May 22, 2020
Today at 5:00pm North Carolina will move into Phase Two – a “Safer at Home” recommendation. Restaurants, personal care services (salons and barbershops), and pools will be allowed to open at 50% capacity with additional restrictions. Bars and nightclubs, museums, playgrounds, gyms and fitness studios, and indoor entertainment venues will remain closed. You can find more details about Phase Two from DHHS on my Facebook page here. While Phase Two allows for a limited reopening of some businesses, please continue to stay at home when possible, practice social distancing, wash your hands often, and wear a face covering when you do go out.
This week, the City Council held a productive virtual meeting to take action on a variety of items. We reviewed the recommended city budget from our city manager. While the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a significant toll on our city’s finances, the budget includes no tax increases or cuts to city staff. We are able to save money through a freeze on non-essential hiring, reducing training and travel, and cancelling or postponing some events and projects. Due to the large crowds it attracts, the budget also recommends cancelling the Fourth of July fireworks celebration usually held at the fairgrounds. The budget includes over $6 million for affordable housing as well as funding for our new Office of Equity and Inclusion.
The council is also considering an added public safety package to fund critical needs for our police and fire departments. The package would require a property tax increase of roughly $17 for the median home valued at $255,000, and would fund 50 new police officers and firefighters. The package would also create a special unit to work with our homeless community and those suffering from mental illness and expand services in our domestic violence unit.
The virtual public hearing on the budget will be held Tuesday, June 2nd at 7:00pm. Please share your thoughts at the public hearing on June 2nd by speaking or submitting comments ahead of time. You can also email me anytime at mary-ann.balwdin@raleighnc.
In anticipation of the state moving into Phase Two this week, we discussed the potential for closing sections of streets and parking lots or expanding sidewalk space for outdoor dining, which would allow restaurant employees and their patrons to more safely practice social distancing. We are researching ways to implement this equitabily. No decisions have been made yet, but we plan to continue the discussion with new details at our June 2nd council meeting. Given the increased bicycle and pedestrian traffic, the council also directed city staff to examine how we can restrict vehicle traffic on key streets near greenways to allow for safer shared use of the roads.
The Affordable Housing Bond Advisory Committee presented their recommendations for an affordable housing bond to be placed on the ballot this fall. The presentation included the results of our affordable housing bond survey, which showed strong support for the effort. The committee recommended a bond of $80 million for affordable units at 30% of the area median income with an additional city subsidy. The COVID-19 pandemic has hit low-income families the hardest, and housing affordability will be more important than ever as we grapple with the economic fallout. We are still considering a variety of proposals and will vote June 2nd on whether to place the bond on the ballot this fall and at what final dollar amount.
The city voted to enter a 15-year partnership with the Dix Park Conservancy, a non-profit committed to building Raleigh’s Dix Park into a world class destination park. While we have decided to delay a potential parks bond due to economic constraints, this marks a significant step forward in the build-out of Dix Park.
I’m also excited to announce that we appointed 15 members to our new Hispanic and Immigrant Affairs Board. We created this board earlier this year to give this vital part of our community a voice in city affairs. I’m looking forward to hearing the advice and recommendations of this board.
As we head into Memorial Day weekend, I hope you’ll join me in taking some time to honor and reflect on the lives and service of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation. Let’s also remember the fallen frontline workers who put everything on the line to save lives during this pandemic.