Woodstock Mayor Donnie Henriques delivered his 2021 State of the City Address on Friday, January 22nd at the Elm Street Theater to members of IN WDSTK. The address was live streamed on the City of Woodstock Facebook page and YouTube channel.
The Mayor began by recapping the city’s coronavirus response. According to Henriques, “In a very trying year, the city was able to act nimbly to respond to the pandemic and support its residents and businesses with financial support, virtual business assistance and communications and new programs to promote new ways of doing business.”
The City of Woodstock provided six local food pantries over $40,000 to provide assistance to families in need. The city also presented the Cherokee County School District with a $90,000 grant to provide 231 mobile wifi devices to Woodstock area school students needing remote access.
The city communication team produced a series of public statements and PSAs by the Mayor to disseminate important information during the shut down. Woodstock Police provided more than 2,000 personnel hours of security to the COVID testing site in Woodstock. The department also participated in several drive-by birthday parades.
With funding from the CARES Act and help from partners at First Baptist Woodstock and Vingenzo’s, Meals for Woodstock has provided over 2,400 meals at the ten events held to date.
City Council waived or reduced business license, regulatory and other fees for qualifying small businesses. It is estimated that businesses will save a total of over $150,000 dollars through these waivers. Visit Woodstock GA launched landing pages on its website to promote pickup and delivery options for local restaurants as well as online shopping for retail stores. Visit Woodstock GA visited and produced a series of videos talking with local businesses about how they pivoted operations to cope with public health restrictions (and learned to cook too).
The IT department quickly setup a system to hold completely virtual and hybrid council and planning commission meetings. Through CARES act funding, the Chambers is receiving additional physical and technology upgrades to continue to hold safe (and distant) meetings.
With building and office closures the norm in the early part of the year, IT was able to quickly install systems that allowed staff to work from home. Additional resources were put in place to allow the public to continue to conduct business with the city electronically.
City of Woodstock is staffed by over 200 full-time, part-time, and seasonal employees across 9 divisions who work daily to provide the highest level of professionalism, leadership, and customer service to citizens, stakeholders, and visitors. Three council persons were sworn into office in 2020. Ward 2 Council Member David Potts, Ward 4 Council Member Tracy Collins, and Ward 6 Council Member Rob Usher began new terms.
Rob Hogan was promoted to Assistant City Manager - Public Works in January overseeing the Public Works Department and the Water/Sewer utility. Jeremy Parker was promoted to Director of Public Works. Coty Thigpen joined us in January as Assistant City Manager and oversees the HR, IT, GIS and Municipal Court functions. Ron Shelby joined the city in February as our Chief Financial Officer and Crystal Welch was promoted to Deputy Chief Financial Officer.
Janet Masey retired in August as the Senior Center Coordinator after 10 years of service. Barry Martin was hired to replace Janet and charged with re-opening the center in accordance with public health guidelines, while offering new and exciting program opportunities.
K-9 Dugan retired in 2020. In his retirement, Dugan will be a family pet and reside on a 25-acre farm with Danny West, retired EMS Chief of Operations with Cherokee Fire. The K-9 Unit welcomed Tesa, a two year old mainois from Serbia. She is certified in narcotics, apprehension, evidence recovery, and tracking. Officer Butler and K-9 Exo earned a 2nd place finish at the 11th Annual South Georgia K-9 Training and Certification Workshop.
Mayor Henriques honored the memory of former Woodstock Police Chief James E. Stone who passed away at age 89 in August 2020 at his residence.
The city’s Sustainability Plan was completed and adopted in 2020. The City of Woodstock is taking proactive steps to provide its citizens with a sustainable living environment. The goal of these programs is to define and implement the necessary steps to minimize the city’s negative impact on the environment while promoting energy efficiency and cost savings.
The 2020 Little River Clean Up accounted for 200 volunteers hours cleaning up over 2 tons of litter and debris. The Bring One for the Chipper event recycled 397 Christmas trees. The Street Sweeper collected 255,3359 pounds of leaves and debris.
The Adopt-A-Trail Program initiated in 2020 allows businesses, corporations, and organizations to adopt one-mile sections of the trail system for cleanup events. There are currently nine sections, all of which have been adopted.
City of Woodstock Public Works completed an auto-meter system upgrade allowing customers to monitor water usage through an app on their smartphone and reduce staff time through virtual meter readings.
Even with the economic struggles of the year, Woodstock has seen a continuation of its robust local economy. While overall revenue was down 4.6% due to certain revenue streams being lower, the local economy was driven by retail sales and investments in construction. There was a $65 million dollar increase in construction value from 2019 bringing the 2020 total to $185 million. Six hundred new businesses were licensed up 42% from 2019. Forty-five hundred total permits were issued, up 44% from 2019. Four hundred and fifty six single family permits were issued up 42% from 2019.
The City of Woodstock reduced the millage rate 3.77%. The city’s today debt decreased $2.5 million and the debt rating was raised by Moody’s Debt Rating Scale to Aa2. The Finance Department received the Achievement in Financial Reporting Award for the 27th consecutive year by the Government Finance Officers Association.
The Woodstock DDA opened Made Mercantile in November with seven member companies located in the retail small business incubator. In conjunction with the city, the DDA closed on the purchase of the current Morgan’s Ace Hardware site. The current store will relocate to their new location this spring.
The city continued to invest in infrastructure improvements through smaller projects that incrementally improve traffic flow and pedestrian facilities. A major project that was funded this year utilizing a $3.27 million infrastructure grant from the state is the Hub Transformation Project that will change Mill Street to two-way, add a roundabout, and add a left turn lane from Towne Lake Parkway to Main Street.
Woodstock Public Works completed 5.4 miles of paving, 4.511 miles of sidewalk, and opened the Ridge Trail Extension and the Reeves Street Connection to Woodpark. Water treatment plants were completed as well.
The Mayor shared photos of completed projects such as the roadway realignment and sidewalk construction of Rope Mill Road, the installation of dual left turn lanes at Buckhead Crossing and Ridgewalk Parkway, the installation of of a kayak launch at Olde Rope Mill Park, and the completion of the Downtown Playground and the trailhead restrooms.
In a year of distancing and reduction of public events, the city continued to provide outreach and engaging programs for its residents and visitors. Woodstock Parks and Recreation produced a virtual Memorial Day Ceremony that garnered national media attention. Instead of annual ceremonies, Parks and Rec created an exhibit in the visitors center to commemorate Patriots Day and produced a virtual Veterans Day Observance. Parks and Rec hosted the annual Christmas parade at River Ridge High School by organizing a reverse parade of Lights allowing parade-goers to enjoy from the safety of their vehicle.
The Woodstock Public Safety Foundation raised more than $100,000 for community outreach programs like the Shop with a Hero event. Explorer Post 1609 earned second place in their category against more than 3,500 other explorers at their annual competition in Gatlinburg. IN WDSTK raised more than $20,000 in Scarecrow Invasion and Jingle Mingle fundraisers, all of which is re-invested into the community.
The Communications Team rebuilt and launched a new topic-based city website making it easier to find information. Parks and Recreation sought input for a Master Plan Update and received more than 300% more responses than the previous plan, allowing staff to plan for facilities and programs based on citizen feedback. The SMART Woodstock plan for technological advances for a better experience in the Main Street corridor was completed and adopted. Pilot projects being considered include in-ground lighted crosswalks and parking availability technology. The city received a $135,000 grant towards a $175,000 Livable Centers Initiative Study to update the downtown and Highway 92 corridor development plans that were adopted in 2002 and 2013 respectively. The community engagement process begins in February 2021.
Woodstock Police Department completed a three year assessment and maintained national and state certification in 2020. Reported crime was down 21% from 2019, the lowest level in a decade. WPD instituted implicit bias training and provided training in social intelligence, doubling the state’s requirement. Governor Brian Kemp recognized Woodstock Police Department for its Internet Crimes Against Children Investigations Team.
Woodstock Fire & Rescue reached 7,152 citizens through outreach efforts even with reduced in-person interactions. The department responded to 5,720 calls for service maintaining a 5 minute average response time. Fire personnel completed an average of 309 hours of training per employee with a 100% EMS training and recertification for all personnel.
The IT Department completed an Initial Security Assessment and assisted Fire & Rescue in moving to the new county-wide dispatch system. GIS launched DATA HUB with free data, maps, and web apps and worked with WPD to develop an accident analysis dashboard to improve information gathering on accident trends and causes. Using City Reporter Parks Inspection Software, staff found and repaired over 200 faults at park facilities.
At the end of his address, Mayor Henriques announced the 2021 season of the Woodstock Summer Concert Series. On Saturday, May 8th, Christopher Cross will perform in the Northside Hospital-Cherokee Amphitheater. Black Jacket Symphony will perform Tom Petty’s “Damn the Torpedoes” on Saturday, June 12th. The Ultimate Queen Celebration with Marc Martel will take place on Friday, July 9th and on Saturday, August 14th, Steep Canyon Rangers will take the stage. The final concert will be Saturday, September 18th and will be Rumours, a Fleetwood Mac tribute.
The Mayor spent some time at the end of the address answering questions. The Mayor also presented the address at the Regular Meeting of Mayor and Council on Monday, January 25th at The Chambers at City Center.