Downtown Winston-Salem trolley could get the ax as council debates budget

Lauren Carroll/Journal

Lauren Carroll/Journal

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Old Salem could get about $100,000 from Winston-Salem in the coming year, and Family Services could get $180,000 toward the cost of a new roof on a Head Start building.

And the downtown “trolley” with rubber tires could get the ax because it costs the city $23 every time someone takes a ride on it, according to the Winston-Salem Journal. 

If you think all these things have something to do with Winston-Salem’s proposed 2014-15 budget, you guessed right.

The city’s Finance Committee made no hard and fast decisions Monday as members discussed the budget, but the folks at Old Salem had to have itching ears as council members discussed whether to double the amount of money the city’s top tourist attraction gets.

Council Member Dan Besse tried to slow any decision on giving Old Salem more money. Besse said that doubling Old Salem’s city support raises serious questions about how deeply the city should be involved in the attraction.

He said the money the city gives now – about $50,000 – is only a “drop in the bucket” in Old Salem’s $8 million budget.

“This looks to me like a step one from a drop in the bucket to (paying) a substantial portion” of Old Salem’s budget, Besse said. He said that many small community groups count on the city for major portions of their budgets, and that many of them are not getting all the money they requested.

Council Member Molly Leight jumped to Old Salem’s defense, saying that the attraction’s budget may be large but that it still runs a deficit. Pointing to the impact of Old Salem tourism on the local economy – it has been estimated at $45 million per year – Leight said should get more city support.

City Manager Lee Garrity is proposing a $506.9 million budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, and a 1-cent increase on the tax rate to make up for some lost revenues caused by changes in state law.

The current tax rate is 53 cents for every $100 of taxable property. Under the proposed budget the owner of a $150,000 property would pay $15 more than the $795 now paid in city taxes.

After sitting through several work sessions and a public hearing, Assistant City Manager Ben Rowe walked the council through some possible alterations in the Garrity budget.

The changes included $180,000 for Family Services, which needs a new roof on the Austin Child Development/Head Start Building, and the purchase of five hoist trucks to help with brush removal at a cost (for financing) of $145,000.

Also on the table is a $50,000 boost for SciWorks to help that science center with a potential move downtown, as well as the $50,000 increase for Old Salem.

Rowe could add all those items in without a further tax increase because estimates now show city revenues looking a little better in the sales tax collection area.

Council Member Derwin Montgomery said he agreed with Besse about Old Salem, but that he was not so bothered about the increase because the money comes from hotel and meal tax receipts that come back to the city.

Council Member Vivian Burke said that Old Salem and some other agencies that get city money need to have a more diverse work force so that they “mirror the community.”

Council members Robert Clark and Jeff MacIntosh sounded more favorable to Old Salem getting more money, pointing to the attraction’s significance in creating what MacIntosh called the city’s “brand.”

Clark took aim Monday at the downtown trolley: Not the real one that some people hope to build with a federal grant, but the one with rubber tires called the West End Trolley that makes a loop through downtown Winston-Salem with the help of a subsidy from Wells Fargo.

“I think that it is time to get rid of the West End Trolley,” Clark said, getting right to the point.

Besse and Clark agreed on this topic, although Besse said that it would be better to wait until the middle of the budget year to act, since cutting the trolley out now would be cutting out some money that the bus service could use to good effect for public transportation.

At some point in the coming year city officials hope to roll out revised bus routes to create a more efficient system.

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