2018 State of the Town
The Wake Forest Rotary Club presented the 10th Annual State of the Town Address & Dinner on Monday, Feb. 19, 2018, at the Wake Forest Presbyterian Church.
Andi Curtis 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 Rod Miller 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 a number of goals Wake Forest will strive towards in 2018.
Full Text of 2018 State of the Town Address
The following is the full text of Mayor Vivian Jones' State of the Town address, as delivered Feb. 19, 2018:
Thanks once again to the Wake Forest Rotary Club for sponsoring this event. This is just one of the many ways you support our community. Congratulations to you on your 80th anniversary. What an accomplishment to be here and contributing to Wake Forest for so many years.
I also want to thank Wake Forest Presbyterian Church for allowing us to use your beautiful facility. You are very generous to make this room available to many organizations in town and we appreciate you and your commitment to Wake Forest.
Those of you who know me know that I try hard to be a positive leader. That does not mean that I do not see things that need to be done; I just choose not to concentrate on the negative. I am kind of like Winner the Pooh. Piglet said to him, "Suppose a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?" Pooh, after careful thought said, "Suppose it didn't?" Piglet was comforted by this. I hope you will be comforted about the state of Wake Forest as I share with you this evening.
If you came tonight expecting me to sing the praises of the town's staff…I won't disappoint you!
I say it every year but still cannot say it enough—the Town of Wake Forest has the best employees ever - and as the town's mayor – I couldn't be prouder! Not only do they do their jobs day in and day out, they also go the extra mile many times.
A couple of years ago, Betty Pearce, in our Public Works Department, organized employees to adopt the Calvin Jones Highway to pick up trash and keep it looking clean. You will see groups of employees out there four times a year picking up trash. How great is that?
But that is just one example. There are many others All of you who use our greenways have seen police checking on folks to make sure they are safe, but also handing out water.
The employees in the Street Department work hard all year to keep yard waste and leaves and Christmas trees and other stuff picked up—even on those RARE occasions when we put out things they have asked us not to put out!
Officer Scott Graham continues to make such an impact on our kids with the DARE program in all the elementary schools in town. One of the students the other day read from her essay that Officer Graham was interesting and fun. She said, "Officer Graham should never quit doing something he loves." This was from a fifth grader who recognized his love for his job!
Again, as mayor, it is incredible to see how our employees make such valuable contributions to the town and its residents.
I also want to thank our employees for the extra effort during the winter storm in January.
The men in public works were out all night scraping streets and putting down salt and sand while we were warm and cozy inside. We also had no power outages in Wake Forest Power territory partly because our crews keep trees properly trimmed all year which helps prevent outages during ice and snow events.
Also, during the snow event, all departments let Bill Crabtree and his team know what was going on and what we needed to tell residents. Bill and the communications team did an excellent job getting out that information.
I would like to ask Mike Barton to stand. Mike has worked for the Town 20 years and has been the Public Works Director since early 2002. Mike will be retiring in April and I just wanted us to thank him for his commitment and leadership all these years.
Again, our employees show every day that they are caring and committed people who want to do their best for this community and we are so thankful to have each and every one of them. Please join me in giving them a big hand.
While I'm talking about people who are making a difference in our community, let me salute the members of our Advisory Boards. There are fourteen advisory boards most of which have nine members. That is approximately 125 people who volunteer to help make our great community even better.
The Advisory Boards work throughout the year with events like Good Neighbor day, the Historic Cemetery Tour, and Wake Forest Unplugged.
They also do on-going projects like providing plaques for historic homes, helping with the Tree Steward program and commissioning a one-year-long temporary art exhibit of sculptures from national artists. And, our Urban Forestry Board was named the Best Tree Board in North Carolina last year.
This is just a sample of the many ways all of our Advisory Boards work through the year to make a difference in our community
And, we have another group of people who make a tremendous impact on our community and that is all of you. All of you who belong to civic groups and Wake Forest Arts, and SING, and the Artists Guild, and Koinonia, and JROTC, and all the Veterans groups, and I could go on and on—all of you are what makes Wake Forest a special place.
I am amazed at how many people are here this evening, but It just shows your love for Wake Forest and your dedication to knowing what is going on and to being a part of the community. Wow - thank you so much!
There are many things all these people do I could talk about but I do want to mention one new event that began last year thanks to Wake Forest Arts. I hope you attended the Dance Festival. Frankly, I was overwhelmed by the beauty and talent exhibited by all involved from the high school students to the professionals. I hope they will keep this going for 25 years like they have Six Sundays in Spring.
Speaking of working for your community, I want to take a moment to recognize someone who is a fixture at all town events and activities. This is a person you see everywhere and most of you probably do not even know his name. That person is Joe Martinson. Joe, please stand up.
Joe takes pictures at just about every town event. Wherever there is something going on, Joe is there taking pictures. You probably think he works for the town, but he does not. He just loves to take pictures and he loves to share his expertise and passion, and we are the richer for it. Because of Joe, we have a pictorial record of all the wonderful things going on in Wake Forest. What a blessing Joe is to our community. Thank you, Joe. (CLAP)
As I began preparing this speech, I remembered that on New Year's Eve, my pastor had commented that when we review the past year we need to go back further than one year to understand what has really happened. I realized this is true – when we think about the town's successes. Most of the things we accomplish are the result of several years of planning and putting aside money.
One of our huge accomplishments in 2017 was opening 3.2 miles of greenway. But, you have to go back 15 years to really understand how we got to that point. The greenway plan was adopted in 2002 so the vision was established at that time. Over the years, we applied for grants and set aside monies. When we had the funding planned, we hired a design consultant.
But that was just the beginning of the project. The point is these projects do not happen overnight. They often take a long time to accomplish and require the efforts of many people. To simply say we opened 3.2 miles of greenway in 2017 does not begin to give you an idea of the magnitude of this accomplishment.
It was a glorious day when we had our ribbon cutting. We had a great crowd of people there to celebrate.
We sold $4.6 million in 2014 bonds that our residents voted for and added it to $8.1 million from CAMPO, Wake County, and other sources in order to pay the $12.7 million cost of these greenways. How's that for using your money wisely?
But we are not done. There are many more miles of greenway to come.
Another project that took a while was building dedicated pickle ball courts at Flaherty Park. If I remember correctly, it was about six years ago that I first heard about pickle ball. We had a very vocal group of residents who were playing pickle ball at Flaherty Park.
We arranged for them to also use the tennis courts at Flaherty and at Wake Forest Middle School. But, last year we finally finished our very first real pickle ball courts. I just want to let the players know that we are expecting them to host a pickle ball tournament in the near future.
You may recall that our swimming pool at Holding Park was built by the WPA back in the 1940's – and no I was not there to witness it….!
The pool was renovated in the 1980's, and again in 2014. But, in 2016 we discovered major problems with the foundation and were forced to temporarily close.
We surveyed our residents and they responded overwhelmingly that they wanted us to continue having a public swimming pool. We had a new design done, tore out the old pool and started construction on a new outdoor aquatics center.
We have been without a pool for two years, but this year we will have a great facility with a six-lane 25-yard lap pool, two water slides and a children's pool. We plan to have a huge grand re-opening.
In September of 2017, we opened our first spray ground located at the Alston-Massenburg Center. We had just a few weeks of warm weather to use it but we are looking forward to it getting lots of use this summer. We'll be announcing an official grand opening in early spring.
In addition to building greenways, pickle ball courts, swimming pools and Joyner Park, the Recreation Department is working on the requirements to be a nationally accredited parks and recreation agency.
Last year, we also completed an update to the Renaissance Plan for downtown. It is exciting to imagine the possibilities as we begin implementation. We will continue the streetscape down South White Street all the way to Holding Avenue this year. With all the new residences coming to downtown and other improvements we have scheduled, our downtown will become even better able to host great events such as Mardi Gras, the Car Show, Meet in the Street, and Friday Night on White.
And speaking of Friday Night on White—what about this great event! We are the talk of the Triangle! This event is bringing around 50,000 people to downtown Wake Forest each year and all the popular local bands are clamoring to be a part of this amazing concert series!
The downtown merchants are benefitting from this exposure and all of our residents have an opportunity to just gather together and have an amazing time. We are so grateful for all of the sponsors and volunteers who make Friday Night on White a success.
This year we will make much-needed updates to our Transportation Plan. We will analyze level-of-service and key issues and identify projects, large and small where we can make the most impact.
President Eisenhower once said that plans are not important but planning is absolutely necessary. How true this is. Working together, planning together, we can realize our best dreams for what we want in our community.
And, along with the Transportation Plan, we will look at the Neighborhood Planning Areas in the Community Plan to make sure we have all the proper components in each area.
This year we will sell the rest of the 2014 bonds for Joyner Park development and the expansion of the Senior Center. We are close to completing the planning for the Joyner Park community center and construction will begin in April with completion in May of 2019. Many people will use this facility for a long time and we are committed to making it the best it can be – while at the same time preserving the natural beauty of our most popular park.
I am pleased to report that the expansion of the Northern Wake Senior Center is underway. They had 48 different events/classes every week last year and an average of about 30 people joining the center every month – so it is easy to understand why they simply ran out of space.
Let me share with you another example of our community working together. While the seniors are displaced from the center, other organizations have stepped up and allowed them to use their facilities—places like Wake Forest Presbyterian Church, Brookdale Senior Living, Carillon Assisted Living, Northern Regional Center, The Lodge, American Legion Post, and the town. All of these organizations have welcomed the seniors during this time. All of the activities they are accustomed to are continuing thanks to the generosity of these organizations. What a statement this is of the community we have here in Wake Forest.
We completed renovations to The Renaissance Centre annex last March and the renovations to the Grand Hall and upstairs are now underway. We were thrilled to receive funding from the Wake County Hotel, Food, & Beverage Tax to help pay for these renovations. - Thank you County Commissioners for approving this!
It is going to be amazing – with a larger stage and a nice green room for our visiting performers. The Renaissance Centre staff has brought us wonderful performances for all ages. And, I continue to read more and more about the economic benefit of performing arts programming in communities – and we are enjoying those benefits right here in Wake forest. We are fortunate to have this facility.
Be sure to mark your calendars for The Renaissance Centre's grand re-opening on June 1 and 2. On Friday evening, there will be a fantastic family program that the kids and adults will love. Then, on Saturday night, we will have beach music and barbeque featuring The Band of Oz. This is an event you will not want to miss.
A bit earlier, I talked about updating our Transportation Plan. Now I would like to talk a little bit more about transportation projects that are about to get underway.
The upgrade to a complete street status of Stadium Drive will begin shortly and be completed in late 2019. Rogers Road widening will take place within a couple of years in conjunction with the railroad underpass. Pedestrian connections on Wait and Oak Avenues and several road connections will be completed this year. Design work is being done on the Durham Road pedestrian corridor with construction planned for 2021 and the Harris Road roundabout is under design with construction in 2020.
Turning Capital Blvd. into a freeway is a project funded by NCDOT and scheduled to begin construction in early 2020. This will make it much easier to get to Raleigh and beyond.
As you know, I have served for the past three years on the GoTriangle Board of Trustees. I am excited that the voters passed the Wake County Transit Plan in 2016.
What this means for Wake Forest is that over the next couple of years, we will be able to expand our express bus service to Raleigh and our local loop bus making it more convenient for more people. We will watch carefully to be sure Wake Forest benefits as soon as possible. There are also plans for commuter rail in later years.
As you can see, here again, we are talking about the fact that it is a long time from conception to completion and we appreciate your patience as we work through this.
I read recently that solutions lie in your people and in your processes and if you manage these well it can lead to high performance. Tonight I have talked about our people are bringing solutions to our organization.
Now, I want to mention processes. Under Town Manager Kip Padgett's leadership, we have changed our Capital Improvement Plan process a bit. In the past few years, we have spent most of our CIP monies to maintain our assets while depending on grants and state aid to fund NEW transportation and other capital projects.
We have used voter approved bond referendum monies for our local match on these projects. This has worked, but it also draws out the process and makes these projects take much more time.
In order to address new projects in a more timely way, Kip proposed setting up a capital reserve fund to help cover the maintenance costs and proposed that we place between $250,000 and $500,000 in this fund each year.
This change in process will make completion of capital projects smoother and faster and still allow us to maintain our infrastructure.
Another process change we have made is Electronic Plan Review and permitting. Our Inspections Department has set up the process to allow anyone seeking a permit to submit their plans for review and to receive a permit without having to come into Town Hall. The Inspections Department will be almost "paperless". The permitting and review process will be streamlined and allow the customer to keep track of their project. This is a tremendous benefit to the customer.
Our Finance Department constantly updates the processes they use to manage our revenues and expenses to make sure we are as efficient as possible. One thing that never changes, however, is the commitment to enhancing our fiscal strength. We continue to enjoy a AAA bond rating. Our debt position is at less than 1% of assessed valuation. Our fund balance increased $1.6 million and our electric fund increased over $600,000 in net position. All financial reports and the budget are on the Town website for your information. We are committed to being transparent in all of our operations.
I want to share with you a new initiative in which we are collaborating with The Wake Forest Rotary Club, Wake Tech, and the Chamber. It is called Launch Wake Forest and is patterned after a similar program in Raleigh to help entrepreneurs establish and/or grow their business.
I am so pleased the Town is a part of this initiative and I want to thank Brad Walker and Bob McCamy for their leadership from the Rotary Club.
I am excited about this program because I believe it is important for local leaders to help local businesses succeed and grow.
After forty-some years of Fourth of July Celebration extravaganzas put on by a dedicated group of wonderful volunteers, the Town of Wake Forest will coordinate this years fireworks display.
There will be a few changes but the core events will remain pretty much the same with the fireworks display on July 3, at Heritage High School and the Children's Parade on North Main Street and games in the park on July 4.
The volunteers are continuing to provide the activities on the fourth. Everything will be free of charge and we hope to have a big crowd for this favorite event.
We will continue and, in fact, increase our use of data and analytics to become a smart city that uses information technology to improve the lives of our citizens. According to Jennifer Robinson, my friend who is on the Cary town council and is director of local government solutions at SAS, not only can analytics interpret data from meters and sensors, it can identify patterns of behavior and correlations between people, places, and events. I believe our Technology Advisory Board is leading us down this important path.
I am sure you have heard about the Lineman's Rodeo coming to Wake Forest on April 28. We will have up to 2000 expert linemen from all over the country right here competing in several different events. The training they display at this event translates into faster restoration when they are back home doing their jobs.
What is doubly exciting is that we have some of these experts right here working for the Town of Wake Forest. We have our team with us tonight and I want to introduce them to you. Please stand as I call your name and remain standing:
The Apprentice Team is Lonnie Wilson, Jason Walter, and Zach Goldsmith. (Zach and his wife just had a new baby by the way).
The Journeymen Team is made up of Jason Shambley who could not be with us tonight, Joe Shearin, and Hugo Meir. Let's give them a big hand in advance for what we know will be a great rodeo.
This will not be a new experience for Hugo; he has competed in Florida, California, Texas, and Minnesota and has placed in those events. Evidently, Hugo's talents are legendary…quick story… I was out at the site last week making a video with some folks from ElectriCities and someone mentioned Hugo. One of the women said, "Hugo is our rock star!" I agree with her!
I hope you will come out and watch them. It is fascinating to see how quickly and expertly they do their jobs. No wonder public power communities have the best record for getting their residents back on line when outages occur.
Speaking of ElectriCities, I was honored last month to be elected chair of the ElectriCities Board of Directors. For those of you who may not be familiar with ElectriCities – it is the membership organization for public power communities in NC, SC, and Virginia.
We are partnering with ElectriCities, the American Public Power Association, and NCAMES to put on the Lineman's Rodeo. We are so pleased to have ElectriCities CEO Roy Jones with us tonight.
Now it is time to look to the future in Wake Forest. Nils Bohr who won a Noble Prize in Physics said that prediction is very difficult especially if it is about the future.
However, I think we can probably predict with some accuracy that we will continue to grow and be like other places, according to Governing Magazine, where roads are jammed and services are strained.
However, according to Governing, theoretically, most urbanists agree that adding more density would actually help matters.
With density cars don't have to be used as much, the tax base is larger to support services we need to provide and urban density can be both culturally and economically enriching—perhaps that is a conversation for a dinner party some night!
Nevertheless, I believe cities need some flexibility. Tight regulations sometimes squelch innovations that could enhance urban living.
I believe the state of the Town of Wake Forest is excellent. There are so many more great things happening here—but I don't have time to talk about all of them.
Your Town Board and staff are working hard, with you, as a team to make our town a great place.
I began with a quote from Winnie the Pooh and I would like to end with a quote from George Bernard Shaw. "People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it." Folks, we are doing it!