As 2011 comes to an end, I can’t help but wonder where this year has gone, or the fact that my first term in office is up in just a few days.
As we often hear, time goes by fast when you’re having “fun.” And while I admit that these past years have been interesting, challenging and sometimes exciting, fun is not a word that quickly comes to mind.
When I first entered office in 2008, I had the opportunity to welcome the Seattle Seahawks to our city and participate in ribbon cuttings at The Landing and the Federal Reserve Bank. These were fun and exciting times in Renton; but within just a few short months, it became very evident that we would be hit hard by the economic crisis that was spreading throughout the country.
Just like the business community, we have been reassessing how we serve the public, learning what services are most important to our citizens, reducing expenses and finding new, more efficient ways of doing business. To deal with lower revenues, we have reduced our workforce by 14 percent while serving a population that grew during this same period from 56,000 to more than 90,000 people. And we cut several million dollars from our annual budget projections in order to operate within our means, while not recklessly spending money that we have in reserve in the event of a major emergency.
It has been a very challenging four years for local government, as it has for local businesses and our citizens. We have all struggled through the worst recession to face our nation since the Great Depression, which has resulted in the loss of many jobs, failed businesses, foreclosures of family homes and the loss of retirement security for many seniors.
We have made a lot of changes in the way we do business here at city hall, and I feel we have made great progress in improving efficiency while protecting vital services that are important to our residents and businesses. The city is blessed to have a dedicated workforce committed to providing quality service to our citizens. We have reduced crime and improved the sense of safety in a number of areas. We passed new ordinances that allowed our officers to remove troublemakers from our parks and trails for long periods of time, added volunteer park rangers and reduced incidents of graffiti by nearly 60 percent. In addition, we have made significant strides with the Sunset area revitalization plan.
Among our greatest achievements have been our efforts to engage and involve our community in city planning. We created the first-ever community budget advisory group to assist us in reshaping city service priorities during these difficult financial times, and engaged our citizens with the Pro-Parks Plan and Community Planning Initiative as we plan for the future. We also made great progress in partnering with our diverse community through our Cultural Liaison Group, comprised of representatives from most of Renton’s ethnic groups.
It has been gratifying to receive many comments from our residents praising the quality of service provided by our employees, from maintaining our parks and facilities and addressing public safety concerns, to the continued efforts by our public works staff to improve our roads and sidewalks. We have continued to help attract new businesses to our city, and our special events including Renton River Days, Farmer’s Market and 4th of July Fireworks at Gene Coulon Park experienced record crowds this year.
As I enter my second term in the mayor’s office, I anticipate more challenging times ahead. The recovery from this recession has proven to be very slow and we expect several more years of tight budgets. It’s critically important that we all chip in and help those in need in our neighborhoods and support our local businesses.
Despite these difficult times, there are many reasons to be optimistic. The economy is improving and I firmly believe our future is bright. Local retailers and auto dealers are already reporting growth in sales. Renton is positioned well to take advantage of the economic recovery in the next couple years. The news that the 737 MAX will be built in our city has helped to generate excitement and renewed enthusiasm. And all of this equates into more local jobs.
New apartment complexes are quickly filling up and The Landing continues to attract new merchants and restaurants. New businesses will be opening in the downtown and a hotel is planned near the Seahawk headquarters. Permits are on the rise for new housing and the city will soon break ground on three major roadway construction projects totaling more than $30 million, funded primarily through federal funds.
Better days are ahead!
Best wishes for a healthy and prosperous new year. We look forward to serving our residents and businesses in 2012.
Mayor Denis Law can be reached at email@example.com.