December 29, 2017

Happy New Year

Wow – what a year!  As we look forward to 2018 I have been reflecting on the year that has past.  What a fantastic year it was, with so much to celebrate and give thanks for.  The City looks great, new businesses have started up, established businesses have expanded, unemployment is down, our population is up and tourist numbers are at new heights.  Thanks to the energy and resources that individuals, businesses, non-profit organizations and our city government have invested in the community, we are not just moving in the right direction – we are accelerating.

In order to keep our foot on the gas, we will have to continue to identify projects that bring the best return on investment and find additional resources to pay for them.  We did a good job of that in 2017, and we're poised to do even better in 2018. 

In the Charles Schultz classic, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Sally famously tells her brother, "All I want is what I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share!"  While that sentiment may have frustrated Charlie Brown, it's not something to scoff at when it comes to looking out for Pensacola's best interests, so we will be going after our fair share again in 2018.  That's important, because the more money we can get from outside sources, the more improvements we can make without raising taxes or fees.  

We plan to use the additional funds to continue to improve the City's infrastructure.  As we've done over the past six years, we will make small investments over time in low-risk, high-return projects.  While maintenance of roads, stormwater drains, sidewalks and streetlights may not be the sexiest of projects, when those things are broken or in disrepair, people notice because daily life gets more difficult. 

As we close out the year we are finishing up nearly $10 million in stormwater infrastructure projects.  Most all of them, from $30,000 storm drain enhancements, to million-dollar creek bank repairs, were paid for with federal, state or BP money.  Sure, some of the projects ran into difficulties, but anytime you start a complex project you know there will be unanticipated problems.  If you can't accept some risk, if you don't have a vision for what could be, you'll never get anything done.  We'll carry that same attitude into 2018 as we plan more projects that focus our investments in the most high-returning areas of our city.

And those areas are not just downtown.  All you have to do to know that our entire city is prospering is to read the real estate advertisements.  But real estate values are not our only performance measure – just think about the other positive trends in the city over the past years and ask yourself, “where else would you rather be?”  Crime rates are at historic lows and we enjoy some of the fastest response rates in the state.  Where would you rather live or own a business?  Our fire department is fully staffed, fully engaged and, thanks to the cadet program, its diversity reflects our city.  What other department would you want call on in an emergency?  In 2017 we completed the last two stormwater vaults on Carpenter Creek and the water quality is the best it's been in years.  Who remembers the last time we had an algae bloom and a menhaden die-off?  Pensacola is in excellent financial health.  We are living within our means, we've consolidated our gains from pension reform, and we rapidly negotiated new agreements with our employee unions.  For over 35 years our Finance Department has been recognized for excellence in budgeting and financial reporting.  Where would you rather pay your taxes?  Pensacola International Airport introduced new routes, new carriers and new businesses in 2017 and passenger rates hit all-time highs.  Won't it be exciting when the first plane pulls into the new MRO hangar in 2018?

We are fortunate to live in a city where so many people are engaged in improving the quality of life for everyone in our community.  Our goal in 2018 is to make sure we send that message to the businesses and individuals who are interested in coming here.  Let's challenge ourselves in 2018 to focus on what it is that makes our city a great place to live, work and play, and set a welcoming tone for everyone who is interested in investing in Pensacola.

 - Ashton Hayward, Mayor of Pensacola

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