Mayor Chris Beutler
State of the City
October 21, 2010
Good morning. Thank you all for being here today. It's mid-October and thankfully our winter coats are still in the closet. We've had a couple of good months of sales tax reciepts. And you all are here today because you care enough about Lincoln to hear some thoughts on the State of our City. All in all, it's another great day in Lincoln, Nebraska
In my first State of the City Address, I promised that Lincoln would compete on national and world stages. I shared with you a bold vision of the future, in which City Hall forged a great partnership with the community for the common good and dared to achieve significant dreams. As I near the end of my term as Mayor of this great City, I am proud to declare that we are on the right path, that we are achieving our goals, and we stand poised to claim our place as a premier American city. Lincoln is back on top. And we are here to stay.
The evidence is overwhelming as one national analyst after another declares our City to be among the nation's best:
This month, Parents magazine named Lincoln the third best city in the nation for babies. In September CNN named Lincoln the 13th best place to retire. Whether you are just starting out, enjoying your golden years,or somewhere in between, Lincoln is the place to be.
Many of us felt great pride in the recent Parade magazine article that recognized Lincoln's growing diversity and our commitment to blending new cultures into our American way of life. It was a great testimony to our community's ongoing faith in the promise of America, and signals our embrace of Lincoln's emerging role as a city with global reach.
Yes, we are known for our oustanding quality of life: our schools, libraries, parks, trails and healthy lifestyles. You will find Lincoln among the nation's leaders in most ratings on livability, families and housing affordability. We have always done well in those comparisons. But our recognition doesn't stop with quality of life metrics. In the last four years, Lincoln has achieved new recognition, as the City where businesses and entrepreneurs thrive:
How have we achieved this remarkable status? In part, by doing exactly what we said we would do three and one-half years ago when we began this great journey.
I told you we would become a city that promotes economic development and new opportunities for growth. And we have. While the national economy is certainly on people's minds, businesses have continued to invest in Lincoln, including Assurity, Pfizer, Li-Cor, TMCO, Midwest Direct, Plastics Companies Enterprises, Kawasaki, and of course my grandchildren's favorite business, Rocket Fizz.
Many Lincoln firms are creating jobs for working families even in the face of the national recession's lingering effects. And it's having an impact. Lincoln's unemployment rate of 3.9 percent is the third lowest in the United States. It is clear that employers believe that Lincoln can help them thrive in an increasingly competitive world. As my friend, Nick Cusick of IMS Corp says, "Lincoln can compete with anyone, anytime, anywhere."
I told you we would cut the bureaucratic red tape that stifles business. The new Development Services Center is breaking down the barriers that used to force entrepreneurs to spend more time at City Hall and less time out in the community building our future. Not long ago I received a letter from Michael Smith, the vice-president of development at PEDCOR, an Indiana-based company, who stated that our City's customer service orientation for business development was unmatched in any of the 14 states in which they work. His message tells me that Nick Cusick is right, we can compete with anybody. And we will do even more.
I told you we would promote a University of Nebraska research corridor to kick-start job creation opportunities and keep our young people at home. We are working closely with the University of Nebraska as work begins on Innovation Campus. We are supporting efforts like those of local business leader, Matthew Wegener, whose Turbine Flats project is helping a new generation of aspiring business leaders turn their entrepreneurial dreams into reality, to create the good jobs today that help keep our young people at home where they belong.
I told you we could build a new arena and set the stage for a resurgent tax base. The people of Lincoln answered our call and voted to fund the Lincoln Haymarket Arena. The new home of Husker basketball and other entertainment opportunities will be the foundation for a great building boom. The new arena will serve as a catalyst for a second wave of investment in the Lincoln Haymarket area with new businesses increasing our valuation base and creating new jobs. And the best news? We have already saved tens of millions of dollars on the project by prudent management of the arena bond sale. We are well on our way to opening the arena in 2013 on time and on budget.
I told you we would make progress on our infrastructure and we have made it happen. Lincoln drivers are enjoying more than 15 miles of resurfaced aerterial streets across the City, and we are on schedule to complete another eight miles in 2011, creating safer streets and reducing wear and tear on cars. In February, we learned that the bids for the road projects were 22 percent under the cost estimates, saving your tax dollars and allowing even more road work to be completed. And we can do even more.
We are nearing completion of the second phase of the largest infrastructure expansion in Lincoln's history. The 15 miles of pipe in the Stevens Creek sewer project will open east Lincoln to the growth and development that will define Lincoln's next decade.
In July, we reached a significant infrastructure milestone when over 700 homes and businesses in the core of our City were removed from federal floodplain maps as a result of the Antelope Valley project. The designation created even greater investment opportunities and saved the cost of flood insurance for many Lincoln residents and businesses. This spring, the Antelope Valley Parkway will be opened to "K" Street and the inspiring park at Union Plaza will be completed.
We are fighting to create a greener community. For the first time in Lincoln's history, substantial and focused efforts are being put into energy sustainability. Thousands of homes and businesses will see energy retrofits over the next two years that will reduce waste, thanks to the Cleaner Greener Lincoln program and LES.
I told you we would become a city with a smaller, more efficient City Hall. Over my three and one-half years in office we have eliminated nearly 120 jobs. We've pioneered consolidations and used technology to offer City services at less cost. We worked with the City labor unions, and for the first time in over 30 years, reduced the City retirement match to employees. Three of the four unions voted to end the two-to-one match for new employees, recognizing that we all must sacrifice to help during tough economic times. I want to personally thank Mike Wiese of the StarTran bus drivers and mechanics, Joe Wright of the "M" or management class, and Michelle Selvage of the LCEA and all of their members for their cooperation and public spirit.
Fiscal responsibility starts at the top, which is one reason why I chose not to accept the recent raise in Mayoral salary. My department directors took zero percent raises last year. Their salary increases have averaged less than one percent over the last two years. We have led by example because taxpayers should not be paying for big raises when their own salaries stagnated during the recent national recession.
I told you that we would become an organization focused on performance and that our budget choices would be an open process with the public playing a key role. Our unique outcome-based process for the budget, known as "Taking Charge," is setting the standard for other cities across the nation. Alan Tomkins at the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center reports that Lincoln is the talk of the national conferences he attends on budgeting, finance and performance management.
We have established a public engagement process that allows our citizens to have real impact on our budget choices. We have implemented performance indicators that have raised the bar of achievement, creating a more focused and efficient goverment. We appreciate the work of the Center and are grateful for its involvement in bringing performance-based government closer to the people we serve.
I told you we would maintain our reputation as a very safe place to raise families. That's why public safety is the top priority of this administration and, thanks to the leadership of Police Chief Tom Casady and Fire Chief Niles Ford, Lincoln is a safe community. Crime is down 21 percent over the last four years. Our crime clearance rate has increased by 37 percent to a record level. That means that in Lincoln, Nebraska, you are less likely to be a crime victim than at any other time in a generation, and if you are a criminal, you are more likely than ever to get caught.
Insurance rates are low because of our outstanding fire and ambulance response. So far in 2010, our ambulances have responded to emergencies in eight minutes or less 92 percent of the time, saving critical time that leads to better patient outcomes. The ambulance fund continues to exceed expectations, as we have finished all four budget years of my administration in the black, and, completely paid off an inter-fund loan inherited from the 2001 start-up that had grown to over $2 million. We owe our Police Officers and Fire Fighter Paramedics a great debt of gratitude. They are getting the job done. And together we can do even more.
I told you that neighborhood quality of life was at the foundation of our community and that we would do all we can to make our neighborhoods stronger and safer. Our Stronger Safer Neighborhoods initiative is doing just that. Program Coordinator Jon Carlson has developed new tools, such as performance-based inspections, that are helping us clean up problem properties. Our graffiti program has allowed us to re-claim our neighborhoods from taggers. Tracy Corr, the Chair of the Mayor's Neighborhood Roundtable, has been a leader for neighborhoods, helping to create our Intersection Connection art program that brings neighbors together and beautifies their neighborhood streets with distinctive designs.
I have mentioned many names during this speech to illustrate an important point. Lincoln, Nebraska's success is not about the Mayor. It is about all of us and what we can achieve when we lay down the sword of political partisanship and knock down the barriers of personality conflicts and personal ambitions. It is about meeting our City's challenges with the consensus born of diplomacy and thoughtful compromise.
I think about the partisan paralysis that has become the norm for Washington D.C. and like many in the nation, fear that the passions of political orthodoxy have constructed high walls over which there is no communication. That's why I am grateful for my working relationship with our City Council and all that we have achieved together for the good of our community. We have built many doors and windows in the walls that separate us, allowing us to work together while still maintaining our personal beliefs. I am proud to call Jonathan Cook, Jon Camp, John Spatz, Doug Emery, Jayne Snyder, Gene Carroll and Adam Hornung colleagues and friends all.
I, like many others, was deeply moved by the community pride our residents exhibited in staging the Special Olympics USA National Games. If we can just continue to capture the collaboration and energy that made Lincoln's Games such a rousing success, then all our ongoing challenges will simply become more opportunities for achievement.
Assuming the mantel of a City that competes nationally and internationally does not allow us the luxury of resting on our laurels. We must continue to strive for greatness and improve on all fronts. The hallmark of greatness is the continuing quest for progress. The great Nebraska poet John Neihardt captured that philosophy in a book he titled All is but a Beginning.
I was proud to be a Nebraskan in 1994 when Tom Osborne won his first national championship because his words captured the very essence of who we are as a State. He told a national television audience that for him, it was always about the journey, not about winning a national championship. In his plain spoken and quiet Nebraska way, he talked about how much he enjoyed the players' everyday achievements, as his young men pulled themselves together as a team and struggled daily to get a little bit better than the day before.
I see the same spirit in our City as we have grown. Yes, the arena's completion will be a fantastic achievement, but not more so than the success we enjoyed in bringing people from across the community together for a common purpose. When that great project is finally completed, I assure you that I will be much less interested in the building itself than the unity it symbolizes, a unity that has allowed us to achieve many of our dreams and fulfill the mission we set for ourselves nearly four years ago. Yes, Lincoln, Nebraska is back on top.
A great scientist once realized that the creatures that survived were those that were most adaptive to change. The same is true of societies and social institutions. Identifying intelligent reaction to changed circumstances is the key to success. The first day after my election I said, "Change is imminent." And we have made careful changes, very selective changes, the right changes. And that's why, together, we have put Lincoln back on top. And if we continue to act wisely with open minds and open ears, we will indeed be on top to stay.