Tonight, I want to share my thoughts on how that new reality continues yet today but how we have continued to stabilize the city through a new way of thinking. This new way of thinking has called upon us to find the right solutions for our community, not the easy ones. It has demanded that we ask big picture questions and take long-term views of how we conduct business. We must find solutions in a proactive, not reactive manner. It has required that we act, not with partisan agendas, but that we continue to be courageous in finding the right solutions for our community… a community still struggling to fully rebound from the difficulties that have been placed before us.
And tonight, I stand before you to tell you that while we remain challenged by dwindling revenues and continuing obligations, we are healthy, we are focused, we are moving forward as a shining star on the horizon of communities facing economic hardship. We will NOT be a Detroit, Michigan, that could run out of cash by this spring and faces $200 million in accumulated debt – or a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, with more than $300 million in outstanding debt, – or a Central Falls, Rhode Island, the smallest city in the smallest state, a city with an annual budget of under $17 million but with $80 million in unfunded liabilities.
We are NOT one of the 100 municipalities across the country whose Mayors contemplated bankruptcy at the beginning of last year.
We are Wichita!
A city that has been thinking smarter, proactively and successfully planning for our new economic reality. Despite the fact that our property tax dollars have been flat for the past three years, this is the 18th year in a row that we have not increased the property tax rate! Staffing realignments saved $6.4 million in 2011, most city employees have foregone pay raises for two years, and senior-level management took furlough days.
Our focus on,
- Energy savings initiatives;
- Mitigation of rising insurance premiums; and
- Streamlining has left us stable.
We stand strong as a forward-thinking city built on;
- Powerful public engagement and good, thoughtful government;
- The reliable delivery of services to residents;
- The prudent use of the tax dollar based on return on investment; and
- Still we recognize the need to protect those who are in most need of our protection – the elderly, the disabled, the homeless, the poor.
Unlike in past speeches, where I focused on separate areas of interest to the community, tonight I want to share some good news from 2011, knowing that we should rightfully celebrate our accomplishments and progress:
In outlining our top priorities in my speech last year, I said this to you: “We must bring Southwest Airlines to Wichita” – and we did.
We planned. We pursued. And we negotiated. As a result, Southwest has committed to Wichita, continuing Air Tran service to Atlanta until the merger is complete. But then what?
We must ensure that the Kansas Legislature passes Affordable Airfares, a program that continues to keep average airfares low, saving passengers about $64 million a year. We need that appropriation from the State of Kansas in order to allow Southwest to eventually expand its service. I hope you will work with us in doing everything possible to let our legislators know that we want Southwest flying out of Wichita to multiple cities across the country in 2013. We want it. We need it. And together, we can make it a reality.
The unemployment rate in the Wichita area fell to 6.9% in December, the lowest rate in nearly 3 years. Through incentives focused on public-private partnerships that support new jobs, we have generated nearly $355 million in private sector investment and almost 1000 jobs.
We will stay the course on incentivizing job growth, especially in light of the recent Boeing announcement that has caused us job losses. We will incentivize new jobs – be it downtown or in the suburbs, as our people who want to work must be able to work.