Mayor’s progress report for 2021

Published 2:56 pm Friday, December 31, 2021

To the Citizens of Suffolk:

On behalf of Suffolk City Council, it is my pleasure to present our annual progress report for 2021. I want to thank the residents and businesses in the city for their engagement, altruism and investment in our community.

I believe our goals are best enumerated by the City Council Vision Statement. The vision statement has eight targeted areas of concern. I will briefly outline what I perceive to be the primary accomplishments and future challenges.

Public Safety

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Public safety is a priority as evidenced by the 30% allocation of general funds devoted to our Police Department and Fire & Rescue. In addition, more than $12 million is projected to be spent on apparatus and equipment within the next five years, and the design of a much needed four-bay fire station near College Drive is under way along with numerous expenditures that ensure our personnel are prepared and equipped to respond to our citizens’ calls for assistance.

Recognizing the need to work together to address crime within our city is a priority. National Night Out is an example of how our citizens are willing to partner with our public safety professionals to develop a relationship that fosters mutual respect and a unified effort to combat crime. The city has ranked in the top five in the country for cities with populations of 50,000 to 100,000 for 15 consecutive years. It is City Council’s intention to bring forth initiatives that will offer opportunities for increased citizen input and collaboration as we continue to address our public safety concerns. We must recognize that there can be no quality of life if our citizens do not feel safe in their own homes.

We should strive to adequately compensate our public safety personnel, as well as provide a work environment that attracts and retains a diverse group of qualified and dedicated individuals.

Financial Stability

The city can proudly report that its AAA rating was reaffirmed by Moody’s Investors Service, Fitch Ratings and Standard and Poor’s Rating Service. This coveted designation is a result of sound and fiscally-responsible financial policies, prudent budget management and an outstanding forecast for continued growth and prosperity. Suffolk is one of only two Hampton Roads cities to achieve this level of creditworthiness. These laudable ratings have resulted in $47 million dollars of debt savings since our first AAA rating in July of 2014.

Fiscal conservatism, favorable revenues and operational efficiencies have made it possible to maintain and enhance service levels with no tax increase, retaining our position as having the third lowest rate in the region.

Civic Engagement and Responsive City Services

City Council and City staff have been responsive and committed to keeping our citizens informed. FOIA requests have been processed professionally and expeditiously.

Citizens are encouraged to avail themselves of all opportunities to engage their elected officials. Our Media & Communications Department utilizes social media, newsletters and other means to release pertinent information concerning community events, services and notices.

Expanded Economic Development

Suffolk continues to attract a diverse mix of industries thanks to our prime location, room for expansion, available workforce and pro-business climate. More than five million square feet of new industrial real estate is set to open in 2022, highlighted by the opening of Amazon’s $230 million dollar multistory robotics fulfillment center in Northgate Commerce Park. This facility is expected to employ more than 1,000 individuals.

Public Education

Our school system must achieve and be perceived as one of the premier school divisions in Hampton Roads for our city to reach its full potential.

Last year, more than $62.7 million was allocated to our school system. This amount represented 32% of local tax dollars and fully funded the amount requested by the school division. Plans are under way to build a new John F. Kennedy Middle School and an addition to Northern Shores Elementary, which was recognized nationally as a Blue Ribbon School.

Looking forward, City Council and the School Board must continue to collaborate to balance public school’s primary role of crafting policy with the responsibility of City Council’s oversight that is imposed by the appropriation of public funds.

Leisure, Health and Wellness

Recreational opportunities continue to expand and develop thanks to our nationally accredited Parks & Recreation Department. During 2021, enhancements of trails, Lone Star Park upgrades and playground improvements were a few of the projects completed. The highly anticipated Bennett’s Creek Recreation Center is scheduled to open in 2022.

As we plan for the future, funds have been allocated for Nansemond River access, a Driver Complex study and a downtown festival venue.

Parks & Recreation, in cooperation with the Division of Tourism, contributes immensely to the social well being of our citizens by providing numerous programs and events. A few examples are TGIF concerts, Taste of Suffolk, Carpool Cinema, Festival of Lights, KID ZONE before and after school program, Rec N Crew after school program, activities at East Suffolk Recreation Center and Whaleyville Recreation Center and much more.

The expansion of broadband throughout our city has seen much progress this year, as the welcome news that more than $21 million dollars through the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) grant will be received for Suffolk, Southampton County and Isle of Wight County to provide access to more than 12,000 households indicates. This funding combined with additional received grants and our participation in the Southside Network Authority is projected to provide universal service for all within a few years.

Transportation

With the growth our city has experienced comes a challenge of keeping pace with infrastructure improvements and addressing traffic concerns. Significant corridors of congestion have been on Route 17, Route 10 and Route 58. Railroad crossings also continue to be troublesome for our citizens.

City staff have taken advantage of opportunities to leverage local dollars to obtain state and federal funds to mitigate these issues. Noteworthy projects currently under way include Route 58, Nansemond Parkway/Wilroy Road overpass, Shoulders Hill/Route 17 and Crittenden Road/Route 17 intersections. Encouraging news that the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission has moved up the priority of improvements to Route 17 and Route 10 could result in accelerated funding.

Public Works continues to monitor, expand and modify bus routes provided by Virginia Regional Transit with action taken after considerable analysis and public input.

In Conclusion

As mayor of Suffolk, I have witnessed and had the opportunity to experience the many facets and inner workings of our community. I have come to know and respect the incredible people who make it all possible. Our employees, under the direction of City Manager Al Moor, have continued to deliver services in an exemplary manner under trying conditions. I want to thank our citizens for their increasing interest in city governance, volunteerism and genuine concern for others.

It is an honor to represent the greatest city in Virginia as your mayor. I believe trust begins with communication and is bolstered by transparency and accountability. Please become involved in governance by reviewing the Capital Improvement Plan and Comprehensive Plan. Contact your elected representative or attend a public hearing. Important decisions are strengthened through constructive public discourse.

In closing, my fellow Council members and I hope this New Year brings you joy, peace, good health and prosperity.

 

Mayor Michael D. Duman

Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett, Cypress Borough

Council Member Shelley Butler Barlow, Chuckatuck Borough

Council Member Roger W. Fawcett, Sleepy Hole Borough

Council Member Donald Z. Goldberg, Suffolk Borough

Council Member Timothy Johnson, Holy Neck Borough

Council Member Lue R. Ward Jr., Nansemond Borough

Council Member LeOtis Williams, Whaleyville Borough