2021 State of the Town
The 2021 State of the Town Address & Dinner was canceled due to COVID.
Instead, Mayor Jones delivered a virtual State of the Town message that includes video and imagery to highlight her remarks. During her address, Mayor Jones provides a comprehensive update on the Town's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, accomplishments over the last year, and what’s to come in 2021. She also shares details on infrastructure projects, communications and economic development initiatives, parks and recreation programs, town finances, how to support local businesses and more.
Mayor Jones' 2021 State of the Town address is available on the Town website and airs on WFTV 10 daily at 8 a.m., noon and 6 p.m.
Full text of 2021 State of the Town Address
Hello and thank you for joining me. I am Wake Forest Mayor Vivian Jones.
For nearly 15 years, my State of the Town address has been an opportunity to update residents on Town projects and programs. This year is not different, except that like so many things over the past year – this year’s event is—yep—you guessed it—virtual…
I’ll talk more about COVID and its impact in a few minutes, but first - let’s try to recall what the world was like before our world turned upside down.
2020 started out great! The first week I attended the North Carolina DOT Transportation Summit and served as a panelist in one of the sessions. The focus was on the future of electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles and how they will impact our society. It was a great conference and a good beginning to the year.
January and February were filled with meetings and events around Town. I enjoyed meeting with Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, we had a great Martin Luther King Celebration, the Optimist Club had a FunkoBunko night to raise money for their work in the community, the Town Board had our annual retreat. Plus, Kip and Aileen were busy putting together the plan for bringing on the Fire Department as part of the Town.
Then March dawned and—COVID19 hit! All of us, very quickly became proficient at signing on to Zoom, hearing the words, “You are on mute” and watching ceiling fans rotate in the background.
From then on—2020 was a difficult year for sure, marked by job losses, struggling businesses, food insecurity, and children facing challenges with on-line education.
We’ve also had to deal with a lack of social interaction or perhaps we are dealing with too much interaction with our families!
But for now, let’s try to remember that some good things happened in our community over the past year and let’s talk about those things.
When COVID hit, we were in a much better position than a lot of local governments because several years ago we made addressing our organizational culture a part of our Strategic Plan. We had already invested in technology for most of our permitting and planning interactions with the community so our work could just go on without interruption.
Our staff has done a phenomenal job of keeping our services going. Our employees continue to do their work, some days at home or some days in the office. I want to especially thank our Public Works, Electric Department, Police and Fire employees. These folks are not able to work remotely—they are in the middle of everything going on in town and they have stepped up and continued their work without complaint. My special thanks go to all of them.
Our IT staff under the direction of Adam Oates has done a super job keeping us all connected and setting up a way for our residents to participate in public hearings and other public meetings so our work can go on with the input we need from you.
We also began installing broadband fiber infrastructure for all of our Town facilities which will make it easier to provide the connections we need for all of our work
Despite its challenges, 2020 marked another year of us meeting our Strategic Plan goal of making our community safer and more connected.
We completed the Stadium Drive project. It certainly is easier to navigate around Wake Forest High School these days. We also completed the priority pedestrian projects providing sidewalks and paths along Wait Avenue and W. Oak Street giving a new pedestrian connection to Joyner Park. We have begun the operational improvements at Ligon Mill Road and South Main Street which will make that intersection work much better.
A lot of people were excited when the Senior Center Expansion was completed in February. The Seniors had just started getting back into their routines in their beautiful new facility when COVID hit and they had to suspend programs for a while, but now they have gone virtual with classes and programs and are offering many opportunities for the seniors. My family was really happy because I was able to buy scrubbies for everyone at Christmas at the Senior Center drive-in auction.
We have almost completed the rehabilitation of the Ailey Young House.
The Ailey Young Dam Removal and Stream Repair project was completed at the back of Ailey Young Park with an observation deck to allow interaction with the wetlands and stream. We were pleased to be awarded the Stormwater Project of the Year by the NC Chapter of the American Public Works Association.
And speaking of being pleased—dogs, and their owners were very pleased that we upgraded the popular Flaherty Dog Park.
As your mayor, I hear a lot of complaints about litter on our highways and streets. It certainly distresses me to see litter everywhere. Our town employees have stepped up and adopted Calvin Jones Highway and they have pick-up days four times a year to clean it up. It is very discouraging to see that it doesn’t stay clean very long.
But now, I am excited about our anti-littering campaign called “Show Some Love, #KeepWFclean”.
In North Carolina, half of the litter along highways comes from uncovered trucks. Private and commercial drivers are responsible for anything that is blown or thrown from their vehicle. You will be seeing much information about litter over the next few months and we encourage you to speak up if you see someone throwing something or a truck that has trash that can easily be blown out. Let’s Show Some Love for Wake Forest; take pride in your community.
This year we began the update to our Community Plan and the Northeast Area Plan. We are also in the process of updating our UDO to meet the changes to planning and development regulations adopted by the General Assembly. The Community Plan and UDO updates will help us to continue addressing development issues so we can grow responsibly. The Northeast Area Plan update is needed to keep us focused on maintaining existing neighborhoods in a way our residents want.
When the social justice issues came to the forefront early in 2020, I wanted to make sure Wake Forest addressed these issues and all residents would feel comfortable living here. I appointed a group of residents to a Mayors Roundtable to discuss what was going on, how our community was perceived by minorities and how to make sure everyone feels valued.
This group continues to meet and have important conversations. As soon as the pandemic is behind us, I plan to expand these conversations to include more of our residents. If you are interested in being a part of these discussions, please let me know so I can contact you when we are allowed to resume in-person meetings
Economic Development activity has continued despite COVID. The live-work-play technology park partnership with the Seminary is moving along, and has been named a certified site by Electricities and the NC Department of Commerce.
Loading Dock Wake Forest is getting their downtown space ready for opening later this year. This will be similar to their spaces in Raleigh that provide coworking space and private offices, and eventually it will have a restaurant and indoor and outdoor event spaces.
We are very pleased to be working with Merritt Properties who are building Capital Business Park which will include a connection to Ligon Mill Road from South Forest Business Park. This will provide a significant aid to local traffic.
We are looking forward to having Wegman’s Food Market open its fourth North Carolina location here in Wake Forest later this year.
This mixed-use project on a 66-acre site will have retail and residential opportunities. This development also brings an important traffic connection with Ligon Mill Road being connected to Calvin Jones Highway.
Our downtown continues to expand and offer a charming mix of businesses to residents and visitors alike. I have been very impressed—even inspired—by the way our merchants have adapted and kept going despite the challenges of the past year.
With the opening of Power House Row and the nearly complete Renaissance Retreat townhome development, our downtown residential offerings have expanded tremendously.
Our residents have stepped up and done all they could to help our businesses. It has been amazing to hear from businesses about the incredible support they have received. This is just another example of what a great community we have.
Residential development continues at a hearty pace even during the pandemic. We had 574 residential permits issued last year in Wake Forest.
There continues to be considerable movement to the Raleigh area—we are identified as one of the top places with the ability to attract talent and I recently heard that 41 per cent of the Wake County population has come from outside of Wake County and 25 per cent is from outside the United States.
The update to our Community Plan gives us an opportunity to reflect on how we want to continue to grow and incorporate that growth into the fabric of our community.
Our final Strategic Plan goal is to maintain fiscal strength. We continue be rated AAA by Standard & Poor and Fitch. 2020 was a revaluation year and we reduced our tax rate from .52 cents to .495 cents. Included in our budget this year is a policy of using ½ cent for affordable housing initiatives and 1-1/2 cents for transportation projects.
Due to the pandemic, we did not receive the sales tax proceeds we had predicted but we did have a small increase over the previous year.
In July, we managed to incorporate the Fire Department into the Town at a cost that was a little less than we had anticipated. Our Finance staff and Fire Department staff worked very well together and did a great job. I am pleased to welcome Fire Department employees into the Town and we look forward to celebrating their centennial beginning in August.
In late 2020 we joined with NCDOT to support the acquisition of the S-Line, the train corridor which goes through Wake Forest. NCDOT received a grant from FTA for this project and they are in negotiations with CSX. They also received a grant to do Transit Oriented Development planning along this corridor. We are truly excited about the possibilities this will offer our residents. The high- speed rail is the ultimate plan for this corridor but It is quite possible that we could have a commuter train on the S-Line in just a few years. This could be the second leg of commuter rail throughout the state.
We are not planning any major capital projects in the coming year. We are simply doing maintenance on facilities and infrastructure and making sure we continue our excellent fiscal position as we recover from the effects of the pandemic. If things continue to improve, we expect to have a bond referendum in 2022 to address our ongoing capital needs.
I want to give a shout out and thank our Communications Department for the absolutely phenomenal job they have done this year in making sure our community was connected and engaged. Every year they do a good job keeping residents informed about what is going on in Wake Forest. This year they stepped it up and provided opportunities for everyone to be engaged remotely. One of the highlights was the July 3rd Fireworks Display. There were a lot of compliments from residents about this fabulous show. Also, in July, they worked with the Renaissance Centre to produce the Malpass Brothers concert virtually. We know the Malpass Brothers always draw a big crowd but who knew that online we would have over 15,000 views from all over the United States and 10 foreign countries! Wake Forest is a popular spot!
The StoryTime series they did with the Renaissance Centre and Page 158 Books was a big hit and the Town Board members really enjoyed being able to read stories for the kids. Of course, Santa Claus’ great, great, great, great nephew was a big hit! The Lighting of Wake Forest was beautifully produced for the community and Santa Claus himself actually came for that event. The Favorite Holiday Treats cookbook was a big success and we captured some good recipes from our residents!
One of my favorite videos was Kids Say the Cutest Things. It was amazing!!! I think Wake Forest has the cutest kids! Thanks to our Communications staff for making all these things possible. And thanks also to Kino Mountain for their excellent filming of all these programs.
Our community is so amazing; especially the way you respond to our neighbors in need. For example, back in November we launched Wake Forest Cares as a platform for sponsoring an annual holiday donation drive. We invited area residents and businesses to contribute to Tri-Area Ministry Food Pantry, Hope House, Wake Forest Boys & Girls Club, Helping Others by providing Electricity or HOPE, Shop With A Cop, and Wake Forest High School DECA Chapter in supporting Ronald McDonald House. The residents and businesses responded generously with a total of $10,715. Thank you so much for your generosity.
As I said in the beginning, our staff has done a phenomenal job. We are so proud of them and so thankful to have each one. But I also want to thank Kip Padgett. Being a Town Manager is always a difficult job. Managing 387 employees and an $85,000,000 budget is no easy task in a normal year. This year, a lot of those employees were forced to work remotely which presented a whole new set of challenges. Kip has done a great job and we appreciate his dedication and commitment.
On the whole, our community is doing well. We are strong and our position in the county and state is strong.
However, like everyone else, we are impacted by the political climate in America. The dysfunction we have experienced did not start four years ago—it has been going on for a while and social media has made it worse and more constant. So, what can we do in Wake Forest to create a better future?
How about if you get to know your neighbors. Know their stories, know what they value, know what they are passionate about, where they may be struggling, what are their hopes for their children and for our community.
As Bishop Michael Curry said in his address at the Wake County Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast this year, we all have shared values and we must revive them, reclaim them, and live based on them. He talked about when he was a child and learned about the great seal of the United States—it has olive branches and an eagle on it and it has the words, “E pluribus unum.” From Many One.
The Bishop went on to say that he just recently learned that this phrase actually came from Cicero. Cicero said that when each person loves the other as much as he loves himself, then E pluribus unum-- From Many One--becomes possible. This is how we love our neighbor—as we love ourselves—no exceptions. Love is the way to E pluribus unum—in our community, our state and in the world.
Albert Einstein said, “In the middle of difficulty is opportunity.” Let’s look for all the opportunities we have to make our community better in this difficult time.
We can do it. Wake Forest is strong.