2011 State of the City Address
Today we have the opportunity - and the responsibility - to take a bold step towards a better future for our citizens, by:
- Creating economic opportunity
- Improving our neighborhoods
- Cleaning up our environment
- Restoring citizen confidence in city government, and
- Taking decisive action to move our City forward.
We can take these bold steps, because this is not just a budget that I am presenting to you. It’s a plan, a statement of our priorities, and a covenant with our citizens. We can take these bold steps, because our most sacred duty to our citizens is the stewardship of the resources they entrust to us. I know you share that same respect for our citizens that I do, which is why I’m happy to present this budget to you, and report that the State of Our City is improving, and our future is bright.
In the recent past, our City and our economy has faced many challenges. However, with your help, we have kept our economy moving by continuing to invest in our City. This budget is based on my belief that if we make the right choices, we can continue to invest in our community to make it cleaner, safer, and more profitable. This budget continues that investment in capital projects that are creating jobs and helping local businesses, such as the Woodland Heights and Legion Field resource centers, the Downtown Tech Park and Admiral Mason park, our new downtown Library and the Community Maritime Park. But we also have exciting opportunities on the horizon, with the Marine Research Facility and Hatchery, the former Escambia Treating Site, and the Airport Commerce Park. This budget supports these projects by funding the infrastructure and personnel to implement them, including the new Office of Economic Opportunities and Sustainability. This office focus on aligning City policies, resources, and assets to support sustainable, private sector job creation.
This budget also restructures the City departments and divisions that serve our neighborhoods. In order to be more responsive to the needs of our neighborhoods and to eliminate duplication, I am establishing the Department of Neighborhood Services, which combines Parks and Recreation, the Library, and the Division of Neighborhoods, to give our citizens a “one stop shop” for any neighborhood needs. To further demonstrate my commitment to neighborhoods, I have established the Chief of Neighborhoods. This position will serve to coordinate City policies and activities across all our city departments, and manage neighborhood outreach efforts, to engage and empower our citizens to improve their communities. Assisting in this process of empowerment and engagement will be a new community volunteer component of our neighborhoods program. We have hundreds of citizens, businesses, and organizations willing to now join hands with us, and this citizen volunteer program will help us partner with the community we serve, to beautify our streets, maintain our parks, and keep our neighborhoods safe and clean. Because clean neighborhoods, and safe neighborhoods, are good for our community, and our economy.
However, cleaner and safer neighborhoods are not limited to the ground under our feet. Making Pensacola a place where people want to live, and where businesses want to invest, means cleaning up our air and water too. This budget makes critical investments in our stormwater program. Unchanged since 2001, our stormwater rates fund vital environmental projects, projects that protect our bays and bayous from runoff, and protect our creeks and streams from erosion. If we are going to clean up our city, it has to include cleaner waterways for our citizens. No family or business is going to move to a city with health warnings on every body of water in the area, and I call on you to join me in cleaning up our waterways by supporting these stormwater adjustments.
We as a City should also do our part to protect the quality of the air we breathe, and ironically, it’s an energy company that’s going to help us do it. One of my 20 Solutions for Pensacola was to transition our fleet of vehicles, from traditional gasoline and diesel to cleaner, cheaper, natural gas. One of our City enterprises just happens to be a natural gas company. This budget is going to make critical investments in fueling stations and other infrastructure to help our City – and any other public or private sector fleets – transition to natural gas vehicles. This initiative will save us money in the long run, make us less dependent on foreign oil, and over time, will help us create a cleaner, healthier environment for our citizens.
In addition to programs that focus on our community at large, my proposed budget also looks internally, for ways to save money, be more transparent, and more responsive to our citizens. One of the most exciting initiatives we are currently implementing is the 3-1-1 service. This service, used by progressive cities across the Country, gives citizens almost seamless access to the staff and city services that they need. When fully implemented, “Pensacola 311” will route most citizen phone calls directly to the appropriate staff or department. Those calls will be entered into our work-order database, where we can track our progress, and most importantly, make City Hall more available to the citizens.
Our internal improvements must also include ways for us to better manage the citizen’s resources... in other words, we must do more with less. By eliminating 20 vacant positions earlier this year, we created additional savings of over 800 thousand dollars. Further, I have directed my staff to explore functional consolidation.
Lastly, this budget reduces the millage rate for property owners by 5.5%, and while this may not be a huge reduction for an individual homeowner, it sends a message to the citizens at large that we are tightening our own belts, too.
But we as elected leaders cannot do this alone. So I am engaging our employees in this effort too. Starting this year, we will be implementing an Employee Award of Excellence. This award will recognize, and provide a financial incentive, for employees who find ways to cut costs, reduce risk, or improve efficiencies. Because the people who are delivering services on a daily basis to our citizens - are also the people who see on a daily basis how we can improve - I am eager to hear their ideas and input.
While this budget is for the upcoming fiscal year, we all know that there are many long-term issues our city faces. With capital dollars already allocated or spent, we must preserve the general fund dollars we DO have, so we can continue funding important job-creating, neighborhood-improving capital projects. To that end, this budget restores the previous council policy regarding our city owned enterprises and internal service funds. In other words, every enterprise must survive on its own. To do this, our Sanitation and Inspection functions will see fee adjustments, so that we can protect our General Fund dollars for capital improvements, and give our citizens a clear picture of exactly what these services cost to own and operate.
One of the largest obstacles to freeing up revenue for capital expenditures is our pension obligation. Each year, almost $14 million dollars are spent from our various funds and enterprises to pay for our pensions. That’s why I have charged the Mayor’s Pension Advisory Committee with finding ways to reduce these yearly pension costs, and free up dollars to be used for other projects and services. Likewise, the Mayor’s Port Advisory Committee is examining ways to ensure that our citizens are receiving the highest possible return on those 50 acres of waterfront property. Both of these committees will be reporting back to me later this calendar year, and I look forward to working through those recommendations with you to ensure that the State of our City continues to remain strong.
Finally, I would like to address our employees. In a time when massive deficits are causing cities, states, and entire nations to make drastic cuts to services, benefits, and staffing, I am happy to report that this budget does nothing of the sort. While there are no raises for employees, I am sensitive to the fact that those raises have been long delayed. I am also sensitive to the fact that many of our citizens are dealing with having no job at all, or no health insurance, or no pension. I am hopeful that our efforts to become more efficient and effective will result in savings that I can return to you. I want to thank the employees for their hard work, and dedication to our City. Over the past six months I have learned that Pensacola is blessed with competent, professional, and committed staff who care about our City and our citizens, and it is an honor to work with such a wonderful group of professionals.
I would also like to thank the members of City Council, for their hard work and their service. Thank you for your patience during this transition time for our city, and for your support during these past six months. You play an important and vital role in making our City a better place to live, work and play. I look forward to working with you to implement this budget.
It is only together, with the help of our staff, our citizens, and our Creator, that we can make Pensacola a place where neighborhoods can flourish, citizens can be proud, and businesses can prosper.
Thank you, and God bless our City.