Suffolk: A vibrant, dynamic city

Published 8:43 pm Wednesday, June 5, 2013

By Linda T. Johnson

As mayor, it was my pleasure to provide remarks at the recent “State of the City” event, hosted by the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce.

There was no shortage of good news to share this year, and the crowd of over 475 guests at the Hilton Garden Inn – Suffolk Conference Center learned firsthand the exciting accomplishments and plans for our future as we laid out our “blueprint for success,” the theme of this year’s event.

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Working with my fellow members of City Council and our uniquely qualified city manager, we are creating a blueprint for an even more vibrant, dynamic city. It is our duty and privilege to keep Suffolk moving forward.

We are continuing to build on our progress, and broke ground on the new combined municipal center and E-911 call center in February. This facility will not only be a source of great pride for our residents, but it will also aid in our responsiveness to emergencies and enable city employees to continue their commitment to quality customer service by combining a large number of city departments under one roof to provide a one-stop-shop for those conducting business. This building will also be a catalyst for continued redevelopment and growth downtown, bringing more people and economic life to this historic area.

We have much to be proud of and haven’t forgotten the significance of being recognized as one of the Top 100 Small Cities to Live In by CNN Money Magazine. Even now, they continue to take notice of our progress, and ranked Suffolk in their top 10 communities in their Best Places to Live and the national top-25 list for “Where the Jobs Are in 2012.” Suffolk saw a 43-percent jump in the job growth rate from 2000 to 2011.

We used several categories — or what I call cornerstones — in laying out our blueprint for success during the State of the City address. In the columns that will follow this initial report, I will highlight these individually, as all are deserving of special recognition.

Leading off this series is our strong financial standing. Even in this economic environment, a vital component to our success is the need to continue to invest in our people, facilities and technologies. This is essential to our purpose to provide services that we are proud to deliver to our citizens.

Every plan we make and every action we implement is driven by the desire to continue to make Suffolk a great place to live and work and to meet and exceed our community’s expectations for providing comprehensive services.

Like our neighboring cities and the entire nation, we continue to face one of the most challenging economic environments in recent history. We recognize that with growth comes economic recovery, and we’ll continue to focus on investments for the future.

It is important that citizens understand that the fiscal discipline and painful choices made in recent years have translated into solid financial health. Because of the broad range of cost-cutting measures implemented earlier in the recession, we have remained on sound financial footing.

We are on our way to a coveted AAA bond rating that will further help trim borrowing costs. Low interest rates also make it smarter to invest in infrastructure now, as we take advantage of the lowest permanent costs of borrowing in modern history.

Due to the strength of our financial house, bond-rating agencies are telling us they approve of the way we’re operating. Even though our city is growing, we are shrinking our costs while serving more citizens each year, and are doing more with less.

Since 2008, we have cut roughly $20 million from the budget through operations efficiencies, despite being one of the fastest-growing local governments in the region.

The city’s trend of increasing credit ratings since 2008 has been estimated to save over $20 million in debt-service costs over the life of loans through lower borrowing costs on new money, plus refinancing for savings. When we reach AAA status, the savings will be even greater.

Our financial advisers confirm we’ve made considerable progress, and this adopted budget maintains that progress even in the face of unforeseen challenges, limited resources and the tough decisions that were required.

We have demonstrated tremendous financial willpower by staying firm in our policy principles and making tough adjustments to strike the necessary and fair balancing of revenue, taxes and expenditures. We can’t erode the progress we’ve made over the last several years, and we can’t lose our momentum.

The investments made and that will continue to be made in our infrastructure have been recognized regionally for taking advantage of port-related development. We can proudly boast of our manufacturing and industrial prowess and the highly skilled workforce that makes our region’s companies successful.

As it relates to our financial standing, success does not come to those who wait, and it does not wait for anyone to come to it.

Linda T. Johnson is the mayor of Suffolk. Email her at council@suffolkva.us.