2022 State of the Town
The Wake Forest Rotary Club presented the 13th Annual State of the Town Address & Dinner on Monday, Feb. 21, 2021, at the Wake Forest Renaissance Centre.
Karen Clark served as the evening's emcee and the Heritage High School Jazz Ensemble provided the dinner entertainment.
During a special part of the event, Wake Forest Rotary Club President Leah Flach and Wakefield Rotary Club President Heather Holding announced the creation of the Rotary Peace Award. Intended to recognize Wake Forest citizens who endeavor to unite the community, the award was presented to Mayor Vivian Jones. As an added tribute, since Mayor Jones is the first person to receive the award, it was officially named in her honor.
In presenting the award, Holding stated: “Since her first campaign, Mayor Jones has worked to promote peace, understanding and harmony not only between members of the Town Board, but by creating partnerships between Wake Forest, other towns, the region and the state. No one has done more to welcome people and entities to the Town and demonstrate true Wake Forest hospitality. For all of her years of hard work, Mayor Jones is not only the first recipient of this award, but the award will henceforth be known as the Vivian A. Jones Rotary Peace Award.”
During her address, Wake Forest Mayor Vivian Jones provided Wake Forest citizens an opportunity to reflect on an impressive list of accomplishments in 2021. She also discussed a number of goals Wake Forest will strive towards in 2022.
Full Text of 2022 State of the Town Address
We can’t talk about the past year without talking about COVID and the impact it has had on us for almost two years. We have lost friends and neighbors; we have lost businesses; some of us may have even lost our minds at times! But I guess we are learning to cope with less togetherness and supply chain shortages, and other challenges we couldn’t imagine 24 months ago.
According to the news, COVID has made worse the issue of affordable housing and workforce shortage—two issues your Town Board will be working on these this year.
According to the news, COVID has made worse the issue of getting along with our neighbors—you, our residents are addressing this issue by loving and caring for one another—by donating almost $10,000 to Wake Forest Cares, donating turkeys for the Police Department giveaway, and by being so generous with TriArea Ministries and other area food programs.
We have been very busy this year, at least according to my calendar! We have continued to prosper and grow and accomplish a great deal. I attended 10 Chamber ribbon cuttings—and we had several other businesses open. Pretty good for a pandemic year, I would say.
Speaking of the Chamber; I just wanted to recognize Ann Welton. Ann has been the President of the Chamber for several years. She has done a great job representing the businesses and she has been a great partner with the Town. Ann is retiring in April. Please join me in thanking her for her outstanding work in our community.
Town has been working on updating the Community Plan. Thanks to Courtney Tanner, Jennifer Currin, and the planning staff for your efforts to make sure we had significant citizen input.
There were focus groups, interviews, workshops, post cards, social media and email blasts. A survey received responses from over 1300 people. The citizen input continues as we speak through Engage Wake Forest and conversations with staff. We appreciate your feedback; we are listening and a lot of it will be in the plan.
The Northeast Area Community Plan update was completed. Thanks goes to Michelle Michael for her leadership on this update. And, thanks to the Northeast Community Coalition led by Tilda Caudle for your help in reaching out to the community and getting their input. This update was adopted in November.
We are excited about getting to work on the action plan. We had a very successful Make A Difference Day and the Black History Month Walking Tours being held this month are giving many of our residents an opportunity to learn and see how important the black community has always been to Wake Forest’s success.
We continue to work with NCDOT to promote using the S-Line for passenger rail service. The purchase of the S-Line by NCDOT should be completed later this year. They are working on a Transit Oriented Development Study to plan for rail stops and the development that would naturally occur. You will hear much more about this.
Speaking of transit, we were able to expand bus service this year due to the Wake County Transit Plan.
I occasionally hear people say that no one rides the bus. I’m here to tell you this is simply not true.
Let me bring you up to date. In the first 8 months of fiscal 2020 before the pandemic shutdown, our ridership averaged 2538 per month. We are beginning to recover but have not reached our pre-pandemic numbers yet—of course, we are not over the pandemic yet! We just need to remember that this is a valuable service for some of our residents.
We were so pleased in 2019 to incorporate the Fire Department into the Town government. They have knocked it out of the park this year! They are celebrating their 100-year anniversary this year and finished last year by earning a Class 1 Public Protection Classification rating from the Insurance Services Office. NC Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey came and presented the classification to Chief Early. We are so proud of them—there are only 18 out of 1220 communities in NC with this classification. And our guys did it by going from Class 4 to Class 1 in one jump!
The ISO is a program that measures the department’s firefighting capabilities, equipment, and training. Class 1 is the highest code and is used by insurance companies to set rates and this rating could bring an approximate 2% savings specifically for businesses.
But, the really important news at the Fire Department is that they just got their first K-9 firefighter, Marshall.
We never know what interesting and awesome things Ruben Wall and our Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts staff is going to come up with. They are a hard-working, creative group who provide wonderful opportunities for all ages. This year, due to COVID, they decided to have their Halloween Boo Bash outside at Joyner Park. They had always had it indoors and had about 1000 people come to collect candy and show off their costumes. Well, who knew that over 4000 people would show up! They were shocked to say the least, but they did an amazing job as always.
This year the Board decided to hire an in-house attorney after 28 years of having Eric Vernon working with us. I am sorry Eric couldn’t be with us tonight because I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge his incredible contributions to Wake Forest. He has seen us through many difficult situations over the years and guided us with his excellent insight and knowledge of the law. His work has touched every department—our staff could always depend on getting the answers they needed. The Town Attorney works directly with the Board and Eric has led us through those complicated decisions with expertise and understanding. We are grateful for his many years of service. We are fortunate to have Hassan Kingsberry as our Town Attorney now. Hassan began the first of the year. This will be a transition time and Eric will be working closely with Hassan in the coming months to make sure everything continues smoothly.
This year especially, I want to give kudos to Ginny Jones and our Human Resources staff. These folks don’t have a lot of dealings with our residents, but they are very involved in supporting the strategic initiatives of the Town.
Among many other things, they make sure we have a safe and healthy working environment and that has been especially important and difficult over the past two years.
This year they received an award from Gallagher, which is a global insurance brokerage and risk management firm. Each year Gallagher identifies employers who provide innovative solutions for their organization. Wake Forest was named a “Best-in-Class Employer.” Thank you for the work you do.
They also help us celebrate the milestones our employees reach, and this year Ginny is reaching a milestone—she will retire in May.
Thank you, Ginny, for leading our HR staff so well. We wish you a great retirement and, as Ginny likes to say, all the best in your future endeavors.
Back in 2020 after the George Floyd killing when our country was experiencing great turmoil, I decided to be proactive. I realize that our community is not immune to this kind of turmoil.
I invited a group of community and faith leaders to join together in a Mayors Roundtable to discuss issues of race and relationships in Wake Forest and how to continue to foster cooperation, understanding and caring among all groups. I wanted us to be aware and to be able to respond if we had issues.
Our group is now comprised of about eight people who continue to meet. I appreciate so much this group who has been so open to sharing about our Town over the past two years. I would love for any members of the Mayors Roundtable who are here this evening to please stand. Thank you for sharing with me and caring for Wake Forest.
As you can see, the Renaissance Centre is where our community gathers to meet and celebrate the arts. The Centre was shuttered for a short time due to the pandemic, but Debbie Dunn and her staff said the show must go on even when the theater is dark—so they went Online to bring the arts to the community through social media platforms.
They collaborate with Arts Wake Forest, Wake Forest Guild of Artists, North Wake Theater, and Forest Moon Theater to offer events, programs, and classes. On May 7 the Renaissance Centre opened with a sell-out for jazz performer Yolanda Rabun and ended the year with a record-setting December—the most attendees ever in December; almost 6000 people attended the few events they held.
Later this year the Renaissance Centre will work with Jenny Griggs at the Senior Center to offer a program called “Moving Forward Together,” an arts program for a mix of all ages.
Our Public Art Commission hosted the first ever “Celebration of the Arts” in the Northeast Community and placed seven new murals and three new sculptures throughout the Town. We just received a report from the Commission that a recent study shows their permanent pieces have doubled in value.
In January last year, we launched our Show Some Love, #KeepWFclean anti-litter campaign to encourage and educate residents not to litter. Since then, we have enjoyed the incredible participation of civic groups, schools, churches, individuals, and families. Volunteers have checked out over 100 litter kits; logged 426 hours; collected nearly 2 tons of trash and 1300 lbs. of recyclables. Let’s give these folks a hand!
This past year has been exciting in our downtown. We are amazed at the resiliency of our downtown merchants and business owners and the support they offer to each other. The Loading Dock addition to downtown bodes well for new businesses and activity. We are happy to report that Friday Night On White, the Flag Raising Ceremonies and Wake Forest Holiday Cares Kickoff will all be back this year in full force. And the Chamber is also doing Meet In The Street downtown again this year.
I can’t even begin to tell you all the things Lisa Hayes, our Strategic Performance Director, does. But one thing she is doing is figuring out how we should spend the ARP money coming from the federal government. This is a tremendous job due to the many regulations involved.
We have not decided yet all the projects that will qualify for funding, but we know we are able to help fund the Digital Hub that our wonderful Wireless Research Center is setting up at the DuBois School Campus.
We are so excited about this Hub which will be the first of many across the state. They expect to have the first training class begin in March. This will be an opportunity for young folks to receive training for excellent jobs in the tech field. We are hoping that our County Commissioners will get on board with us in this effort which will be a tremendous benefit to all of Wake County.
Our Communications Department is recognized throughout the state for the excellent work they do to keep our residents informed. Just a couple of statistics for you. They average about 35 press releases every month which goes to news media and to online neighborhood groups. We have almost 25,000 email subscribers, 10,000 twitter followers and 14,000 Instagram followers. In December, we had almost 60,000 likes on Facebook and over 10,000 views of the home page on our website. It takes a team to get all this done and we all appreciate our Communications team for their work.
J.J. Carr, our Inspections Director informs me that we had an all-time record-breaking single-family building permits issued in March of 2021. Imagine, in the middle of a pandemic!
This brings me to something else I wanted to talk about: traffic. I guess traffic is the thing about which the Board receives the most comments. I am not trying to pass off responsibility for road improvements but, in fact, most of our congestion is on NCDOT roads.
We have two major projects that we have been waiting on for a long time that we believe will make a big difference for us. Many of you attended the on-line meeting with NCDOT about the intersection improvements and service roads connected to the Capital Blvd. project.
The Town Board has voiced our concerns to NCDOT. I am also working with CAMPO to use their influence to help us. In the meantime, the Chief Operating Officer of NCDOT came to visit me and Kip and other staff last Friday. We believe they are considering some of the comments that have been made but, to be honest, I’m not sure there is anything even that they can do at this point.
The other big project which will make a difference is Rogers Road. That project is scheduled to be let later this year. This will put Rogers Road over the railroad and expand it to four lanes all the way to South Main Street. However, I just want to remind you that while it is being done, it will be a challenge! But once it is complete the benefits we will enjoy will be well worth it.
I would like to use this opportunity to share my perspective about the traffic. If you picture the most economically prosperous, thriving cities that you have ever lived in or visited, you will remember that these are some of the most congested cities on earth.
So, I think we can safely say that congestion does not drain local economies—just the opposite. These places are congested because they are full of people, businesses, visitors, and economic activity.
John Norquist, a former mayor of Milwaukee, said that in an urban context, congestion is often a symptom of success.
Moving cars is obviously necessary, but if we make it our only goal, then we lose out on the economic potential created when crowds of people bring life to our community.
Sometimes people will say well we can build our way out of this, more roads, more lanes. But this is called “induced demand” and has been studied and documented in many places around the country; when you expand a road, you simply encourage more people to drive on it, thereby filling up the newly added lanes.
We should do some of this, yes, but I believe we also need to work on intersections and more connections to make the traffic flow better.
Let’s think about our area for a minute. People are coming here. There is really no way to stop that. We cannot decide how much to grow through the political process. When a development is approved, the public reacts by calling for slowing growth.
If we adopt this attitude for our town in an area such as the Triangle, we will simply be displacing that growth to another location without actually lessening any of its disruptive effects on us.
People who are against growth have the idea that development is the cause of population growth. If we let builders build, then we will be more crowded, and the traffic will be worse. If we don’t let them build, then growth will slow, and traffic will thin out.
Well, if we don’t let builders build in Wake Forest, they will build around us because people are still coming to the Triangle.
That traffic will still use our streets and roads and we will have no ability to have developers add turn lanes and connections and intersections to help us get around.
Think of it like a river. You can build a dam, but the water doesn’t go away—it must go somewhere; we have to consider the indirect consequences of slowing development.
Instead, we can work smart to build great neighborhoods, work to make great streets, build parks, restore the urban tree canopy. We can make sure we grow in ways that are productive, that new development generates the wealth to pay for itself in the long run. Let’s don’t be pro- or anti-growth; but let’s go out and see what problems people are facing today and then try to address them, in small steps.
Your Town Board had an excellent planning retreat in January. I am really excited about all the possibilities ahead of us this year.
We continued discussions about the update to our Strategic Plan. The consultants shared with us input received from various groups in the community and we will adopt this update soon. But I want to share with you some of the actions we talked about taking to achieve the goals in the Strategic Plan.
Sustaining Excellent Town Services – of course, we will continue to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars; Kip and Aileen will make sure of that. By the way, in May 2021, we became one of only 13 municipalities in North Carolina to receive a AAA rating from Moody’s and of course, S&P and Fitch also affirmed our previous standing of AAA. We are now a Triple—AAA! This results in lower interest rates and debt service costs to our residents. Great thanks go to Aileen and her staff for this accomplishment. We also want to develop strategies for workforce development for employees and local high school students.
Under creating accessible housing opportunities, we are developing an affordable housing plan and a plan to actively advocate for redevelopment of quality public housing
Fostering a Safe, Diverse, and Welcoming Community – we will continue to offer events and opportunities to bring our community together and celebrate our diverse cultures. We also want to create new gateways and wayfinding information.
Investing in Transportation and Infrastructure will include developing a sustainability plan inclusive of technology, power, water, stormwater, open space and other infrastructure. We will evaluate options for transit expansion to include micro-transit and explore revenue options to support our needs. Our IT Director, Adam Oates, is working with the Technology Advisory Board and they are helping to evaluate Smart City initiatives that we can adopt—this will be a big help to us.
Advancing Community and Economic Prosperity – we intend to develop a job creation strategy, encourage and protect small and entrepreneurial business, evaluate options for an expanded performing arts center and, especially, continue to provide a business-friendly environment. We plan to be able to identify a developer to work with us on the former bank property located downtown.
This fall we intend to introduce a bond program. Projects will be up for discussion, and you will be given an opportunity to comment. We are thinking about finishing up Smith and Dunn Creek greenways and restroom facilities and lighting upgrades in parks. There will be roadway connections, resurfacing, signals and possibly a couple of new road projects. We need to include the Flaherty Park Dam repair and reservoir dam improvements. We will probably include the parking deck downtown.
We have to finalize projects, figure costs, and get approval from the Local Government Commission. You will here a lot about this and, of course, it will be up to your vote in November.
Our bond programs in the past have been successful. We have been able to sell the bonds, complete our projects, pay off the bonds and not raise taxes. This is one of the ways growth can help pay for itself.
In closing tonight, I want to first ask Betty Jo Shepheard to stand. Betty Jo is the Regional Representative for Senator Richard Burr. She has been so faithful to us over these many years.
Betty Jo has been to every one of our State of the Town events. I want to thank you personally and for all of us. You have been a true advocate for us, and we have enjoyed having you come to all of our events. Betty Jo is retiring later this year and I wanted to give her some special recognition tonight. Maybe the folks at your table will let you have the centerpiece to take home!
One of the things I love most about Wake Forest is her people. Our residents want to be involved in our community. We have with us tonight many of our residents who are members of advisory boards for the town. What a wonderful service you provide, using your expertise and knowledge for the betterment of our community. Your work is valuable, and I would like for all of you to stand and let us thank you.
We also have in Wake Forest civic clubs that do wonderful work for our youth, for our disadvantaged and bring interesting programs and events for all of us to enjoy. How about everyone who is a member of a civic club in Wake Forest stand up. Thank you for what you do.
Now, I want the Wake Forest Rotary Club members to remain standing and I want to especially thank you for sponsoring this State of the Town event every year since the beginning—thank you for this opportunity you give us to share with the community what we are trying to do in our Town.
The Town of Wake Forest has 397 employee positions—they are probably not all filled right now, but we have several employees with us this evening. Thank you for all you do to make our community such a great place. You don’t always get the praise and recognition you deserve so I want you to stand and let us thank you tonight.
Next, I want to thank our Town Board of Commissioners. Thank you for being willing to step up and put your name out there. I want to share something I have learned over the years that might help you in your work: you can’t please all the people all the time and you can’t please some of the people any of the time, but you can make everybody mad once in a while if you are not careful! It is not an easy job that you have stepped up for, but you are doing it very well, we appreciate you, and I am honored to work with you.
In the beginning this evening I talked about the many ways “according to the news” that COVID has impacted us. We have to be careful not to get caught up in mainstream news and social media who frequently wants to focus on the bad news or to sensationalize the “not so bad” news. We are fortunate to have local news outlets that keep us informed in an honest way.
We have good news to tell in Wake Forest. This is a thriving, beautiful place—people want to live here. Most of our neighbors are caring, thoughtful people who want this to be a great place to live.
Finally, I want everyone to stand up. I have thanked our employees and clubs and others who do so much for our Town. But now, I want to extend my personal thanks to all of you and give you a round of applause.
I want to point out that YOU are the ones who care about our Town. YOU are the ones who embody Wake Forest Cares for our people. YOU showed that by being here tonight. YOU show it constantly by always being there when something needs to be done. Thank you.
So, this year I challenge all of you, our residents, our Town Board, our employees to continue working together to correct the wrongs we see, to support those who need help, to make all the services of the Town work for everyone’s benefit, to listen to the other person’s point of view even if we don’t agree, and hear what they say, and to welcome our new residents from all over the world who just want a good place to live.
This is that place and this is going to be a great year! Thank you!