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Mar 08

Waxhaw Life: A Community Celebration

Posted on March 8, 2019 at 8:43 AM by Waxhaw Communications

Waxhaw Life: A Community Celebration | February 25th, 2019

Good evening.  It is my pleasure to welcome you to our celebration of Waxhaw Life. Tonight I will share with you some of 2018’s biggest accomplishments as a community, and talk about some of the challenges ahead. Tonight we celebrate through conversation. We’re opening the door to follow up on these discussion topics. The topics of today and tomorrow will shape our Waxhaw Life for the next 15-20 years. I would like to thank all of you for attending. We appreciate your interest in and commitment to Waxhaw.

Before we get started, I want to thank the people who make Waxhaw such a great Community.          

  • I want to thank our Mayor Pro Tem, Brenda McMillion and our Commissioners – Brenda Burns, Fred Burrell, Kat Lee and Tracy Wesolek. Each one is passionate about Waxhaw, our future and our Community, Thank you Commissioners for your willingness to serve the citizens of Waxhaw!
  • I would also like to thank Town Manager Greg Ferguson and the 73 employees of the Town of Waxhaw for their continued hard work and dedication. They work every day to serve all of us to make Waxhaw Life better.  You do the hard work of making sure Waxhaw runs. Thank you.
  • And finally I want to thank the proverbial “glue” that represents the “unity” in community…
    • Our residents,
    • Our public and private partnerships,
    • Our partners in the business and industry sectors,
    • Our non-profits in service,
    • Our educational and religious institutions,
    • Our community leaders and private citizens,
    • And all those who believe in and support the journey that is moving Waxhaw forward.


Welcome to Waxhaw – The Duncan McDonald House

Last fall I was sitting on the swing at our McDonald house. In a few days I was going to speak to WUMC in celebration of their 130th Anniversary. As I sat there, I could not help but reflect on what that church and the McDonald House have been witness to over those 130 years. They have witnessed all of the memories and changes that have defined this community. They saw the incorporation of the town, the arrival of the railroad, the boom and decline of textiles, and more.

They have witnessed prosperity and saw first-hand Waxhaw’s ability to adapt to change. They have seen Waxhaw at its lowest and seen Waxhaw at its best. And over the last 15 years – due to a vision for growth by our leaders back in the early 2000’s - they have seen the most dramatic change not just the change in size of Waxhaw, or how we govern Waxhaw, but also the dramatic change in the diversity of culture and faith across 28173!


Welcome to Waxhaw – Downtown Waxhaw

Today, there is no town in Union County more full of life than Waxhaw on a Friday night. At the end of the workweek, you’ll find residents and visitors alike enjoying Waxhaw Life.

From our Historic Downtown where 45% of our restaurants and 50% of our businesses reside, to our centers at old Hickory and Cureton Town Center, you are out exploring everything Waxhaw has to offer. Couples meeting up with friends at our wonderful establishments for food, drink and music; kids running in search of ice cream, snow cones, cupcakes and more; or perhaps you are grabbing a cup of coffee or sitting on one of our many benches that line our downtown. You might see friends buzzing in and out of the retail shops on Main Street. Everyone is out enjoying our Waxhaw Life with the people they know and care about.

Now imagine someone is walking alone. How well do we make them feel like they’re a part of our community?

There is no question that our biggest challenge over the last several years has been Waxhaw’s rapid growth. Traveling through our town takes a little bit longer than it used to, the demand for entertainment and activities has increased, and businesses are seeing an opportunity to grow in Waxhaw and they’re taking it. We’ve measured the number of cars on the road, and the number of businesses that have opened in Waxhaw, and the number of people that have moved here in the last five years, but how do we measure and celebrate community?


The Waxhaw Community

On March 7th, 2019 Waxhaw will be celebrating our 130th Anniversary. Communities seldom stand still. They are continually growing, changing, and evolving, and certainly Waxhaw has been no different.

Today we estimate our population to be 18,500. Since 2000, that is an 8-fold increase and double the size in the last 8 years. That also means that roughly 75% of our population is new to the area within the last 10 to 15 years. The positive that comes from that kind of growth is the amazingly diverse community this creates. With this diversity comes a broad representation of thoughts, ideas, issues, wants, and solutions to impact quality of life, Waxhaw Life.  Not only the quality of the town, but the quality of life of others.

Let me share a few fun facts about the power of community – where YOU, our nearly 3 dozen institutions, over 200 businesses, our Town staff and our residents - worked  together in a number of different community events. Across Waxhaw in 2018, through your donation of time, of treasure and talent this community impacted the quality of life in so many ways:  

  • You provided nearly 680 back packs and school supplies for children at an all-day back to school bash;
  • You donated and distributed 360 pairs of shoes to kids in need; 600 bags of groceries for families in need; and fed 900 people
  • Over a week’s time repaired 24 homes in need of repair
  • Through a 5K road race event raised $29,000 for scholarships for an empowerment program for girls in 3rd through 8th grade
  • And on very short notice – the people of Waxhaw came together to escort a 3-year-old diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer to her princess coronation ceremony, followed by a ride in a horse-drawn carriage through the neighborhood streets of Waxhaw with hundreds of people lining the parade route. 

2018 certainly was a year where Waxhaw the Community was at its finest. In each of these examples, the love of our community, of Waxhaw, is evident. The feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. That is the essence of community.


Waxhaw Is a Community of Neighborhoods

We work hard to connect and engage our community. And it starts in our neighborhoods, one of the most common forms of community in Waxhaw. We have over 32 neighborhoods in Waxhaw, 20 of which have been built from the ground up since 2003.

Quality of life in these neighborhoods is due to past and present commitment to planning. Since the early 2000’s, Waxhaw’s planners and inspectors have worked to keep this commitment, which includes infrastructure, open space, trees, sidewalks, and in most cases, amenities. This dedication and commitment has encouraged connections to the Thread Trail and Parks. It has included town and developer partnerships.

On February 28th, one of those partnerships was finally completed after 15 years with a final dedication and ribbon cutting at Town Creek Park. You may ask – why did that take so long? To bring that partnership vision to reality requires the plans, the long term funding and the staffing to complete. And it requires balancing the past and future vision against our ongoing service commitments, which is a challenge, and something this community will talk about in the coming months. It is one of our biggest challenges that your Board thinks about continuously.

Neighborhoods also must be maintained and sustained. In 2018 nearly $1.5M of your tax dollars went towards this effort. And that is a nearly 50% increase in 5 years. 

We protect the quality of our neighborhoods via our Code Enforcement Staff. Waxhaw’s first serious commitment to this was made in mid-2015. In 2018, this quality of life service addressed 970 violations. The top 3 issues were signs, visible junk and tall grass.

We sustain your neighborhoods and our environment through our Public Works Team. The Solid Waste Service involves everything from yard waste to leaves, from bulk goods to weekly garbage.

  • Weekly garbage in 2018 exceeded over 10 million pounds. This alone would take 4500 Ford F-150’s to haul off.
  • To protect the environment from the amount we haul off in yard waste, leaves, and recyclables would take another 6200 Ford F-150’s. 2018 saw for the first time the Town of Waxhaw recycle and repurpose more than it throws away! 

To put that in perspective, if these F-150’s were parked bumper to bumper, they would line up and cover every inch of road down and back to Bank of America Stadium! 

The investment made in leaf composting is now paying off. The compost facility is now producing high grade topsoil for Public Services allowing us to use what we produce across the entire town.

When it comes to neighborhood connections, 2018 saw the continuation of two significant programs:

  • The neighborhood watch program - one of the oldest and most effective crime prevention programs in the country, bringing citizens together with law enforcement to deter crime and make our community safer with seven in our community.
  • National Night Out - NNO is a nationwide event designed to promote police and community partnerships, build neighborhood camaraderie, and make our neighborhoods a safer, better place to live. Waxhaw has participated in NNO for 17 years. Three years ago we changed this to a neighborhood program, and in 2018 we had seven neighborhoods with hundreds of Waxhaw residents who came out. Thank you to all of the neighborhoods that participated. Participation grows every year and we look forward to the next NNO on August 6th.

The challenge ahead? How do we maintain and sustain our neighborhood infrastructure – some of which are 75 years old?  Some of our infrastructure was built before today’s modern storm water, sidewalk and street standards existed. Others are approaching useful life on their streets and sidewalks.

How we tackle the many multi-jurisdictional issues here is complex and challenging. It demands we work across boundaries to solve both the technical and financial challenges. One of our priority items from our Board retreat was how we will sustain what we have while supporting the growth that is upon us. The time for the hard work to define a financial plan to get us there is here.


Waxhaw Is a Safe Community

NNO and Neighborhood Watch are a significant piece of the Waxhaw Police Department’s Community Policing programs. I, along with Commissioners Burns and Burrell, are one of 107 graduates of our Waxhaw Citizen Police Academy – the most active Academy in Union County with two classes offered every year. If you want a better understanding and appreciation for what our Police Department is and does, and you’d like an opportunity to meet our officers, I encourage you to enroll. The best part? IT IS FREE! 

Our Police Department has 26 sworn police officers, including two Community policing officers, two K9 officers, and two detectives. All ably assisted by our two administrators. Our Police Department responds to calls for service, works to make our travel safer through enforcement and education, crime prevention, drug and gang suppression, burglary suppression, criminal investigation, and community outreach. In 2018 that amounts to over 33,000 calls for service. When it comes to traffic violations – 36% of the over 2,500 violations are expired documents.

This community outreach approach makes our Police Department visible and active participants in nearly every aspect of our community. They participate in over 120 events, have sponsored over 40 kids in sports, arts, and computer tech programs, and have the only DARE program in Union County. They also have the largest active Explorers Post in the region.

Two weeks ago I received notice that the Home Security Advisor – a company and resource for home security and safety information for over 20 years - has recently published a post on The Safest Cities in North Carolina, and Waxhaw was recognized as one of the Safest Places to Live in North Carolina! We’re ranked #5 in the state. It is nice recognition, but tempered against the day to day challenges this region has.

Our officers have a difficult job, and what makes it challenging is the different people they have to deal with on any given basis. Across the 1,500 crimes, sometimes they are dealing with people that are on drugs, have mental illnesses and might also be carrying weapons that are dangerous to everyone. They have been trained for this, having completed over 3,100 hours of continuing education. The professional manner in which they handle this pressure makes the achievement even more impressive.

Suffice it to say the Waxhaw Police Department and the community continue to share a great partnership, which enhances the quality of life enjoyed in our great city.

The Waxhaw Community Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad is our critical partner and just as focused on our safety. They recently went through an intensive fire protection classification inspection by the North Carolina Office of the State Fire Marshal (NCOSFM) in September 2018. They were given a new rating, and that new rating places the WVFD in the top 20% of fire departments in North Carolina. NCOSFM Commissioner Mike Causey stated, “I’d like to congratulate Chief Sharpe for the department’s performance and for the hard work of all the department members. The citizens of the Town of these districts should rest easy knowing they have a fine group of firefighters protecting them and their property in case of an emergency.” 


Waxhaw Is a Community of Fun

Engaging in events and recreation is a wonderful way to experience Waxhaw Life and bring a sense of community to our town. The fun facts I started with were all community events. Our team and our many volunteers work hard to offer events and programs that give our community the opportunity to work together, connect with each other, and have fun. While we try to inspire fun, these events to bring us together to create a community.

We host events throughout the year designed to build community. In 2018, we hosted nearly 30. Our July 4TH and Christmas Parades brought over 5,000 people to Downtown. Our largest event, Autumn Treasures, which features the official Grill’n & Chill’n BBQ Contest, attracts well over 10,000 visitors. Our July 4th celebration was its largest gathering ever – with well over 20,000 attending. While it was wonderful news to hear so many people love our events, it was a wake-up call to examine our town’s capacity.

Ensuring your safety while we build community is obviously a top priority at every event, which requires adequate space and staff to support such robust events. As our events have grown, so has the pressure on the staff and space to support them. While we know our community is disappointed that we have to postpone our fireworks, we did so for one reason – safety. Even without the fireworks, we will continue to celebrate our community 26 times this year and celebrate our great country with our annual 4th of July Parade.

Can you believe that only four years ago our Town did not have a Parks and Recreation Department? The decision to invest your tax dollars in a department was simple. The Board at that time saw the need to provide the tools, venues, and support our community needs in order to live a healthy and active lifestyle. While there existed a “Parks & Recreation Master Plan” from 2012, there was no mechanism to bring that Master Plan to fruition.

At the same time, the Board also moved forward with the critical foundation point in that Master Plan – a partnership with the YMCA. Partnerships take time – but in a few short months the YMCA will have in place their first “Waxhaw YMCA” Advisory Board. And in just one year, the concept plans for the property will be approved by the town and the YMCA.

We do this as a community. Speaking of strong partnerships:

  • Waxhaw Athletic Association (WAA): Partners with the Town of Waxhaw to provide athletic recreation for our citizens at a reasonable cost. The WAA is an all-volunteer, non-profit organization that has existed since 1980.
  • Adopt a Park Program: engages groups like Waxhaw Weddington Rotary, Lowe’s, or individuals to help keep our park areas beautiful and a place where folks like to come and visit.
  • Girls on the Run & Ginger Snap 5K: Partners with the town annually for their very successful 5K in Downtown Waxhaw. In 2018, the Girls on the Run staff gave back to Waxhaw in the form of a donation to the park system. 
  • And in 2019, Waxhaw Parks & Rec is partnering with several local businesses and individuals to provide enrichment programs for all age groups.

On February 26th, we began the community conversation on our path forward in Parks and Recreation. We saw for the first time a potential revision to our Park & Recreation Master Plan – work that many of you have participated in. Adopting that plan in some shape or form will require some tough questions, some community discussion and the difficult work of creating a sustainable financial plan to get us there and keep us there.


Waxhaw Is a Great Main Street Community

I began by saying there is no town in Union County more full of life than Waxhaw on a Friday night. Really it is the whole weekend… and many days during the week.

This did not happen overnight – it was a commitment 10 years ago to a Main Street Program Concept. It requires teamwork – from our Parks and Recreation Department, Our Police, Public Works, our Downtown Development Manager and our Main Street Advisory Board, as well as our engaged and prospering businesses and amenities such as David G. Barnes Children’s Park and the Duncan McDonald House. All of this culminated in 2018 when the Town of Waxhaw was awarded the 2018 Great Main Street Award for their vibrant and prosperous downtown.

Downtown Waxhaw is the heart of the community and we recognize the importance of stewarding it forward in a way that preserves and respects our history while allowing for growth. In 2018 the town conducted a participatory, community-led exercise involving key stakeholders such as downtown business owners and residents. This exercise pulled together real estate, planning, and development experts to help Waxhaw develop an objective approach to utilizing town properties. The town is evaluating the recommendations for improving and preserving our downtown in 2019.

Now, planning becomes reality. 2019 will see the construction to improve accessibility to Waxhaw’s downtown through pedestrian-friendly sidewalks and bicycle- friendly bike lanes with shared funding through the Charlotte Regional Transportation Organization (CRTPO).


Waxhaw Is a Community That Is Working to Run Smoothly

Traveling through our town takes a little bit longer than it used to, and the demand from our housing, for entertainment and activities has increased significantly.

While the growth vision was established in 2003, the really tough questions surfaced after the recession. Beginning in 2014/15, the town began to ask the SMART Growth questions:

  • Do we have the right systems in place?
  • What services and activities are essential? Based on this, what should we shed, retain, or expand into?
  • Have we assembled the right team?
  • Have we integrated our government? Do we work with other levels of government? The private sector? The non-profit sector? 
  • Do we understand and have we taken into account how these systems and relationships work together?

The answers were not as far along as we needed them to be. Some pieces were in place, some were missing, some were outdated. This is very common for a town our size in North Carolina. To position the town well for the future, and for today, under the leadership of our Town Manager Greg Ferguson:

  • The town has and continues to invest in talent,
  • That talent has put in place planning and growth management standards to close the gaps,
  • And this is leading to modernization of ordinances and development approaches. That said, we realize we need to move at a much quicker pace. 

What challenges are still ahead?

-       The speed in which we are able to respond to the transportation needs that come with our growth;

-       The difficulty of, and our collective will to implement a sustainable economic development approach to deliver our wants and needs.

The challenge is complex. The formulas for road funding and enhancements are driven by rooftops. That means enhancements will follow capacity. The highway 16 corridor provides a very interesting and unique challenge, much different than that of 74 and 521. As you traverse NC-16 from I-485, you pass predominately rooftops on low-density lots in Weddington and Marvin (which does not drive DOT to increase capacity) and then you arrive in Waxhaw - a high density and economically developing area.

To compete for enhancements in the DOT region, we first needed to put in place the necessary talent. Prior to 2015, the Town of Waxhaw

  • did not even have an engineer on staff,
  • lacked protective ordinances, something we call a TIA,
  • Had not established effective relationships with NCDOT, CRTPO, CSX and the state house.

In February, we hosted the first ever transportation summit between our legislators, NCDOT, and Western Union County representatives to better define and tackle the regional issues. And that realization is critical – this is a regional issue!

Understanding the challenge does not make it easier. Unlike our neighbors, our 12 square miles includes 65 miles of public roads, 67% of which the town owns. Let’s put that in perspective here. If you left here tonight, took 485 to 85, past Concord Mills and went eight more miles up 85 – that is how many miles of roads we own and are responsible for maintaining.

  • For the 33%, we must work with NCDOT. Main Street, 75, 16, and much of downtown compete for funds within NCDOT. 
  • For the 67%, we have the state funds via the Powell Bill, which is neither guaranteed nor overly abundant at $350K. The vehicle fee adds approximately $300K to our allotted funds. This is what we have to support a 45-mile road system.

We are making progress. You can go to our website and see the progress for yourself.

  • The TIA ordinance has been very effective with nearly 25 road enhancements programmed over the next few years to address development related impacts.
  • Through the relationships we’ve built, we have been able to make people aware of Waxhaw. I am very proud that Waxhaw has been the recipient of funding for critical state road projects that total nearly $90M that will begin to address our big challenges. No, we have not resolved the very difficult challenge of the Waxhaw Parkway.
  • While these take time, in 2019 you will see construction of:
    • Nearly 40 additional parking spaces downtown
    • Sidewalks funded through grants on Waxhaw Marvin Drive
    • Street repair projects totaling over $400K
    • Downtown pedestrian improvements
    • NC-16 and Gray Byrum turn lane and traffic signal
    • Turn lanes and new signaling at Waxhaw Marvin and Kensington
    • Inside 28173 – the third roundabout at New Town and Marvin Road
    • In 2020 you’ll see a reconstruction of Kensington Road from 16 to Sunset
    • And in 2021, the Waxhaw Marvin bridge over 12 mile Creek will be replaced
    • Yes, we are pushing hard for Highway 75 maintenance – the challenge there is really the impact hurricanes had on the states maintenance budget.
    • For a complete list, please visit our website.

And let’s not forget the investment in water and sewer made by the county. Union County has worked with the town to provide additional sewer capacity in our downtown area to address a system that needed upgrading.  This has included the investment in the Twelve Mile Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, which involves various upgrades to the facility, increasing the capacity by 25% as we grow. 

Waxhaw Is a Responsibly Managed Community

Waxhaw life – we like to think we are small enough to be flexible, yet big enough to potentially tackle new and creative ideas. As we cross this threshold we see in front of us, we also see a broad representation of ideas, issues, and solutions…. As well as a set of expectations that must be managed.

Managing these expectations, and more importantly, the complexity that Waxhaw Life really is behind the scenes requires more than an operational view. It requires a look into the future towards financial sustainability. Operationally, we are on solid financial ground today. Thanks to the great work our Finance Department has led and driven, we have updated our financial policies and completely updated our budgeting processes. This enables the town to combine our strong operating foundation with our strategic planning where we can begin to answer how we can sustain our current services while providing for the wants and needs necessary to achieve the town’s vision and assure long term viability.

Waxhaw Is a Community With Opportunities and Challenges

All of this comes with a host of opportunities and challenges. They include, for example:

  • Funding the resources to operate the town’s police and public works.
  • Statutory services that have come to us in the past – inspections – and coming in the future – census 2020 - and the storm water responsibilities.
  • Our transportation network including our sidewalks. Both maintain and sustain the cost to serve.

And here is the immediate challenge – we are at a crossroad! We rely too heavily on residential property tax. You often hear us talk about diversifying of our tax base. Only 7% of our property tax comes from commercial locations. For every residential tax dollar, we generate somewhere near $1.30 in services. This also impacts our transportation network, and here is our biggest challenge in 2019.

There is no magic wand here. Waxhaw as a community must decide quickly and how seriously it wishes to be about economic development, or if it desires to be more of a bedroom community. Answering this question is critical, and without a clear answer we are impacting our ability to properly provide services and connections for the next decade.

We're a Community of Connections

We take action every day to communicate openly, honestly, and in a way that encourages public engagement. And in 2018 openness and transparency was a key focus. 

  • Our approach to Board meetings – They’re open to the public, no closed sessions unless absolutely required by law.
  • We utilize iCompass and our YouTube channel. There are now twice as many opportunities for public comments.
  • Citizen engagement - we’re building stakeholders in the community through Waxhaw 101, CPA, and our first ever NCDOT info session. We utilize TAP Planning and Parks & Rec Planning. And of course, formal training for our Boards and Commissions.
  • Stewardship – We took the next step in our “Key Financial Strategies” approach that began in 2015. Our Finance Department has completely revamped the budget process to provide total transparency. Financial reports are shared publicly with the board during public meetings every quarter.
  • Key piece – integrated communications approach. We use Facebook, the website, Tri-W, and social media to keep the town informed. If you don’t see the information you are looking for on one of these sources, send us an email at communications@waxhaw.com.

All of our very real and difficult challenges will require community dialogue. That gets to another community challenge.

  • Waxhaw Life was established and has grown over 130 years through active citizenship. That means people getting involved in their local communities in ways I’ve highlighted already. It can be as small as a campaign to clean up your street or as big as educating people about our values, skills, and the importance of participation.
  • Our interactions at times by a few seeks to divide us – by political party, gender, race, religion, and others – and define us by who we vote for, where we were born, or what language we speak.
  • The Board and I reject this notion. Being proud of what makes Waxhaw unique is ok. In fact, it is terrific! We cannot allow our differences to blind us to the community we have in common.
  • As a Board and as your Mayor, we are working to create a town that works for all of us. One that improves the lives of all residents in all neighborhoods. We are better together than we are apart.

Conclusion

There are 18,500 residents, 200 businesses, and 30 programs and 26 annual events to serve them. We are one single community. It’s up to each of us as individuals to foster connections with each other, with our local business owners, Waxhaw staff, and with our Board to strengthen our community as a whole. All of the progress staff and the Board are making will have no impact if we don’t recognize the role each of us play in staying informed, asking questions, and greeting new folks in town as if they’ve just become a part of our community.

I encourage you to stay informed and get involved with your local government in the coming year. Subscribe to our many communication vehicles, attend council meetings and workshops, attend a Neighborhood Watch meeting, or apply to participate in the next Waxhaw 101 or Citizens Academy. We are here for you…and each other.

That is what this meeting is all about - community. You have shared your values with Waxhaw, and because of that we are, and will always be, a community that is connected to each other, and has genuine concern for the well-being and quality of life of everything Waxhaw!

Thank you – together we make history each and every day. Together we make a difference!