Mayor Cornett delivered the seventh State of the City message on January 18, 2006.
Isn’t this a great place to be? Yes it is! And I’ve made a quick list of reasons why.
We are building new schools, test scores are up and we are raising our educational standards and our expectations.
We are building new hotels. And one of those new hotels is nearly 100 years old.
Our air and our water are clean.
Our economy is growing.
We are putting more focus than ever before on street re-surfacing.
We have a downtown renaissance that is discussed and envied from coast to coast.
We have a new airport.
There is new development taking place along the Oklahoma River.
The relocation of Interstate 40 has begun.
We are building the finest horse show facilities in the world.
We are opening new parks.
We have one of the best zoos in the world.
Our public golf courses are offering unmatched value.
Our housing prices are affordable.
We have very little traffic congestion.
We are hosting an NBA team and our attendance is in the top ten in the league.
And we are safe. The men and women who work in our police and fire departments are people of noble character. And they are better trained and better equipped than ever before.
If you live in Oklahoma City, congratulations. You are part of the success story. You are helping to create a great place to live.
Welcome to the State of the City for 2006.
Time to discuss where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going.
First, several members of our city council are here today… let me read off the names of those in attendance, if you would please stand, then we’ll show our appreciation: Ann Simank, Gary Marrs, Pat Ryan
Thank you for what you are doing.
We are honored to have with us today many distinguished federal, state and local government officials. I know Chairman Hall acknowledged your presence but I’d like to take just a moment to thank you for your service and for what you have done for our city. We’ve had a lot of help from the state and federal government on the: American Indian Cultural Center, the Centennial Projects, the Heartland Flyer. And Congressman Istook, your help on the Oklahoma River deserves a special mention as well. On behalf of the city council, thanks to all of you.
My thanks to the Oklahoma City Chamber for putting this event together. I want to thank the event sponsor Dorchester Capitol; Clay Bennett, thank you for your continued support and generosity.
A friend of mine was recently sitting in a restaurant and noticed a woman kept staring at him. Every time he glanced in that direction, she was staring at him. After this continued for several minutes he finally went over and approached the woman. He said “I couldn’t help but notice that you keep staring at me.” The woman blushed and said “I’m sorry, but you look just like my third husband.” The man was a little flustered and all he could mutter in return was, “How many times have you been married?” The woman said “twice.”
You’ve got to focus on what you want! And that’s what we in Oklahoma City have done.
Fifteen years ago the leadership in this city believed that we could do better. They saw the potential that we see playing out today. 15 years ago, few people were choosing to live, or work, or seek entertainment in the inner city. It changed quickly.
Few could have foreseen the drastic improvements our city has made. But the best way to predict the future is to invent the future.
The vote on MAPS occurred in December of 1993. The first of the projects, the ballpark, opened in April of 1998 and, since then, a flurry of downtown development. A couple of years ago did a study and learned that the city’s investments in MAPS and MAPS for Kids had triggered a billion dollars in outside economic investment. We have a new number, today the amount of outside investment into the inner city since MAPS is two and half billion dollars. That’s a lot of new construction. And best yet, another $1.5 billion in new development is on the way.
It’s not just hotels and restaurants, Plans for new investment at Oklahoma Health Center exceed $300 million, and $220 million will be invested in Saint Anthony Hospital over the next few years.
In the past year, the number of visitors to the downtown library has more than doubled. The Oklahoma City Museum of Art increased its attendance by 30%.
Downtown is a new place.
This is a landmark day in our city’s history. We have video tape from this morning, the new Douglass High School opened today. It’s a beautiful school.
It’s part of MAPS for Kids. The implementation of MAPS for Kids is the single most important project going on in Oklahoma City in 2006. So, how about a quick review and then an update.
MAPS for Kids is funded by two sources. A penny on the dollar sales tax for seven years will generate just over 500 million dollars. And voters passed a 180 million dollar school bond issue at the same time. So, that’s a total of nearly $700 million dollars. Of that, nearly 550 million will be spent on projects in the Oklahoma City Public School System and the rest will be spent on improvements in our suburban school districts.
So, we collect the penny on the dollar for seven years. We have four years behind us, and three years to go in that process. The construction schedule will continue to roll out projects through 2010.
So we’re still early in the construction process. Here’s where we stand:
1. Construction Projects
2. Transportation Projects
3. Technology Projects
4. Suburban School District Program
Last year during the State of the City address, I spoke of the demographic shifts that were taking place in the inner city and I expressed my concerns that we make appropriate adjustments to the school construction and renovation program. We had plenty of classrooms but we needed to ensure that the new classrooms would be in the same neighborhoods as where the kids were. And if you followed the progress of MAPS for Kids in 2005 you know that the school board, the OCMAPS trust, the City Council and our city staff all worked to implement the necessary changes. We are moving full speed ahead and all of the alterations to the program remained within the existing budget.
The MAPS for Kids Program is proceeding, with projects being completed as scheduled. And again, since final revenues for the program will not be received until January 2009, the last projects are not scheduled for completion until 2010.
From start to finish, MAPS for Kids is a ten year initiative but 2006 is the most important year. As you know, we open three brand new high schools this year. While today is the first day in the classroom for students at the new Douglass High School, next fall, the students at U.S. Grant and John Marshall will move into their new schools.
It is my opinion that after these three high schools open, our citizens will begin to develop their own opinions about the success of MAPS for Kids.
Please know that we at City Hall understand the importance of this initiative.
Just as it was in 2004 and 2005, MAPS for Kids is our number one priority for 2006. I want to personally thank the School Board, president Cliff Hudson and Superintendent Bob Moore for their work inside the classrooms. Test scores are up.
Coupled with the first set of MAPS projects, the effects of MAPS for Kids is starting to create some incredible momentum for inner-city housing…
Downtown is in the beginning stages of a housing boom. In the downtown area alone, there are 13 housing developments with a total of more than 1,200 units coming out of the ground. And this is just the beginning. Demand studies indicate that by 2010, nearly 13,000 residential units will be needed downtown.
But as much housing as we see being created in the inner city, we are still expanding, as always, on the perimeter. North and South, East and West, Oklahoma City is getting bigger and bigger and with that expansion comes new responsibilities.
Municipalities across the country and especially in Oklahoma are running into financial problems. Because our expenses are largely based on the costs of personnel, our expenses escalate with the rises in healthcare. We are taking significant steps to become more efficient. Since I joined the Oklahoma City Council five years ago, we have eliminated over 200 positions from city government, all in an effort to increase efficiency.
In 2005, I formed a mayor’s task force to look at ways to increase efficiency and to redistribute more dollars into our overly stressed general fund.
As a result, we are implementing several new ideas. But we need to do more. One idea that I would like to see generate some momentum is for the different municipalities in the region to consolidate its services.
Here are some numbers that I believe illustrate some inefficiencies.
There are 15 Fire Departments in the Oklahoma City metro.
There are 16 Police Departments in the metro.
Plus there’s the Oklahoma County sheriff’s office with hundreds of officers.
There is ambulance service.
There are several layers of courts and judicial services.
There are 23 school districts.
If we were starting this community from scratch, it wouldn’t look like this. It has evolved and the inefficiencies have grown over time. Millions of tax payer dollars, perhaps even tens of millions are being wasted each year.
There is opportunity. We could consolidate city and county government or we could just consolidate some municipal services.
So where would I start? Since 2/3rds of our general fund is spent on public safety, the best opportunity for increased efficiency is in this area. And there are opportunities to be more efficient, not just in Oklahoma City but throughout the metro. We need to think of the taxpayers. We need to consolidate our services and think as a region, not as a series of cities and towns. Given our financial concerns, we not only have the opportunity, we have the responsibility to consolidate in the area of public safety.
We could save money with no decrease in the level of service.
We have several options but let me give you just one example: what if we took the 15 municipal fire departments and created one new fire department? We could create a more efficient system that would:
The men and women in our fire departments not only respond to fires, they are typically the first responder if someone has a heart attack. But putting out a fire, or responding to a medical emergency in one part of the metro, is not a lot different than performing that same task in another part of the metro. We don’t need 15 fire departments.
Pending more study, we could consider putting ambulance service into this consolidation, but regardless, millions of dollars could be saved annually.
Let me give you three specific examples of recent events that deal with the need for consolidation.
Recently, we had a series of grass fires that caused a significant amount of property damage. Many of those grassfires crossed the city limits spilling from one municipality to another. Fortunately, most of the fire departments in the Oklahoma City metro work well together. Ours has the most equipment, so we respond virtually to all major fires or emergency events. But do we really want an emergency management system in which one department is responsible for a fire on one side of a street and another department is responsible if it crosses the street? That’s a flawed system.
Now two other examples on the need for consolidation that don’t have anything to do with fires.
We recently concluded a community wide transportation study to consider our needs for public transportation for the next 25 years. It included needs for HOV lanes, enhanced bus service, there’s talk of more trolleys and, long term, maybe even rail service. But nothing, at least nothing substantial, is likely to occur as long as the municipalities continue to think individually. Transportation must be tackled from a regional basis.
And thirdly, we have recently had an increase in the attention given to high speed pursuits in the metro area. One of these chases cost us the life of one of our police officers. There has been continued discussion about changes in policy. First, understand that these chases almost always cross city boundaries. And because of state law, a municipality like Oklahoma City, has no control over the actions or policies of the highway patrol, the sheriff’s deputies or even police from another city. Understand, I support our current pursuit policy but even if we on the city council wanted to change the pursuit policy, it would have no effect on the highway patrol, the sheriff and his deputies and all of the other police officers in the metro. All of those entities are able to chase suspects through our city regardless of what policies we have in place. Consolidation would cut down on the confusion.
Keep in mind, a consolidation does not mean annexation. The cities and towns can remain independent but can begin to consolidate public safety so that millions of dollars can either be returned to the citizens or invested on pressing capital needs such as road resurfacing.
While we’re on the subject of annexation, you have probably heard of Oklahoma City’s own annexation policies of a generation ago.
Let me show it to you.
The blue area on the first map illustrates where we were in 1940 with a population of 205,000.
The second shows our City in the 1960’s when our population was at 324,000.
The third is pretty much what it looks like today with a population of nearly 530,000. The entire metro is about 1.2 million. With this map you can see where different municipalities fit into the picture, sort of like a jig saw puzzle. Just having a city this large creates inefficiencies. Having a large city and sprinkling in over a dozen other municipalities, most with their own police and fire departments, is wasteful.
We don’t need more annexation, but we do need public safety consolidation.
During the State of the City Address, it is customary for the mayor to use the opportunity to discuss current issues and to give opinions on ‘how the city is doing.’ I’m doing that, but I thought I would also take the opposite approach. The city has recently completed a comprehensive research project in which we basically asked you, the citizens, to tell us how the city was doing. So in a sense, here’s the ‘state of the city’ from your point of view….
We asked if you were satisfied with the quality of police, fire, and ambulance service and learned that 83% are satisfied.
We asked if you were satisfied with water services and learned that 86% of you are either satisfied or very satisfied.
We asked about trash collection. More good news. 88% are either satisfied or very satisfied.
These are good numbers – especially when compared to other cities.
So, what should the city’s priorities be? That’s clear as well.
Here’s what you say should be the city’s priorities. You want to see the most emphasis on:
We cannot discuss the state of the city in 2006 without mentioning our homeless and our jobless.
For the most part, our children live in a faith-based City which clings to long-held American values. But opportunity is not knocking on every door of every neighborhood in this City. We have work to do.
We have fewer homeless people than most cities our size, but we still have too many.
Our homeless population is growing as the city grows but fortunately our shelters are currently not at capacity and were not at capacity even during the frigid early days of December when temperatures dropped to a record low.
In fact, when I speak nationally of the things that I am most proud of in Oklahoma City, I mention our homeless facilities and our faith based programs designed to return people back into productive members of our society.
Conversely, when I look objectively at areas where I am most concerned, I gravitate toward the dreadful manner in which we treat the mentally ill. We should not be using the county jail as our mental health facility. There is a distinct difference between being sick and being a criminal and we are failing to properly make the distinction and fund the need. That’s more of an issue for state government than city government but it needs to be addressed.
We’ve created a lot of new jobs, but we need to create more jobs and we need to create higher paying jobs. We are proud of our low unemployment, but if you work at General Motors or another company facing layoffs, I understand the stress that losing a job can place on a family. Know that we are working to replace those jobs; and know that we have excellent job retraining opportunities available.
Working with the Oklahoma City Chamber, we’re making great strides in not only recruiting new companies, like Dell, but also in seeing our existing businesses grow and flourish. The word is spreading about the great quality of life that is available in Oklahoma City. Let me assure you, more good news on the job front is coming.
We have a growing population of Spanish-speaking residents in Oklahoma City. In fact, the typical student in the Oklahoma City Public School System is not white or black. There are more Hispanic students than any demographic grouping. Many teachers have expressed concern to me about students who speak English at school but go home to Spanish-speaking environments and the effect that has on their ability to learn.
One of my goals has been to ensure we have classes that teach English as a second language to any person who lives in Oklahoma City. And that these classes are taught by qualified teachers, and that these classes are free, and that these classes are funded by the private sector and not government.
We’re making considerable progress. Through a partnership with the Mayor’s office, U.S. Cellular, the Latino Community Development Agency and OKC Public Schools, this past semester hundreds of students enrolled in these classes. We need to grow the program. We need more ESL classes and more qualified ESL teachers.
Politically, cities across the nation are working to defend their tax base. Unfunded mandates are on the increase. Special interest groups are working to take away tax resources that cities have relied upon for decades. Cities survive on sales tax and the state legislature has through the years voted in over 100 sales tax exemptions that, combined, threaten to smother municipal government across our state. These exemptions filter down to our bottom line, creating increasing stress on our ability to fund public safety and other services. As I said to you a year ago, is it just me or do others find it unsettling to know that municipalities across this state and across the nation, have to hire lawyers and lobbyists to protect themselves from their own state legislatures and congress? I don’t get it.
All right, let’s switch subjects and have some fun. Let’s go ten years into the future. Pretend for a moment that it is the year 2016. Close your eyes if you need to. No one is going to steal your dessert. During this journey through time we are going to hover over Oklahoma City and take a look around. We are going to spy on the future: Oklahoma City in the year 2016.
10 Years from Now…
2016. Just ten years from now. This city will look much different. Think of what this city looked like ten years ago. The changes will occur even more rapidly in the next ten. We have a lot of work to do.
Before I close, I want to express my thanks to the men and women who work for the City on a daily basis. To the extent that I cannot thank each and every one of you each and every day, I’d like to ask our city employees here today to stand to let us all show our appreciation for all they do to make this a great City.
I also want to recognize my family. Lisa is here along with two of our boys and my mother. Would you all please stand. I know the stresses of this job filter down to you and I thank you for your support.
I want to recognize my executive assistant, Fran Cory. She’s been in that position for 35 years, and I am her fifth mayor. Fran, I know I speak for Mayor Latting, Mayor Coates, Mayor Norick and Mayor Humphreys when I say thank you so much.
And, I also want to thank our civic leaders. From people who work in their own neighborhoods, to church volunteers, and to the business leaders in the audience today, you are creating an incredible City. You are unselfish, you are hard working, and together you create the solidarity so necessary in competing with other communities. Trust me, it’s impressive and as I visit with other mayors throughout the country, I realize how lucky we are.
Some closing thoughts….
On April 19th of 2005, we noted the 10th anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing. It’s now part of our history. We’ve moved on. But we will not forget what happen here and we will not forget those that lost their lives.
I felt in 2004 with the addition of Dell Computers and the announcement that the Big 12 Basketball Tournament was headed our way that word of Oklahoma City’s renaissance had reached the rest of our region. That if you asked people in Dallas, or Denver or Kansas City about life in Oklahoma City, they were very much aware that the Oklahoma City of today was much different than the one they visited ten years ago.
In 2005, largely because of the NBA, that message is now starting to penetrate coast to coast. That’s important and it’s a nice accomplishment for us. But the best part is… the only thing that’s changed is other people’s perceptions. It doesn’t have to change us and it hasn’t changed us. We are a faith-based community that works hard and dreams big—It is true now and, God-willing, it will be true forever.
Thanks for coming today.