Mayor Krasnoff delivers State of the City Address

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krasnoffMayor Krasnoff delivers State of the City Address

Says Transportation Key to Growth

Chesapeake Mayor Alan P. Krasnoff presented the annual State of the City address on March 28 at the Chesapeake Conference Center.  After the invocation by Pastor Tim Lambert, Mayor Krasnoff was introduced by Fourth District Congressman Randy Forbes.  Following is the Mayor’s address:

I want to thank my congressman for his introduction. Working with other representatives from Hampton Roads, Randy Forbes has been on the front line fighting to reduce the impact of sequestration on the military and those who wear our country’s uniforms.

A member of the House Armed Services Committee and chair of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, he is committed to reversing the decline in the Navy battle force fleet, strengthening the naval air component, and providing the Marine Corps warfighter with essential equipment for combat operations.

Knowing that another BRAC process could be just over the horizon – and acutely aware of what the loss of just one facility could mean to our community and America’s military capacity – our Congressman has been clear-eyed about the options.

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I also want to recognize and thank our constitutional officers and members of City Council for their service, and express my appreciation to our state delegates and senators for their representation. Whether you serve in Chesapeake or in Richmond, navigating either set of legislative hurdles can be difficult, but finding consensus and a way
forward – knowing that you were able to make a difference – is a reward that makes the race worth running.

But now to matters at hand, which is to tell you what you already know: though there may have been times when we were buffeted by events, the course we set five years ago was the right one, and the worst economic storm since the Great Depression is behind us.

Candidly, some of the choices we made were easy. Without any hesitation, we said Chesapeake would not raise taxes.

In 2008, our base tax rate was $1.04. Today, our tax rate is still $1.04, and it will not go up. We said we would never shirk from our pledge to see that each of Chesapeake’s children would have the opportunity to get a world-class education – and we have not.

That pledge, which is at the core of our commitment to Chesapeake’s long-term success, is already paying dividends. Our schools are fully accredited, our students are engaged, and we have the lowest dropout and highest on-time graduation rates in the region.

Without equivocation, we said we would not compromise when it comes to support for our first responders and those who keep us safe. . . and we have not. Because of the dedication of our emergency medical technicians and firefighters, our police officers and sheriff’s deputies, Chesapeake remains one of America’s safest cities.

In 2008, we also reaffirmed our faith in the value of economic development and said we would not stop working to make Chesapeake a place where anyone who wants a good job can find one.

At the same time, other choices set before us were difficult and painful. But I am convinced that over time, we will come to see that each decision was essential to securing Chesapeake’s financial wellbeing.

In the near term, our economic engine has roared back to life. With luck, we are near the end of a steep and very scary decline in the value of real estate. From last year to this, residential property values dropped by less than one percent, while commercial property values in Chesapeake are up almost one percent.

featured1At the same time, our Department of Economic Development reports that in 2012, Chesapeake gained over 1,100 new jobs and more than $204 million in investment, and posted a 25 percent year-over-year increase in
activity.

Small business activity also grew. In 2012, Commissioner of the Revenue Ray Conner reports that almost 600 new licenses were requested from entrepreneurs starting a business just starting up in Chesapeake. To make it easier to do business with Chesapeake, in many cases we’ve already implemented ways to apply and pay for permits online, and we’re adding more. Next up will be electronic development plan reviews, which will speed up your ability to get approval and get a project out of the ground. Will these improvements cost money? Of course, but our investment in Chesapeake will pay dividends for you.

The bottom line is that we’re doing everything possible to re-examine how we operate and turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones, because when I say that 24/7, Chesapeake is open for business, I mean it.

Still wondering if you belong here? The short answer is yes.

For the second year in a row, Bloomberg Businessweek.com ranks Chesapeake one of America’s 50 best cities. 24/7 Wall Street – an online investment news website – continues to rank Chesapeake one of the nation’s top 20 best run cities, and we are one of America’s top-ranked digital cities.

Still concerned about Chesapeake’s financial stability? Here’s a simple, two-word answer: don’t be.  All three major bond rating agencies – Fitch, Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s – have reconfirmed that the Chesapeake way is the right way. And on that point, if you will, that right way is part of Chesapeake’s genetic makeup. The right way was borne out of the hope for new beginnings and new opportunities that would be created when South Norfolk joined with Norfolk County to create Chesapeake. As South Norfolk Mayor Charles L. Richardson said then, “Merger will help us have one of the best and most progressive little cities around.”

Fifty years on, I think we have done just that.

Our schools are stronger and our children smarter because of the leadership of principals like Carolyn Bernard at Grassfield High School and teachers like Cheryl Greiling at Southwestern Elementary and Kathy Galford at Greenbrier Middle School. Carolyn received a Virginia excellence in education award, Cheryl is the Virginia reading teacher of the year, and Kathy is the Virginia teacher of the year, and I’d like them to stand. They are among almost 3,000 other teachers in Chesapeake who deserve our deepest thanks, and they have it.

With us today is Betsy Fowler, our director of libraries and research services. Through good times and bad, she and her staff have worked to ensure that if you want to learn on your own, a library in Chesapeake is a good place to start. Our libraries have also made a difference for those looking for work.

The demand for help finding a job has been greatest in the South Norfolk community, and it’s there that they’ve concentrated their efforts by providing space for adult education classes – helping others develop computer skills and literacy – and working with community partners like Opportunity, Inc. to offer targeted workforce training programs, job help classes, and exclusive job fairs.

So has the investment been worth it? You bet. On a sunny day in January, 24 hopeful men – men who had invested in themselves – showed up at the South Norfolk library wearing ties and holding resumes they had worked on with the librarians. Of that number, all but one of the interviewees moved to the next hiring stage, and several received on-the-spot job offers. Obviously the credit belongs to those who took the initiative and rose to the occasion, but our thanks must go to a library staff that has found another way to offer a renewed sense of hope and opportunity to others.

In times of great need, hope can also come in other forms.

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Faced with a shrinking budget and a shortage of health care professionals, the Chesapeake Health Department partnered with the Peninsula Institute of Community Health to re-establish the South Norfolk Health Clinic as the PICH Community Health Center. Sounds pretty mundane, doesn’t it? Well, it’s not. In five years, the PICH organization will accept full financial responsibility for the health center’s operation in South Norfolk, and those who qualify will have access to a new primary care medical practice. Mind you, these are not isolated examples.

In preparation for this event, each year I receive a vast number of emails detailing our city’s successes. Whether they are about public works or public utilities or childcare, parks and recreation or Chesapeake’s pink fire truck, each email recounts the
accomplishments of a department and those who contribute daily to our wellbeing.

If I could, I would mention them all, but I think you might get a little cranky if I talked about each of the 40 departments and our 4,090 employees. Instead, I want to tell a story that exemplifies the Chesapeake spirit.

Nearing the end of his shift, last October Officer Nicolas Houlihan responded to a domestic complaint and quickly found himself in the middle of a mess. In short, a man had convinced a woman to live with him. Days later, the man had changed his mind, and now was demanding that she move out. Having herself just moved to Chesapeake from out of state, the woman had no resources and was alone. But the law is the law, so out the woman went, with Nick Houlihan helping carry her luggage to a nearby sidewalk.

As so many officers would do and have done, Nick was willing to give her a ride to a bus station in downtown Norfolk and help pay for a ticket home. But that wouldn’t be necessary because the woman knew – just knew – that her boyfriend would change his mind and invite her back in. So Nick’s shift ended with a woman waiting on a sidewalk.

By now, I’m sure you already know how this chapter ends. On his own, Nick returned the next day to find the woman sitting in same place. It was apparent that she had not eaten or had anything to drink. Despite falling rain, she continued to rebuff offers of medical treatment or assistance. But Nick is stubborn, so he did what any God-fearing Irishman would do: he turned to the Greater Mount Zion Baptist Church for aid, and found it. With the church providing money to pay for a room, Nick was able to convince the woman to stay at a nearby hotel where she would be safe, and raised enough money for her to buy food and a bus ticket back to North Carolina and the home of her elderly parents.

Nick Houlihan could have taken the path of least resistance. Instead, he chose to do the right thing. I can do no better than quote one of Nick’s fellow officers, who wrote that it is an honor and privilege to serve alongside officers with correctly calibrated and unwavering moral compasses. In fact, though, it is my honor to call him one of our own.
Standing now for the 537 men and women who keep us safe and aren’t afraid to do the right thing, let’s let Nick Houlihan know we have his back.

In spite of our successes, we have also had our dark moments. Obviously, how an $8 million temporary jail could be built without intense managerial oversight is an open question, but my hope is that an ongoing Virginia State Police investigation will give us the answers we need and you deserve. Thankfully, Sheriff Jim O’Sullivan has stepped up to the plate and taken ownership.

Working with our General Assembly delegation and the Virginia Department of Corrections, we have been able to turn what could have been Chesapeake’s white elephant into a facility capable of helping relieve the stress and danger that comes with an overcrowded jail. We’ve also had to deal with almost $800,000 in change orders for a new animal control facility that have rightly raised the hackles of Chesapeake’s ratepayers. And so city council spent countless hours ferreting out the hows and whys of our purchasing and procurement systems, and took steps that rankled some and satisfied others.

In the short term, we no longer leave the approval of any change order worth more than $10,000 to chance. And if that means it will take late night meetings for city council to plow through and understand the need for changes that cost taxpayer money, then so be it.

Put bluntly, we want a wholesale change in the way we do business, and I have no doubt that is coming. In any event, I make no excuses. I was wrong to trust a system that dates to 1963 and a time when we were a community of just over 75,000 people and had a $12.51 million budget. In short, that may have been fine then, but it’s not fine now.

Today, our population is projected to be about 228,000 and we are the Commonwealth’s third largest city. Combine our proposed capital and operating budgets, and next year it will cost close to a billion dollars to keep Chesapeake moving forward. Now consider that by 2040, the Weldon Cooper Center at the University of Virginia projects that 318,488 souls will call Chesapeake home.

Whenever that happens – and we know it will – then one question will obviously center around how to efficiently move goods and people from point A to point B, which is why I’ve focused on transportation. Now consider what we’ve done. Since 2008, the South Norfolk Jordan Bridge has been built and opened, and is a remarkable addition to Chesapeake’s skyline. Best of all, not a penny in public money was used to build it. Even before we broke ground for the South Norfolk project, we were already applying lessons learned and moving ahead on the Dominion Boulevard project. Replacing the steel bridge had been on our project wish list since 1997. Then, it was projected to cost $101 million, By 2012, the project had grown so complex in scope that the estimate was north of $400 million.

Given our nation’s economic difficulties – not to mention our own budget problems – it would have been an easy thing to walk away, to leave the project for another generation. But do it often enough and that form of leadership will become an easily embraced oxymoron, where risk-aversion and conformity become the new styles of management and basis for decision-making, the new norms.

Well, not so much for me, which is why we figured out what we had to do to convince others that investing in Chesapeake’s infrastructure would be the right thing to do. It needed the support of our legislators, the confidence of Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton and the Commonwealth Transportation Board, and Governor Bob McDonnell’s faith in Chesapeake’s ability to make things happen, and we won all three. As a result, a new Dominion Boulevard bridge complex is coming out of the ground. It will cost $345 million to build and four years to complete, but it will create new opportunities that will benefit generations to come. By adding capacity now so that the bridge will become a new conduit for Chesapeake’s invisible infrastructure, we will also be able to quickly deploy speed–of-light fiber optic communications to those who will demand it.

All in, the mere existence of a new Dominion Boulevard bridge will transform the face of Chesapeake and require a new paradigm based not on near-term gains but on a long-term vision. On that point alone, I know it will not be easy. Change never is. But the unintended consequence of doing nothing is simply unacceptable, and I do not intend to leave the next generation of Chesapeake’s leaders scratching their heads and wondering why we didn’t act when we had the opportunity.

For precisely that reason, I have also begun the push to replace the high-rise bridge on Interstate 64. No matter which way you’re traveling, the high-rise bridge has turned into our version of a rush-hour HRBT, and everybody here knows it. Worse still will be the congestion that follows the completion of the Dominion Boulevard project. Add to that increased truck traffic as a new 460 comes on line, and we’ll be dealing with a full-blown mess if we don’t act now. What VDOT needed was funding to conduct an environmental impact statement. Thanks to the General Assembly, Secretary Connaughton and Governor McDonnell, $5 million has been earmarked for precisely that purpose.

Last week, we took a second step when the high-rise was added to the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization’s long-range plan and transportation infrastructure program. By themselves, none of these things will ensure that replacing the high-rise bridge takes first position. But considering that over $765 million has been invested in Chesapeake’s roads or bridges over the past four years, and I’d say we’re headed in the right direction and doing just fine.

We’re also moving ahead with a new 22nd Street bridge. Obviously, it needs to be replaced. When it is, the new bridge will join the just completed Poindexter Streetscape project as another gateway into South Norfolk and create new opportunities for those who want to work and live in Chesapeake. If everything goes as planned, our Portsmouth Boulevard project will begin next year. When it’s finished in 2015, it will dramatically improve our connectivity with Suffolk and Portsmouth, and provide direct access to Interstate 64.

In Greenbrier, we intend to complete Woodlake Drive to close the link between Battlefield Boulevard and Greenbrier Parkway. Do that and we will open up Chesapeake to more opportunities and more jobs.

Understandably, you may think I’ve spent entirely too much time talking about roads, but consider this formula: Transportation equals jobs. Jobs equal prosperity. Prosperity equals revenue. Revenue equals world-class schools, safer streets, a better quality of life and a budget in balance. And world-class schools, safer streets, and an improved quality of life will build a more vibrant Chesapeake that future generations will proudly call home.

I have faith in this formula, but it takes more than faith. It takes hard work and a commitment to something bigger than oneself.

For me, a prime example of that kind of dedication will soon be leaving the sixth floor for the last time. Except for the fact that I allow him to give trumpet concerts from the balcony at City Hall, I cannot say what motivated Ron Hallman to serve Chesapeake for 44 years.  A newly-minted lawyer with a degree from the College of William & Mary, I have no doubt Ron Hallman could have chosen a much different and far more lucrative path. Fortunately for us, he did not. After serving nine years as an assistant city attorney, Ron was named Chesapeake’s chief legal counsel in 1978, which has meant 35 years of briefings, 35 years of city council meetings, and 35 years as our legal hand-holder.

In that time, Chesapeake has witnessed transformational growth and change. Yet through it all, Ron Hallman has remained steadfast in his loyalty to Chesapeake, and earned the trust of council members, city managers and city staff alike. You should also know that no one has ever questioned Ron Hallman’s insight and integrity.

Over the years, Ron Hallman is one of many who have kept Chesapeake moving forward. He has been a role model to many and as he leaves, I want him to know he has our gratitude and appreciation for his service to us.

I also want to welcome Jim Baker, our new city manager and someone who has brought a renewed clarity of purpose to Chesapeake. There is a quiet confidence about Jim Baker, who is quick to laugh but thoughtful in his views and forthright in his comments, and each quality is a refreshing change. Jim Baker has a large task ahead of him, and it will take patience on our part as he sets about reinventing Chesapeake and restoring confidence in decisions that are made at City Hall.

Jim Baker knows – because we have talked about it – that a commonly shared and well-understood vision is essential to the long-term success of any city. Ours, I think, is clear. First, we cannot forget that new businesses have joined us because Chesapeake is home to one of the best-educated workforces in Hampton Roads. Second, our commitment to a robust physical infrastructure – and especially for roads and bridges – provides us with an advantage we can never allow to be compromised. And third, we must remain true to our commitment to an invisible infrastructure that we are just beginning to understand and embrace, but which will carry us forward for decades to come.

But behind every vision must be core principles to guide us, so consider these words: Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.

Speaking to Stanford’s 2005 graduating class, Steve Jobs summed up a universal prescription for success in all things, and what I am confident must be at the heart of true leadership. In just a few words, they neatly express the optimism and confidence that surely must have propelled Mayor Richardson and others to believe in a new thing called Chesapeake.

Building on their strengths and a precious gift called Chesapeake, now it is our turn to dream the next big dream. Helping make that dream come will be our challenge, but this I know: we are Chesapeake, we are blessed, and we will get things done.

Thank you and God bless.

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