To the members of the Bessemer City Council, elected officials, the business community, religious leaders, employees and to all residents of the great 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 each of us to be here this evening. I’d like to thank Mr. Alton Woodard for that introduction. Thank you.
Since 2011 I have had the opportunity of coming before you as Mayor of this great city. It has been quite a journey. When I entered office, Bessemer’s finances were in the red and we were millions of dollars in debt. When I ran for Mayor, I heard from many of you that the city had lost its sense of pride. You were concerned whether this city, founded some 135 years ago, still had a future.
We faced some tough challenges 11 years ago. But we managed to pull through by the grace of God, by working together and by having a resolve to make life better in Bessemer. I can stand here proudly and say we, being the Mayor’s Office, the City Council members past and present, our business community, and legions of dedicated and committed residents, have accomplished great things since 2011.
We have taken Bessemer from being on the verge of bankruptcy to being one of the most financially stable cities in this state. We have recruited new industry and worked to create thousands of new jobs. We are the envy of many cities our size who would love to say they are home to such major companies as Amazon, Dollar General, Carvana, Lowe’s, Milo’s Tea, Blox, and many others.
We became the first city in Jefferson County to attain a Class 1 ISO rating in our Fire Department. We built Bessemer’s first youth and senior Recreation Center, a New City Hall, a new Recycling Center, Bessemer’s first Storm Shelter and began construction on a new Rail-Trail along Highway 150.
We’ve demolished hundreds of dilapidated houses and managed to repave stretches of roadway such as Dartmouth Avenue, Fourth Avenue, McCalla Road, Center Street and Parker Road. We have landscaped and upgraded our Civic Center. As a result of the tornado of 2014 that destroyed Frank House Municipal Golf Course, we were forced to renovate the entire golf course which included a new clubhouse. We’ve purchased new equipment for our police, fire and street departments, and all other departments throughout the city. We’ve made improvements in our parks by making those handicapped assessable, paved walking tracks, installed new pavilions, and installed new playground equipment for our children. Our Bessemer Airport is trending in the right direction and continues to grow. By being good stewards of city finances, we were able to improve many public facilities and give our employees not only an improved working environment in order for them to be more productive, But we have been able to give our employees a cost of living increase six of the past eleven years representing a 15% cost of living increase.
We know we have many more hills to climb in our city. As many communities around the country, we too must still wrestle with crime problems.
We know there is still work to be done in making our neighborhoods cleaner, safer, and more attractive. We know there is work to be done in educating our children and giving them hope for the future.
But my friends, we know what success in Bessemer looks like as well. We know it comes through wise leadership. We know it comes from a unified front. We know it comes through a solid working relationship between the Mayor, the City Council and other city agencies. We know it comes through perseverance, diligence and with our eyes fixed on a better tomorrow.
Bessemer is a great city that is only beginning to realize her potential. And I believe we will get there if we continue to work together, strive for the highest ideals, and by keeping our eyes on the vision of a better tomorrow.
Because we have realized success in Bessemer over these past 11 years, the State of our City is strong in 2022. And because we will seek to work together, hold to what is good and keep our eyes on the prize, our city will continue to grow and be stronger.
I would like to congratulate the Bessemer Area Chamber of Commerce as they celebrate 100 years in our city. I would also like to thank them for their support of our local businesses and our community.
The economic environment in Bessemer continues to prosper. This past year Carvana opened its facility in Bessemer and has held hiring events to recruit an estimated 315 new employees. Lowe’s is close to completing its sixty one million dollar facility in Bessemer and will seek to hire an additional 150 workers. ABC 33/40 ran a story this past summer in which it estimates some 1,500 new jobs are scheduled to come to our city in the next few years. These will be good paying jobs that many young men and women in our city can pursue. In fact, our unemployment rate in December was 4.8%, down from the 6.8% unemployment rate we saw in December 2020.
You can drive down Lakeshore Parkway and Morgan Road and see the changes in Bessemer. Our future is bright because we have been able to recruit new jobs to our area. I, alongside Jefferson County Commission President, Jimmie Stephens, met this past summer with Governor Kay Ivey in order to discuss the very real possibility of making changes to Lakeshore Parkway and Morgan Road so that we can improve traffic flow to I-459. I left that meeting encouraged by the discussions as an extension of Lakeshore has been on the wish-list for this county for years. Bessemer will benefit greatly from this extension as it will open the door for new development to the south of town.
Our Bessemer Airport is exceeding our expectations in growth. The airport has grown from housing 63 aircrafts in 2017 to 120 aircrafts at the end of 2021. The Federal Aviation Administration has awarded the Airport a 2.33 million dollar grant. This Parallel Taxiway Renovation Project will perform a complete mill and overlay repaving of 7,205 feet of taxiways and the replacement of existing taxiway lights with a new LED lighting system. This project is anticipated to be completed during the summer of 2022.The airport had a historical year selling over four hundred thousand gallons of fuel in 2021. This was a record setting amount for the Bessemer Municipal Airport.
Academy Drive continues to see development. A new hotel is planned for the area. Two hotels are already under construction, The Church of the Highlands is building a new campus and many other perspective businesses are looking at the Academy Drive area. I would like to welcome our first standalone Starbucks to the city of Bessemer which opened this past year. I recognize that there is a need for more restaurants in our city. I will work with the city council to create an incentive package to recruit more restaurants.
Burlington’s is opening a new store in the Tannehill Promenade and a new Holiday Inn Express is nearing completion off Exit 1. We are excited about the future growth in this area.
The new jobs in our area have rekindled interest from home builders. Some 400 new houses are proposed for development in Bessemer. This will improve our housing opportunities for both current Bessemer residents and those wishing to move into our city. New zonings have been approved for housing developments off Murphy’s Lane, Cedar Creek and the Hopewell Road area.
Habitat for Humanity is currently clearing land and preparing to construct a twenty million dollar subdivision in the Hopewell community. Habitat for Humanity is also working with the newly organized Bessemer Redevelopment Corporation to build new houses on the city’s Northside. The two organizations have indicated a desire to work together on the construction of more new houses in that neighborhood.
We recently completed the marketing prospectus for our Downtown Opportunity Zone to attract potential new businesses in Bessemer’s Downtown. We have received funding to improve the streetscape in our Downtown from First Avenue to Fourth Avenue along 19th Street. This will make our Downtown much more attractive. We have a Historic Downtown district. The fact that we have historic buildings in our downtown can open the possibility for these buildings to receive historic tax credits from the state for renovation.
All of these are signs of a city with good momentum.
But we know one of the most critical pieces to our future will be the maintenance of good financial stability and a reduction in our crime rate.
When I was elected as Mayor, the city’s annual budget was approximately 35 million dollars, and today the city of Bessemer has an annual budget of over 65 million dollars. We have been good stewards of your taxpayers’ dollars and we will continue to make the decisions necessary to keep Bessemer’s finances strong.
This past year was difficult for the Bessemer family. On top of the pandemic, there was an unnecessary spike in violence in our city. This is a trend too common around these United States of America.
Bessemer finished 2021 with 29 homicides, something I consider unprecedented in this city. Too many times our police department had to respond to calls of someone shot or injured in an act of violence. And too many times we had to notify family members of the tragic loss of a loved one. This foolishness must stop!
If we are to reverse this deadly trend in our city it will take a partnership of the city, our police department, our faith leaders, our citizens, and many others to save lives in our community.
We are committed to attacking violent crime and death in our community. While some communities endorsed defunding their police departments in 2021, we will seek to increase the number of officers we have available here in Bessemer. We propose to hire 30 new officers in 2022 to help replenish our ranks and put more patrols on our streets.
Our police department has indicated a three-pronged attack on crime in this upcoming year. The first goal is to identify, investigate, apprehend, disrupt, and dismantle drug trafficking operations in our city.
The second is to apprehend habitual violent offenders and to seize illegal firearms being used to commit violent acts.
The third goal is to work closely with other local, state, and federal agencies, as well as divisions within the police department, to reduce violent crime activity in the city.
All options are on the table to combat violence in our community. We do not want to leave any stone unturned in combatting this violent crime surge. I plead with the residents of this city to not remain silent. Be a part of the change you wish to see in your city. If you see something, say something.
I want to take a moment and commend our faith leaders here in Bessemer. For the past few months, you have organized through prayer and efforts such as the Seek the Peace Marches and rallies to draw attention to the need for people to seek other alternatives to violence. I requested more action from you and you have certainly answered the call!
The Bessemer Police Department has partnered with UAB and NOBLE to engage in crime reduction programs in high crime areas of Bessemer. The department has also partnered with the Bessemer Housing Authority to reduce and react faster to crime in our housing communities.
While the homicide rate did climb in 2021, we solved 87 percent of those murders. At the same time, other violent crimes continued to fall in our city. Overall, violent crime was down in Bessemer by almost 44 percent in 2021 compared to 2020.
COVID-19 continues to be a concern across this nation and Bessemer is no different. I am proud of the role our city employees have taken during this pandemic, serving even in cases where they or their families have been exposed to the virus. All of them have been essential, which is why along with the City Council we approved hazard pay for all employees on two occasions in 2021. This assisted our employees in recovering from the pandemic.
Many of our own employees became ill this past year. Our Fire Department has been at the forefront of our efforts to combat the virus in the city. The EMS Division of the Fire Department developed the city’s COVID-19 guidelines and set up a testing site for city employees, performing thousands of tests.
The effects of the pandemic impacted ambulance service in Jefferson County and we were not spared. By acting quickly, this administration and the City Council arranged for the purchase of two new ambulances for Bessemer. These will go into service when private ambulance services are unavailable to transport patients in our city. In addition, we have purchased three new fire trucks scheduled to come online this summer.
I want to take this opportunity to thank Congresswoman Terri Sewell for being visible and active in our city. Congresswoman Sewell held a job fair at the Bessemer Civic Center this past year and helped secure almost thirty million dollars in American Rescue Act funds for the city and our school system.
I also have been working with the Congresswoman and her office on ending the challenge of trains parking on the tracks in our community.
The city of Bessemer’s Economic and Community Development, under the direction of the newly appointed Director, Toraine Norris, used more than $500,000 in CARES ACT funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to assist residents in Bessemer impacted by COVID-19. We used federal Community Development Block Grant funds to assist families with rental and utility assistance through a partnership with the Birmingham Urban League. These households received an average of $2,300 in assistance to help them pay delinquent rent or utility payments.
In addition, we sponsored the city’s first-ever Microenterprise grant program to help businesses who were not able to receive assistance from the Small Business Administration or the federal PPP program.
A total of 16 small businesses enrolled in a program in partnership with Create Birmingham and received both technical assistance and the opportunity to use up to $5000 in grant funds to propel their businesses forward after the lockdowns and mandates of 2020. This program is expected to end in June of this year.
Finally, we dedicated CDBG CARES Act funding to the Meals on Wheels program. Since October this has funded meal delivery to some 122 seniors in Bessemer and provided some 350 stopgap meals to seniors who had been waiting to come into the program.
Our Emergency Housing Grant program assisted 17 seniors with home repairs at an average cost of $5,000.
Bessemer Utilities also assisted with the pandemic for our residents. The agency ensured customers did not accrue any late charges for 9 months and utility services was not interrupted for 9 months during the height of the pandemic. We also connected Bessemer customers with Community Resources who were providing financial assistance.
Cleanliness is one of the issues I campaigned on when I chose to run for Mayor of Bessemer back in 2010. It remains near and dear to me, but I need your help in keeping this city clean. Our Public Improvements Department is doing its part. Despite turnover in staff and the impacts of the pandemic, last year city workers collected almost 25,000 bags of litter from off our city streets last year. That is an average of almost 100 bags of litter a day!
We were one of the first cities in this county to create litter crews to simply pick trash up off our street. I am proud of that fact. But I am not proud of the way we maintain and care for our neighborhoods and communities. We must do better. These are the places where we live. Trash and litter affect the quality of life in our communities in many ways.
Our city is an older city and we must continue to look at ways to upgrade our infrastructure, whether it be Bessemer’s streets, water lines or utilities. That includes paving streets in Bessemer. We have secured eight million dollars from the bond market to pave much needed streets throughout our city. I’m looking forward to sitting down with the city council to expedite this process.
We have been working with both Bessemer Electric and Alabama Power to improve lighting in our city neighborhoods. About 90 percent of Bessemer Electric lights have been upgraded from the old lights to new LED lights as of December. In addition, a new 15th Street Water tank will be bid later this month to help us improve water delivery service in our city.
Our neighborhoods in Bessemer can be redeveloped. We must continue to demolish blighted and dilapidated structures in our neighborhoods. This past year we demolished 37 structures. Over the past 10 years, we have demolished over 500 structures in this city. These are structures which weigh on the quality of life in our neighborhoods.
This past year, the city, through Storm Water, led the effort to complete the Valley Creek Flood Study. This study is now in Washington D.C. awaiting approval to move the design phase. We want residents in our Pipe Shop community to feel secure in their homes.
I want Bessemer to be a place where families are moving to live, work and play. The Frank House Municipal Golf Course is doing great business and is attracting golfers from throughout the region. The Golf Course just recorded record revenues during the pandemic. Some of this money will be used to complete the golf cart paths at the facility next year. I am proud to report that our Frank House Municipal Golf Course has generated over five hundred thousand dollars in revenue last year.
We are making progress. I have enjoyed serving you as Mayor for the past eleven years. My heart is here and I have dedicated myself to working with each of you to make a better Bessemer.
Our city is poised for greater accomplishments in the future. Let us keep our eyes on the prize and continue to work together to make this vision a reality.
Bessemer is a great city and our future is bright. We have a lot to be proud of here in Bessemer. We have already seen what we can accomplish with just a few committed hands on deck. Now let us seek out new accomplishments as we seek to take our city forward into the future.
May God bless each of you and May God bless the Marvel City of Bessemer. Thank you.