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To the members of the Bessemer City Council, elected officials, the business community, religious leaders, employees and to all residents of the great Marvel City of Bessemer, Good Evening. I'd like to start tonight, as always, by giving honor to the Almighty God. It is He who has allowed us to be here this evening. I'd like to thank Mr. Horn for that introduction. Thank you.

As always, I would like to take a moment to recognize the First Lady of this city, my wife Yvonne. Yvonne would you please stand.

Before I begin to discuss the state of our great city, I would like to thank you, the residents of Bessemer, for your confidence in me as Mayor. This past August you went to the polls and overwhelmingly re-elected me to a fourth term as Mayor. I am humbled by your continued trust in me as your Mayor. In 2010, I stepped out on faith and left my job at Lawson State Community College to run for the office of Mayor. At that time, you believed in my message of "Bessemer First". And over these past 12 years, we, the citizens of Bessemer, have made great strides in changing the direction of our city. I thank you, I hear you, and I will continue over these next four years to keep my promise to you to put Bessemer first and progress our city.

But as I begin this new chapter, I want to take a moment and thank some people who were instrumental in helping us move the city forward. This past year, Police Chief Mike Roper retired. Roper was a committed servant of this city for 32 years. Our City Attorney, Shan Paden, retired. During some challenging times Shan worked countless hours in helping us steer our city in a new and better direction. And last but not least, my very own executive assistant, Mary Ann Herron, retired. Mary Ann's role was just so important to this city, as she worked for years on your behalf.

So in a sense, we are turning a page in our city's history. A new team is stepping in to fill the roles played so well by those who preceded them. I have a new Chief of Staff, in Mr. Christopher Warren. Mr. Warren is a former police officer in this city and he is both excited and eager to continue serving this city in his new role. I have a new executive assistant, Ms. Ann Benson. She too is moving from her previous job in the City Clerk's Office to her new role as Mayor's Executive Assistant. When you call my office, you will hear a new voice in receptionist Ms. Tiffany Taylor.

We have a new City Attorney, Mr. Aaron Killings. And very soon I will be naming a new Police Chief and a new Finance Director. 

I would like to ask the members of our City Council to stand. Give them a round of applause please. I am looking forward to working with this new Council body to continue the progress in Bessemer. This new Council administration is composed of veteran members, members who have returned and new faces. However, I can assure you, the commitment to building a better Bessemer has not changed.

As Council President Ron Marshall has often stated, "working together works." I am looking forward to a relationship of cooperation and collaboration between the Mayor's office and the City Council. As our Lord has told us, "a house divided against itself, cannot stand." A divided Bessemer won't progress. A divided Mayor and Council, cannot do the things necessary to move our city forward. By being united (and it doesn't mean we have to always agree) and only by being united with a common goal, can the Mayor's Office and the Council offices be successful.

The same is true of our school system. We know there is much work that lies ahead for our school system. But much like our City Council, we have veteran faces and new faces on our school board. Would members of our school system in attendance please stand. Let us give them a round of applause. The work of moving our school system forward does not lie with our school board and Superintendent Autumn Jeter alone. The responsibility for educating our children doesn't begin and end with our teachers and support staff. It will take parents, community members, the Bessemer business community, City government and countless others, each playing their role, to make our school system the very best it can be. Our goal should not be just to have schools removed from the failing schools list, our goal should be to have one of the best school systems in the entire state of Alabama.

We have new representation in Montgomery in Senator Merika Coleman and Representative Ontario Tillman. I'm looking forward to working with them and calling upon them when we need assistance in Montgomery.

So this is truly a new day in Bessemer. But our commitment to our city must remain the same. We want a Bessemer that is great for business, great for families, great for seniors, great for the working man and woman and a Bessemer that is a great place to live, work and play. This takes commitment, so the theme of these next four years, whatever role you are asked to play in moving this city forward, is renewed commitment. We have accomplished great feats over these past 12 years, and as a result the state of our city is strong as we sit poised for a future filled with opportunity.

Economic growth in Bessemer is strong. Through the recruitment efforts of the past 12 years, residents of our city who want to work are now being able to find employment right here in Bessemer. The unemployment rate in our city continues to drop. It was 19 percent at the height of the pandemic in April 2020. But this past November we registered an employment rate of just 3.8 percent, which is in line with the national average.

We continue to see growth in the commercial sector. The city's Building and Inspections Department reported some 66 million dollars in commercial projects in our city last year, including three new hotels in the area of Academy Drive. Also, Academy Logistics is currently working on a new 312,000 square foot facility along Powder Plant Road. 

This area continues to draw interest and we expect more growth along Academy Drive in the coming years.

We have new restaurants which either began operation or are being constructed. For example, Applebee's is rebuilding its Academy Drive location. Taziki's Mediterranean Cafe has opened a new location in the Promenade Shopping Center in the fall of last year. So please make an effort to patronize these restaurants, as well as those who have been in business. Only by showing that we will financially support the businesses that are already here, can we hope to lure new restaurants and amenities to our city.

More than 4500 business licenses were renewed in Bessemer in 2022. This is at a time when many businesses across the nation are closing their doors. 

Over the past few years, we have torn down over 500 dilapidated structures within our neighborhoods.

However, I am excited when new housing construction takes its place. Our Building Department reported six million dollars in residential projects this past year with more to come this year. Several companies are remodeling homes in Bessemer in our Northside and Southside communities. New homes are being built in the Flint Hill community. This past year, we approved the rezoning for the Heritage Crest subdivision off Murphy's Lane, where some 242 new homes are expected to be built. Habitat for Humanity is building two new subdivisions in the Hopewell community for homeowners. And the non-profit Bessemer Redevelopment Corporation is planning approximately 20 new homes in our Northside and Southside communities. 

We are still committed to improving our Downtown to attract new investment. In the past we have improved the synchronization of lights in our downtown, built a New City Hall, and improved the streetscape along Third Avenue North near the Jefferson County Courthouse. We are now working on a new streetscape project to do further improvements in our Downtown by the end of this year.

This year, the city's Economic and Community Development Department, along with our Historical Preservation Commission, will conduct a resurvey of the city's Downtown Historic District, a project we hope will make it easier for owners of historic buildings in our downtown to acquire tax credits from the state of Alabama.
Our city's Finances are strong. At a time when many cities are struggling financially, Bessemer remains strong. We exceeded our revenue goals by 3 percent in 2022, meaning the city took in three million dollars more than was expected. At the same time, we managed to keep our expenditures under budget in year 2022 by five percent, spending three million dollars less than what we anticipated in the prior year's budget. That is a savings to you, the taxpayers of this city.

I want to thank our new Council for hitting the ground running when it comes to the city budget. They approved a 70 million dollar operating budget for fiscal year 2023 in December.

Our city revenues are growing. I don't have to remind you of the financial condition of our city some 12 years ago. We are financially strong now, we can pay all our bills and our revenues have doubled. When I came into office, our general fund budget was about $35 million dollars. Our city finances have doubled since that time and we are now using that money to do projects such as pave streets, improve our city's infrastructure, buy needed equipment for our employees and continue maintaining city services.

We remain committed to using city funds to equip and improve the lives of city employees. We have completely renovated the interior of our Fleet Maintenance Department and purchased updated equipment. Future plans in 2023 are to improve the exterior of the building in an effort to make more favorable working conditions for our employees.

While much has changed, we remain committed to being shrewd managers of your tax dollars. That will not change in the upcoming years.
This management of public finances has allowed us to address critical infrastructure needs across our city. Some of you may have already noticed that we are doing paving in our streets. Because we have committed to steady financial management, we have been able to secure through the bond market eight million dollars to resurface many city streets. In addition, we recently approved the use of one million dollars in Community Development Block Grant funds to do additional paving of streets such as 7th Avenue North from 22nd Street to 32nd Street, the Willow-brook neighborhood, and 18th Avenue North between 19th Street and 13th Street.

With the expansion of our city's housing stock, Bessemer Electric is installing new overhead lines in the Hopewell area and underground cable to support new housing developments in the Flint Hill neighborhood. 

Recently, we began work on a new 15th Street water tank to provide more efficient water service to our city and all of our customers.

I met last year with State and County officials, including Gov. Kay Ivey, to campaign for the long-­awaited Lakeshore Parkway extension. This project will align Lakeshore Parkway and Morgan Road and will be a critical component of our city's economic growth for the future.

Public Safety remains one of the areas where we will see a renewed commitment over the next four years. We know having a safe community is one of the keys to growth, whether it be business and industry growth or simply growth in our residential neighborhoods. Bessemer's challenges are the same challenges many cities across the country are facing in the area of crime. A few years ago, I called on members of our faith based community, our business leaders and the residents to be more involved in this effort. I am proud to say, they responded.

Throughout this past year, the faith based community and organizations such as Seek the Peace, city government and our city's police department have worked diligently to stem the tide of crime in our city.

The crime rate in Bessemer dropped 6.3% in 2022. This marks the 10th consecutive year of a declining crime rate in our city. Almost every major category of crime was down last year including homicides which were down by almost 60 percent. Our department solved 83 percent of the homicides that occurred in the city last year.

A declining crime rate is a trend we want to continue in our city. This upcoming year we will aim to hire 30 new police officers, train officers and supervisors, improve technology in the department by investing 1. 7 million dollars in upgrading our current body cameras to the latest technology. I also plan to explore the purchase of a mobile command center to address high crime areas.

Last year the police department removed over 300 firearms from our streets. The police department dismantled a maJor drug trafficking operation in Bessemer, resulting in the arrest of some 19 individuals on state and federal charges.

In addition, we are working with other agencies to make our city safer. The Bessemer Police Department has partnered with UAB and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement officers on a crime reduction program for high crime areas. The department is partnering with the Bessemer Housing Authority to reduce and react faster to crime in our city's public housing communities. Our police department is also working with the ATF, FBI, DEA and the US Marshals to link cases together across different jurisdictions, and to have firearm cases prosecuted federally.

This year, we started responding faster to issues by upgrading our telephone system for dispatching, adding a language line and a text to 911 alternative.

One goal that we must address is upgrading our Municipal Court and our jail. I plan on working with our city council in the coming years to address this area. Acting Police Chief Mike Wood has stepped into the role and continues many of the successful policies and actions taken to reduce crime in our city.

Let us all continue to work with our police department to make the streets of our city safer. Several years ago, Bessemer became the first jurisdiction in Jefferson County to achieve a Class 1 ISO fire rating. This rating is the highest rating available for a city's fire department, as it reflects how prepared a community is for fire emergencies. This rating directly affects the cost of insurance for families and businesses 1n our city. We were inspected again last year and I am thrilled to report that through the efforts of our Bessemer Fire Department, members of the City Council, and others, the city has maintained our Class 1 ISO rating. This helps make our city safer for you and more attractive to new businesses and homeowners. In 2022, there were no fire fatalities in the city of Bessemer.

We invested tremendously in our fire department in 2022. We purchased a new 109 foot ladder truck at a cost of 1.2 million dollars to replace the aging 1992 model and we also purchased three new pumper engines. We are all ware of the challenges we are having with ambulance services throughout Jefferson County. The city of Bessemer has purchased two new transport units to ensure that our citizens are transported in a timely manner.

One of the keys to maintaining excellent fire protection is growing and grooming homegrown talent to serve on the force. This past year the department mentored local school age teens through a program which is already paying dividends. Seven new firefighters have been added to our ranks. All of them are young men from right here in Bessemer!

City cleanliness remains a big problem in our city and one of my priorities. We have invested in our Public Improvements Department to do the work of keeping Bessemer clean, but if you want a clean city, you have got to step up and do your part. This past year alone, we invested $500,000 in the department on new equipment purchases, such as a new Garbage truck. We made major renovations to the Public Improvements building and partnered with Lawson State Community College on a training program which will allow our employees to obtain CDL licenses. So the Mayor's Office and the city Council are using your tax dollars to keep our city clean. But we need your help! Last year alone, the department reported collecting some 25,000 bags of litter from our streets and alleyways. This is in addition to collecting some 75,000 cubic yards of trash from our trash routes and some 15,000 pounds of materials at the recycling center. That is a lot of trash we removed from our streets.

In addition, the city's Stormwater Department hosted a Household Hazardous Waste Collection Day and a Valley Creek Cleanup in partnership with Jefferson County and the County's Department of Health. I encourage more citizens to participate in the Hazardous Waste Collection Day and the Valley Creek Cleanup.
I want to take a minute and thank members of our Beautification Board for your efforts to promote the cleanliness of our city. The board works with our Parks Department each year to plant new flowers and shrubs in Debardeleben Park and the board sponsors a Yard of the Month award during the spring and summer and recognizes homeowners throughout our city through a Neighborhood Beautification Initiative.

We are proud of our Parks and Recreation Department. We have some very beautiful Park facilities in our city. We have invested throughout the years in improving our parks, whether it be adding a new coat of paint on the dugouts at JS Abrams Park or installing new sinks to the men's and women's restrooms at Carver Park as we did this past year.

The Senior and Youth Recreation Center continues to thrive and grow. We currently have an active membership of more than 12,000 patrons. This past year we celebrated the 6th anniversary of the opening of our Recreation Center. The Center has become a crucial piece of our community, whether it be through the hosting of Movies in the Park events, or hosting outdoor concerts where more than 2,000 people attended these events. I am proud of our new walking trail along Highway 150. Thanks to an 80/20 Federal Grant, we will be building a pedestrian bridge over Highway 150 from the walking trail to the recreation center. This will connect the trail to the center without having to cross Highway 150. This project is scheduled to be completed by this summer. 

Our Youth sports programs continue to thrive at the center. Many of you may not be aware, but our 6U and 7U teams won the National Championship in football, and I am proud that more than 4500 seniors visited the recreation center this past year.

We made a decision several years ago to rebuild the Frank House Golf Course following the tornado of 2014 and it is paying great dividends. The course remains an attraction for golfers not only in our city, but in Jefferson County and throughout the State of Alabama. The success of the Frank House Municipal Golf Course has been tremendous. Several years ago revenues at the course were just $225,000 a year, but they have tripled in a few short years to almost $870,000. That is amazing growth for one of the last remaining municipal golf courses in this area. 

We have great activities taking place across our city and in our parks and recreation departments. We must continue to do more to showcase our city and show people what they often don't see in the media - the good side of Bessemer.

I was thrilled to see the return of the Bob Sykes Blues and BBQ festival and the Central Alabama Caribbean Festival to our city last year. More than 6,000 people attended these events right here in the heart of our city. We must continue to do more to attract events of this magnitude. We had people from all over the Southeast and even other parts of the world visiting our city during these two events alone. I am pleased to report, that there were no incidents associated with any of these events.

I tell people that it is hard for me to imagine how you can characterize a city, such as they do with crime rankings, if you never visit the city. There are many positive things taking place across our city. Our economy is growing. People in Bessemer who want to work are able to find good jobs and employment. Our police department and fire department are some of the best in this area. We have dedicated employees across all departments who work hard and want to do their best. We have great parks and recreation facilities. We have a great business community. Our neighborhoods are showing new signs of life. Our city finances are strong.

I'll leave you on this note. There are many cities and leaders across this state who are looking at what is taking place in Bessemer and asking how they can make some of the same changes and improvements in their communities. They see the great things taking place in our city. I tell them, it is because we have sought to have a great working relationship between the Mayor and Council. We have partnered with others such as the State of Alabama and Jefferson County to bring jobs and industry to our city. We have made investments in our employees and in equipment. We have managed our finances. But most importantly, we recognize the hand of God has been great upon our city these past few years. Because of these things, the State of our city is strong as we seek to face the challenges of tomorrow. With God's help, and by working together, I believe we can face those challenges and continue the great progress in our city.

May God bless each of you. And may God continue blessing the Marvel City of Bessemer, Alabama.