Mayor's 2012 State of the City Address
State of the City Address
April 19, 2012
Remarks by Mayor Sidney A. Katz
A community connected. In just a few minutes we’ll enjoy a video presentation that brings the results of our recent citizen survey to life. The film includes testimonials of the involved and passionate people who live, work, learn, and play here. I have the pleasure this evening of highlighting for you some of the connections that have made this past year dynamic and exciting.
Before I proceed I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the efforts of those who work so hard to keep this City functioning at a tremendously high level. Under the leadership of nationally-credentialed City Manager Angel Jones, hundreds of City employees infuse our efforts with their intelligence, creativity and professionalism. In fact, among the highest scores given in our citizen survey were those for the politeness, knowledge and responsiveness of our staff. Would everyone who works for the City please stand so we can give you a great round of applause?
It is also appropriate to acknowledge our partners at the county, state and federal levels who work on our behalf. From helping us make the Watkins Mill interchange at I-270 a transportation priority to securing funding for artificial turf at Lakelands Park and improvements to our outdoor Water Park, elected officials at all levels have a hand in our success. Please give them a round of applause as well.
As neighbors, we're connected. And the prospect of new neighbors is always exciting. Developments are springing up all around town - at Sam Eig Highway, in Olde Towne, along Watkins Mill Road on both sides of I-270, and in smaller pockets scattered here and there. Thousands of new residents will soon be coming home to Gaithersburg. We look forward to welcoming them, showing them all of the joys of living in a community that prides itself on inclusiveness, while at the same time enjoying the benefits of being part of the D.C. metropolitan area.
Keeping up with all of these developments is putting our planning and code and engineering staffs to the test. And they are proving themselves to be more than capable of meeting the challenge. Plans are being reviewed at unprecedented levels, and it is becoming even clearer why so many builders want to break ground in Gaithersburg – our process is fair, thorough, efficient and effective. With a recent review of our adequate public facilities ordinance we are ensuring that the impact of these developments on our roads and schools is properly balanced with a desire to create vibrant new neighborhoods.
We’ve got new business neighbors, too. Thanks to opportunities through our Economic Development incentives, MDA Information Systems relocated more than 180 employees last year, and Adventist Health Care will soon move its corporate headquarters to Gaithersburg as well, bringing 300 new workers who will shop and dine in our community. Coupled with the expansion of MedImmune, the opening of Kaiser Permanente’s largest facility in Montgomery County, which includes 24-hour urgent care, and the increased accessibility of Gaithersburg with the opening of the InterCounty Connector all the way to I-95, we are solidifying our reputation as a desirable address for world class businesses.
We are connected through our vigilance in public safety. Overall crime has decreased in the City, thanks to the ongoing efforts of our police force, coupled with the cooperation of informed, involved citizens. Recently Gaithersburg Police entered into an agreement with Montgomery County to become the primary responders through the County’s dispatch system. When a 911 call comes in from a Gaithersburg address, it will first be assigned to a Gaithersburg officer within that beat.
We are using technology as never before to support our public safety efforts. This past year has seen the deployment of surveillance cameras, license plate readers and facial recognition software, giving our officers more tools to identify and prevent crime. With recent hires, the Gaithersburg Police Department is almost fully staffed. Fifty two of the authorized fifty four sworn officers are now in place. The budget that is currently under consideration allows for three additional positions, recognizing the need for enhanced public safety as our community grows.
For the second year in a row, the Bethesda-Gaithersburg-Frederick corridor was listed among the top ten most secure places to live in all of America by Farmer’s Insurance Group.
Not that we’re complaining, but one way we didn’t have to connect with you this year was with our snow plows. There was really no opportunity for us to demonstrate what Gaithersburg is known for – the best snow removal in the region! Through our Alert Gaithersburg system we did connect with you about the earthquake last summer, and the storm cautions and debris clean up necessitated by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.
This past year Gaithersburg joined with other jurisdictions throughout the region in forming the Capital Region Updates web portal. This site helps those who live and work in all reaches of the D.C. area to stay informed and connected, providing real time consolidated Alert messages, traffic notifications, and other news and events. The portal is accessible from the emergency page of our website.
Connecting residents with affordable housing continues to be a primary concern. While we are pleased to see the redevelopment of a number of aging apartment communities, we must ensure that those who want to continue to live in our community are able to do so. A newly formed ad hoc advisory committee is laying the groundwork for programs that will ensure the availability of affordable housing. Just a few weeks ago we had the pleasure of participating in the groundbreaking for Maple Hill, a brand new Habitat for Humanity community bringing 19 homes to Gaithersburg. We also continue our vital work with nonprofit organizations and other government agencies to connect residents with emergency services, foreclosure prevention assistance, and financial education and resources through Bank On Gaithersburg.
A connected community is a caring community. Through our Holiday Giving program, hundreds of people contributed time and resources to help us provide food and gifts to more than fourteen hundred families in November and December. Through the City’s extensive grant program, we’ve housed Gaithersburg’s homeless, fed Gaithersburg’s hungry, helped provide medical care to those without insurance, and provided seed money to develop new programs that encourage financial stability and entrepreneurship. In partnership with our schools, we’ve supported homework clubs, mentoring programs and parental involvement initiatives to ensure the best education possible for our youngest residents.
We are not just connected locally, we are connected globally. This is a very international community, one that embraces diversity as a way to strengthen a community. In the citizen survey, very high marks were given for Gaithersburg’s welcoming, inclusive atmosphere. From learning about the American Indian cultures native to this area, to recognizing a scientific connection with Mizusawa, Japan, this past year saw us celebrating the many heritages that make up the colorful fabric of Gaithersburg.
We were proud to be a partner in the first Homeless Resource Fair in Montgomery County, connecting those in need of very specialized services with the resources to help them. Our own Wells/Robertson House program saw the graduation of several residents this past year, each of them embracing their recovery and moving on to independent living with the skills they learned to ensure their success. Residents of Wells explored a new connection to nature last year, committing themselves to maintaining a community garden. All summer long they enjoyed seasonal vegetables, learning about teamwork and nutrition along the way.
Speaking of eating freshly grown greens – last year saw the launch of a creative new initiative to rid the City of invasive plants. In partnership with the Izaak Walton League, we brought in herds of goats to graze on vegetation in a plot of land along Muddy Branch Road. For several weeks the goats munched their way through the undergrowth, allowing us to clear the area without the use of harmful chemicals.
We are all connected to this planet. Gaithersburg has long had a reputation as an innovator in environmental stewardship. In 2011 we received certification in the Maryland Green Registry, and we are currently in the process of becoming certified under the stringent guidelines of the Sustainable Maryland program.
We are exploring additional locations for Green Street retrofits, which use a natural approach to manage stormwater flow while beautifying our streets at the same time. We have also resumed the use of biodiesel fuel in our equipment fleet, we continue our stormwater management compliance efforts, and we are partnering with agencies throughout the region to educate residents about water quality monitoring and conservation landscaping. I am proud to announce that this morning, Gaithersburg celebrated its designation as a Tree City USA for the twenty third consecutive year.
Preserving and enhancing our neighborhoods is a never ending effort. New playground equipment. Safer crosswalks. Infill street lighting. Code enforcement. Refurbished streets and sidewalks. Animal control. Wayfinding signage. Public landscaping. All of these impact our quality of life. With a budget that allows us to breathe a bit easier, emphasis is being placed on restoring services to levels that we enjoyed prior to the recession. We’re not fully back yet, but we’re getting there, and this budget allows for increased staffing and resources to meet future demands.
Growing communities must maintain connections to engaging and enriching activities. Hundreds of coaches have worked with thousands of children in our sports programs, which recently saw the addition of a popular track and field element. The impressive Book Festival, now in its third year, is quickly becoming the talk of the mid-Atlantic region. Celebrate Gaithersburg in Olde Towne, our annual street festival, turned thirty last year, with thousands of revelers enjoying a day of food and entertainment in the City’s historic business center. The Arts Barn, home to award-winning theater productions, educational programs and intriguing art exhibits, will celebrate its tenth anniversary this summer.
We celebrated our history with the grand re-opening of the newly redesigned Community Museum, and will soon re-emphasize our connection to the railroad when new displays make their debut in the refurbished Budd Car at History Park.
The Gaithersburg Youth Club and the new High School Student Union after school programs are enriching the lives of young people, while renovations to our Senior Center will allow us to enhance our ability to provide programs for those at the other end of the age spectrum.
Gaithersburg continues to provide its citizens with the best recreational opportunities possible. This often involves establishing alliances and creating partnerships to leverage our resources. Last year the Council and I approved a new policy allowing for the naming of City assets both in recognition of service and under financial sponsorship arrangement.
I am pleased to announce that the first naming opportunity under this program will be the Mason Fountain at Casey Community Center, named in honor of Tommy Mason. He is a long time City employee who has dedicated his career to being a caretaker, not only of a facility, but of an entire community. The ceremony will be held next week.
Tommy is just one example of the amazing contributions our City staff makes each and every day. From seasoned veterans who have a wealth of experience and historical knowledge to new hires that bring fresh ideas and enthusiasm, our employees continue to exceed all expectations. I am pleased to see that with a slightly more optimistic budget, the City Manager has proposed a 3.6 percent cost of living increase for staff in the coming fiscal year.
Not only must we take care of our people, we must also take care of our facilities. With the declaration of its historic status, we are looking for creative opportunities for the use of the Kentlands Firehouse. The recent closure of the Aquatic Center due to structural problems reminded us of why we must continue to be diligent in the inspection and repair our buildings. We value our assets, and staff has been hard at work with sprinkler upgrade projects, roof replacements, HVAC repairs, and much, much more to ensure maximum use of our facilities. The proposed budget also restores funding for vehicle and equipment replacement so that we can ensure uninterrupted operations.
“Work smarter, not harder” is a phrase you’ll hear frequently at City Hall. The use of technology allows us to meet the needs of our residents faster and more efficiently with limited resources. We are all eager for the debut of several technology initiatives that have been years in development. A new online permitting system, the re-design of the City’s website, and newly enhanced functionality for viewing agenda materials and meeting videos are all in the works. While we are chomping at the bit for these enhancements, we recognize that they are complex systems that take time to be done successfully.
With streamlined procurement procedures in place, regular audits to ensure sound fiscal practices, and constant diligence with respect to budgeting and reporting, we are on solid financial ground. We were proud to receive a Certificate of Excellence in Financial Reporting for the thirty fourth consecutive year and a Distinguished Budget Presentation Award for the ninth consecutive year by the Government Finance Officers Association.
Perhaps our most obvious connection is communication. We are constantly looking for new ways to reach our constituents, be that electronically, by mail, in print, or even in person. From a website that, while not pretty to look at (yet), contains vast amounts of information, to monthly communications with our homeowners associations and neighborhood watch groups, to promotional postcards that go home in school backpacks, to handing out literature at fairs and back-to-school nights, to video programming, YouTube and Facebook posts – we are working diligently to reach out into the community through as many avenues as possible.
We want that outreach effort to go both ways, though. We need your input. We need to hear your opinions. Come to a meeting. Respond to a survey. Send us a suggestion. However you’d like to communicate with us, we promise you we will listen.
So are you connected? Do you shop at our farmer’s markets? Do you play in our parks? Do you attend outdoor concerts? Do you dine in Gaithersburg? Do you shop in our stores? Do you volunteer? For many of you I already know the answer is “yes.” But if you’re not yet connected, I sincerely hope you will be inspired to get out and explore all that this fine City has to offer.
We sincerely appreciate all that you have done and will continue to do, and for demonstrating your Gaithersburg pride every step of the way. You make this a strong, sustainable community that will carry its legacy of excellence far into the future.