2016: A year of great possibilities

Published 12:41 pm Thursday, December 31, 2015

By Mayor Linda T. Johnson

As 2015 comes to a close, it is customary that we present our annual Progress Report. As you’ll see, it has been another banner year for Suffolk as the city continues to strive towards excellence.

Whether it’s an emphasis on transportation, the education of our youth, new business development or health and wellness, we are increasing the pace of evolution from what many believed was a quaint little town into a thriving city still known for its warmth and charm.

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To push toward an even better city, one that performs for and meets the expectations of all, we must constantly be mindful of the past, while pursuing a new vision for the future.

One of our most important achievements has been keeping our financial house in order. In addition to the AAA rating received last year by Standard & Poor’s, this year the Fitch Rating Agency also upgraded the city to AAA status. Both agencies recognized and praised the city for its strong management, balanced budgets and thriving economy.

In fact, our sound and fiscally responsible financial policies have enabled us to become one of only a handful of Virginia AAA cities.

This focus on continual improvement has rewarded us with new investment from businesses that recognize the strong fiscal management of the city as an asset when deciding to relocate or expand within Suffolk. Another marker of that success is the city’s unemployment rate dropping from 6 percent to 5.2 percent, even while expanding its population to close to 90,000 residents.

Suffolk is growing, but most importantly, we are growing smartly. We know that we must prepare today so we can capably and competently address both positive and negative issues. For example, we will continue to work with state and local organizations to concentrate on transportation priorities that will improve traffic flow across our roadways and accommodate additional economic development expansion opportunities.

The safety of our citizens remains one of our highest priorities, and City Council values and supports the Suffolk Police Department, Suffolk Fire & Rescue and the countless volunteers who work tirelessly to ensure that safety.

Suffolk consistently possesses one of the lowest crime rates in the area. Here, community policing is not simply a theory, it’s a proven way vital partnerships enhance the safety of our neighborhoods.

Again this year, the city’s National Night Out event ranked an impressive second place in the nation in our population category. The massive public safety-community partnership brings together tens of thousands of citizens and is something we look forward to every year. The camaraderie and relationships endure far beyond one evening.

We also continue to expand opportunities to promote health and wellness. Earlier this fall, Suffolk Parks & Recreation opened the Suffolk Seaboard Coastline Trail. This 2.3-mile long path through gorgeous landscape was funded by a grant from the Virginia Department of Transportation, along with federal money, and is just another example of the city finding cost-effective ways to make life better for all Suffolk residents.

Other wellness initiatives are happening daily at the East Suffolk and Whaleyville Recreation Centers, not to mention our numerous joint-use facilities, hundreds of acres of gorgeous parks, and our ongoing efforts to enhance opportunities to enjoy our pristine waterways.

Our workforce also has benefited from initiatives implemented to improve the well-being of staff and reduce health care costs.

This commitment to improving the health of the city is a prime reason Suffolk was recently awarded the prestigious Health Champion Designation by the American Diabetes Association. This designation makes Suffolk one of only 103 national organizations selected to represent the ADA’s first class of Health Champions. It recognizes organizations that inspire and encourage organizational well-being and is part of the Association’s Wellness Lives Here initiative.

Cost savings from city-driven initiatives have allowed us to make much-needed investments into our infrastructure. The new business- and citizen-friendly one-stop-shop City Hall is convenient for both newly arriving citizens and those who always have called Suffolk home.

Suffolk is thriving and in 2015 welcomed new businesses, new residents, and fun new events including the overwhelmingly popular Mystery Author’s Festival, the successful retail-oriented ReStored Pop-Up Shop, and the empowering BARKS (Books And Reading for Kids in Suffolk) program in our libraries, to name a few. We are also continuing to develop special events and programs in the Great Dismal Swamp.

Innovation fuels the future of Suffolk. Each New Year presents another 12 months for this wonderful city to blaze a trail to even greater heights. We hope you join us in looking forward to a 2016 in which anything is possible in this great city.

Mayor Linda T. Johnson

Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett, Cypress Borough

Council Member Curtis R. Milteer, Sr., Whaleyville Borough

Council Member Donald Goldberg, Suffolk Borough

Council Member Tim Johnson, Holy Neck Borough

Council Member Michael D. Duman, Chuckatuck Borough

Council Member Roger W. Fawcett, Sleepy Hole Borough

Council Member Lue R. Ward Jr., Nansemond Borough