Salisbury mayor gives rousing report on city

From an abundance of jobs to a dipping crime rate to a bustling Downtown, there’s good news in Salisbury, the kind that makes the mayor break into his signature grin.

“We have a lot to be optimistic about in Salisbury. Salisbury is alive,” an upbeat Mayor Jake Day said, as he presented his first State of the City address.

“A year ago, my daughter Lilly was born. A week ago, my daughter Olivia was born. I’m afraid you’re going to expect that every time we do this State of the City, there’s going to be another baby. And I’m afraid I’ll have to disappoint you,” he said to laughter from the standing room only crowd in the Worcester Room at The Commons at Salisbury University on Nov. 17.

Baby Olivia has been hospitalized, but is doing well at Peninsula Regional Medical Center, he said.

With enthusiasm, the mayor ticked off highlights since he was sworn in on Nov. 17, 2015.

Among them are the TEDx conference held in Salisbury for the first time, selecting Officer Aaron “Bull” Hudson the city’s favorite cop, designating Dee Kelly favorite public official and launching the Downtown Trolley that’s had 1,300 riders in the past two months.

The long-awaited Streetscape improvement project is under way. There have been biking and walking events.

“But life in Salisbury is also about what goes in neighborhoods, in homes, in streets, and even what comes out of your faucet,” Day said.

“Right out of the gate, we rebranded our city. To be more accurate, we branded our city. Some people would tell you that’s just new paint on an old house,” he said, reasoning that a city must identify itself. Salisbury has, and is now known as the heart and soul of Delmarva, an easy city to live in near the beach and Maryland’s Coastal College Town.

“There are people who would tell you, you hear too much about Downtown these days. You know why? Because we ignored it for the past half a century,” he said, to nods and murmurs of agreement.

In the past year, Riverwalk was revitalized, businesses invested in and housing downtown “has shot through the roof,” Day said.

“People want to live downtown. People want to shop Downtown and we have prevented that for far too long. Downtown is the most expensive place on the Lower Shore to rent and is 100 percent occupied,” Day said.

Never before have there been as many food and drink establishments.

“We‘re in the heyday. We’re living it, folks,” he said.

A visitors’ center was opened Downtown. The parking garage has been improved, with better accessibility to the library and the Main Street Master Plan has begun.

“It’s going to stink” having roads closed and noisy, dusty construction, “but it will be wonderful in the end,” Day said.

“Not only will it be beautiful when it’s finished, but we’ll be replacing 100-year-old pipes, addressing flooding issues downtown and providing direct Wi-Fi access,” forming Maryland’s fastest connection for high-speed Internet, he said.

First Saturdays was launched, as was Fridays at Five. The successful 3rd Fridays is growing and the New Year’s Eve event “was the biggest yet,” he said.

Perdue Farms moved its training facility Downtown. Jubilant Cadista plans to offer 200 jobs in the next two years. RDI Wire & Cable Solutions Inc. announced 50 jobs will be added at the industrial park.

“There are more jobs now than at any time in Salisbury’s or Wicomico’s history,” he said. Although there are 2,701 unemployed people, 3,207 jobs are being advertised.

“You know what that adds up to? There are more jobs than people to fill them. That’s a good problem to have,” he said.

Jobs are in nine categories — health care, retail, accommodation, manufacturing, transportation, administrative services, public administration, finance and education.

In Wicomico County, 12 percent of jobs are in manufacturing, compared to 3 percent statewide.

Although the closing of Labinal caused the loss of about 600 positions, Salisbury now has 1,650 new jobs. “That job growth rate now puts us in the elite in the United States,” he said.

For the second consecutive year, the city has won a best-tasting water award. Because some of that water is directed to fire hydrants, they will soon have blue reflectors, to help firefighters find them more quickly.

This year, the ribbon was cut for the new Fire Station 2.

Code enforcement officers have continued to protect home values, making 10,631 inspections. Voluntary compliance is up more than 90-percent and the 10 percent who refuse to comply end up in court and are ordered to comply.

“All of this has allowed our home market to recover,” Day said, as photographs of city scenes and events flashed on a screen behind him.

“Our paving blitz hit every corner of the city,” he said. By 2019, even streets in the worst condition will have been repaved.

Twice each month, all streets are swept, to keep them looking tidy while reducing pollutants that get into the Wicomico River and Chesapeake Bay.

The city’s new Housing and Community Development Department has begun addressing homelessness. Salisbury is America’s first small city to form a Housing First program.

“There were 100 homeless on the Lower Shore a year ago and city officials are working to reduce that number. But it’s not just placing the homeless in permanent housing, but also having wrap-around case management,” Day said.

Concerning crime, the mayor said in 2009, the city had a considerably high rate, but since 2011 it’s been dropping and is even lower this year.

“I think that, Chief (Barbara) Duncan, and the entire SPD team, deserve a round of applause,” the mayor said, as the audience quickly complied.

The city has tackled the opioid problem facing not only Salisbury, but the nation.

During the first six months of 2016, there were 28 deaths from overdosing, with five occurring in the past four months. “We can’t be blind to this problem. We might not have it the worst, but we’ve still got it. This community has been addressing it,” the mayor said.

“There are those who would tell you there are bad things that need to be fixed … but we’ve been building great things. We have only just begun,” Day said.

“It’s going to take an army of people who are dedicated to keep this progress up. It’s going to take a change in mindset. This is what we can do, folks, in one year.

“You better believe I’m geared up for three more years, at least.”

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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