PROGRESS REPORT FOR 2016
To the Citizens of Suffolk:
With the advent of a New Year upon us, it is important for us to reflect on where we have been to be sure we know where we are headed. In that regard, I would like to offer my ‘Progress Report’ for 2016. In doing so, I would like to thank all of Suffolk’s residents for a tremendous year and I, along with the rest of City Council, are only too privileged to continue to serve you as we head into the New Year.
Our goal, as with any city, is to ensure a proper stewardship of resources and funds with the overall goal of making Suffolk a better place for all of our citizens. This past year, more so than any before it, has truly brought Suffolk to the forefront of the Hampton Roads region. One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is our hometown charm. We imbue our growth with a warmth and personality that few cities with our population can match. The secret of change is not on fighting the old, but on building the new, something we have chosen to live by as we move Suffolk forward.
In that onward march, we have made sure that our financial house is in order. For without proper planning and safeguards, the impressive growth of our City would be for naught. And I am thrilled that our City has achieved its second triple AAA credit rating for the second year in a row, from Fitch Ratings. In announcing the designation, the ratings agency commented positively on the City’s financial results, management team, economic development team and financial staff. The rating, joining the prior one by Standard and Poor’s; instantly allowed Suffolk to realize savings on the sale of bonds in the public marketplace. The bonds were issued to finance various public improvement projects, all of which will be of tremendous benefit to our community, and to refund certain general obligation debt that was previously issued by the City.
Complementing this sale is the aggressive pursuit of grants by all City Departments. Literally, your diligent City staff has managed to obtain millions from various agencies over the past year to fund important projects as varied as the construction of trails at Lake Meade Park, to upgrades at the Suffolk Executive Airport, crime prevention activities, a summer feeding program for our youngest citizens, and many more.
As we continue to expand we are also looking for ways to consolidate to make it easier for you, our citizens, to get things done. Our one-stop shop City Hall has proven to provide the efficient, effective, quality services in a convenient location that our citizens have come to expect. But brick and mortar is not the only way we are advancing services. Earlier this year we rolled out our mobile and desktop friendly Suffolk Citizen Connections; a tool that allows citizens to report specific topic related, non-emergency issues which are then communicated directly to the appropriate City Department.
It is this focus on finding innovative ways to advance the City that has rewarded Suffolk with new investment from businesses deciding to relocate or expand. Add to this our low unemployment rate, and it’s evident that our formula is indeed working. Small businesses and large alike are recognizing Suffolk as the premier place to do business in Hampton Roads. As a prime example, this past month our Governor made the trip to Suffolk to announce a $58 million dollar investment from Peet’s Coffee Company that will add one-hundred-thirty-five new jobs. This is in addition to the six hundred new jobs the expanded Target upstream distribution center added earlier this year.
With all this positive growth comes the need for expanded housing opportunities. We have a multitude of options available, from affordable single-family housing, to luxury apartments, condominiums, eclectic downtown living, rural farmettes or retirement cottages. Sprinkled in the mix are lovely historic homes, family-friendly new and established neighborhoods, and the finest in “country living”. You’ll find it all in Suffolk!
With this forward momentum, we recognize that the needs of our most precious commodity, the future generation of Suffolk, needs attention. That is why we are committed to Suffolk Public Schools and have broken ground on both a new northern elementary and middle school. The $25.9 million dollar northern middle school will serve a minimum of six hundred students with the potential to expand, while the $27.3 million dollar northern elementary school will provide space for one thousand students. Both schools are on schedule to open for students in the fall of 2018.
More students, more housing, and more businesses all equal an increased need to fund our public safety employees. The City is committed to ensuring that our police and fire have the necessary tools, equipment, and technology to keep our City safe. Nowhere is our community’s commitment to our public safety professionals more evident than in our annual National Night Out celebration. Our ‘Going Away Party for Crime’ this past August earned Suffolk its fourth first place trophy in the nation. Communities across Suffolk came out in force to highlight a neighborhood commitment to keeping Suffolk’s age-old tradition of neighbors looking out for neighbors. It’s evident that old-fashioned values still live on in the hearts of our citizens.
While National Night Out highlighted Suffolk’s small town charm, October’s Hurricane Matthew tested it. And I could not be more proud of the stories I continue to hear of Suffolk citizens helping one another in the aftermath. We proved, as we have in the past, that Suffolk is first and foremost about its citizens. Because even though our boroughs maintain different identities, histories, and traditions, we are all one Suffolk with the same goal – the betterment of all for a brighter tomorrow.
In that endeavor, we are striving to provide opportunities for all to enjoy the resources this fine City has to offer. The continued expansion of the award-winning Seaboard Coastline Trail will soon allow residents to pedal into Chesapeake and back surrounded by wildlife. But pavement is not the only place to explore – our vast waterways demanded the opening of canoe and kayak launches at Sleepy Hole Park and at Constant’s Wharf Park & Marina. These environmental sports facilities have joined Bennett’s Creek Park as part of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, highlighting waterways he first explored more than four-hundred years ago.
Speaking of exploring, we cannot forget the flora, fauna, wildlife and history that abound in the one-hundred-and-eleven thousand acre Great Dismal Swamp accessible right here in Suffolk. You can also partake of a world-class meal at one of our renowned restaurants, enjoy a T.G.I.F. concert or dazzling fireworks display, or take in a performance or class at The Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts or juried exhibition at the Suffolk Art Gallery.
Yes, Suffolk is thriving and opportunities abound for all to enjoy! As people from all over continue to find the jewel that is Suffolk, more continue to call it home. This puts us in the enviable position of having to strategize for smart growth in relation to the economy, transportation, education, and a host of other areas.
But with our competent and well-trained staff, headed by a compassionate and caring City Manager, I am more than confident that we are positioned in a manner that will ensure our success. The distinctions our City has earned in recent years is the product of hard work, determination and teamwork, setting up a foundation for a future that will propel Suffolk to become the premier destination in Hampton Roads.
It’s clear that innovation is what fuels the future of Suffolk. And each New Year presents another twelve months for this tremendous City to strive for new heights. We hope you join us in looking towards a 2017 where 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