2019 State of the Town

 

The Wake Forest Rotary Club presented the 11th Annual State of the Town Address & Dinner on Monday, Feb. 18, 2019, at the Wake Forest Renaissance Centre.

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 Brad Walker 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 2018. She also discussed a number of goals Wake Forest will strive towards in 20198.

 

Full Text of 2019 State of the Town Address

The following is the full text of Mayor Vivian Jones' State of the Town address, as delivered Feb. 18, 2019:

State of the Town 2018

First, I would like to thank our Town Commissioners for being here tonight.  It is a pleasure working with these folks in trying to keep our community a great place and I appreciate their dedication to the job.

I am honored to have with us tonight Betty Jo Shepherd,  Senator Alexander, Rep. John, Rep. Everitt, and County Commissioners Hutchinson, Adamson and Evans. We look forward to continuing to work with you.

Thanks the Wake Forest Rotary Club for your continued support of this event. This is just one of the many things you do for our community. We are so thankful to have you here working all the time to bring good things to Wake Forest.

And, thanks to the Renaissance Centre staff for your help in making this evening a success.

Welcome to all of you Advisory Board members who give so much of your time to benefit our town. You are a very important part of what makes Wake Forest a great place to live and we can never say “thank you” enough for the time and effort you give.

I want to begin my remarks this evening with some really encouraging news. In a nutshell, the state of Wake Forest is very good.

As I hope you know, we adopted a Strategic Plan in 2016 and our fourth goal is to be fiscally strong.

And, well—we are—and our strength was verified when we went to New York in May and met with the rating agencies in preparation for the next round of selling bonds which you voted for in 2014.

The rating agencies analyze the economic condition of the town and our leadership, planning, and debt management in order to measure our credit worthiness. Both Standard and Poor’s and Fitch gave us AAA which is the highest possible rating.  This resulted in us obtaining a 2.98% interest rate when we sold the bonds in June.

None of our efforts to achieve the goals of our Strategic Plan are more visible than the work we are doing in regard to Goal #2—ensure a safe and connected community.

In just about every section of Town, you will find construction along our roads. I went to a Chamber event a couple of weeks ago and arrived a few minutes late because I was stopped two different times because of construction!

The Stadium Drive project will be completed late this year and will be most welcomed by high school students and others who use that route frequently.

Priority Pedestrian projects will be completed late this year including Wait Avenue and Oak Street, giving us safe pedestrian access from downtown to Joyner Park.

The road resurfacing program was completed this year including making the Royal Mill Road connection which will eventually be a part of the North Side Loop.

We have adopted a policy to set aside money every year into our resurfacing program to make sure we keep our roads maintained properly.

 We are also working on the plans to complete the Smith Creek Greenway, the Durham Road project and the grade separation over the railroad crossing on Rogers Road.

These road projects will offer long-term benefits, especially when it comes to connecting our community.

The Joyner Park Community Center is on schedule and expected to be completed this fall. We are very excited about this 32,000 square foot facility that will feature a walking track, a gym, dance studio and several multi-purpose rooms.

Construction on the Amphitheater cover began in January and is expected to be complete in time for our first Six Sundays in Spring Concert on April 28.

How many members of The Senior Center are with us tonight? Fantastic! You’ll be happy to know that renovations on the Center are going gang busters. We expect completion this summer almost doubling the space for your use. I know the completion of this project cannot come soon enough for you.

This is a bunch of projects, but you may be wondering—is that all you got? Well—in fact it’s not all—there is more!

Four years ago, we identified the need for more space at our operations center on Friendship Chapel Road but that site is too small for an expansion.

We determined that the cost to purchase a new site and build a new center would be in the $27 million range.

Last year, Wake Forest Power Lineman Chad Champion suggested that we look at purchasing newly available property on Unicon Drive in South Forest Business Park to house the Electric Department.

We did take a look, and liked what we saw—and were able to finalize this purchase in October.  Wake Forest Power will be moving to its new home in the coming months. This purchase cost $2.9 million and with the minor renovations here and at the Friendship Chapel Site, you can see that we saved a tremendous amount over what we thought we might need.

It is great to have employees who feel empowered and are always looking for new and innovative ways to get the job done. This is what happens when you pay attention to the guys in the trenches. Sometimes, the higher up the chain of command, the harder it is to see what outcome you will have.

We want all our employees to understand how much they contribute to the success of the Town.

This is an example of meeting the third goal of our Strategic Plan, which is to have an organizational culture that embraces and reflects our core values. We should continually enhance and update this goal to  make sure our employees feel valued and appreciated.

We did something else this year that I believe will bring big benefit in the future.

As you know, your Town Board has been very supportive of our historic downtown. We recognize that a vibrant downtown will continue to be a catalyst for increasing prosperity and community spirit.

Over the past few years, we have spent a large amount of money on downtown on the streetscape, wi-fi, lighting, etc. We are continuing the streetscape down White this year.

We have new development occurring with the building of Powerhouse Row and the townhomes at Retreat at Renaissance.

Our downtown businesses are working hard to continue the profitability realized over the past few years.

So, we purchased the SunTrust building when it became available because we realized that this corner of White and Elm is an important property for the continuation of our downtown Renaissance. We need to have a say in what type of business is located on this property.

This year we completed a couple of projects that make us very proud. On June 2 we celebrated the grand reopening of the Renaissance Centre. You can look around this evening and see what a difference these renovations have made in our ability to offer first-class concerts, plays and other programing. We thank Wake County for awarding us a grant from the prepared foods and hotel tax funds to help.

Since our grand re-opening, we have seen incredible turnouts for programs like the Band of Oz, Celtic Angels, Legacy Motown Revue, the Trung Thu Moon Festival and more.

The second project we completed was the Holding Park Aquatic Center. Hundreds of residents turned out to experience our new aquatic center over the Labor Day Weekend. This summer—we are looking forward to having this wonderful facility back in use full time with extended hours.

We are proud that we are making strides in becoming a smart city by adopting programs that use technology and the internet of things to bring innovation to our operations.

We recently began on-line inspection permitting and payment plus we can preview plans on line and track their progress. You no longer have to come into Town Hall to obtain permits or make payments. We also offer next day inspections which is way ahead of most of the Wake county towns.

As I hope you know—as a public power community Wake Forest provides electricity to approximately 7,000 electric customers. 99 percent of those customers have Advanced Metering Infrastructure. With this technology, in addition to billing efficiencies, we can easily track customer usage and alert them when something unusual is happening that might make their electric bill higher.

We also are a leader in load management that limits peak time usage thereby reducing all our electric costs.

 I am proud to say that I personally use our prepay system for electricity which makes it easy for someone like me—who has been accused of not being technologically savvy—to monitor my usage and be sure my bill is paid on time.

This year we are installing 25 miles of fiber infrastructure to connect all of our Town facilities including power stations.

Speaking of fiber, Ting Internet has just announced that it will be expanding into Wake Forest as its third “Ting Town” in Wake County. Ting will bring their crazy fast  fiber optic service to our residents and expects to have its first customers lit up this summer. They are having a public meeting in April at the Renaissance Centre—stay on the lookout for notices about this.

We always have a ton of events in Wake Forest but in 2018 we had two very special events.  

In October we were honored to have the Wall That Heals here for a three-day sojourn.

As you know, this is a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. Because of the hard work of the Wake Forest Purple Heart Foundation, we were the only community in North Carolina to host the Wall in 2018.

This event certainly highlighted our community’s respect and dedication to honoring our veterans. Hundreds of people volunteered to make this a wonderful event.

Commissioner Greg Harrington shared with us that we could expect to draw around 3 to 5,000 people. Well, while the Wall was in Wake Forest, they estimated that approximately 15,000 visited the Wall.

It was a time of remembering and healing for many people. Our thanks to the Purple Heart Foundation and the dozens of volunteers for making this happen.

The second special event was the American Public Power Association Lineworkers’ Rodeo. During February and March our residents were intrigued by all the power poles and activity going on at the Holding Village property behind the Public Works Operations Center.

In April, everyone realized what was happening. We had public power lineworkers descend on Wake Forest from all over the United States to participate in their annual rodeo for bragging rights about who is best and fastest at building and restoring power for their citizens.

It was a fun day and certainly showcased these men and women—yes, we had a woman lineworker for the first time this year!

This was the first time the national rodeo had been held in North Carolina and we were very proud to be the host.

The APPA officials told us this was the best rodeo they had seen with a great location, great turnout from the community and plenty of help from all the volunteers. They said it was the largest rodeo they had ever had.

I had a resident ask me recently if we were going to have that rodeo again this year! I wish we could—maybe someday we can have them back.

How many of you were at Heritage High School on July 3 for the fireworks? This year the Town began planning and implementing the fireworks program at the request of the volunteers who had been doing it for 30 years. There were about 15,000 people there and we expect to continue with this signature program for many years to come.

Congratulations to our Police Department for earning the CALEA accreditation for law enforcement agencies this year. Also congratulations to our Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department for earning the CAPRA accreditation for parks and recreation agencies.

In order to receive these accreditations the departments must meet rigorous criteria and it takes a lot of work on the part of all the people in the department. We are very proud to have our employees earn this recognition.

Speaking of the Police Department, Lt. Danforth led several classes last year—and already one class this year-- on the Civilian Response to Active Shooter. This class teaches what to do if confronted with an active shooter event.

Each class provides strategies, guidance and a proven plan for surviving an active shooter event. I am so glad I was able to attend one of the classes and I feel much safer having learned the best ways to respond.

We have talked about Strategic Plan Goals Number 2, 3 and 4.

Now, lets turn to Goal number 1 which is Economic Development.

In 2018 we finalized two years of discussion between Southeastern Seminary and the Wake Forest Business and Industry Partnership to develop property owned by

the Seminary in a live-work-play project focusing on technology-related businesses.

The Town Board has provided funding for the School of Government to conduct a development master plan and market analysis of the property.

Our commitment to the Wireless Research Center is always at the heart of economic development for the town.

The Center continues to expand in stature and influence through the region, nationally and globally by helping its customers and partners develop products and services that advance wireless technology discovery and innovation.

In January the Wireless Center expanded from 4,000 to 12,000 square feet. They now have 16 employees. Since its inception The Wireless Center has facilitated 81 start-up companies—21 of them in Wake Forest and 60 in the Raleigh area. Their economic development initiative called Riot has grown to nearly 6000 members and over 100 companies.

The Wireless Center is collaborating with other groups on several strategies that will benefit the entire state.

In addition, they are in formal discussions with one of the world’s largest defense, security and aerospace companies for collaboration and shared office space in Wake Forest. We anticipate formal announcements in the coming months about these initiatives.

The Wireless Center also continues to provide a testing facility for wireless applications. We are so proud to claim them as our very own.

Last year, the Rotary Club held the first Launch Wake Forest program to assist and teach entrepreneurship to fledgling businesses. The Chamber and the Town worked with the Rotary Club to offer a very successful first session. They are continuing this and the second session will begin shortly with a new group of entrepreneurs. This is a great addition to our other efforts to grow businesses in Wake Forest. Thanks to the Rotary Club and the Chamber for this program.

As you heard when Andi introduced me, I’ve been proud to serve as your mayor since 2001. During my tenure, I have worked hard to build relationships.

I have tried to be accessible to residents and I have attempted to support you and all the organizations you represent.

When I started this journey, I believed it was important for your mayor to be with you as you work to better the community. We need to be doing this together.

The relationships I have worked to build extend beyond Wake Forest and throughout our county and state. I have tried to demonstrate that Wake Forest has a willingness to work FOR and participate IN the prosperity of Wake County and our state.

We have benefitted from these relationships by recognition and funding opportunities that have helped us over the years to complete many road projects, greenways, and other facilities and infrastructure.

As your Town Board members reach out to participate on a regional or state level, keep in mind that we are bringing recognition to our community and securing a seat at the table for us as the region continues its growth and moves forward.

So, what are we going to do next year?

Well, I will start off by saying that I, personally, do not think Wake Forest Football is finished! Aren’t they just the greatest? How proud we are of these young men who prove their worth both on and off the field.

Many of these young men will be leaders of tomorrow and I hope many of them will bring their talent and dedication back to Wake Forest.

And, I simply cannot say enough about Coach Lucas. He was named #1 North Carolina high school coach for the past two years. His success on the field is there for everyone to see but I especially admire his desire to help these young men make good choices for their lives.

Besides Cougar football—another thing I am very excited about is Vision Zero. Basically, in a nutshell, by committing to Vision Zero, your Town Board has said that no loss of life on our roads is acceptable. A committee to develop a plan to implement Vision Zero in Wake Forest has been appointed. You will be hearing much more about this.

At the Town Board annual planning retreat a couple of weeks ago we spent time sharing our vision for the next couple of years and reviewing our strategic plan.

We discussed new strategies to fulfill our goals and our vision.

As part of the planning process, the staff was engaged and helpful in setting priorities that are reasonable and can be accomplished with our present staff and budget.

They gave presentations about projects that are needed in the next few years and how a 2020 bond referendum could be the way to address these projects. We had good  success in 2005 and 2014 asking our residents to approve bond referendums for infrastructure they demand for their quality of life. With your help, we will continue refining this plan so we can be ready in 2020.

I am pleased that we are updating several of our plans this year.

The Northeast Neighborhood Plan was adopted in 2009 and much of the work identified has been completed. The community has been so engaged in working on a number of initiatives. The Northeast Community Coalition is doing great work, bringing residents and organizations together to benefit the East End neighborhood.

This plan update will include all of the Northeast Community which has expanded since the last plan was done.

We will also begin the update to our Community Plan that was adopted in 2009. This process will begin this summer and the updated plan should be completed by the summer of 2020.

In late 2018 we began the process of updating our Comprehensive Transportation Plan.

Traffic is the one complaint we hear most from our residents.  This plan will include a multitude of options for local and regional travel with our goals being safety, efficiency, flexibility, and innovation.

One of the options we have already adopted is the bicycle sharing program with LimeBike.

Your Town Board is very interested in addressing the affordable housing issue. As Wake County has prospered, it has made it difficult for some people to actually live in our community. We will be targeting funds, seeking partnerships, working with developers and other initiatives to address this. We have a project that will be coming up soon and you will hear more about it shortly.

 At our retreat, we talked about what an awesome place Wake Forest is with a vibrant downtown, the quality of our staff, our greenway system and especially how wonderful it is to have so many people here who are willing to come together and help build our community.

I say it all the time but I can’t say it enough—the main thing that makes Wake Forest a great place to live is the people—people who care about each other and take care of each other. People who live their lives with intentionality—with kindness and compassion and generosity to support local businesses, to support local organizations and help define what our community is and can be.

 Look at the Stop Hunger/Feed Hope dinner sponsored by Tri-Area Ministries in October—over 300 people attended and they raised over $50,000 to help feed people in Wake Forest.

I am so pleased that the Town is a partner in the Northern Community Food Security Team which is working to bring resources to our community that will help eliminate food insecurity for all people.

Also in October, I attended the Mercy for America’s Children Gala. This is an organization that advocates and assists people to be foster parents and adopt children from the foster care system. What a wonderful opportunity we have here in Wake Forest to support these children who are frequently left behind. We just heard two weeks ago that the County is starting initiatives to make the foster care system better and I believe we can help.

In April I threw out the first pitch for the tenth year for our Dream League baseball program. I have watched some of these kids grow up and seen how important it is to them to be recognized and given an opportunity to explore the possibilities.

I could go on and on but I just want you to know that what you do is noticed and appreciated. I was reminded of all of this by an op-ed article by David Brooks about localism. He said that localism brings conservatives and liberals together around the thought that people are happiest when their lives are enmeshed in caring face-to-face relationships, building their communities together.

As you can see, there is still a lot to do. The Board and staff will not sit still. There are more roads to improve, more parks and greenways to build, more new neighbors to welcome. Thank you for helping build our community.

Goodnight.