Woodstock Mayor Donnie Henriques gave his annual State of the City Address during Monday's City Council meeting.
The speech was used to recount some of the milestones, successses and major accomplishments the city saw in 2012. Here's the text of the mayor's speech:
Last year, I started this address by saying that “2011 was clearly the year that the city of Woodstock turned the corner in our road to recovery from the Great Recession.”
If 2011 was the year that we turned the corner, 2012 will be remembered as the year that the pendulum swung to the positive in a major way for the city of Woodstock. No matter what form of measurement you utilize, 2012 was the best year on record for quite a while for the city. That being said, we still face challenges to dig out of five years of recession and continue to move the city forward.
The city’s General Fund finished the fiscal year in June 30, 2012 with a surplus of $225,518. For the current fiscal year, council adopted a balanced budget and earmarked $250,000 to go to the Reserve Fund.
If the current fiscal year’s revenues and expenditures continue to trend the way they have through mid-year, I expect the city’s Reserve Fund to swing to a positive balance by the end of the fiscal year.
This year witnessed a significant change to the city’s benefit package when the decision was made to implement a self-insured health insurance program.
You all have heard our City Manager (Jeff Moon) say over the years that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. Well, after years of double digit percent increase in health insurance premiums, staff worked diligently to implement the self-insurance plan on October 1st.
To go along with the new plan, we launched a tobacco cessation program and a wellness program. We are proud that we currently have a 96% participation rate in the wellness program. I want to thank (Human Resources Director) Tracie (Barnes), (Benefits Coordinator) Audrey (Porter), (Chief Financial Officer) Robert (Porche), Jeff (Moon) and the folks at Argus Benefits for shepherding this project.
After our previous property/casualty and general liability carrier dropped out of the Georgia market, we saved money by changing to a new carrier. Unfortunately, we did receive an increase in worker’s compensation insurance premiums. I have asked our staff to evaluate the possibility of self-insuring worker’s comp and have us a report to consider as part of our upcoming budget process.
Human Resources coordinated the recruitment of a couple of key positions in 2012. Police Chief Cal Moss joined us on March 5th to replace David Bores who retired the previous December. In April, Robert Porche joined us as CFO to replace Henry Bucci who left earlier in 2012.
Our IT Department coordinated an update of our web site. If you haven’t seen it lately please go back and take a look at the improved site. I think Jim and staff did an excellent job in updating the look of the site and improving the functionality of the site.
IT also coordinated moving our phone and internet service to Windstream, resulting in a 50% cost savings for both services and improving the performance by 5x on the internet side.
We also outsourced our Tier 1 helpdesk, resulting in a savings of approximately $36,000 per year and providing employees with 24/7 coverage.
Our Finance Department launched the property tax on-line payment portal for the 2012 season. This portal posts payments directly into our computer system which saves both staff time and money, all without charging a convenience fee for residents.
For 2013, I would like to see us move forward with combining our billing with Cherokee County. This will allow residents to pay one bill and allow us to eliminate a currently vacant position in the Finance Department.
Finally, the city received its 19th Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting.
Community Development Department
We ended 2012 on a sad note with the departure of Community Development Director Richard McLeod who left to take a similar position with the city of Alpharetta after 10 years of leadership with the city.
Richard started with the city as a citizen member of our Planning Commission and eventually worked his way through the ranks of the department to become the Director. Much of the success of downtown and development practices within the city can be attributed to Richard’s vision, leadership and work with our team to establish the foundation for what has occurred here.
We are proud to welcome Jessica Guinn on February 11th as our community development director and look forward to having her on board our team.
We saw Walton Communities and Horizons complete significant portions of their projects in 2012.
Walton Woodstock’s 300 units are now available and Horizon’s has set an opening date of July 17th for the outlet mall. Both of these projects, in their respective ways, will have a tremendous impact on the future of the city’s economy.
I would like to point out that with Walton Woodstock and the additional phase at Avonlea that was completed in 2012, we have added approximately 450 apartment units in the city.
I would also point out that in the past couple of years, we have demolished three older complexes (Walden Chase, Oak Street and Noonday Street Apartments), totaling almost 90 units.
We received a TE (Transportation Enhancement) grant in the amount of $800,000 for the second phase of our streetscapes project. I would like to thank Senator Brandon Beach who selected this project for funding when he served on the GDOT Board.
Northside Hospital-Cherokee broke ground on a $22 million dollar medical office complex. This project has the potential to create many new jobs in our community and will open later this year.
The city adopted the Smart Code for the Ridgewalk area. This unique form based code allows for flexibility for developers to respond to market trends as needed. North Point Church was approved under this code, negating the fears that some had regarding a shift in the zoning code paradigm to a form based code.
The city received a grant for and completed the Livable Center Initiative (LCI) Ten Year Update, set for adoption shortly. This process included multiple community meetings and provided us with updates to market analysis for all aspects of the local market based on actual trends since the original LCI Plan was adopted in 2002.
The city entered into an agreement with Ecotality to provide additional electric vehicle charging stations within downtown to further establish sustainable solutions for our residents. I will remind you that we were the first community in Metro Atlanta to have a public charging station.
The city saw a significant increase in new residential building permits in 2012. 238 new single family permits were issued, representing a 130% increase over the 109 permits issued in 2011.
Economic Development Services/DDA/Main Street Program
2012 was a banner year for downtown Woodstock. During the course of the year, 13 new businesses opened creating 46 new jobs. The net job creation in downtown for 2012 was 33 positions.
Downtown welcomed many new residents during the past year with 63 new houses constructed. New projects at Garden Street and Walton Woodstock added to the success that John Weiland Homes has experienced over the past couple of years.
The Woodstock DDA (Downtown Development Authority) and Main Street Woodstock strove to and succeeded in making a major marketing push for downtown.
Both organizations partnered to launch two new valuable marketing tools for downtown. 35,000 copies of Woodstock Scene Magazine was developed and distributed to residents of Cherokee County in a partnership with the Cherokee Ledger News and through other outlets. The web site www.WhatsUpWoodstock.com was launched to give the public one common site to go to for up to the minute updates on events in downtown.
The Main Street Woodstock organization continued to grow in 2012, closing out the year with nearly 200 members. They also held 25 ribbon cuttings during the course of the year.
2012 ended on a sad note for downtown when Billy Peppers departed to take a new position with the Department of Community Affairs. He will now be working for all of Georgia’s downtowns. I want to thank Billy for his hard work and dedication over the years.
The Woodstock Fire Department responded to 4,189 calls for service in 2012 (an increase from 2011’s 3,800 calls for service) and completed 1,653 life safety inspections.
WFD started a new fire safety program with a full-time fire safety educator and launched a new Safe Kids Program, which checks and installs car seats properly for no charge.
WFD completed 323 average training hours for each firefighter during the year. We also received a grant from Wal-Mart to assist in immunizing all department personnel in 2012.
Chief (Dave) Soumas also began working with staff to find a suitable location for a new first station, as recommended by ISO.
Parks and Recreation
We collected $996,415 in Parks and Recreation impact fees in 2012. We purchased the Granger House to complete the Elm Street Cultural Arts Center property assembly and the old photography studio adjacent to the Park at City Center for the development of restrooms with some of these funds.
Council committed an additional $40,000 in impact fees to complete the Taylor Randahl Mountain Bike Trails at Rope Mill Park. In addition, SORBA announced that their Southern Trail Summit will be held in Woodstock in March 2013.
The bid was awarded to GA Development Partners to build 1.5 miles of the multi-use trail system in Downtown. This phase is part of the funding from Cherokee County’s Parks and Recreation Bond program. I would like to thank the Board of Commissioners for their support of this project.
The 15th Annual Summer Concert Series completed another successful year. The concert series included performances by Mother’s Finest, Blackberry Smoke, A1A, The Lovin’ Spoonful and Craig Campbell. Staff is currently working with RCS Productions to finalize the 2013 concert series schedule.
The William G. Long Senior Center had a very productive year in 2012. There are currently just over 700 registered members at the center. There were 58 special events and trips in 2012. Long-time Coordinator Betty Rice retired and Jan Massey was selected to take her place. Betty will be missed greatly. She can be credited for so much of the success at the center and for helping make it what it is today.
In 2012 the decision was made to stop offering softball leagues at Dupree Park due to aging infrastructure and declining participation. After long discussions with the Recreation Advisory Board (which is comprised of Woodstock residents), the request was made to eliminate the softball program due to the costs of replacing the infrastructure. We will need to make a final decision in the coming months regarding the Advisory Board’s recommendation on the future of the park.
In December, work began on Woofstock Park at the site of the old Walden Chase apartment complex. The new park, located at 150 Dupree Road will feature a dog park, community garden and trail head. Construction is scheduled to run through this Spring.
The department is continuing to pursue NRPA/CRPA Accreditation. The self assessment will be submitted in May and the peer review should be conducted in July, with a determination being made later in the Fall.
A special thank you to American Legion Post 316, Woodstock Jaycees and Stacy Walls, Kings Academy, Woodstock & Etowah ROTCs, Pastor Ross Wiseman and Momentum Church, among others for helping put on the city’s events each year. Without their help, most of these highlights throughout the year would not be possible.
The Woodstock Police Department responded to 35,609 calls for service during 2012 with an average overall response time of 2:38 from dispatch to arrival.
The department continued its commitment to community policing through increased bicycle and foot patrol activities throughout the year, particularly in downtown and retail areas of the city.
In addition, the department conducted self-defense courses for citizens and two Citizen Police Academy classes, bringing a total to more than 200 participants since the inception of the program. The department also conducted five teen driving classes, reaching 110 students who were referred to the program through Municipal Court.
Five bicycle rodeos were conducted with 75 participants in the Brookshire, Serenade, Deer Run, Woodlands and Downtown neighborhoods. The department participated in more than 40 community events and HOA meetings.
The all-volunteer Woodstock Police Auxiliary and Reserve Officer Unit contributed over 1,000 hours of deployment time to the city. The Explorer Post competed against 50 other groups in two national competitions and took home top honors in the warrant service competition.
The Woodstock Police Foundation raised a total of $29,322 last year. Funds were used to assist the Police and Fire departments in obtaining unbudgeted equipment, for emergency support for officers/firefighters injured in the line of duty, and to ensure a good Christmas for 83 area children in need through the annual Shop with a Hero Program.
WPD efforts in social media continued to grow, with over 1,892 Facebook followers, 728 in Nation of Neighbors, 1,080 in Nixle, and 2,658 in Twitter.
Police Department employees underwent 4,455 hours of training in 2012. Lt. Mark Hand completed the Georgia Law Enforcement Command College and obtained his Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Columbus State (University). Officer Keith McGaw obtained his Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice Administration from Columbia Southern University. Sergeants Mark Goggans and Shane Collie completed the Police Management Program conducted by Columbus State University.
Finally, our four K-9 teams were re-certified by the National Narcotic Detector Dog Association. They were also recognized for their proficiency when they competed against more than 70 canine teams during the 3rd Annual South Georgia K9 Training and Certification Workshop in Perry, GA.
Officer Jake Cash and K9 Debo were selected from all competitors as Top K9 Apprehension Team. Sergeant Shane Collie and K9 Mann took top honors in explosives detection while Officer Chad Berry and K9 Spartacus were awarded 2nd place in the obedience competition.
The opening of the new interchange tops the list of Public Works improvements. As part of this project, the relocation of Rope Mill Road was completed and the relocation of Woodstock Parkway was begun. Improvements to Ridgewalk Parkway will be completed by the opening of the outlet mall.
The Public Works Department oversaw the resurfacing of 2.86 miles of streets in the city in 2012. The list included Londonderry Drive, Brittania Circle, Springfield Drive, Magnum Court, Winchester Way and Caliber Court. Approximately .75 miles of Trickum Road was restriped and over 70 potholes were filled throughout the city.
The installation of the grit chamber was completed at the Rubes Creek Water Reclamation Facility and installation of the new screens is almost complete. The Utility Billing Department and the Water/Sewer Maintenance Department were merged into one department to improve both service delivery and to reduce operating costs.
Our Stormwater Department completed projects on Ravenwood Drive, Sabrina Court, Cobblestone Subdivision, intersection of Driftwood and Rivercrest Dr., Springfield Drive and swept over 61,000 pounds of debris with our street sweeper and inspected over 800 catch basins, of which 151 required maintenance.
The Building Maintenance division oversaw the extensive renovations of the showers and restrooms at Fire Station 14.
In closing, I would like for you to take just a minute and close your eyes. Picture a community with a DDA and the city not getting along too well.
A community that had trouble filling retail spaces and only a few restaurants in its downtown; a community that had a summer concert series with no sponsorships and acts that you were not familiar with; a community that had been fighting for 30 years for a new interchange and the hope of some sort of retail development at the site; a community with no multi-use trails, no mountain bike trails, no kids playground, and no dog park; a community with gridlock in its downtown because of no grid streets and no way for pedestrians to safely move about; run-down apartment complexes in its downtown; no memorial to honor its residents who had paid the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of freedom; a Police Department with 12 to 15 vacancies that it could not fill; a community that required someone who wanted to start a business to make four different trips to various offices in the city; a community that had moved its Senior Center around multiple times without the hope of a permanent location; a community without a Main Street Program to allow the residents and businesses to have a outlet to be involved and positively impact their own lives; a community that had no tourism because of not having any destinations. You may have thought of several different communities, but I am describing Woodstock of five years ago. Just five short years ago.
Now open your eyes. See the difference? Do you see the Woodstock of today? Do you see the interchange; a thriving Downtown; a new Senior Center, trails and parks; grid streets; new apartment complexes replacing old ones? Do you see a DDA and city working together for a common purpose? Do you see the mall under construction and the people it will bring to our community? Do you see a community that has done all of this during the worst recession since the Great Depression?
Now close your eyes again. Can you see the amphitheatre and a hotel in Downtown; the expansion of the grid streets; and the widening of Arnold Mill Road and Town Lake Parkway? Can you see miles of connecting trails full of hikers and riders? Can you see people coming to our community to visit the outlet mall and maybe even take a tour of a brewery? What else can you see?
You don’t have to look far to see communities that are struggling. Struggling to get along, struggling with the economy, struggling with problems.
Yes we have problems and we will have more problems to face in the future – every community does. But I want to challenge each of you to dream big and continue to work together to move our city forward. After all, dreams do come true.