2023 State of the Town
The Wake Forest Rotary Club presented the 14th Annual State of the Town Address & Dinner on Monday, Feb. 20, 2023, at the Wake Forest Renaissance Centre.
Debbie Dunn served as the evening's emcee and Ronald Williams provided the dinner entertainment.
During a special part of the event, Wake Forest Rotary Club President Darryl Banks presented Michael Burger with 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 2022. She also discussed a number of goals Wake Forest will strive towards in 2023.
Full Text of 2023 State of the Town Address
Welcome to WAFO!
Last year when we had the unveiling of the new mural located on the side of Unwined on White, all of us old fogies in the audience were saying, “What is WAFO?” Fortunately, there were some younger folks there who explained that this is the new way to say Wake Forest! I looked at that mural and I said, “You know what, I love it!”
This is a perfect example of how we can embrace the old and the new. We are a happening place!!
As I look back on 2022, I am simply amazed at all we have accomplished. We completed our Community Plan update, Historic Preservation Plan update, and adopted a Housing Affordability Plan.
All of these initiatives had great participation by our residents, and they will be our guiding documents as we continue progress in making our community the best it can be.
The goals adopted in the Community Plan will lead us through all our future activities, while the Housing Affordability Plan will help us meet the goals of providing diverse housing opportunities balancing the mix of uses in our residential areas.
The Historic Preservation Plan will help us maintain our small-town charm and safeguard our historic character.
Last year we began our housing rehabilitation program. We put $50,000 into the pot and – alongside our partners - the Northeast Community Coalition and Rebuilding Together of the Triangle - we were able to complete a series of repairs to five homes in the Northeast Community that included the installation of new flooring and roofs, bathroom replacements, kitchen repairs, and more.
In one case, a resident’s bathroom floor had collapsed, and the ceiling was caving in. Using these funds, Rebuilding Together was able to construct a new bathroom and repair the roof and ceiling. They also installed a new shower for easier access for the resident.
Because our first year was such a success, the Town Board again authorized $50,000 to continue the initiative this year.
If any of our local businesses or organizations would like to participate in this program, we would love to talk with you.
Every 5 years we must pass a Stormwater Audit conducted by the state to ensure we are following state and EPA regulations in handling our stormwater.
This past year’s Stormwater Audit was passed with no findings which is extremely rare — so ours is one of the few communities in the state who can say this. In fact, many towns failed the audit this year.
We are truly proud of this because it takes a great deal of coordination between all our departments to make sure everything is handled appropriately.
However, we did learn at our retreat a few of weeks ago that the EPA and MS4 Permit requirements are increasing and we will have additional regulations. This means we will need additional funding so over the next few months you will be hearing about a possible stormwater utility fee and how it could be implemented.
Personally, I have spent a good bit of time this year working with NCDOT on the S-Line project with the support of staff and the Town Board.
NCDOT is in the process of purchasing the S-Line, which extends from Raleigh to Richmond. They are working with the State of Virginia to refurbish the tracks.
This will allow the Southeast High-Speed Rail that we have heard about for several years.
They are saying now that they anticipate this work to be done within 8 years bringing back passenger rail access to Wake Forest.
Another part of this project that excites me is the use of the track for commuter rail. With commuter rail we can be connected to job centers in Raleigh, Cary, Sanford, even Charlotte.
NCDOT and its municipal partners along the S-Line have secured grants which have been used for engineering, planning and designing mobility hubs in all of the communities.
We should hear soon about another grant which will be to begin construction. And actually tomorrow I will meet with NCDOT Rail Division to hear directly from the Federal Railroad Administration about additional opportunities and the current work happening in North Carolina.
This is an exciting time for public transit in Wake Forest.
We recently began to develop a Public Transit Plan which will offer our residents many options over the next few years in partnership with NCDOT, Wake Transit and GoTriangle. We anticipate the adoption of this plan in the fall.
Citizen input is the cornerstone of this initiative. Earlier this month we had two open houses, and we will offer other opportunities in the future. Please get involved.
In 2022 – thanks to the assistance of Congressman Price - we were pleased to receive funding to upgrade the dam at the Wake Forest reservoir.
This project will help secure the dam, and once we take care of the old water treatment plant, we will be able to offer more recreational options at the reservoir. This will be a wonderful enhancement to our parks and recreational programs.
Speaking of Parks and Recreation – the popularity of our various offerings is amazing!
After being curtailed for a couple years due to COVID, 2022 was a boom year for the Holding Park Aquatic Center, the Taylor Street Park Sprayground, and our Fall Baseball/Softball leagues.
We opened the Town’s first Outdoor Fitness Court at Flaherty.
We had almost 3,000 visitors to the BOO Bash for Halloween and hosted 2 pickleball tournaments with over 400 players from all over the state.
We are upgrading the pickleball courts at Flaherty and are partnering with the Seminary to expand their disc golf course so everyone in Town can participate in this fun sport.
I hope you have been by Joyner Park Community Center and seen the beautiful mural unveiled this year.
We also enjoyed had some big successes in Economic Development.
As you know, since opening in December 2021, the Loading Dock Wake Forest has become a center of activity in our community. They now boast over 300 members with social activities and enrichment opportunities designed to support the growth of local small businesses.
This location for many entrepreneurs will continue to enhance our downtown and bring vitality to our community.
We are also extremely excited about the expansion of Blue Force Technologies to our community.
With the Defense Department approved space located at the former home of Three Phoenix, it was a perfect location for Blue Force to expand and fulfill its contract with the Defense Department to build cutting edge technology unmanned planes.
We appreciate Merritt Properties and their Capital Business Park expansion into Wake Forest with buildings which are flex space zoned allowing for light industry or warehouse spaces catering to the many small businesses locating here in Wake Forest.
We also appreciate all the work Moffatt Pipe has done at the South Forest Business Park.
And when you are driving around town you can’t miss Grove Ninety-Eight, the continuation of the Wegman’s development. This will be a premier location for shopping, dining, and living in Wake Forest.
We have chosen a development partner for the redevelopment of 353 S. White Street. This multiuse space will serve as a catalytic project for our downtown by bringing more retail and residential, along with a badly needed parking deck.
Other transformative residential, business and retail development is happening on Wait Avenue which will continue to enhance the vitality of our historic downtown.
As I look back over the past couple of years and the disruptions and disturbances that have occurred across our country, I am so proud of our Police Department.
As you know, they received their National Accreditation three years ago and it was reaffirmed in 2022.
They began a Victim Advocate Program in December 2021, and it had a very good first year.
They also introduced a Community Resource Officer program which places officers at many community events and encourages them to meet with residents.
I just don’t believe there is another Police Department anywhere that does all the important things that our folks do to connect with the community—things like the D.A.R.E. program, Shop With a Cop, National Night Out, Turkey Drive, Fundraising for Special Olympics, the Take Me Home Program and others. These are all things that go above and beyond regular police work and show how much they care for our community.
Also in our public safety area, we are so proud of our Wake Forest Fire Department. Last year they received the Class 1 Public Protection Classification from ISO.
This year they celebrated their centennial—100 years of protection and we are so proud to have them as a department in the town. This year they added Marshall, an arson dog to expand their investigative capabilities.
They also have a Shop with a Fireman program and participate in every event that happens in Town. Wake Forest Fire is the best!
Due to the funding received through the ARPA funds from the federal government, we were able to set aside money to support the Wireless Research Center initiative to establish a Digital Bridge at the Dubois Center Campus.
This hub helps young residents develop skills in technology which will enable them to secure positions leading to good careers and will help companies find employees they need. This has been a successful program and they are expanding to other locations in Vance and Granville County and possibly Wilmington.
One of the neat new things we did this year was introduce a Citizen’s Academy. This was an opportunity for about 30 people to learn more about how the Town operates. Some of our graduates are here tonight. Would you please stand.
As part of the Citizens Academy, at Public Works, the guys gave us a great presentation about all the things they do: installing sidewalks, street repairs, building retaining walls, printing signs: did you know that they print most of the road signs in town?
We also learned the ins and outs of recycling and solid waste pickup. Luke DeVores, our Urban Forest guru, gave a great presentation on all the ways we work to preserve our urban forest.
Just as an aside, Luke was named Employee of the Year this year because of his outstanding work and willingness to collaborate with others.
Most of us were amazed to see what a large fleet department we have. They keep all the town vehicles running including our police cars. And we had a presentation from Wake Forest Power about how they keep our lights on.
We also had presentations from Police, Fire, IT, Finance, Planning, the Town Board, and others. It was a great program and I especially thank Lisa Hayes for putting it all together and I also appreciate all of the employees who participated.
We had great reviews and will continue this program. If you’re interested in learning more about how your town works, I encourage you to sign up—you will not be disappointed.
By the way, I understand that today is Lisa Hayes’ birthday. Please join me in wishing her a great day.
Can you believe that this year marks the tenth anniversary of our Renaissance Centre?!?!! Ten years ago, we opened the doors to this venue by asking our community to Imagine the Possibilities.
Over the past 10 years, the Wake Forest community and beyond has embraced the Renaissance Centre as the place we gather to celebrate the arts.
So now, we’re no longer simply imagining the possibilities – we are realizing them!
Last year, we sold out nine shows! We launched the “Friends of the Centre” and 103 people joined.
We had 126 youth campers participate in enriching summer camps.
One thing I love about our team is that we’re always looking for ways to do things better. At the end of 2022, we tried something new in response to audience concerns of obstructed views for shows.
We rented risers for our December shows. Here’s a sample of the responses we received - “Please keep the risers; they are fantastic! They are a game changer! Awesome view! Loved it!
You can’t get 100 percent agreement on much of anything these days, but 100 percent of the people who responded to our survey after attending those December shows told us that it enhanced their experience and 80% stated they would be willing to pay extra per ticket to have the risers for future shows.
To celebrate our 10-year anniversary, we will offer ten months of special programming beginning with the Malpass Brothers in July and including a Tenth Anniversary Celebration in November with Marcus Anderson and going through The Drifters in April!
We recognize that the Renaissance Centre is not just an arts venue but an economic driver for Wake Forest. Once again, we ask that you help us Realize the Possibilities as we begin a feasibility study and talking with architects and others about how we can Realize even greater Possibilities!
Now, let’s talk Finances. Our financial situation is excellent. Under the leadership of Kip and our Chief Financial Officer, Aileen Staples, we continue to fare well in this area. They always try to embrace a conservative philosophy in estimating revenues and expenditures. This approach means that we can continue meeting our goals and providing excellent services.
We are consistently below our stated limit for debt and consistently above our expected fund balance or rainy-day fund.
We have a very talented finance staff under Aileen’s management. They continue to lead us with our triple AAA rating from the three top rating agencies.
Five years ago, they began publishing a Citizens Financial Report. You can find this on our website or, if you want a paper copy, please let me know. In this report, you will find everything you need to evaluate our finances.
It is indeed a comforting thing for us as elected officials – and for you – our residents – that we receive a clean report from the auditors and know that our finances are in order.
Now that we have finally come out of most of the COVID mess, I think it is important for us to look back and remember how our Town staff performed during this time. If you remember, you did not lack for service from the Town.
Of course, everyone always expects the Police Department and the Fire Department to carry on no matter what and our guys and gals always do.
I brag all the time about our Police and Fire and what a great job they do.
But let’s not forget about our team at Wake Forest Power! They did a super job keeping the power running without mishap for the years of COVID. Even during a pandemic, you can’t keep squirrels out of the boxes, but our guys were always there to fix it.
And how about during Christmas this year when it was so cold—we had two outages and they had them back up within an hour! I was in Randolph County and our power was out for 8-1/2 hours on Christmas Eve! Wake Forest Power is the best.
But I want to point out that there are others you may not always think about. All our employees continued with their jobs; sometimes at home and sometimes in the office but the jobs got done and they got done with a good attitude.
I want to especially point out the Public Works staff. They did not miss a beat.
They were on the job all the time just as usual. They kept our garbage and trash picked up, they kept the streets clean, they kept the sidewalks repaired, they made signs, they kept the vehicles running, they kept the trees pruned, they kept the cemetery clean and all the other jobs they do every day to keep our town running.
They were true heroes during COVID, and I thank God every day for each one of them.
We were so pleased in November when our residents passed the bond issues on the ballot. The bonds give us an economical way to accomplish big ticket items that we need. We will be applying for grants and funding from state and federal sources to add to these bonds which makes them go even further.
With the bond funds, we will be able to complete the Dunn Creek and Smith Creek Greenways. Then, you will be able to walk or bike from Flaherty Park to the Raleigh Greenway system across the river.
We will replace the wooden Sanford Creek Boardwalk with a permatrak system that will be more sustainable.
We have identified road connection, traffic signal and road repair projects that will be addressed.
Another project we are beginning to plan is a sports complex which will include a large pickleball facility among other things.
And these bonds will allow us to install restrooms at all park locations.
All these bond projects will have a page on the website when they begin so you can monitor their progress.
Continuing with upcoming parks and rec programs, we have started construction on our first Inclusive Playground at Holding Park.
We’ve been planning this for a while, and I am so excited about this playground because my friend Jay Jay Wilson won’t have to go out of town to visit an Inclusive Park!
This Park will offer easy access for people of all mobility ranges and there will be seating and shaded areas—it will be a wonderful place!
I’ve been waiting all night to get to this part…
Do you know about FUNGO?!?! Wake Forest FUNGO is a collegiate summer wood bat team locally owned and a member of the North Carolina Amateur Baseball Club.
Last year we formed an agreement with them to provide a field for their home games at Flaherty Park. They are partnering with us to make improvements to the field to make it more suitable for this level of play.
They are also providing an eight-week off-season Youth Development Training Program for our kids.
Now, I have an exciting announcement to make. We worked with Wake Forest FUNGO to develope a new logo and they have allowed me to introduce it to you this evening.
You are the first people to see this. Isn’t it great! Yea, Wake Forest FUNGO! I’ll see you at a baseball game!
The ARPA funding we received from the Federal Government through the state is being put to good use. As I mentioned, we are using some for the Digital Bridge at DuBois and the Inclusive Park.
Some of the other projects that have been identified are stream restoration projects at Jones Wynd and Miller Park; watershed studies for Tom’s Creek and Horse Creek; Flaherty Park Dam Repairs; and other stormwater control measures that we need to address.
These projects will also have a page on the website for your information. This funding is addressing sustainability issues and putting us in a much better place.
Speaking of sustainability, the Town recently installed Internet of Things sensors in downtown.
The sensors will allow us to collect data on crowd density during events, they will monitor temperature and air quality, and will help public safety keep track of traffic and pedestrian activity. We are also upgrading our fiber-optic infrastructure in downtown to support greater access to wi-fi.
At our retreat in January, we talked about electricity and the rising costs of equipment. Wake Forest Power customers will experience a cost increase this year. About half of our residents are served by Wake Forest Power and the good news for them is that they have the most reliable power service in the area.
Wake Forest Power customers experience fewer outages, and their outages last a shorter time than those of other local providers.
I want to point out again, as I always do, how proud I am to be the mayor of this wonderful community and mention a couple of things being done in the community by our residents.
First, I want to thank Radeas Labs for their commitment to the community for the past 2-1/2 years. They have offered COVID testing and are still doing it—rain, shine, cold, hot. This is free testing in partnership with the County. What a blessing to have this facility right here. They are kind and pleasant and helpful. We can never repay them for this service.
Thank you to the Rotary Club for sponsoring this event every year. We appreciate your support and all the things you do in our community.
There are other civic groups, like the Rotary Club, who spend their time and money doing good things in the Town and beyond. We have so many non-profit groups that were formed simply to help others. It is amazing how many people are helped with food and services and money by volunteers in Wake Forest.
Our businesses are generous and always contributing to these organizations so they can be part of helping.
As you know, the Town partners with Northern Community Food Security Team to help make sure that residents have the food they need. Drew Brown in our Finance Department works with this group. They pick up food from the non-profit Bread of Life and deliver it to the places here in town that serve residents. They are considering establishing a mobile hub to help with their work and if anyone wants to help them, it would be appreciated.
It is important to me when I give the state of the Town to say that Wake Forest is in good shape because we are all working together—Elected officials, Town staff, businesses, and residents to keep our community the very best.
I read a Ronald Reagan quote the other day, he said, “We have always been, and will always be, a nation uniquely defined by the voices and votes of her citizens. While it’s easier to engage in armchair activism and critique our leadership from afar, our leaders will never be the answer to our country’s challenges.”
President Reagan said it and it is absolutely true in Wake Forest that the secret to our strength has never been our leaders. It has always been the people. Thank you all for all you do.
Our mission: The Town of Wake Forest is committed to delivering superior services and celebrating the diversity of our organization.
Our vision: Wake Forest’s vibrant, diverse, and welcoming community fosters its distinct character, thriving economy, and high quality of life. These are statements from our Strategic Plan.
If you come to Town Hall, you will see that vision statement printed on the elevator doors. It reminds us every day of our purpose and helps us stay on track to accomplish our goals.
Our employees have adopted the values of caring, commitment, character, and collaboration.
These are the values that will enable us to have a secure, connected, and resilient community which is an answer to some of the challenges we will face this year.
We are focusing on becoming more resilient by using the tremendous amount of data available to improve efficiency, minimize costs and make investment in AI and workforce to support this.
Quality of life is the driver for safe and connected communities to use smart city initiatives and you will see us investing in digitally enabled initiatives this year and beyond that will optimize our work for our residents.
I heard a story recently that I shared at the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, and I want to share with you. It is about a man named Gil who is retiring after 50 years of teaching middle school students.
He was loved as a teacher and a story about him was shared that when he was a child, one of his classmates had a birthday party.
He was invited and he took with him a friend named Archie. Now Gil was a little white boy and Archie was a little black boy.
When they arrived at the house, the mother came to the door and when she saw them, she said, you can come but I don’t have enough chairs for both of you. Gil said, well I’ll sit on the floor, but the mother said, oh no, we don’t have enough chairs. They realized what was going on, so they left and went home crying.
So, when Gil grew up and became a teacher, every year he put an extra chair in his classroom and explained to his students that its purpose was to make sure anyone who wanted to come in would have a chair.
We are working hard this year to focus on investing in programs that support all our residents and making sure everyone has a seat at the table to provide leadership and support.
I have an extra chair at my house. I would like for Wake Forest to be known as the Town with lots of extra chairs. Will you join me?
Hang on, we are moving fast and accomplishing a lot. This is going to be another great year.