2011 was not Canton's finest year. The year was dominated in the media by and of course the tragic murder of an innocent child. Hopefully we are getting past both these events now.
Beyond these difficulties of 2011, progress was made in a number of areas.
Discussion concerning and potential improvements to our water and sewer system continued this past year with little progress. But the foundation may have been laid for progress in the upcoming months.
We have made some headway in our . The direction we take will be a decision of this council in the next few short months.
We have continued to reduce our original long-term debt during 2011. We have now reduced original debt of $62 million by more than $15 million.
Our financial management has steadily improved as well. Although our tax digest declines with real estate values going down, we have tightened our belts and made budgetary adjustments without raising taxes. We will work to keep taxes as low as possible and yet meet our service delivery obligations.
While there is talk of eliminating the , just so there is no misunderstanding, this idea will go nowhere is a waste of this council's time to continue discussing it. Seniors are an important part of our community and we must recognize the value of seniors to our city, not just social but financial value as well.
The duriing 2011. But we still continue to pay $300,000 a year for the golf course with no revenue stream from the project.
From a financial standpoint, in my opinion, four years ago our city was on life support. We now have begun to transition our financial positioni toward good fiscal health.
A couple of areas to watch whcih would have an effect on our city finances include potential changes in our impact fee and stormwater ordinances. More will be discussed about these in the upcoming months.
Last year, we implemented the very successfully. This year, we will be changing to the CodeRED System, a more widely recognized system and one which will allow a more targeted approach to emergency notification.
We have begun to make progress on our Comprehensive Fire Protection Plan and (a) possible funding source for . I am recommending a bond referendum (in) July for our plan (called) "Achieve 3."
Plans have been developed and construction on our new regional hospital and support service should begin by early summer. Access to even better health care is just around the corner.
Months ago, our council approved the construction of a canoe launch on the Etowah River in the area of the proposed Etowah River Park. This construction should be underway soon at no cost to the city.
Fishing and canoeing on the Hickory Log Creek Reservoir should begin soon, hopefully by early this spring as we continue to locate a public access park area.
While the Etowah River Park is way behind the original schedule due to no fault of the city, some progress has been made and this park should be under construction late this year.
The Waleska Street Project from the railroad up to North Street should begin this spring.
What has happened to the improvements on SR 20 along ? It is my understanding (that) construction (is set) to begin (in) 2014 with completion by 2016. Perhaps we should consider a moratorium on new permits from I-575 to the city limits until this section is improved by the DOT. We should not allow this situation to worsen.
We now have a Private Street Assessment Committee which has already been meeting to resolve the issue of how the city deals with private streets and those treets which were not completed by developers for which the city has no bonds or funds to complete. This is no small number of streets.
We are continuing to move forward with plans to resurface and improve more streets this year.
2011 saw the strengthening of our ethics ordinance. We will continue to strengthen this ordinance in 2012. Public trust of elected officials and public staff is important to moving this city forward.
While I believe customer serve has improved slightly, we still have a long way to go. Phones should be answered by a human being. Citizen inquiries should be responded to in a timely manner by each and every department. Citizens should always be treated with courtesy and respect. It should be a rare occasion indeed when we leave a customer dissatisfied when we have not only the responsibility, but the ability to help and go the extra mile.
I challenge our city manager and council to get a phone system at City Hall which will meet the needs of this city and its residents.
Our 15-member Citizen Charter Study Committee completed its work during 2011. Now I have appointed a Council Charter Review Committee to work with representatives of the Citizens Committee to bring forth recommendations directly to the Council for improving our charter which will improve the efficiency of operation of our City.
Our Charter Review Committee and this council will create the pathway to address many of the issues of facing our city.
During 2012, I, along with this council, need to work hard at improving our city rather than tearing it down. Living in this city is a choice and, in my opinion, a privilege. It is a choice of those who want better emergency services including fire protection with lower insurance rates (and) more intense police protection with a greater ratio of officers.
Canton is also the choice of those who wish to be nearer to shopping, dining, theatre and parks and, of course, good clean water at reasonable rates.
The city is also the choice of those who want government closer rather than more distant and less personal.
While I may not be satisfied with our overall progress, this doesn't mean I want to dissolve our city. Just so there is no lack of clarity regarding my position, the idea of total city-county government consolidation is a dead issue and will not be a distraction to this council's business.
The good news is that we can expect the level and rate of progress in 2012 to compensate for the lack of progress on major issues in 2011.
I would like to thank our city employees and staff, and all who have served on boards, authorities or committees for your efforts this past year. While it may not take a village to keep our city going, it does take a lot of dedicated support of this city by staff and citizens alike. I thank you for that support.
I do not like the sense of inertia I frequently feel when I walk into City Hall. I often feel like we're crawling at a snail's pace. But 2011 is behind us now. 2012 is truly a new beginning and an opportunity for us all.
There is hope. There is optimism. And there is enthusiasm on this council and this community for this city. The clouds which had gathered over this city in 2011 have broken and there is definitely a brighter day ahead in 2012.
Someday, the economy will recover. I want us to work hard now to be ahead of the game and ready for what can be an excellent future for our city.
As you can see, the state of our city is improving.