City passes budget with Trans-AID increase

City passes budget with Trans-AID increase
June 22
04:30 2017

A  split City Council approved a $482.4 million budget that included a rate increase for Trans-AID on Monday, June 19.

Though the council was divided on Trans-AID, which provides on-demand rides to qualified handicapped passengers, most of the budget was non-controversial. The budget, which goes into effect July 1,  increased compensation for the city’s labor, trade and crafts positions to bring them in line with market rates, increased the minimum wage for city employees to $11.25 and added or restored night and weekend service to nine bus routes.

It also added paid parental leave for city employees, has a 1.5 percent to 3 percent merit raise for city workers and continues the city’s retention efforts for firefighters and police officers.

City Council Members Derwin Montgomery and James Taylor were recused from voting on the parts involving the city’s advertising because as partners they own The Chronicle, which runs city ads. As usual, Montgomery, who is also director of the Bethesda Center, was recused from any matters that could involve that nonprofit.

The issue that divided the council was raising the Trans-AID rate from 50 cent to $1 and removing a Medicaid exemption for non-medical trips that let most riders use the service for free. The change is designed to encourage those who can to take city buses, which charge $1 a ride. Local Trans-AID currently has the lowest rate in the state, which City Council Member Dan Besse said is causing an “unsustainable” increase in ridership and cost for the service. All the money generated by the fare increase will go to free bus passes that will be distributed by local agencies.

“I’ve spent years fighting to improve this transit system and I’m not supporting this change so it can generate funding for the system,” said Besse.

Taylor proposed an amendment to retain the status quo that was supported by Montgomery and Mayor Pro Tempore Vivian Burke. It was defeated in a 3-4 vote. Denise ”D.D.” Adams, who was attending a conference, was the only absent council member.

Opponents of the Trans-AID fare change were concerned about its effects on passengers. The majority of riders at public comment meetings opposed the rate change.

“It does create an additional burden on those who ride Trans-AID and are on a fixed income and those who are in the lower wealth communities in Winston-Salem,” said Montgomery.

Montgomery was unconvinced the change would solve Trans-AID’s issues and was concerned the passes wouldn’t get to those adversely affected by the rate hike, since exact details of their distribution hadn’t been worked out yet. The rate hike will go into effect in October.

The vote was split 3-4 among the same council members on the annual appropriation and tax levy ordinance that increases the city tax rate 1.24 cent to 59.74 cent per $100 of property value. Burke was the sole “no” vote against the project budget ordinance. The rest of the budget passed unanimously.

One budget amendment Taylor proposed that, after some discussion, did receive unanimous approval was the addition of military incentives for police officers and firefighters. It’s paid for with savings from some of the many vacant, but funded, police positions. The measure will go to the Public Safety Committee for possible changes and then go before the full council for another vote. The proposal, as it stands now, is a 5 percent incentive for honorably discharged veterans. Assistant Police Chief Scott Bricker said in the public comments before the vote that it’ll help with recruitment.

Also during the meeting, the council voted unanimously for an incentive of up to $125,000 over seven years for HPFABRICS Inc, a subsidiary of Turkish textile company Tukek, to create 350 local jobs. This is approximately half of  the annual tax revenues the company is expected to generate. The company is considering reopening the Winston-Salem Microfibers Inc. plant, which Tukek purchased after that company shut down its U.S. manufacturing operations.

The public comment session that ended the meeting was dominated by appeals to the City Council to speak out for Minerva Garcia, an undocumented immigrant who has been given until the end of the month to leave the country by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). She currently lives with her three sons in Winston-Salem. She’s been in the country for 17 years and had been granted a routine stay of removal since 2013. Six residents argued that since she has no criminal record, she should be allowed to stay. Besse encouraged his colleagues on the council to sign a petition to support Garcia. A petition asking for her to stay has garnered more than 12,100 signatures in three weeks.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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