I know I speak for all of our City Councilmen joining with me today, to lead this great city for the next four years, it is an honor to have each of you joining us this morning as we begin our new terms. The past two and a half years have been marked by challenges, surprises and seized opportunities. We are grateful, to be given your vote of confidence that tells us to continue moving our great city in the right direction.
Shortly after I got sworn in two years ago, Montgomery was hit with bizarre acts of nature. A tornado or micro-burst struck our ballpark on Ray Thorington Road. An historic downpour flooded many of our neighborhoods and city hall, and then just as rapidly went away, leaving messes to be dealt with. In all cases, we were able to see firsthand the commitment and dedication that our city workers bring to their jobs each day. We saw firsthand, people who are thoroughbreds and we merely needed to get out of the way and let them run.
At one of our first manager’s sessions, we acknowledged the strongest asset we have as a city is indeed, the 2,700 men and women who come to work each day to serve our 206,000 citizens. At the same time, we realized the need to clarify our purpose with a uniting vision statement that would serve as our compass as we moved forward. Our group came up with the following vision statement: to sustain a safe, vibrant and growing Montgomery in its entirety, that we can all be proud to call home.
By channeling everything we do through our vision statement, we can ensure we never stray far from our mission and that we use our resources wisely, efficiently and effectively. We constructed an organization chart for city government and occupying the very top spot are the citizens of Montgomery. A reminder that everything we do is based on serving them and making them proud to call Montgomery home.
To that end, we sought to boost customer service by introducing our 3-1-1 service. By just picking up the phone, our citizens can gain access to every service we provide. 3-1-1 has been an overwhelming success. Thousands of people call each month, we’re able to meet their needs and get feedback on how well we did it. It functions just like our vision statement and ensures our focus never wavers too far from serving the public.
The first adjective in our vision statement is “safe”. We have taken key steps to make Montgomery’s neighborhoods safer. We formed a public safety department to coordinate our communications, fire and rescue and police response. There are more police officers patrolling our streets now than at any time in our city’s history. We have introduced satellite stations to give a greater police presence. We are constructing new facilities that will allow public safety to do its job even better. We have driven fire and medical response times to lower levels, we have the best ISO rating of the major cities in Alabama and we’re proud of those achievements.
The perception is that Montgomery is unsafe. And if you’ve been the victim of a crime, it is up 100 percent. But the criminal data collected by the FBI tells a different story. The numbers show that in 2009, our crime rate was the lowest it has been in 20 or more years. In 2010, we inched up just a bit from our historic low. This year, we’re down and may have an even better year than 2009. These results are due to good police work, but also to help from our citizens, neighborhood watch groups, crimestoppers, secret witness lines and many others. We need neighbors to be our partners by keeping their eyes open and letting police know when they see someone or something suspicious.
To ensure that we are meeting the “vibrant” part of our vision statement we are devoting time and resources to aggressively pursue every opportunity that’s out there. We formed a development department. Its mission is simple: go out and fine retailers who want to come to Montgomery. Go out and find investors and developers who want to build in Montgomery. Lower Dexter Avenue, is undergoing a re-birth that will return it to its former state of prominence. Our plan is to use money outside of the city’s general fund to buy vacant properties and then invite developers with a proven track record to do what they do. It is working. Today, retail, residential and dining venues are moving full steam ahead.
Our work to ensure a vibrant Montgomery isn’t confined to downtown. Citizens in every corner of our great city can see development that is paving the way for a brighter tomorrow. Our West Side Initiative will transform west Fairview Avenue with streetscaping, roadway enhancements, and the addition of Genetta Park as well as bring in new homes and businesses. The current Sears building is a strategical area in need of re-development, with banks, retail, commercial and residential opportunities.
During the past two years, there hasn’t been a month or a week that we haven’t explored ideas to develop the Montgomery Mall. Now, we’re preparing to move the fire department to the old Steve and Barry’s store, to build a walking track for seniors and eventually an increased police presence. The former Parisian’s store is slated to become the new home for a church and its multiple ministries and a developer from North Carolina, with a track record of making shopping malls vibrant again, is performing its due diligence at the Montgomery Mall.
Enhancement projects are also taking place. On Maxwell Boulevard, Ann Street, Perry Hill Road, the Capitol Heights neighborhood, out east between Taylor Road and Ray Thorington Road, Old Cloverdale, Ann Street, South Court Street and many, many other parts of our town. These projects are the quote: “in its entirety” part of our vision statement.
Our efforts to ensure a “growing” Montgomery are meeting with success. While our nation continues to be plagued by this great recession, some of the City’s key revenue streams are showing growth. Sales tax, that represents 40 percent of our income, has grown in each of the past two years. Our lodging revenues have also shown annual growth.
To sustain that growth we have invested in much-needed enhancements at the Cramton Bowl…they are already producing results with the return of all-star week to Montgomery and a contract to host the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star game. We are building an indoor sports complex to host multiple sporting events and constructing a soccer complex that will attract lucrative tournaments.
Two years ago when we first took office, we had a simple mantra for economic prosperity: jobs, jobs, jobs! We can all be proud of the progress Montgomery has made in that area. By working as a team: the City, the County, the State and the Chamber…we are bringing opportunities to the capital city to give families a better quality of life. Last year, the Alabama Development Office proclaimed Montgomery as tops in the state when it comes to jobs creation. More than 1,600 jobs were secured in 2010 alone. Only a portion of those opportunities have been filled, so we will continue to reap the prosperity of those moves as these positions are filled in the coming months.
In 2011, we have not rested on our laurels. Hundreds of jobs have been added thus far and our team continues to aggressively pursue any and all opportunities that are out there. Some two dozen companies are currently looking at Montgomery as a potential place to set up shop. Collectively they represent 8,000 jobs. Will we get all of them? Probably not. Will we try to get all of them? Absolutely! While the City of Montgomery is not the Board of Education and the Mayor is not the Superintendent…one fact is irrefutable: so goes public education, so goes Montgomery. We cannot attract new companies or get existing ones to expand if an educable workforce is not in place. That’s why the City, along with the County, the Chamber and members of our local legislative delegation are placing a premium on making sure our schools are the best they can be.
Montgomery has seen annual increases in its graduation rate and in its enrollment of advanced placement classes. The national media say we have some of the best high schools in the country and some of our elementary schools are receiving high praise as well. In May, graduating seniors received nearly 15-million dollars in scholarship offers. The Board of Education and Superintendent Barbara Thompson continue to work hard to ensure that our community’s most precious resource: our children, are prepared to thrive in the job market of the 21st century.
For the past year we have promoted Montgomery as the Capital of Dreams and a city for success. A place where dreams do indeed come true. In the next four years we will continue to take action to move our community forward. We know Montgomery is the economic engine that drives the river region, and we will continue to work with all of the neighboring cities and towns to attract economic development like Hyundai heavy industries.
I know I speak for all of us that you elected to lead our city, in the next four years we will continue to practice the fiscal discipline that has allowed us to receive high marks from the country’s leading bond raters. Their assessments send a message to everyone that our financial ship is in good order, allowing us to invest in our future less expensively. And as an added benefit, we are able to refinance our existing debt at lower rates and in turn save taxpayer dollars.
In the next four years, we will continue to promote and protect our health. Beginning in January, City properties will be tobacco-free. Our rating as one of the most obese communities in the country will be improved as we construct more bike paths and walking trails to inspire physical activity. And the growth of urban gardens, with help from the Hampstead Institute will make it easier for more of us to eat meals that are grown locally and are healthier.
In the next four years, we’ll continue to work with the Superintendent and Board of Education to see the construction of a new high school and the further development of career academies, that give Montgomery students a leg up upon graduating and entering the job market. We’ll also be working on International Baccalaureate Programs and hopefully charter schools.
In our next four years, we’ll continue to work with Emerge and the Torchbearers, the 20-to-40 year olds, to get their input on how to shape Montgomery so that our best and brightest will aspire not to move to other cities, but to instead stay here at home to raise their families, have great jobs and enjoy a high quality of life. No community can grow without being a mecca for young professionals. In our next four years, we’ll continue to upgrade our city with Questplex, the partnership of the Children’s Museum of Alabama and the Library of the 21st century. We’ll make our downtown more than a place for tourists and a place to work. We will add residential units to meet the demand of families that say downtown is the place where they want to live. We’ll expand the success of downtown along the Maxwell Boulevard corridor and the riverfront.
In the next four years, we’ll return to curbside pickup for recycling. In partnership with a private company, we will sort all household waste from our green cans. No more orange bags, as we continue our green city efforts. In the next four years, we will continue to drive crime rates to lower levels, achieve more rapid response times, create more good paying jobs and help to produce an educational system without equal.
We have been blessed to have great yesterdays. With hard work, working as one Montgomery and God’s grace we’ll have even greater tomorrows. Our hope and prayer is that for each of you, the best of your yesterdays will be the worst of your tomorrows. As together we all work to sustain a safe, vibrant and growing Montgomery in its entirety that we can all be proud to call home. Let me share with you what the capital of dreams is all about.
Thank you, God bless you and God bless the great city of Montgomery, the Capital of Dreams.
Todd R. Strange Mayor, City of Montgomery Alabama
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