month they post a blog related to activities in which they are involved. You can access the blog through the town website by typing "TAB Bytes" in the search box.

I am so excited about this group and appreciate so much the time and effort they put on this Board. They are adding great value to our community; as, in fact, all our advisory boards do. These boards invite all our residents to utilize their talents and time for the betterment of our community.

This is especially important when you are talking about technology because I am sure many of you, like me, are in the same position as Celia Rivenbark who said recently in one of her columns that artificial intelligence is a big buzzword for 2017. And, like Celia, (quote) "I hate this because I am barely hanging onto my natural intelligence, let alone buddying up to an unseen smarty-pants who can order a taxi or a pizza if I just tell it to." (end quote)

However, I did have the pleasure of recently attending a workshop presented by UNC professors who are trying to help small towns become smart cities. These professors are looking for small towns to serve as "living labs" that want to focus on integrating data sources to enable them to become more sustainable.

This is something that has been concentrated too much in large cities. Being a smart city simply means learning to take advantage of the Internet of Things which is a platform for devices to communicate electronically with the world around them.

It is very likely that we will become one of their living labs. The Internet of Things is real; it is happening all around us. This is just another way we can use technology to enhance OUR COMMUNITY, not just vehicles and appliances.

I want to share a quote from someone whose name, I think you will agree, is synonymous with technology and innovation: Abraham Lincoln. President Lincoln said that "the best way to predict your future is to create it." That is what we are trying to do here in Wake Forest.

Enhancing and promoting a safe and connected community is the second goal of our Strategic Plan. When you think of safety, of course you think of our Police Department. In December Wake Forest was named one of the ten safest towns in North Carolina.

Our officers work very hard to provide security for all of us. However, they do so much more than we often realize to connect to the community.

The Shop With a Cop program connects to kids as well as the DARE program where we are a leader in North Carolina. In 2016, Officer Scott Graham served as the president of the N.C. Dare Officers Association and he teaches other DARE officers in the state. Chief Leonard received an award from that association this year for his support of the DARE program.

Last year, the department started Coffee With a Cop to give residents an opportunity to sit down, have a cup of coffee and talk to officers casually. The Thanksgiving Turkey Giveaway continues to grow thanks to the generosity of our community sharing with the department.

I am honored to be invited to swearing-in ceremonies for new officers and promotion ceremonies. Proud parents are there and wives and husbands and, of course, children who love their parent and need them to be safe. It is incredibly humbling to see these young men and women stand and swear to protect and defend all of us.

Last year our Engineering Department received one of the two state awards for excellence in erosion and sediment control presented by the NC Sedimentation Control Commission. Created in 2006, our local program reviews and approves erosion and sediment control plans throughout the town for projects over one-half acre in size. Part of the program is to hold developers to higher standards by requiring performance bonds until construction is complete and the work site is stabilized. This program emphasizes our staff's dedication to protecting our surface waters.

We know how important our trees are to the community and we spend a good bit of money and time taking care of our urban forest. We now have three employees who have earned Certified Arborist accreditation. This enables us to keep our urban forest in good health.

One of these Certified Arborists is Jimmie Kearney of Wake Forest Power. Jimmie makes sure that the town conducts proper pruning to protect our power lines in a way that causes as little damage as possible to the urban forest. This may not excite you right now as I am talking about this but when we had the ice storm on January 7, and when Hurricane Matthew came through North Carolina, we had very few outages and this is one of the reasons why.

Our Public Works Department is made up of about 60 men and 1 woman! Believe me, Betty Pearce rides herd on those guys and makes sure they get the messages from citizens who have a request. These guys are the ones who make sure the yard waste and bulk trash and garbage is picked up. They install new sidewalks and repair the old ones. They build walls including the beautiful one on Wait Avenue and they build streets. They keep all the Town vehicles running including the Police cars. They keep the lights on. And they step in and help out wherever and whenever they are needed. Public Works is the backbone of the services the town provides to its citizens and another way we stay safe and connected.

Monica Lileton with the Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Resources Department was named the employee of the year by Town Manager Kip Padgett. One of the great things Monica has done is enhance our special needs programming. It has been so successful we now have a full-time employee committed to this program. Welcome aboard, Kelly (Shirts) Schurtz. This is a particular favorite of mine, that we can provide interesting educational and fun activities for special needs kids and their families. In fact, this year marks the 10th anniversary of our Dream League Baseball program and I am proud to say that I have been there every year to throw out the first pitch.

We have spent time this year updating the Renaissance Plan for downtown. We appreciate so much all the input from the community as we plan how we all want our downtown to look as we grow. We were thrilled to learn that the Legislature has awarded us $148,000 to use in downtown revitalization and we are excited about being able to start one of the projects we have identified in the Renaissance Plan. Our thanks go to Senator Chad Barefoot for getting this put into the budget and thanks to all of our legislative members who voted for approval.

An important part of being connected is listening to one another. We truly want to hear from you and we offer many opportunities for you to give us input on our plans, parks, and programs.

For example, while updating the Renaissance Plan we held a whole week of meetings to get your input and we will have one final session this Thursday from 3:30 to 6:30. Please stop by Town Hall Thursday night and give us your final comments.

In January, we held two sessions for public input on the future Joyner Park Community Center and we invited comments through our website. We understand there is concern from you about further development at Joyner Park, but I want to assure you the designers are working hard to make the new community center as unobtrusive as possible while providing much needed space. Believe me when I tell you, we do listen to what you say.

Speaking of planning, Chip Russell has taken on a lead role in getting the Wake County Transit Plan implemented following the passage of the referendum last November. He was chosen by his peers as the chair of the Transit Planning Advisory Committee which is the staff group doing all the hard work of implementation. I am so proud that Chip is a leader in this important endeavor for the County.

One of our big successes over the past three years has been the Renaissance Centre. Cathy Gouge and her staff have built partnerships with the United Arts Council, Raleigh Little Theater, NC Symphony, Forest Moon Theater, Wake Forest Arts and many other groups in order to provide programming to meet the needs of all ages. The Centre is being used more and more for a variety of events and activities.

In 2016, there were over 20,000 visitors to over 120 events at the Centre. That is up from 3500 visitors just three year ago.

We were honored to receive a grant from the Wake County Commissioners of the Hotel and Food Tax funds in order to initiate much-needed renovations to make the Centre continue to meet our needs. I am amazed at the cultural and economic benefits to our community brought about by the Centre. The Centre is the premier cultural arts facility in northern Wake County and I am very proud we are supporting the arts in this way.

Speaking of the Wake County Commissioners, we are thrilled to have so many of them here with us tonight. Thank you all for being here and for your support of the Renaissance Centre.

Our third Strategic Goal is to instill an organizational culture that reflects our core values. Town Manager, Kip Padgett, has spent his first, almost two years, out in the area getting to know our citizens and becoming a part of the fabric of our community. After this time of working with our staff, he is beginning to make changes in the organization to reflect his management style and vision for the town.

He recently promoted Candace Davis to be Assistant to the Town Manager. In this role Candace will provide oversight to capital projects and special projects. In her role as Transportation Senior Planner, Candace has been a workhorse in securing grants and following through on many projects for the Town over the past few years. She will be an outstanding addition to Kip's administrative staff.

Kip will continue working with the Human Resources Department to keep the Town an employer of choice by maintaining benefits and a comfortable working environment while keeping our operations running smoothly

Our fourth goal is to enhance fiscal strength. One of the ways we are doing this is by carefully monitoring our debt position.

During our retreat, Finance Director Aileen Staples gave us a presentation about our debt service position and policy. Even though state statutes allow up to 8%, our policy it to have no more than 2% of assessed property valuation. I am pleased to tell you that our percentage at this time is just a little over 1%. (1.0225%)

We are looking ahead and will soon complete a five-year forecast for upcoming debt considerations such as the public works operations center, infrastructure needs, economic development financing, and completing our bond projects.

In addition, over the past two years we have significantly increased our fund balance and our bond rating remains AAA with Standard & Poor and AA+ with Moodys.

Last, but certainly not least, in 2016 we refinanced our 2006 GO Bond which resulted in a savings of about $367,000. Yes, that is correct - $367 Thousand Dollars in savings.

We believe it is important for our citizens to not only understand how their government operates, but even more importantly have confidence and trust in the manner in which we operate. That is why we are focusing on being even more transparent.

As an important part of that effort, a special thanks to our IT Department for developing and introducing our new Open Data Portal which provides real time updates on almost any information you need about the town and its operations.

It is important to use all the data available to us in this electronic age. By doing so, we will spark innovation, promote greater transparency, and ultimately ensure more meaningful interaction between our citizens and their government.

We have such a wonderful community and the staff of the Town and the leaders you have elected try very hard to provide that quality of place I mentioned at the beginning. But without your help, we would fall short. All of the organizations and volunteers add to the quality of Wake Forest.

Our Senior Center is one of our jewels here. Under the direction of Miranda Strider-Allen who works with Resources for Seniors, our Senior Center is a bustling, award-winning facility. The seniors sent valentines to the Town last year to tell us what the Center means to them—they said it was a place for friendship and socialization, helping them stay active and healthy both physically and mentally. As several people said, "The Senior Center is my happy place." I am so pleased that we will begin the addition of much-needed space to the Center this year.

One of the great pleasures I have in my job is to go to the Center and interact with the seniors. Several years ago, at the craft fair, I bought three or four of those scrubbies they make. Now I have to buy 12 to 15 every year because everyone in my family expects to get a new one each year at Christmas!

Two years ago, several women in our town got together and started a group called SING – Senior Informational Networking Group. They created SING to provide a comprehensive resource for senior-focused organizations in Wake Forest. This group quickly connected with Dementia Friendly America based out of Minnesota and began offering classes to area individuals and businesses who want to be dementia friendly in our community. They are now the leading organization in NC for this initiative and working with the Department of Health and Human Services to make North Carolina a dementia friendly state.

DFA invited me to attend one of their council meetings in Washington, D.C. to talk about why I think it is important for government to support this initiative. As you begin to hear more about dementia friendly initiatives in North Carolina, just remember that it started here because of the incredible dedication of a special group of Wake Forest citizens.

The Koinonia Foundation, The Trentini Foundation, all of our civic clubs, our faith community, the people who volunteer to work with our children in sports, the Thanksgiving Gobbler Run, all of the volunteers who helped with Friday Night on White and the Christmas Parade; all of YOU have added to the quality of this place called Wake Forest. Thank you so very much for all you do.

A new event starting this summer will be the celebration of Juneteenth. Juneteenth Celebrations began in the late 1800's in Texas to celebrate freedom and justice. The Northeast Community Coalition is planning what they hope will be an annual event and they want the entire community to join with them for food and fun. I am looking forward to this because I believe this will be an opportunity for the whole community to continue our efforts towards making everyone in Wake Forest feel valued and important to the well-being of our community.

2016 was a banner year in Wake Forest. So many wonderful things happened last year, but perhaps nothing quite so amazing as the Friday Night on White music series! These concerts drew an average of around 9,000 people to our downtown for six Friday nights. When I moved here 35 years ago, we had only half that number of people living here TOTAL! Many of the people on those Friday nights were in our downtown for the very first time.

That is what we want these events to do, bring new people downtown to learn about our wonderful shops and restaurants. We want the events to create a "destination attitude" about our town. I shared with Bill Crabtree one of those nights how a group of people was sitting in a circle in the middle of White Street, talking, laughing, and sharing snacks completely oblivious to what was going on around them. They just wanted to be there in the crowd and be a part of this fun gathering of people in our downtown.

Since then, many of those people have returned to shop, eat, and enjoy our beautiful town.

In 2016 we celebrated with Shorty's their 100th year of making the best hotdogs in the world. And, we celebrated with Bobby Perry when he retired after 51 years of cutting hair in downtown. We celebrated the first state football championship for Wake Forest High School—wouldn't Tony Trentini be proud!

As great as 2016 was overall, there were still periods marked by loss. We were particularly saddened by the death of golfing great Arnold Palmer.

Arnie has always been one of our claims to fame since he attended Wake Forest College here back in the day and went on to being the most popular golfer ever in the United States. I believe he will always hold a special place in our hearts. But, you know something? Wake Forest also held a special place in his heart. When we celebrated our centennial in 2009, Arnie was one of the first persons to purchase an engraved brick for Centennial Plaza. If you haven't seen it, look for it next time you come to Town Hall.

Speaking of Wake Forest history, in one of the This Week In History articles from the Wake Weekly, they told about what people said they would like to put in a time capsule to be opened in 100 years. It's only been 40 years since this article appeared but aside from the books they mentioned or "Meet me at Shorty's" t-shirts, snuff boxes, and other items, there were a couple of things that caught my eye. One woman said she would put in the capsule, money and peace and love and things that would make the world be better when it was opened. She said, "the world's not so good right now. People are fighting and getting killed." Another woman said, "The things I'd like to see preserved are the feelings people have for each other."

You know, people are still fighting and getting killed—if we could just take out that peace and love and make the world better today and not wait another 60 years! As Jimi Hendricks said, "When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace."

I believe in Wake Forest we have preserved the feelings that people have for each other. That feeling of community, of small-town friendship. This is a place of quality. I am so happy to live here and so very proud to be your mayor. God bless you.