Good evening. I’m Clyde Haulman, Mayor of The City of Williamsburg, and I’m honored to welcome you to the Williamsburg Community Building this evening.
I’m joined by my City Council colleagues, Vice Mayor Paul Freiling and Council Members Judy Knudson, Scott Foster and Doug Pons. In addition we are joined by City Manager Jack Tuttle, members of the city staff, by city Constitutional Officers, and by many whom serve on City Boards and Commissions, and a number of other city volunteers. Please hold your applause as I recognize several distinguished guests: Delegate Mike Watson, Chairman of the James City County Board of Supervisor John McGlennon, and William & Mary President Taylor Reveley. Also here are former Mayor Jeanne Zeidler and former council members Mickey Chohany and Bobby Braxton.
While you enjoyed some refreshments, I hope you noticed the slides. They highlight some of the awards and recognitions the City of Williamsburg has received recently. Speaking for myself and Council, we are very proud of the terrific work done by many people who are with us this evening.
And your presence here tonight tells us that you consider yourself a partner with the city for the good of Williamsburg.
Two years ago, in this room, I delivered my first “State of the City” address as Mayor. Those remarks emphasized Citizen Engagement – building the connections and partnerships between city government and the community which are absolutely essential if Williamsburg is to become, in the words of our Vision Statement, …”an evermore safe, beautiful, and livable city.”
One measure of engagement success is the increasing number of citizens transacting business with the city online, up 28% over two years. Another is those who have signed up for “E-notify” service, up 125%. A third is those who follow the city on Facebook or Twitter, up 103% and 406%, respectively.
But more importantly, I sense an ever growing spirit of community pride and hopefulness. 90% of our residents would “likely recommend living in Williamsburg to someone who asks,” according to the 2012 National Citizen Survey, up from 80% in 2008. And that in the midst of national and local recession over the same period.
Most of us in this room know we have a good thing going here, but, as a professor and economist I know all too well that past performance does not guarantee future success. As City Council formulated its goals
over the past few months, another theme emerged. Without losing ground on Community Engagement, the comments we received, the data we reviewed, and our resulting discussions compelled us to focus on the health of our community.
A healthy community can mean many things and I would like this evening to begin by deconstructing that concept.
For one, the health of city neighborhoods is of critical importance and remains a top priority. Every year housing stock ages, requiring both continuing private investment and wise public policies to overcome inertia. We will keep a close eye on areas of intensive rental use – such as Merrimac Trail, Mt. Vernon, and single family neighborhoods near the College. Doing all we can, we mean to reassure those residents of the city’s long-term commitment to the stability and safety of the neighborhoods. We will continue to support the good work of the Neighborhood Relations Committee as well as our regular meetings with the Student Assembly leadership and the President of the College. One innovation is the adoption of a statement of expectations based on citizen input for neighborly behavior, beyond the force of law, called “Customs and Courtesies.”
A community is only as healthy as its natural and man-made environment. Drinking water, wastewater treatment, and stormwater management are core city services. Together with the other Hampton Roads localities, we will face expensive challenges to meet state and federal requirements with little, if any, state and federal aid. Thanks to people like City Engineer Steve Martin, who retires next month after 42 years of service to Williamsburg, we understand the challenges ahead and are ready to confront them.
In another example of exceptional stewardship, the public works department, led by Director Dan Clayton, maintains the highest level of certification by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality as an Extraordinary Environmental Enterprise, or E4. Paul Reeser, Superintendent of Water & Sewer, and his team led the way in this effort, the first Public Works complex in Virginia to receive the designation. And well done to our Landscape Division, led by Superintendent Will Fidler. They recently cleaned miles of railroad property in the city, teamed with crews from the Regional Jail and CSX, removing 1940 pounds of trash, 1100 pounds of recyclable metal, and 27 tires!
For a community to thrive requires safety, and our residents consistently give high ratings to our first responders, led by Chief of Police Dave Sloggie and Fire Chief Pat Dent. Police and Fire are at the head of a citywide, employee-led wellness program. Spurred by rising medical care costs but more fundamentally motivated by a desire to demonstrate the possibilities, our employees are serious about making the right choices that lead to better long term health.
We are fortunate to have another wonderful symbol of vitality in the Williamsburg Farmers Market. Just celebrating its 10th anniversary, it continues to be a great support to local food producers, as it encourages healthy eating. Sales at the market now exceed $1.0 million annually. We’re excited about the goal to implement the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP) during the 2013 Market Season. It’s a step towards making fresh, locally produced food available to those on a limited income.
A community is only as good as the care provided to its most vulnerable citizens. As an independent city in Virginia, and therefore not in any county, we are responsible for the whole range of human services, led by the city department of the same name directed by Peter Walentisch. As our population ages, we are expanding senior services, adding more in-home visitation, and assisting with transitions to assisted living and nursing care. We also welcome the collaboration with faith-based efforts towards homelessness intervention and prevention. And our Youth Achievement Program, now in its 18th year, graduates some 50 children each year with great results. The children learn about their city, and the importance of respect for others and of determination to achieve their goals.
The city sees itself in partnership with the W/JCC schools – jointly responsible for the progress of our school age children. Earlier this year we concluded another five-year contract with James City County to jointly fund education – a partnership that began in 1954. After decades of slow growth in school age population, the number of in-city students has soared – up approximately 25 percent over the last three years. This is most likely attributable to the housing crisis and the recession. More families are finding themselves in rental housing, which the city has in much greater proportion than the county. As a result, rapidly growing school costs challenge the city. We expect to see the James Blair campus reopened as a middle school in about five years, and we are working towards that end.
We also expect changes ahead for the Williamsburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority. City Council became the Housing Authority Board in October reflecting a greater co-responsibility. Thank you to Chair David Watson and the other members of the Authority board for your volunteer service. And special thanks to Assistant City Manager Jodi Miller who has stepped in to lead the Housing Authority after the untimely death of Executive Director Andy Hungerman. We will miss Andy and will do our best to emulate his great spirit of caring as we take on this responsibility.
Williamsburg’s economic well-being is a story of hurdles to overcome and opportunities to explore. Currently, 815 businesses are licensed in the city – a high water mark – with 87 new startups in 2012. Having cut 14 grand opening ribbons recently, I have personally witnessed the excitement and hope of entrepreneurs investing in our city.
The new businesses are diverse, but still weighted toward serving the needs of visitors drawn here by Colonial Williamsburg and the College. Thus, the city has been closely involved with the region to strengthen and coordinate its destination marketing program. And the city has continued to invest $1.3 million annually, 6.2% of its operating budget, in tourism promotion, through Colonial Williamsburg and the Tourism Alliance; in addition to investing in tourism attractions, such as, the Farmers Market, Arts Month in September, the holiday season, spring garden tours, Festival Williamsburg, and athletic competitions year round – while not forgetting the critical importance of the traditional summer season. And not only vacation visitors, but new businesses are attracted here by the presence of the College and Colonial Williamsburg, and by that unreplicable “Williamsburg character” - a combination that offers endless opportunities.
We boast a strong and creative EDA, chaired by Monty Mason and led by Economic Development Director Michele DeWitt. They have hosted 37 monthly roundtables engaging business leaders from across the community. They recently won the Virginia Economic Development Association 2012 Award for their innovative Demolition Program, and that program was also a 2011 finalist for the Virginia Chamber of Commerce Torchbearer Award. This program has leveraged $70 in private investment for every dollar of EDA funds.
In every geographic sector of the city redevelopment and new development are on the march. The Arts District, created by City Council in February 2011, in the center of Midtown, is attracting investment and spurring redevelopment with eight new “creative economy” businesses opening their doors. Look for banners and other means to identify and reinforce the Arts District; and, more residents are moving into Midtown in places like City Green and City Lofts.
In the Northeast Triangle, or “Capitol Quarter” as I prefer to call it, a transformation is underway from the first wave of hospitality development of a generation ago. In the wake of the Northeast Triangle Group's report, multiple meetings with resident groups and business owners have taken place and will continue, and along with economic incentives and smart growth policies, the city’s purchase of the Lord Paget site offers an opportunity for us to play a leading role in the future of this attractive and well-positioned sector of the city.
In the Southeast Quadrant of Williamsburg, exciting prospects are unfolding. Funded by the Quarterpath Community Development Authority, construction of Battery Boulevard, and water, stormwater, and wastewater systems, is in full swing. Riverside’s Doctors Hospital of Williamsburg is slated to open in the spring. The stage is set for a new village in the city, while carefully preserving a beautiful and historic setting, a place worthy of the name Williamsburg.
In downtown, bookended by “Revolutionary Williamsburg” and the “Ancient Campus,” the word “vibrant” is both descriptive and prescriptive. Six restaurants have opened or reopened recently in the Deli and Tribe Square area. Soon, Prince George Street will get a major facelift from Armistead to Boundary, which, when paired with new brick sidewalks along Richmond Road, will strengthen the linkage to and from Merchants Square. And opportunities to extend downtown along Boundary and Henry Streets – creating a strong connection to the “Museums of Colonial Williamsburg” to the south, and “City Square” to the north – are embedded in the Comprehensive Plan update, soon to be acted upon by the Planning Commission.
Last Friday, the City Council and Planning Commission met for a productive two-hour discussion on the major recommendations in the draft Comprehensive Plan update, slated for Planning Commission adoption on December 19, 2012. I commend the Planning Commission, chaired by Sean Driscoll, and the Planning staff, led by Planning Director Reed Nester, on a thoughtful and thorough effort. The Council intends to hold its public hearing on January 10 and intends to then act on the Plan; thus beginning an implementation season in 2013, when Zoning Ordinance amendments are made to transform the Comprehensive Plan into law.
I am optimistic about Williamsburg’s economic prognosis, but we need to be aware of economic realities that are sobering:
• Currently, 527 city families draw food stamps, an increase of 117% since 2008.
• The combination of annual city tax receipts from retail sales, overnight lodging and restaurant sales, has dropped from a high of $15 million in fiscal 2008 to $13.9 million last year.
• The real estate tax base has shrunk from a high of $1.89 billion in 2010 to 1.63 billion in 2012, a 14% decrease.
I could easily cite more numbers showing that the recession continues to take a big bite out of our businesses and our citizens.
The recession has both increased the demand for public services and has reduced the city’s financial capacity to address them. General Fund generating revenues are still not back to their fiscal 2008 highs, falling from $35 million then to $32.4 million in the year just completed.
We should be proud of how well city government has met the challenge by maintaining superior city services and ending each and every year in the black. Maintaining financial health in this environment is not accidental. I give credit to the Council’s fiscal policies, to the competence of the City Manager, Department Heads, and staff, with particular thanks to Finance Department Director Phil Serra, and to the public’s support. Last May, coincident with the City Council election, Council raised the real estate tax rate for the first time in twenty years – a modest 3 cents, but an increase none the less. Thank you as Williamsburg taxpayers for your support when hard decisions must be made.
The city’s formula for success has been, and will be, our partnerships. We have just completed the biennial process charting the city’s course called Biennial Goals, Initiatives and Outcomes, or GIOs. Staggered four year terms for City Council suggest a two year cycle for reassessing city priorities. Tonight, we come to the close of a season of reflection. That three Council incumbents were re-elected last May means more than “steady as she goes.” We heard from our constituents during campaign season, shared those perspectives in our August retreat, invited citizens to a lively goals workshop in September, and opened the floor at every City Council meeting since then for citizen comment. The draft GIOs have been published online over the past six weeks, culminating in adoption last Thursday: 8 broad goals, 64 initiatives to pursue those goals, and 57 “desired outcomes” identified with actual “observed results” charted to provide performance metrics to assess progress on accomplishing the goals.
And, because Williamsburg participates in the National Citizen Survey, our residents’ ratings of city performance, ratings in 78 diverse areas, are matched against the goals, showing trends from 2008, 2010, and 2012.
All of this information gives us a clear picture of where we are, and helps us decide where we need to go.
For example, 92% rated Williamsburg good or excellent as a Place to Live – “much above” the national benchmark – but only 60% of the same respondents rated Williamsburg as highly as a Place to Work, and only 78% rated their neighborhoods good or excellent as a Place to Live - both “similar” to the national benchmark. That tells me that with 55% of our residents in rental housing, as opposed to owner occupied housing, and with household incomes well below those in our neighboring suburban counties - we cannot rest on our reputation, which, by the way, 93% of our residents rate as “good” or “excellent.”
While on many questions related to city services and governance Williamsburg ranks “much above” national benchmarks – such as the “value of services for taxes paid,” “overall impression of city employees,” and “overall direction Williamsburg is taking” – ratings for “availability of affordable quality housing” fall below the national benchmark – even though Williamsburg offers 43% of its housing below $200,000, compared to York at 21% and James City at 24%.
Time will not allow me to convey all of the interesting data we have on the operations and outcomes of city government. Thanks to the excellent work of Information Technology Director Mark Barham and his colleagues, you can find Performance Dashboards, continually and automatically refreshed from various city data bases, on the city’s website: williamsburgva.gov/dashboards
Among the initiatives in the GIOs I most look forward to is replacing the 1967 Stryker Building. We will do this in partnership with the Williamsburg Regional Library. The intent is to move the library’s public meeting rooms, exhibit gallery, and some staff offices to the next “Stryker Center;” thus freeing up badly needed space in the existing library and putting off for some time the need for a third library. A new City Council chamber will be shared with the library to provide broadcast-capable, community auditorium space. I foresee “From the Library” coeducational programming reaching the entire community from the Stryker Center.
Finally, much of what city government accomplishes can be viewed through the lens of creating a place that promotes and enables the physical, mental and emotional health of the children and adults who make up the community.
For starters, we can all agree that a healthy community provides opportunities for recreation and fitness for all ages and incomes. Bike and pedestrian-friendly cities lead to an active lifestyle for residents and visitors. In this year’s goals, we have emphasized increasing pedestrian connections all across town, adding to the last round of five sidewalk projects recently completed. And we are actively pursuing preservation of the Country Road from Mounts Bay to Colonial Williamsburg.
We will transfer our Great City Walks guide into a mobile app making the map more accessible and flexible to users – both locals and visitors . We also hope to achieve certification as a Bike Friendly Community from the League of American Bicyclists in 2013.
As we move forward with Riverside’s “Quarterpath at Williamsburg” development, we have an example of how we can maintain green space, and encourage walking and biking, in a model for urban living.
Williamsburg boasts superb parks of all sizes – which enhance the beauty of the town and encourage outdoor activities. We live in a time when children are more likely to be in the house looking at pictures of parks or playing virtual sports than to be at Quarterpath or Kiwanis Park playing volleyball or softball. But we know from our citizen survey that residents treasure the many recreational venues and appreciate Parks and Recreation programs offered by Lori Rierson and her staff. We will make enhancements at Kiwanis Park and create a community garden at Waller Mill Park. We’re also looking at ways to increase the number of city children learning to swim, while dealing with an underused swimming pool at Quarterpath Recreation Center. I encourage you to consider the Friends of the Parks program, where you can be active in the success of city parks and recreation – here, and elsewhere, the ability of the city to do more will rest on volunteers answering the call.
Perhaps the “From the Library” programming I spoke of earlier will be the lynch pin for community education and action on healthy lifestyles - an opportunity to bring all the critical components together.
To the goal of promoting the wellness of our citizens, I am asking Vice Mayor Paul Freiling to chair a “Citizens Committee on Community Health” to report back to City Council later in 2013. The charge to this group is to think broadly about what a healthier Williamsburg means and to consider the public policies and actions that will best help us to reach that goal.
In closing, I have been fortunate to serve on City Council for twelve years. Many changes, both positive and challenging, have occurred in our community during that time, and I have come to appreciate and value the many difficult decisions made by past councils – decisions that have served our community and its citizens well and that have ensured that those characteristics of our city we all value have been sustained. As we move into the future, it is critical for all of us, and for City Council in particular, to continually remind ourselves of the unique treasure we have – Williamsburg – and to make decisions in the best interest of our commonweal.
Again, thank you all for being here this evening and good night.