Text of Mayor Charles Washington's Remarks to the City Council, during the 2018 Reorganization Meeting, January 1st, 2018.
I would like to thank everyone for coming to share this day with City Council and me as we reorganize for a new year. I want to congratulate Councilman Groce on being re-elected to Council and welcome Mr. Russel Walker to Council and look forward to working with you to move our city forward.
Ladies and gentlemen we are two years into the execution of a strategic plan to create a sustainable and tangible change in our community. Two years into a plan that was birthed out of necessity, inspired by hope and crafted through a unified vision of Mayor and Council. Already in these two short years this plan has been met with great challenges and in spite of those challenges we as a governing body and as a community remain inspired by hope and are united in making Salem a better place work, play and call home. Last year we focused on three key sectors that are imperative to the success of a thriving community; housing, economic development and quality of life.
In June of last year we rolled out our Neighborhood Transformation Initiative the NTI. This initiative brought the support of the Federal Government through the office of the United States Department of Agriculture; promoting home ownership in the city and wealth building for families and individuals taking advantage of the initiative. While we have been very thorough in our efforts to establish policy associated with this initiative we are continuously working to improve the procedures in conjunction with the Salem City Commerce Department.
This year we will continue to build on the foundation of NTI and the work the commerce department has done in hopes of attracting additional support from state agencies and non-profits to ensure proper procedure creation and establish additional funding sources for applicants. While we've had several unsuccessful attempts at program qualification it's our goal to get at least one qualified applicant moved into a home through this program and inspire others to home ownership.
Last year we took a strategic approach to our economic development by working with the state's Local Planning Services department to craft a Redevelopment Plan for our city focusing on our Port District. In addition; as a result of following through on one of our Port plans presented here last year we were able to secure an additional $23,000 from our Shared Revenue Agreement with South Jersey Port Corp. This agreement provides us 50% of all revenue associated with the use of our FTZ. Already this year we’ve been able to negotiate an additional $15,000 from South Jersey Port Corp. to market our port. With these additional funds we have more than doubled the $30,000 we had previously received from South Jersey Port Corp. for almost 30 years.
We've also seen the opening of our new manufacturing company Empire Blended; implementing Phase I of its operational plan currently employing a dozen people. Through our Commerce Department we were able to assist Empire Blended in securing a long term lease to increase their foot print for a sand drying operation which will yield an additional 20 jobs.
First quarter 2018 we will officially adopt our Redevelopment Plan; a plan that will be used as a guide to all potential investors outlining how we the people want to see our community developed for future growth. Second quarter 2018 we anticipate the completion of the county rail line and bulkhead to allow for Empire Blended to move into Phase II of their operations plan of ordering equipment; Third quarter Phase III a collaborative hiring event with the city to identify local hires and finally offering employment in the final phase of the plan in 4th quarter 2018 making 150 jobs available to local residents first.
Directly across the street from Empire Blended is the former Anchor Glass site. This site has been vacant for more than 2 years and this year our Council and Commerce Dept will put even more emphasis on coalescing all our state, county and local resources around finding an investor to make the site operational once again. It’s the goal of this Council as well as our Commerce Dept to secure the sale of this site and attract at least one new manufacturing company to Salem by the end of 2018 offering 100's of additional jobs for local residence. It is our expectation to see structural and capital improvements to the building in the months ahead such as painting, demolition of furnaces and roof work in preparation of future use and job creation this year.
With the infusion of expected investment in our City it is imperative that we make investment in our law enforcement to protect all stakeholders; investors and homeowners to provide for a safer and more productive quality of life in our community. Since 2012; this administration has hired 5 officers to a department that had been depleted through attrition. Those 5 hirings make up almost 30% of our patrolmen. This year we have allocated funding to hire 3 more officers to increase our Police department to 22 men; the highest staffing levels since 2008. While beefing up our police force helps our residents feel safe the best way to improve quality of life is for our residents to assist our law enforcement with cooperation. We as a community can't wait until someone is shot or killed before we assist our police. We need to be outraged that anyone would choose to use a gun in the city we live and raise our families.
We have to be furious enough to do more than post or tweet about a shooting in our city but to call and give an anonymous tip to remove all societal menaces off of our streets. The most effective police force is one that is supported and assisted by the community they police. It's the responsibility of all our residents to use their voices to collectively inform those that would break the law that their actions are not acceptable and will not be tolerated in our community. If we as a community; concerned citizens, churches, elected officials and police stand together we will be able to take back our community, raise our families in a safer environment and we will produce a community that more closely resembles the kind, hardworking and loving people that make Salem City great.
With all that we have accomplished in 2017 and all we anticipate accomplishing in 2018 we know that there are areas of concern we need to address. Economically challenged communities have become havens for offering poor quality food or grocery store closures creating food deserts in communities who residence don't have the means to travel to other locations or have multiple shopping options within the city limits. As a result residents are forced to buy over priced goods and poor quality produce from alternative sources like Dollar Stores.
Salem unfortunately has become part of the statistics in this category when we lost our only grocery store in October. Since the closure we have met once every week devising a plan to attract sole proprietors or independent grocers to the vacated site. We've sent emails to all major food chains and independent grocers then followed all emails up with an official letter from the city soliciting interest in the site. We've reached out for assistance at the state level and I've spoken and have been assisted by other Mayors who have experienced food deserts in their community. We've researched state and federal funding sources to address this need and have met with non-profits to discuss Co-op programs. Since that time we continue to meet on a regular bi-weekly basis to strategize on a plan to bring a grocery store to our community. Until we can fill the void left by the closure of Incollingo's we have sent out information to all residents about Charity programs within the city limits that can act as a stop gap measure to ensure residents can put food on the table for their families.
We have devised a plan to bring quality meats and produce into our community and we will continue to work that plan until our desired outcome is met. There will not be a quick fix to this crisis but we will continue to make this our main priority because our residents deserve quality meats and produce at a fair price from a grocery store or co-opt program within their hometown.
Although we face challenges and will continue to face challenges in the future; today we have more reason than ever to be hopeful. Today we are closer to having infrastructure improved to support job creation; that's something to be hopeful for. Today we are closer to bringing jobs back into our city; that's something to be hopeful for. Today we are closer to seeing our City revived because our residents have remained faithful, prayerful and stayed to uplift her and that is something to be proud of. The scriptures remind us in Romans 12:12 to “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”
Over the years Salem has endured its’ fair share of tribulation be it economically or socially. But our residents have believed in Salem and have been patiently waiting a brighter tomorrow. Those who've been patient have done so in constant prayer for city leadership and improved quality of life for all that call Salem City home. Because of those effectual fervent prayers, today we begin to rejoice in hope; we rejoice in hope because we've endured our valley now it's time to embrace the peaks of success. We rejoice in hope because hope has brought us to today and hope will carry us through tomorrow. We rejoice in hope for I am persuaded Salem's greatest days are not behind her by but lie still ahead.
Thank you; God Bless you and God Bless Salem City.