Woodstock Mayor Donnie Henriques delivered his 2021 State of the City address on Jan. 22, at the Elm Street Theater to members of IN WDSTK. Here are the highlights; check www.woodstockga.gov for the entire speech.
• The mayor began by recapping the city’s coronavirus response. The city provided six local food pantries with more than $40,000 to help families in need. The city also presented the Cherokee County School District with a $90,000 grant to provide 231 mobile Wi-Fi devices to Woodstock students needing remote access.
• With funding from the CARES Act and help from partners at First Baptist Woodstock and Vingenzo’s, Meals for Woodstock provided more than 2,400 meals at 10 events by the end of January.
• City Council waived or reduced business license, regulatory and other fees for qualifying small businesses, saving businesses an estimated $150,000. Visit Woodstock GA launched landing pages on its website to promote pickup and delivery options for local restaurants as well as online shopping for retail stores.
• The IT department quickly set up a system to hold completely virtual and hybrid council and planning commission meetings. Through CARES act funding, the Chambers is receiving additional physical and technology upgrades to continue to hold safe (and distant) meetings.
• In a year of distancing and reduction of public events, the city continued to provide outreach and engaging programs. Woodstock Parks and Recreation produced a virtual Memorial Day Ceremony that garnered national media attention. Instead of annual ceremonies, parks and recreation created an exhibit in the visitors center to commemorate Patriots Day and produced a virtual Veterans Day observance. The annual Christmas parade took place at River Ridge High School by organizing a reverse parade of lights, allowing parade-goers to enjoy from the safety of their vehicles.
• The Woodstock Public Safety Foundation raised more than $100,000 for community outreach programs such as Shop with a Hero. Explorer Post 1609 earned second place in its category against more than 3,500 other explorers at the annual competition in Gatlinburg. IN WDSTK raised more than $20,000 in Scarecrow Invasion and Jingle Mingle fundraisers, all of which was re-invested into the community.
• The communications team rebuilt and launched a new topic-based city website making it easier to find information. Parks and Recreation sought input for a master plan update and received more than 300% more responses than the previous plan, allowing staff to plan for facilities and programs based on citizen feedback. The SMART Woodstock plan for technological advances for a better experience in the Main Street corridor was completed and adopted. Pilot projects being considered include in-ground lighted crosswalks and parking availability technology. The city received a $135,000 grant toward a $175,000 Livable Centers Initiative Study to update the downtown and Highway 92 corridor development plans that were adopted in 2002 and 2013, respectively. The community engagement process began last month.
• Woodstock’s police department completed a three-year assessment and maintained national and state certification in 2020. Reported crime was down 21% from 2019, the lowest level in a decade. WPD instituted implicit bias training and provided training in social intelligence, doubling the state’s requirement. Gov. Brian Kemp recognized Woodstock Police Department for its Internet Crimes Against Children Investigations Team.
• Woodstock Fire & Rescue reached 7,152 citizens through outreach efforts, even with reduced in-person interactions. The department responded to 5,720 calls for service, maintaining a 5-minute average response time. Fire personnel completed an average of 309 hours of training per employee with a 100% EMS training and recertification for all personnel.
• The IT Department completed an Initial Security Assessment and assisted Fire & Rescue in moving to the new county-wide dispatch system. GIS launched DATA HUB with free data, maps, and web apps and worked with WPD to develop an accident analysis dashboard to improve information gathering on accident trends and causes. Using City Reporter Parks Inspection Software, staff found and repaired more than 200 faults at park facilities.
• The city staff has more than 200 full-time, part-time and seasonal employees across nine divisions who work daily to provide the highest level of professionalism, leadership, and customer service to citizens, stakeholders, and visitors. Three council persons were sworn into office in 2020. Ward 2 Council Member David Potts, Ward 4 Council Member Tracy Collins and Ward 6 Council Member Rob Usher began new terms.
• Rob Hogan was promoted to assistant city manager – public works in January, overseeing the public works department and the water/sewer utility. Jeremy Parker was promoted to director of public works. Coty Thigpen joined the staff in January as assistant city manager and oversees the HR, IT, GIS and municipal court functions. Ron Shelby joined the city in February as chief financial officer, and Crystal Welch was promoted to deputy chief financial officer.
• Janet Masey retired in August as the senior center coordinator, and Barry Martin was hired to replace her and charged with re-opening the center in accordance with public health guidelines, while offering new and exciting program opportunities.
• K-9 Dugan retired in 2020. In his retirement, Dugan will be a family pet and reside on a 25-acre farm with Danny West, retired EMS chief of operations with Cherokee Fire. The K-9 Unit welcomed Tesa, a 2-year-old Belgian malinois from Serbia. She is certified in narcotics, apprehension, evidence recovery and tracking. Officer D. Butler and K-9 Exo finished second at the 11th annual South Georgia K-9 Training and Certification Workshop.
• Henriques honored the memory of former Woodstock Police Chief James E. Stone, 89, who passed away in August.
• Investment in infrastructure improvements continued through smaller projects that incrementally improve traffic flow and pedestrian facilities. A major project funded this year, utilizing a $3.27 million infrastructure grant from the state, is the Hub Transformation Project, which will change Mill Street to two-way, add a roundabout, and add a left turn lane from Towne Lake Parkway to Main Street.
• Public works completed 5.4 miles of paving, 4.511 miles of sidewalk, and opened the Ridge Trail Extension and the Reeves Street Connection to Woodpark Place. Water treatment plants were completed as well.
• The city’s Sustainability Plan was completed and adopted in 2020. The goal of these programs is to define and implement the necessary steps to minimize the city’s negative impact on the environment while promoting energy efficiency and cost savings.
• The 2020 Little River Clean Up accounted for 200 volunteer hours, cleaning up more than 2 tons of litter and debris. The Bring One for the Chipper event recycled 397 Christmas trees. The Street Sweeper collected 255,3359 pounds of leaves and debris.
• The Adopt-A-Trail Program initiated in 2020 allows businesses, corporations and organizations to adopt 1-mile sections of the trail system for cleanup events. There are currently nine sections, all of which have been adopted.
• Despite recent struggles, Woodstock has seen a continuation of its robust local economy. While overall revenue was down 4.6% due to certain revenue streams being lower, the local economy was driven by retail sales and investments in construction. There was a $65 million increase in construction value from 2019, bringing the 2020 total to $185 million. Six hundred new businesses were licensed, up 42% from 2019. Forty-five hundred total permits were issued, up 44% from 2019. Four hundred and fifty-six single-family permits were issued up 42% from 2019.
• The city reduced the millage rate 3.77%. Debt decreased $2.5 million, and the debt rating was raised by Moody’s Debt Rating Scale to Aa2. The finance department received the Achievement in Financial Reporting Award for the 27th consecutive year by the Government Finance Officers Association.
• The Woodstock DDA opened Made Mercantile in November, with seven member companies located in the retail small business incubator. In conjunction with the city, the DDA closed on the purchase of the current Morgan’s Ace Hardware site. The current store will relocate to its new location this spring, just north of Ridgewalk Parkway on Main Street.