Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan / Staff photo
Fayetteville continues to set the bar high and lead the way for other cities to follow, Mayor Lioneld Jordan said Tuesday in his annual State of the City address.
“2015 was a great year, but we expect 2016 to be even better,” said Jordan, before listing several honors and recognitions the city received last year, including Data Fox’s recent announcement that Fayetteville is one of the top three places outside of Silicon Valley and New York to start a business.
Jordan said capital projects have moved forward at an unparalleled pace.
He named over a dozen infrastructure improvement projects that began or were completed in 2015, including extensions to Van Asche Drive and Rupple Road, an overhaul of Old Wire Road, and the opening of the Spring Street Parking Deck.
The city completed 3.4 miles of new shared-use paved trails and 3.6 miles of new on-street bikeways in 2015. Jordan said a trail usage study recently commissioned by the Walton Family Foundation shows that usage in Northwest Arkansas is on par with cyclists in San Francisco and pedestrians in San Diego County. The study, he said, showed that four sections of trail in Fayetteville are among the five busiest places for cyclists on the 37-mile Razorback Greenway. As a result, 2016 will see the construction of an additional 5.8 miles of new shared-use trails.
In 2016, residents can expect to see more improvements along College Avenue, continued work on the repair and rehabilitation of the historic bridges on Maple and Lafayette streets, and the opening of the new regional park in south Fayetteville.
Citizen demand for more electronic interaction with the city has led to a considerable investment in Fayetteville’s digital backbone, Jordan said.
Over $4.5 million in technological upgrades are planned for 2016, including replacement of the city’s 21-year-old financial software system, installing of new GPS location systems in snow removal vehicles, mayor improvements to the meeting rooms in City Hall, and the transition of the city’s television center to a fully-digital, high-definition system.
“Not only do we believe in transparent government and freedom of expression for our citizens, but we also believe in the power of images and video to capture the independent spirit and culture of our community,” said Jordan. “Sharing our city services and natural beauty, celebrating our accomplishments via the web site and social media channels, and continuing to offer more interactive services will keep our citizens engaged in Fayetteville’s democratic process and the future of our community.”
Jordan said an increase in workload on the police and fire departments has led to the need for new investment in public safety.
After analyzing call volume and response times over the past eight years, an internal study showed that the Police Department responded to a nearly 23 percent increase in calls for service and the Fire Department saw a 36 percent increase in service calls from 2008 to 2015.
As a result the City Council recently passed a new 1.3 discretionary mill that will establish a new police beat, an expanded dispatch, a motor officer, and a new company of firefighters that are expected to provide more coverage and quicker response times. In total, 19 new public safety officers will be hired in 2016.
“The cost for this increase in service is no more than $20 per $100,000 of home property value and we believe this is a small investment to pay for the safety of our city,” said Jordan. “We are a safe city and we will keep this city safe.”
Despite a 5 percent increase in sales tax collections and a 10 percent increase in tourism taxes last year, Jordan said it’s time to re-think the city’s economic development strategy.
“We need to take this opportunity to harness our city’s positive momentum,” Jordan said.
Residents were recently asked to help provide input in the creation of a new, five-year economic development plan called Fayetteville First to replace the city’s current goals which are based on objectives identified nearly eight years ago in the midst of an economic recession.
An online survey is available at www.fayettevillefirst-ar.com, and a public input session is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 21 at 5:30 p.m. inside the Mockingbird Room at the Fayetteville Town Center, 15 W. Mountain Street. Jordan welcomed residents to participate in the process by sharing their thoughts and vision for the future of economic development in Fayetteville.
Jordan admitted that 2015 wasn’t all smooth sailing.
An ongoing lawsuit against the city over its newly enacted civil rights ordinance could throw out the new law that prohibits business owners and landlords from firing or evicting someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
And City Council members were divided in several decisions, including approval of a new Walmart Neighborhood Market in south Fayetteville, and the rezoning of 200 acres along Van Asche Drive.
“Though 2015 was not without controversy, in Fayetteville our differences don’t divide us,” Jordan said. “They make us stronger and more prosperous as a community.”
Fayetteville still a leader
Jordan said while some may claim neighboring cities are outpacing Fayetteville, the city still continues to set the standard for progress and growth.
Citing estimates released last year by the U.S. Census Bureau, Jordan reminded the audience that Fayetteville has been the fastest growing city in the state for three straight years.
Jordan said business activity is also at an all-time high, with city planners processing 767 new business applications and over 700 building permits in 2015.
“You may have heard people say they are tired of hearing that everything is moving up North,” Jordan told the audience. “Well, I’m tired of it, too, but I want to ask you, when you hear these comments, to remember the successes and accomplishments of your city.”
Jordan said the proof is in the facts, and that Fayetteville is experiencing an undeniably vibrant and healthy economic climate, while still being known as a welcoming, fair and tolerant city.
“You live in a progressive city that continues to set the bar high,” he said. “People live and stay here not because of what we market, but because of what we believe.”