Chesapeake mayor gives State of the City address

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — During his State of the City address on Tuesday, Chesapeake Mayor Alan Krasnoff spoke before some 700 people, expressing with enthusiasm the positive growth happening in the city.

In particular, he praised a project that’s on the fast track along Dominion Boulevard and talked about what’s to come next year.Chesapeake Mayor

“Two bridges crossing the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River will be open and carrying traffic in each direction, which means that for the first time in 50 years people won’t have to wait for a drawbridge to close,” said Mayor Krasnoff.

But in an interview, he said unfortunately that state-funded progress will come with a toll of at least a $1 for drivers.

“We were able to get $153 million. Obviously, we have to pay that money back,” he said. “We’re going to have a toll, but like I said, there are two caveats: we will keep the toll as low as possible, and Chesapeake will own that bridge. So, the money stays in Chesapeake.”

Krasnoff also noted plans are now underway to replace the I-64 High Rise Bridge in the next seven to eight years, which could cost $2 billion.

In other parts of his speech, Mayor Krasnoff pointed with pride to the city’s schools: “Our schools continue to lead the way in terms of excellence. Our student to teacher ratio is 22 to one, our 3.8 percent dropout rate is the region’s lowest, and our 92 percent on-time graduation rate is the region’s highest.”

The mayor also made it known that the city’s revenues — $550 million — represent double digit growth for the past three years.

The full text of Mayor Krasnoff’s address is as follows:

Remarks by Mayor Alan P. Krasnoff scheduled for delivery at the
Annual Chesapeake State of the City Address
Chesapeake Conference Center
March 18, 2014

Thank you.

At the outset, I want to express my thanks to Cathy Williams and Lieutenant Commander Lawrence McLin, my gratitude to Pastor Tina Davis for her invocation, the chamber for the invitation, and my congressman for his kind introduction.

For almost 15 years, Randy Forbes has been an immovable force in support of the almost 2.3 million men and women who wear one of our country’s uniforms, and he has been equally firm in his opposition to anything that undermines America’s ability to defend herself.

Needless to say, the Pentagon’s proposed budget has everyone on edge. That said, this I know: Randy Forbes is guarding the ramparts for Hampton Roads. For that, he has my thanks, and I am sure he has yours.

I also want to recognize and thank our constitutional officers and the members of City Council for their commitment to Chesapeake. In particular, I want to welcome Jim O’Sullivan to his first state of the city address as sheriff, congratulate city attorney Jan Proctor for her selection by Lawyers Weekly as one of Virginia’s influential women, and take the opportunity to single out and thank retiring Councilman Scott Matheson for his service.

I also want to express my appreciation to our state delegates and senators for their representation.

For me, visits to the General Assembly are usually associated with what I call polite requests for a little help, and sometimes I feel like I’m asking each one to jump into a legislative fire for Chesapeake.

Yet because of their support, and especially the leadership of House Appropriations Committee Chair Chris Jones, our legislative delegation continues to bring home the bacon, and I am grateful.

Also with us today is Mayor Kenny Wright from Portsmouth, and I want towelcome him to Chesapeake.

Now I want to introduce my wife Phyllis, who just last month was honored the Woman of the Year by the Chesapeake Chamber’s Women’s Division.

Like more than a few women who made the unfortunate mistake of not having a husband sign a no politics pre-nuptial agreement, Phyllis has nevertheless been at my side throughout my time in public office.

Together, Phyllis and I have been fortunate to raise two bright, successful children, but their achievements are due not to my capacity as a father but to hers as a mother.

She has served as a room mom and teacher’s assistant, raised money for countless worthy causes such as Chesapeake General Hospital, worked tirelessly on South Norfolk’s revitalization, and been a shoulder for others to lean on as they have confronted breast cancer.

Phyllis has my love, my admiration and my appreciation for her commitment to Chesapeake, and I hope you will join me to thank her for her service as our city’s First Lady.

Well. If you live or work in Chesapeake, you can feel the energy. But if you need reinforcement, consider these numbers.

Because of Chesapeake’s diverse tax base and low unemployment rate, 24/7 Wall Street has ranked Chesapeake one of America’s best run cities for the third year in a row.

For the second time, Bloomberg BusinessWeek has named Chesapeake one of America’s 50 best cities.

In 2010, 222,209 people called Chesapeake home. Today, the Weldon Cooper Center projects that our population is 231,542, and we’re just beginning to hit our stride. Yet despite the growth, Chesapeake remains one of the country’s safest cities, and we intend to keep it that way.

As for our financial outlook, city spending is down and our reserves are up.

Taxable sales increased by more than $141 million. Fitch has re-affirmed our triple-A bond rating.And the value of our real estate tax base increased by more than $550 million, which puts us in positive territory for the first time since 2008.

Considering what we’ve been through – and we’ve all been through a lot – I’d say these numbers say a great deal about our focus, our resilience and our ability to remake ourselves.

Our schools continue to lead the way in terms of excellence. Our student to teacher ratio is 22 to one, our 3.8 percent drop-out rate is the region’s lowest and our 92 percent on-time graduation rate is the region’s highest.

Obviously, the folks on the ground – teachers like Martin Glasco, who is Virginia’s orchestra leader of the year, and Michelle Prescott, who is Virginia’s school nurse of the year – have found ways to keep our kids safe and inspire greatness, and we can’t ask for more than that.

I might add that it can’t hurt our reputation that Steve Vutsinas of Grassfield High School was one of ten who were finalists for the Grammy music educator award.

Created to recognize teachers who have made positive impacts in students’ lives and in the field of music, more than 30,000 from across the country were considered for this award.

But it also takes leaders like Jim Roberts, our school superintendent for just four years, who has already been selected as our region’s best educational leader and is in the running for Virginia’s superintendent of the year.

These are just five of the thousands of teachers, administrators and those who work behind the scenes to keep our schools at the top of everyone’s list, and I’d like them to stand to accept your thanks.

As for higher education, our Tidewater Community College campus may not be the biggest in the region, but we’re rapidly getting there in terms of access and opportunities.

In point of fact – and whether we’re talking about pre-k or post-college – learning at every level will yield lifetime benefits, and be one of the most significant contributors to Chesapeake’s success at every level.

As I’ve said elsewhere, while other cities are beginning to develop their economic sea legs, Chesapeake is on a roll as confidence in our city has grown, and we have you to thank for it.

When I delivered my first state of the city speech, times were very, very tough, and the world was very, very nervous. In Chesapeake, investments for 2008 totaled $115 million, and only 608 jobs were created.

Last year, $226 million were invested and 1,166 jobs will be created, which marks the third consecutive year of double-digit, year-over-year increases. And if that isn’t a sign of confidence, then I don’t know what is.

Many of those who chose to invest in Chesapeake are with us today, including Lee and Liz Puckett from Atomized Products Group, Jay Arnold from DB Schenker, and Michael Beatty with Baltimore Fire Protection and Equipment International.

Also here Charles Womack from DESMI, Lystre Sutcliffe from USAA and Kelvin Holmquest with Kinder Morgan, and Ron Verostek from the Phoenix Group, which has been selected one of a hundred U.S. Chamber blue ribbon small business award winners for the third year in a row.

Each of these companies has said yes to Chesapeake, and I hope you will show them how much you appreciate their confidence.

At the same time, entrepreneurs like Maggie Birmingham with Experience Olives and Grapes and Bert Ortiz from Aviation Management Analytical Company have staked their bets on us, and I want to assure them and so many others that Chesapeake will do everything in our power to make sure their faith has not been misplaced.

While one company is importing agricultural products like olive oils to sell here, another is shipping them from Chesapeake and selling to the world, and I want to thank Perdue for choosing Chesapeake to grow its agribusiness.

In 2013, Perdue signed an export agreement to supply eight million bushels of its soybean crop to China, and I have no doubt Jerry Underwood knows that’s just the beginning.

The lowly soybean, by the way, is the next “it” food. Worldwide, they’re used to feed cattle, fuel vehicles, turned into food and used in all kinds of industrial compounds.

 In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s estimates soybean exports – last year worth more than half a billion dollars – will top 225 metric tons by 2020, outstripping wheat and course grain exports.

So even though the amount of farmland in Chesapeake is shrinking, our agricultural roots remain strong and our connection to a global food market is strong. Last year, Perdue purchased the majority of Chesapeake’s $19 million crop, and we have every hope that will grow.

To that end – and whether you’re a farmer, a startup or an established company that wants to expand – Chesapeake is doing everything possible to make it easier to stick a symbolic shovel in the ground and do business.

In particular, I want to give a shout-out to Peter Wallace and his staff from Chesapeake’s IT department.

When we said we wanted to take an antiquated system and turn it into an electronic marvel – a sit-at-home-in-your-pajamas thing where you could apply and pay for an online permit – he said – and I’m paraphrasing here – no problem!

When we said we needed to make it easier for residents to use the Internet to request service, they stepped up with a smartphone app.

When FEMA said we needed to help citizens understand flood zones, IT made it happen.

And when it became clear that we couldn’t rely on phone calls alone to reach out in an emergency, our IT folks rolled out a new system that uses everything but smoke signals to get the word out.

Register for Chesapeake Alert, and you’ll be able to decide what you want to know and how you want to connect.

As for areas where access to the Internet is non-existent for a wide variety of reasons, we’re working on that, too, and here’s why.

If you’re a farmer who lives off Indian Creek Road, you need the internet to know that the field you’re about to sow will soon be getting rain.

If you’re a student living on Land of Promise Road, access to the Internet is no longer a luxury. Instead, it has become a virtual prerequisite for academic success.

And if you’re running a small business, you can’t do it today without access to the Internet to buy, sell and deal with even the simplest of back office operations like reconciling merchant charges and bank statements.

In short, the notion of creating an invisible infrastructure that blankets Chesapeake is no longer some pie in the sky idea.Like it or not, access has become essential to educational and business success, and no one in Chesapeake should be held back because they don’t live or work in the right zip code.

On another front, I’ve created a mayor’s committee focused on technology and biotechnology advancement. I want it to push the boundaries as far as they can so that when it comes to creating high tech success stories, Chesapeake will be as competitive as the next city and everyone will grow and prosper.

But high tech isn’t always the answer, and sometimes it’s simply learning the basics at a Chesapeake public library that can foster personal success stories.

Although a job help program was already in place, a workforce development grant from the US Department of Labor was the first in the nation awarded to a library, and Chesapeake won it.

When we applied, we thought we would be able to help about 1,500 folks. Instead, almost 7,000 people were able to learn basic computer skills, write resumes, take tests, and search for jobs. . . and it all happened at a Chesapeake public library.

From any perspective, that’s a dramatic and substantial return on investment, but it pales in comparison to what those who found jobs had to say about the South Norfolk Public Library.

Said one, “Sallie helped me through applying for jobs on the Internet and I got a great one, and she’s an asset to the library.”

And then there’s Dwayne’s praise for Cynthia: I thank the Lord for all her help and love, and the South Norfolk Library job help program.

Beyond the heartfelt sentiments they convey, comments like these should also be object lessons to those who think everything can be measured with metrics.

In fact, dedication, compassion and understanding cannot, as evidenced by these examples of Chesapeake at its best.

Last April, a seemingly healthy 41-year-old named Tawnya Reynolds suffered sudden cardiac arrest and collapsed in her driveway in front of her husband, two children and neighbors. . . and when that happens outside of a hospital, very, very few are likely to survive.Fortunately, her husband is a Virginia Beach firefighter and was able to begin CPR, but Tawnya also credits Chesapeake’s firefighters and emergency service personnel for saving her life.

Ironically, Tawnya is a cardiac nurse, and writes that she knows that this is their job. However, and I quote Tawnya, “they do their job exceptionally well, and without them, I would not be alive.”

With us today are David Long, James Ellis, and Russell Deaton, who were among the ten others who helped save Tawnya’s life. Will you help her thank them?

Then there are those who are not professionals, but who also see a need and selflessly step up to meet it. A faith-based group called the Chesapeake Area Shelter Team is one.

From January to March of last year, CAST churches scattered throughout Chesapeake opened their doors to provide sanctuary for the homeless, the oldest of whom was in her 70s, while the youngest was just nine days old.

This year, the program is in full swing, and is a prime example of what a community can do to meet a very compelling need.

With us today is Trudy Rauch, a CAST volunteer coordinator. She and the churches and volunteers she represents are heroes in their own right, and I hope you will join me in thanking them for their service.

Also with us are two men who were chaperoning a Hickory High School marching band trip to Towson State University in Maryland. As they helped load equipment after the band’s last performance, Michael Toothman saw people kneeling near a man he did not know, but who had just collapsed and had no pulse.

Along with an unknown angel, Michael Toothman and Jeff Lowe began CPR in full view of the Hickory band and another from Georgia, and kept at it until emergency personnel arrived to transport the victim to a hospital and a surgeon who later said their efforts saved a man’s life.

But’s here’s the twist: Jeff Lowe is Sergeant Lowe and Michael Toothman is Detective Toothman, both Chesapeake policemen who – 250 miles from home – saved the life of a man from Powder Springs, Georgia who took what will undoubtedly become a band trip to Maryland he will never forget.

I call that service of the first order, and I am grateful that two of Chesapeake’s finest – Jeff Lowe and Michael Toothman – are with us today so that we can thank them. Gentlemen, will you stand?

I also want to acknowledge a group of folks whose contributions too often go unrecognized until the temperatures drop and the white stuff starts falling.

Working 12-hour shifts throughout the day and night, our mechanics kept the plow trucks running, our loaders stood by to refill them with salt and sand, and the men and women of Chesapeake’s city garage, public works and parks departments took to the streets to keep them clear and keep us safe.

I spent some time at the city garage on one of those cold, snowy nights just to be able to say thanks, and then I made it a point to shake the hands of over 200 of our employees and express my appreciation for their efforts.

With us today are Daniel Ball, Bobby Forbes, and Craig Strickland. Now it’s your turn to say thanks, and I hope you will.

There are many, many more stories I could tell and people I would recognize, but I hope the point is clear.

No matter how difficult the challenge, Chesapeake finds a way to turn obstacles into opportunities and not by looking away, because in most cases, every step forward begins with a complaint about what already exists.

A jail annex could have become an $8.5 million white elephant, but our new sheriff stepped up and took the lead to find a way forward. He has, and I’m personally grateful to Jim O’Sullivan for his work.

Based on a state police investigation and a review by Commonwealth’s Attorney Nancy Parr, it was obvious to even the most casual observer that we would need to change the way Chesapeake does business. We have.

When a six-way deal was in danger of collapsing, we found a way to bring everyone to the table to keep Oceaneering in Chesapeake. As a result, the company will invest $33 million and over 500 jobs will stay in our city. Wayne Jakubowski is with us today, and he has my thanks.

When it looked as though one of Greenbrier’s biggest property owners was having a serious set of second thoughts, we figured out how to find common ground so that Dollar Tree could move ahead with a plan to build a high-density residential, retail and commercial town center. 35 years from now, I doubt I’ll be mayor, but Bob Sasser will be able to take pride in what he has created, and I thank him for that.

Dealing with an engineer – any engineer – can be trying at times, but when Pete Burkhimer compliments Chesapeake for cutting through red tape to help deals go through and businesses open, I’ll take that as high praise. . . and so should you.

And then there are our bridges. We have lots of them, which is why I call Chesapeake the Venice of Virginia, and the challenge of maintaining those already in place and figuring out how to build new ones can be more than a little daunting.

Yet much to the amazement of some, we have. For those traveling Military Highway, the Gilmerton has been replaced with a new bridge that should last a hundred years, and been designed so that additional lanes can be added to handle up to 55,000 vehicles a day.

We’ve turned our attention to the 22nd Street Bridge because it’s a commercial gateway to South Norfolk, and is essential to that community’s infrastructure.

As for the High Rise bridge on Interstate 64, there’s no question that given daily traffic counts and the regional bottleneck that it’s become, something must be done. And soon.

For help with that modestly-priced project – which might cost as much as $2 billion – Chesapeake has been fortunate to be represented in Richmond by Delegate Chris Jones. . . who just happens to be the chair of the General Assembly’s House Appropriations Committee. . . and Delegate Barry Knight. . . who also just happens to sit on the same committee.

I hope you will let them and the rest of Chesapeake’s legislative delegation know how much we appreciate their commitment and support.

As a result of the delegation’s collective push to respond to what has become one of our region’s highest transportation priorities, we’ve been able to begin environmental assessments and what I call the back office essentials that are required before roadways can take shape.

At the same time, I’ve been focused on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway bridge in Deep Creek. That little two-lane bridge – and I do mean little – is going to become a choke point for those trying to find alternate routes to work and home when High Rise construction begins, which means it needs to become a priority in its own right.

Needless to say, every project involving a waterway and subject to federal oversight will come with challenges, and the AIW bridge will be no exception.

Even so, I am confident that with the continued support of Congressman Forbes and that of Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, we will succeed because we must.

And then there’s a little thing that’s beginning to dominate our skyline, and it’s the largest locally-administered project in the history of the Commonwealth.

Some people call it the Steel Bridge project. Others call it the Dominion Boulevard project. I call it nothing short of a fast track blessing for Chesapeake.

In just over a year, a 12-mile web of roadways has been created, 15,000 cubic yards of concrete have been poured, and 2.5 million pounds of steel have been fitted together at a pace that is nothing short of remarkable.

By next year, the first of two bridges crossing the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River will be open and carrying traffic in each direction, which means that for the first time in over 50 years, people won’t have to wait for a drawbridge to close.

By early 2017, what once was one of our biggest traffic nightmares will come to an end, and Chesapeake will wake up to an entirely new set of opportunities for growth and prosperity.

Will there be a toll? Unfortunately, the answer will be yes, but here are two important caveats: 

Number one, we will do everything we can to keep it as low as possible.

And number two, we – Chesapeake – will own the Dominion Boulevard complex, and every toll will be used to pay for the project and benefit our city.

But beyond a toll, there’s also the question of what this project – which, at $345 million, has become the city’s biggest in our brief history – will mean for Chesapeake.

Will Chesapeake’s next decade see a return to the budget-busting days of the eighties and nineties – where growth outstripped our ability to pay for it and property tax rates soared to $1.31 per hundred?

I hope not, because I’ve lived through those times, and it was neither pretty nor fun.

Instead, I want to encourage growth and expansion tied not just to the availability of open space – and there will be plenty – but also to Chesapeake’s ability to pay for new schools, parks, transportation systems and the infrastructure and services essential to keeping us safe and healthy.

Here’s why. Weldon Cooper projects that by 2040, Chesapeake’s population will be over 318,488. Now try to imagine a Chesapeake almost twice the size of what she is today, and it will boggle the mind.

But if you believe those numbers – and I do – it seems to me that those of us here today have an obligation to set the best table possible for those who will follow.

In many respects, we are already doing that.

We have just approved a 2035 comprehensive plan update and are in the beginning stages of a Dominion Boulevard corridor study that will be tied to a strategic plan for economic development.

This is not new news for those here today, but I think the results will underscore the opportunities we have before us if we dream big and work together.

For if we do, I have no doubt that everyone – from the farmers and families who own the land to the developers who want to build to the families who will fill new homes and spend in new shops – everyone will benefit and prosper.

How we get there will take discipline on the part of Chesapeake’s policy makers, but also courage on the part of those who are willing today to invest in Chesapeake’s future.

That said, we have a parallel obligation to the future to honor and preserve our past.

Nestled among the farms that line Benefit Road is a one-room school called Cornland.

By any measure, it is not a pretty thing and it is a monument to an era some would rather forget, but we must remember.

Built in 1902, hundreds of African-American boys and girls living in a remote part of Norfolk County attended Cornland until it was closed in 1952.

Some of the lessons they learned were cruel and harsh. As others passed by on buses going to another school, black children walking down country roads could hear the curses.

Once inside the classroom, children would read from hand-me-down schoolbooks as teachers would do their best to encourage their young charges to dream. Even so, there could be little doubt that the results would be mixed.

For some, time spent at Cornland would mark the end of an education, while others would become more determined to learn and go on to become teachers or nurses or engineers.

The names of many who attended Cornland have no doubt been lost to time, but with us today is Eula Riddick Brooks, who stands in their place.

To honor the accomplishments of many and the passion and sacrifices of others, next week City Council will approve a $10,000 appropriation so the Cornland School in Chesapeake can be listed on the Virginia Register and the National Register of Historic Places. That vote will help jumpstart efforts to preserve another important piece of Chesapeake’s history. It is the right thing to do, and we will.

In 1944, another kind of passion drove a young man named Harry Oakley to leave school at the tender age of 17, and join with 16 million Americans to fight for his country.

And fight he did.

By the time he was 20, Harry had been involved in the liberation of the Philippines, received two Purple Heart medals, the Bronze Star for Valor, the Combat Infantry Badge and many other campaign medals, served as part of the occupation army of Japan .and was on his way back to America.

Think about that. Harry Oakley had been to the edges of hell, seen men die, been wounded twice and was suffering from malaria attacks that could have taken his life. . . and he was still too young to vote. It’s amazing.

By 1947, Harry had earned his high school diploma, and left the Army a proud sergeant.

Harry, by the way, was born in Portsmouth, so I suspect he used the Jordan Bridge to settle in South Norfolk, begin work as a railroad engineer and raise a family. For my part, I’m glad he used that bridge, because it’s given me this opportunity to thank him for his service.

Like so many others of the greatest generation, Harry Oakley went to war because he loved his country.

Like so many others, Harry Oakley didn’t wait to be called, but volunteered as soon as he could. Years later – and not because he was asked but because he could – he would volunteer again as a pilot for Angel Flight

Like so many others, Harry Oakley was willing to give his life for his country. . . but sought little in return.

And like so many others, Harry Oakley did not come home to march in a parade, but to build a life and a future.

Over time, reunions that once drew thousands have come to an end, and many of the bottles of brandy saved for the last man have been opened. . . but we still have the chance to welcome Harry Oakley and those he represents home again. I hope you will.

But now – as we move into the second half of Chesapeake’s first century and a place where the sky is blue, the white board is clean and there are no limits to what we can do – what will move us?

For my part, I hope it will be the examples of people like Trudy Rauch,

Eula Brooks, Harry Oakley, the late Stanley Jennings and countless others who have created a solid foundation of civic pride and purpose.

The metrics say the state of our city is strong, and each year Chesapeake grows more robust.

But without people who care, a city – any city – is a hollow place.

And Chesapeake is not.

Our hearts are big, our backs are strong, and I have an abiding faith that because we dream big, we will do great things.

And because I believe in Chesapeake, I ask that the favor of God bless you and our city, and thank you for the opportunity to serve.

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