The following is the complete text of Aberdeen Mayor Mike Bennett's 2013 State of the City Address delivered at the May 20 city council meeting:
Good evening and thank you for attending this evening. I would like to brief you on the State of the City since that last time I gave this address a year ago. In a sentence, Aberdeen is doing well, not perfect, but doing well.
Since this time last year the Council and I have made transparency and outreach a major priority. We have come to realize that the manner in which our citizens get their information has changed and then so must we change the way we let our residents and customers know what is going on in their city. We now have three meeting-work sessions per month which are televised. And we have at least one formal business meeting per month which is also televised. I continually get comments from many of our citizens that they appreciate the fact that we do this. Most of them cannot squeeze attending a Council Meeting in their busy personal schedules but they like the fact that they can tune in on Thursday nights and see what we are up to while at the same time tending to cleaning up dishes, doing laundry or helping their children with their homework. We have also received many compliments on our newsletter. We do six per year but want to increase that to ten. And we are revamping our webpage to make it more comprehensive and more user friendly. We’ve also created a Facebook page and have had a great deal of fun with that. And last but not certainly least, we continue to support the traditional press; I am available to any reporter and even give them my cell number so they can reach me at the drop of a hat. We want there to be no obstacles for those who want to follow their municipal government.
Aberdeen has a wonderful sense of community. Much of that is attributable to the fabulous people that we have living here. And it’s also because we have great volunteers. We have the BEST Christmas parade north of Baltimore, and 2012 was no exception. Carolyn Curry and her committee also arranged for perfect weather. We also launched a parade in August to welcome the players and coaches visiting Aberdeen for the Cal Ripken World Series. This was a great day and I was proud how our folks celebrated these teams who traveled the “Road to Aberdeen” from Canada, the Dominican Republic, Australia, Korea, Japan, Mexico and from all over the US. We plan to do both events again in 2013.
Hopefully you were able to attend Earth day in Festival Park. It was again an outstanding success. Hopefully you plan to attend the Memorial Day Celebration in Veterans Park next week. This event and the Veteran’s Day event are organized by our various veteran’s organizations. As I said, Aberdeen has a wonderful sense of community.
We have had a busy year since last May. The Aberdeen Police Department continues to work towards being CELEA certified. This accreditation is not easy to get, but once we achieve this goal, we will be one of the few municipal departments with this honor. I am also pleased that our police department has taken great strides in being more visible in the community. The APD has hosted many community policing events in our different neighborhoods. In addition, the Chief has made it a priority that officers get out on foot patrol and visit our various businesses on a regular basis.
I must say that it has also been a sad year for our Police Department. We lost our K-9 officer, Charlie Armetta to a tragic off duty accident. Charlie was admired by all who knew him and left a wife and one year old daughter. Then several weeks later we lost our CSI, Mark Franklin, to cancer. He was a highly respected investigator and one who other departments liked to borrow because of his ability and expertise. And while not a member of the Department, we recently lost Al Severn Sr.. Al’s son is a Sgt. in our department who organizes our community policing events. Al Sr. was frequently at his son’s side helping on the day of the event.
Our Public Works Department has been busy as well. We are about to throw the switch on a new ENR wastewater plant that will make it one of the most advanced in the State. We also purchased pipe bursting equipment with the hopes of lining some of the leaking sewer lines within the city. And our crews continued to offer top notch routine service even when faced with budget cuts.
I think one of the better experiences I had this year, in an odd way, was observing our police department and our public works department prepare for Super-storm Sandy. While the storm did less damage here than expected, thank God, we were ready. The Chief set up our own emergency operations center, and we simultaneously interfaced with the County’s EOC. It was an all-hands-on-deck event for us. We truly lived up to the saying “ prepare for the worst and hope for the best”.
Our Planning Department is working on one of the most exciting projects that Aberdeen has seen in quite some time. We have an ambitious vision to create a transit oriented development around where the AMTRAC station is currently. This project will take some time to plan, finance and build, but when done we will have a mix of residences, shops, offices and of course a new train station.
All-in-all our employees have been doing more with less. We have had no choice as we have been confined by our budget difficulties. But I am proud to say that our people have become innovative and service delivery in these difficult times was not affected.
On May 6th we introduced the budget for FY 14. Budgets of late have not been easy to balance, and this one was no exception. But we feel that we are using the people’s money wisely while at the same time pursuing some important priorities.
I have spoken about the transparency and outreach priority. I suppose the top priority for FY 14 is to address the state of our roadways. Due to severe reductions in State shared revenue, we have had to delay the routine overlay of many of our streets. Well, the deterioration of those roadways did suddenly stop because we had no money. The condition of this infrastructure only got worse. So, in FY 14 we are committing three million dollars to catch up on the vitally important paving of our roads. We will do this by using increased State HUR’s, by committing money out of our General Fund and by dipping into our fund balance that we have been able to build up over time.
We were able to hold the tax rate where it has been for the past two years. Unfortunately such was not the case for our trash sticker prices, our water rates and our sewer rates. Many of you will remember that the trash sticker program was created to encourage recycling. Ours was one of the best “pay as you throw” programs in the State. And, the money from those stickers was earmarked to pay the tipping fee for our trash. Those tipping fees have gone up and we will adjust the sticker process to reflect that increase.
Our water and sewer funds are known as enterprise funds. Basically the expenses in those funds must be covered by the rates charged. We have tried to keep our water and sewer rates stable for as long as we could but this year we had no choice but to raise them.
A sewer system is a very expensive operation to run. Most of you know that we have just completed a major upgrade to our wastewater plant. This upgrade will allow us to remove even more nitrogen and phosphorus from our effluent and in turn help the Chesapeake Bay. But this does not come without a cost. Enhanced Nutrient Removal requires more electricity to operate the additional pumps, blowers and motors. And while the ENR upgrade is new, we have many older components of the plant that have failed and need attention. We will have to take a loan to address those needs.
There were many more capital needs identified for water and sewer; $16 million to be exact. But we know that our rate payers can absorb only so much, so many of these needs will have to be deferred.
I am proud that the City of Aberdeen is a good partner in the county, in the region and in the State. One of my top priorities when I took office in 2007 was to build bridges. I believe that we have done that. I have an excellent relationship with General Ferrell of APG, the County Executive David Craig and I meet and speak frequently. And while Mayor Wayne and I get into some friendly spats on who offers the best city services, we have teamed up on some major issues that impact our respective communities. All the while I am on a first name basis with most of the leadership in Annapolis. I think that this is all important for Aberdeen and for our friends and stakeholders.
Aberdeen is a wonderful community. Your Councilmembers and I love this city and pour our hearts and souls into trying to make it an even better place to live, work and shop. We value your trust in us and we look forward to a very successful year for Aberdeen.