Council retreat focuses on goals, economy, education during morning session

Published 1:29 pm Thursday, February 19, 2015

By David Purtell

david.purtell@salisburypost.com

The morning session of Salisbury City Council’s retreat Thursday focused on evaluating last year’s goals and highlighting the year’s economic accomplishments while looking to the future.

Interim City Manager John Sofley started the morning off with a brief review of the history of council’s annual retreat, now in its 30th year. A giant book was used as a prop to show the retreat’s theme: “Telling Our Story.”

Many of the goals council set last year are long-term ones and are still in progress. Others, like development of incentive grants for downtown development, have been accomplished.

Another important goal, the development of the Innes and Long Streets Complete Streets plan, plays a big role in the city’s long-term objective to make the city safer and easier to navigate for pedestrians, Sofley said.

Other things, like sidewalk installation and building wheelchair access across the city, are ongoing.

Fibrant

Using Fibrant to leverage development and market the city was an objective set last year. The city has chosen a marketing firm, Clean Design in Raleigh, to help spread Salisbury’s message.

Also regarding Fibrant, the city is constantly looking at ways to cut costs and make operations more efficient, both Sofley and Fibrant Director Kent Winrich said. Contracts with channel providers are being reviewed and renegotiated, Winrich said.

Channel providers the city contracts with are raising costs, and the city will likely have to raise video fees, but not Internet fees, for Fibrant customers down the road, Sofley said, adding it’s the same situation for private companies like Time Warner.

Some channels that have low viewership could be dropped to save money, Sofley said.

Winrich said improving communication with Fibrant’s customers is something he and his staff will be working on.

Building permits

Another priority the city developed last year was finding a way to have more control over the issuing of building permits – which is currently entirely controlled by the county.

The city has been working with the county to find a way to develop a cross-jurisdictional express-review process.

Councilman Brian Miller said it’s about making development in the city “Simple, fast and easy.”

Sofley said city staff has found that making changes to the current system will be difficult legally, but it’s something the city will continue to work on with the county.

Economic development

Robert Van Geons, the county’s executive director of economic development, and Paula Bohland, Downtown Salisbury Inc. executive director, spoke about what needs to happen for the city to move forward economically.

Bohland said developing an infrastructure-needs plan for downtown is something council will have to take on.

Van Geons said the key to the city being truly successful is integrating Fibrant into everyday life around the city. That means using it to make city operations more efficient and as a major tool for business recruitment.

Van Geons said City Council needs to have a conversation about where it wants its large, industrial development to be located. The city currently doesn’t have a large industrial building available for companies, he said.

Bike lanes, a walkable downtown and development of options for different types of transportation will be necessary, Bohland said. She added recruiting “small-box” stores downtown is something she’s working on.

Education

Knox Middle School co-principals Latoya Dixon and Michael Waiksnis spoke about the school’s progress since they took over last year.

“We know the most important way to improve a school is to change the culture,” Waiksnis said.

They talked about the “Knox Way,” the school’s new motto and how students are taught to do everything with excellence and develop a practice of good habits.

Talking about college is a constant theme at the school, they said. The goal is to get students thinking about college early — administrators want students to visit three colleges before finishing the eighth grade.

Both student and teacher absences have been greatly reduced, Dixon said. She said building relationships with students and their families is one of the school’s most important priorities.

She said teachers and staff make sure all students know their teachers care about their academic performance.

Councilman Miller told the principals, “Nothing is more important than what you’re doing.”

Contact reporter David Purtell at 704-797-4264.

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