Public comments on city budget; New IDR initiative pleads for funding

Dee Washington, of Neighbors for Better Neighborhoods, talks about a living wage during the budget hearing.

Public comments on city budget; New IDR initiative pleads for funding
June 16
09:30 2016



Community grants, fire inspectors and city worker pay were among the topics at the city budget public hearing on Thursday, June 9.

For two hours, the City Council heard public comments on the proposed budget. Most comments were from nonprofits the city supports with grant funds. Those community organizations were chosen based on the recommendations of the Community Agency Allocation Committee. The committee is made up of nine citizens who review city grant requests.

One organization whose request wasn’t in the proposed budget was a new initiative of Freedom Tree at IDR (Institute for Dismantling Racism) called Share Cooperative of Winston-Salem. Share wants to open a member-owned grocery store that will sell affordable, healthy food in a food desert. IDR founder Rev. Willard Bass said it was a project that reflects the principals of unity and anti-racism he’s been championing.

Rev. Gary Williams told the council that Share is looking at sites in the southern part of the city, but needed start-up money for feasibility and market studies on the locations.

“We can’t do that without some sort of initial funding from the city of Winston-Salem,” he said.

Williams said Share is following the model of Greensboro’s Renaissance Community Cooperative, which broke ground on its store in March. The City of Greensboro gave Renaissance a $250,000 grant to help it start. Share is requesting $116,725 from the city.

Other organizations were also turned down in the proposed budget– like the Josh Howard Foundation, Industries for the Blind and Whole Man Ministries– but Share was the only one that spoke.

A variety of groups are receiving fund-ing in the budget like The Sergie Foundation, which helps low income families afford veterinary care for their pets, and Eureka Ministry, which helps ex-offenders find housing. Other groups included the National Black Theater Festival, NABVETS, HARRY Veteran Outreach Services, Experiment in Self Reliance, Shepherd’s Center,  SciWorks, Old Salem and IDR, which will receive $33,350 in its regular city funding.

David Pollard of the Winston-Salem Professional Fire Fighters Association spoke in support of the first of three new fire inspector positions in the budget that will eventually handle all fire inspections, a job currently done by firefighters.

“Winston-Salem is the only major city in North Carolina that does operations-based inspections and there is a very clear reason for that,” he said. “Most cities abandoned that years ago because of the fact that the inspections done on the operation level are just not able to be done thoroughly enough.”

He said it’s hard for firefighters to enforce a 47 chapter-long fire code’s on top of their other duties like training, hydrant maintenance, public education and smoke detector installations. He said firefighters will sometimes have to leave in the middle of an inspection to respond to a fire alarm.

Several also spoke about city worker pay. The budget includes a 3 percent mar-ket pay increase and a 1.5 to 3 percent merit pay increase. But Philip Carter said that wouldn’t be enough for those making the lowest wages.

The original proposed budget would’ve increased the minimum wage for city workers from $10.10 to $10.40. Dee Washington of Neighbors for Better Neighborhoods said a lot of residents are concerned with a living wage and are organizing around the issue. She asked how many city workers live below the poverty line.

“In some ways, it’s like we’re having DSS subsidize our jobs,” she said.

The proposed budget has now been revised so that the minimum wage for city workers will be $11. A plan for a central city police district in and around downtown has been removed, which eliminates five new positions, so the police can devote the funds to increased recruitment efforts. There are also three new positions for upcoming splash parks and two new analyst positions that have been eliminated. There’s now also increased funding for the Urban League Summer Youth Employment Program and to Successful Outcomes After Re-entry (SOAR) grants.

The city council will vote on the budget in its Monday, June 20 meeting.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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