The following is Mayor Judy Jordan Johnson's State of the City Address as delivered to the Lawrenceville City Council on Monday, January 7, 2013:
STATE OF THE CITY ADDRESS
Before I begin I would like to recognize the council that has served with me during my first term… Mr. Tony Powell, Mr. Bob Clark, Mrs. Marie Beiser and Mr. P.K. Martin, IV. You have helped me determine the needs of Lawrenceville and set a course for the direction of the city. My thanks also goes to Tony Powell in his service as Mayor Pro Tem.
It has been an honor to serve with you and I look forward to our work together this year as we continue to make Lawrenceville the best county seat in Georgia.
I have completed my first term as your mayor and it has been an honor to serve the citizens of the City of Lawrenceville. Thank you for your trust in electing me as well as Council Members Tony Powell and Marie Beiser to another term. I am mindful of the responsibilities as the leader of this City. Each week there are important decisions to be made but these decisions are not mine alone. As mayor, I have a role in these decisions but I also depend on the council and staff for advice and support. With some decisions, many will not be happy but our decisions are based on the best interests of our citizens and future of the City of Lawrenceville.
During this past year, disasters, both natural and man-made, have disrupted the lives of many fellow Americans. The thoughts and prayers of America have sustained these Americans. I pray every day for our city, our citizens, and my role in the decisions of the day. Even in the worst of circumstances, I have reason to give thanks. I am thankful for the men and women who protect us each day both home and abroad. I owe a debt of gratitude to Chief Randy Johnson and the Lawrenceville Police Force for their protection of our citizens. I am thankful for family and friends who support me in the many activities associated with this office. I am thankful for the members of our community who serve on our boards. I am thankful for staff who also seeks the best for our city. Time does not allow me to name everyone but I do want to mention two employees. Bob Baroni, who is our city manager, has served with 8 mayors. He has a wealth of knowledge and I am grateful for his expertise in the functions of the city. Bob always makes time in his schedule to meet with me to discuss city issues. I have been told by other city officials that Bob is an asset to the city and I agree. Donna Wiernik is our accountant and oversees an 84 million dollar budget. She insures the financial accounting is done according to procedure. Her role in keeping up with revenues and expenses encompasses many hours of work. I am thankful for a trained workforce from the police officers who put their lives on the line each day to the people in our support offices who carry on the functions of the city. These people are the reasons I can say it is an honor to be your mayor and that the City of Lawrenceville is a great city in which to live.
Our economy brings challenges on all levels but there are blessings of living in the City of Lawrenceville.
We are part of the best public school system in the United States. The Gwinnett County Public School System continues to be a top-ranked school system. Georgia Gwinnett College, the college of the future, lies within our city limits and has an enrollment of 9500 students. This year Georgia Gwinnett College began intercollegiate sports and continues to grow. The city, through the DDA, and the college recently entered into an agreement to help the college expand its facilities. Gwinnett Technical College, with a Lawrenceville address, has received several awards including the Healthcare Excellence Award and an Early Childhood Education Award. We have the advantage of having our students stay in Gwinnett County and obtain a great education from kindergarten to the awarding of a college degree.
Gwinnett Medical Center is also within our city limits. This hospital was named one of the 100 best hospitals in America in 2012. The surgeons at the Strickland Heart Center performed 325 open hearts surgeries during this past year.
We have our Gwinnett County government in the middle of our city. Chairman Charlotte Nash is to be commended for her leadership of the County Commission. I have had the opportunity to work with her on several intergovernmental agreements and she is an exceptional leader with a great mind. She is a blessing to this county and a role model for future leaders.
Our downtown is home to the Gwinnett County Historic Courthouse, the Aurora Theatre, and many unique shops and restaurants. The Gwinnett County Historic Courthouse houses our veterans’ museum, which in eight years has brought 25,000 visitors to our city from all over the United States. The Aurora theatre brings first productions to the stage and had 8843 visitors during the Christmas season. The Theatre came home with 6 National Suzi Bass awards in 2012. The City has partnered with an art group to provide artwork in our vacant windows. There has been positive activity with regard to the film industry from production companies who desire to film in our city. The uniqueness of Sparkles, Oyster Bay, Local Republic, Upscale Consignment, and Lona Gallery continue to bring citizens to our downtown.
The City of Lawrenceville maintained its millage rate of 2.16 mills. The city continues to be proactive with our Quality of Life unit striving to keep our neighborhoods strong and vibrant. The council has approved various neighborhood improvement projects over this past year including sidewalk and lighting improvements to Paper Mill Subdivision and curbs in Forest Hills and Craigdale. A Five Forks Corridor Study committee will begin work in the next few months to make recommendations for improvements along that corridor.
During this past year, there have been several accomplishments for the city.
The City broke ground on the Lawrenceville Lawn between Clayton and Luckie Streets. Underground utility work will begin in the next few months as part of this project. The Lawrenceville Lawn will provide a new greenspace in our downtown area for our citizens to enjoy.
Two new wells have opened and, combined with the 3 other wells, the city is now producing over 500,000 gallons of water per day at the Mahlon Burson Water Treatment Plant. Although the city will never be independent of county water, the 500,000 gallons per day represents 25% of the total daily water demand. 3
The ongoing projects in 2012 of the Heritage Trail connecting Rhodes Jordan Park to the Justice Center, the College Connectivity Project, connecting Georgia Gwinnett College to the downtown area, and the pedestrian crosswalk connecting the parking deck to the opposite side of Crogan Street will see continued activity. The Farmer’s Market continues to attract more vendors.
This past Friday night, Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful recognized the City of Lawrenceville at their annual awards banquet. The city was recognized as Government of the Year for 2012 for our efforts in environmental stewardship and sustainability.
We continue to strengthen our staff to prepare for the future. We have hired an assistant city manager, Steve North, and an economic developer, Lisa Sherman. Dennis Billew is now the director of public works and Josh Ferguson is the director of planning and zoning. Phil Serrian was hired as our commercial code enforcement officer.
Our Lawrenceville Police Department continues its Citizens Police Academy. It is my hope that a citizen of each neighborhood will take part in this academy. Participation in this event will only make our city stronger.
Although we like to mention our accomplishments, we must also mention our challenges.
The closure of the Public Service Commission fines continues to be a challenge.
At the beginning of my term in January of 2011, I informed the city through an address of this type of the monetary sanctions placed on our city by the Public Service Commission due to problems associated with our gas department. Those sanctions placed a three million dollar blanket over the city. After meeting with the Public Service Commission during the first few months, the city was asked to comply with 17 mandates through two consent orders. The Pipeline Safety staff of the Public Service Commission has been going through significant changes. This process has slowed down the closure of the consent orders. Mr. Mike Nantz, the Director of Pipeline Safety, indicated the city should have a peer review in late January. Once the review is complete the city anticipates a reduction in the fines associated with the violations. I want to commend Mike Hutchins, Gas Department Director, Lisa McKnight, and all staff for their work with the Public Service Commission to complete these mandates.
The economy continues to be a challenge.
The City has the challenge of strengthening our economy. We continue to work with Partnership Gwinnett and our new economic developer to strengthen our economic environment. We have welcomed new businesses into our city during the last six months. Each new business has expressed an interest in becoming involved in the city.
Reduced property tax revenues are anticipated due to the reduction in property tax evaluations. This trend is anticipated to continue for several more years. Fortunately our tax revenue does not account for a significantly large percentage of our total budget. 4
One budget component that we are monitoring is health care cost. In light of many of Obama-care provisions, we will have little or no control over the new regulations and associated costs. Real costs will not be known until 2013. However the cost of the new benefits is expected to rise annually.
The City’s financial position remains strong in spite of the downturn in the economy. Department Directors have responded to the current economic situation by reducing their budgets accordingly. The City utility department continues to have some of the lowest gas and electric rates in the State. Our sanitation services are the best in the county. It will be a challenge to determine if a rate increase in our sanitation fees will be necessary in order to maintain all the provided services.
Maintaining our infrastructure remains a challenge.
Transportation, water and sewer continue to be the most important infrastructure areas that require attention. We must continue to address conservation and wise use of water. Since we are still dependent on Gwinnet County Water, any increase by the county will be passed on to our citizens.
In the transportation area, our local SPLOST program has funded substantial road improvements. As you know, the regional sales tax was defeated in July. The City of Lawrenceville had proposed several road and sidewalk projects which would have been funded with this regional sales tax. These projects will be on hold until other funds become available.
The cities and county were able to negotiate a service delivery agreement as required by State law. Chairman Charlotte Nash was instrumental in working with the cities to solve this issue. As part of that agreement, the 911 calls in the city go directly to the Lawrenceville Police Department. The number of increasing cell phones may cause an increase in this fee.
In conclusion, although there are challenges ahead, the city has made progress in many areas during the past year. You as citizens owe this progress to your council members and staff. As the national economy begins to improve, we will seize every opportunity for improving our quality of life and the business environment in our city.
I am appreciative of the citizens and their contribution to our city. I hope you will continue to be involved in our meetings and continue to talk with the council and me. My prayer is for all residents to be appreciative of the council and the employees of the city. We are just like you, trying to do our job each day and make the best decision for the benefit of our city. With your help, we will continue to build on the strong foundation that was begun by our forefathers.
May God continue to bless the City of Lawrenceville and the United States of America.
Mayor Judy Jordan Johnson
City of Lawrenceville
January 7, 2013