SALISBURY – Mayor James Ireton, Jr. stuck to a theme that the city is “turning a corner” as he reviewed accomplishments from the past year and looked towards what can be done for Salisbury in the future during his State of the City Address on Monday night.
According to the 2010 Census, Salisbury is home to 330,343 people, a 28-percent increase from the year 2000 and the largest increase in population of any city in the state of Maryland.
“Our city has turned a corner towards progressive government that respects the financial situation of its people and holds sacred the trust and the bond between government and those it represents,” Ireton said.
According to Ireton, the Safe Streets Grant and the Governor’s Office of Crime Control is bringing neighborhood services and compliance into an era to instantly be able to affect the integrity of the city’s neighborhoods.
Public Safety Department vehicles now have mounted computer technology that instantly transmits violation letters and retrieves information needed to help the city fight crime.
“It was to be integrated with our police department technology, that will be necessary for our Safe Streets initiatives to work,” Ireton said.
The Public Works Department is pursuing the application of automatic vehicle location technology, which will provide geographical information on street sweepers, snow plows and other public works vehicles that can determine the location of that vehicle at any given time.
In 2010, the Salisbury Marina was also improved. Pollution controls were added to all existing piers, Wi-Fi access was added throughout the facility, the bathroom and shower facilities were renovated and fuel tanks now include ethanol free gasoline.
In 2011, the city will be presented with renderings of a new design for the entrance to the marina and staff will work to improve signage throughout the marina for visitors and residents.
Other tasks that have been completed to make Salisbury a better place to live, according to Ireton, include a dog park in City Park which will open on March 1; there is more Habitat for Humanity homeowners in the Church Street neighborhood; and the city has helped at-risk homeowners with principal mortgage write down assistance through Salisbury neighborhood housing service.
According to Ireton, the toughest battle in 2010 was keeping the main branch of the Wicomico County Library in downtown Salisbury.
“Those are some pretty important victories for a town like ours,” Ireton said. “Good news for a city that is turning a corner in its history. Yet I have to say it has been the crime rate that had dominated 2010 and will do so again in 2011.”
Ireton said that 2010 was the first full year of the Safe Street coalition in Salisbury. He reported a 17.8-percent decrease in part one crimes throughout the city, which amounts to 657 fewer part one crimes in 2010 when compared to 2009.
“Our goal of increased community policing is paying off as we’ve opened the Princeton Avenue City Service Center,” Ireton said.
The center has helped decrease part one crime in the Princeton Homes neighborhood, across from Bennett High School, by 25 percent in the last six months of 2010.
“Our safe streets plan is a holistic one,” Ireton said.
The Safe Street plan targets violent offenders to keep them off the street, and it targets slum and blight in all of the city’s neighborhoods.
“As we move forward into 2011, we are committed to taking these efforts to even greater heights,” Ireton said.
Ireton explained that the process of applying for a United States Office of Juvenile Justice grant has begun and will be used to address the city’s gang issues by targeting young people before they choose gang life. Also, the public will see the reactivation of the citizen’s police academy in March.
Ireton plans to present the city council with another plan for the city budget to open another service center that mirrors the efforts made in the Princeton Homes neighborhood.
The mayor said, “17.8 percent is not good enough, but I will say this; Salisbury has turned a corner in its fight.”
Ireton said that the city no longer views the risk of too many units in a converted or single family dwelling, over occupancy, multiple police calls, or multiple code violations “just as business as usual”.
“The safety of our residents, both our homeowners and our renters, is now our top priority,” Ireton said.
According to Ireton, the Safe Streets legislative package has finally made it on a City Council work session agenda even after the objection of rental industry leaders.
“Salisbury has turned a corner my friends,” Ireton said. “This administration…has chosen safety over slum and blight, people over profits and neighborhoods over cash cow properties for investors that do not work here.”
He said that the administration will change the way that the Board of Zoning Appeals does business by placing Salisbury residents on a level playing field with a multimillion dollar rental industry that has run Salisbury for decades.
“I won’t back up, I will not apply the brakes, I will not change course,” Ireton said. “It’s 2011 and the era of the good old boy network is over in this town.”
Ireton will introduce another round of legislative initiatives including vacant property receivership, amendments to existing habitual offender laws, expand and improve the definition of blight in the property maintenance code and greatly expand the ability to identify blighting influences.
In 2010 neighborhood services and co-compliance officers initiated over 9,000 code violations. “I used to believe that we didn’t have enough code enforcement officers, I believe now in 2011 we have too many code violations,” Ireton said.
Ireton said that Salisbury’s neighborhoods are improving.
“A city addressing its blight makes homes safer for resident,” Ireton said. “Safer streets mean safer neighborhoods and that leads to a lower crime rate and a better Salisbury.”
Ireton said reviving the Wicomico River has always been one of his highest priorities, and the Wicomico River Project was formed shortly after his election.
“I knew the bar would have to be set high and the goals would have to be long term,” Ireton said.
In 2010, abandoned barges in the north prong have been removed and the first outfall gross pollutant trap has been attached to an outfall pipe in the east prong of the river that will catch litter.
“That litter has become the mental picture that citizens have of the Wicomico River right now,” Ireton said.
The city will install eight more nets this year and the mayor hopes the installation of outfall pipes throughout the river will eventually be included on the city’s capital improvement project list.
The city’s initiative to reduce its carbon footprint by taking such actions as introducing bio diesel fuel to the fire department and installing L.E.D lights in the downtown parking garage has led to a decrease in Salisbury’s carbon footprint by 2.67 metric tons of greenhouse gases. By replacing the lights in parking garage it has saved taxpayers $30,000 and reduced electricity usage.
“This is a progressive city dedicated to a progressive future,” Ireton said.
He also said that the city has turned a corner with how the taxpayers’ money is spent.
“Dollar wise, our financial policies have put us in a position to spend only the revenue each year that we have been given and not to rely on surplus for operating costs,” Ireton said.
From fiscal year 2010-2011, the general fund budget has dropped 7.8 percent, but the biggest drop in revenue last year was the loss of highway user funds of $1.7 million out of general fund.
“I believe government has to move forward and we cannot be scared to spend money,” Ireton said.
This fiscal year he will propose to take out $600,000 of the capital reserve funds for street paving projects that will connect the infrastructure work involved with the State Highway Administration and the Public Works Department.
According to Ireton, department heads have been informed to reduce their budgets again, but this time by 5 percent. In the current fiscal year 2011, department budgets were reduced by 11 percent.
“I believe this government has a responsibility to spend money wisely,” Ireton said.