Resolutions for the new year: Neighborhood revitalization, reduced crime, increased revenue through new businesses, and citizen-driven initiatives will make Decatur a better place in 2020
The new year provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the successes of the previous year and consider how we can do better in the coming year. Below are some resolutions that will make the city of Decatur better. I invite you to share your 2020 resolutions for the city as well.
BOLD AND ASPIRATIONAL ACTION ASSOCIATED WITH NEIGHBORHOOD REVITALIZATION – The number one priority of the city council is neighborhood revitalization. Progress was mixed in 2019. Using demolition of dilapidated properties as one indicator of revitalization, the good news is that as of November 30, there were 40 houses demolished in 2019 (and possibly more in December). This is the largest total since 2014 when 48 houses were demolished. With that said, my best estimate for the number of houses that the city committed to demolishing in 2019 was 116 (35% of the commitment). Furthermore, the city’s progress is not keeping pace with the rate at which blight is occurring. From January 1 – November 30, 2019, the city declared 265 properties unfit for human habitation and secured by boarding up 149 properties. In 2020, let’s accomplish what we committed to accomplish and have action toward neighborhood revitalization at a level that reverses the blight that is occurring in many neighborhoods within the city.
REDUCTION IN CRIME – Public safety must be the top priority of the city, and in many respects 2019 was a worse year than 2018 as it pertains to crime. From January 1 – November 30, 2019, the city experienced an increase in the number of calls for service (over 1,000 more calls in 2019 [2%] compared to 2018), an increase in the number of criminal arrests (over 200 more arrests, 5%), and an increase in homicides (12 vs. 10). Simultaneously there has been a decrease in the number of sworn police officers (153 budgeted vs. 141 actual). It is unclear how the combination of fewer police officers and more calls will give the police department the resources needed to maintain current responsibilities plus additional proactive public safety measures that the department may want to engage in such as increased community policing.
The city council can play a role in reducing crime through the policies it creates. Neighborhood revitalization initiatives can create jobs and improve one's sense of place potentially reducing crime. There also may be city policies that can be modified to prevent crime in the first place. For example, requiring that all customers purchasing gas pre-pay will prevent individuals from filling their car with gas and driving away without paying. I have the upmost confidence in our police officers and our firefighters to keep our citizens safe, and in 2020, let’s have a city with reduced criminal activity.
NEW REVENUE THROUGH NEW RETAIL BUSINESSES – According to a retail leakage and surplus analysis conducted in 2018, Decatur is $144 million below its potential retail sales in six areas such as food & beverage stores and clothing & clothing accessory stores. If this retail leakage was brought to $0, this would result in $3.6 million in additional sales tax revenue to the city each year. The good news is that the city council is hiring a company to provide retail recruitment services and focus its efforts in areas in which there are currently empty storefronts. With that said, the city council’s decisions to prohibit cannabis dispensaries and other cannabis-related businesses such as cultivation centers and processors unnecessarily hinders future sales tax revenue growth. For example, the city estimated the tax revenue from a cannabis dispensary at between $206,000 to $360,000 annually. Whatever the negative effects Decatur is experiencing by the state’s legalizing cannabis, by opting-out Decatur is losing the additional revenue to counteract the effects. In 2020, let’s have a city where citizens have the opportunity to purchase products they want in Decatur as opposed to driving elsewhere to purchase them.
CITIZEN-DRIVEN INITIATIVES WILL ADVANCE OUR CITY – As my third year on the city council comes to an end, I have found a significant increase in the level of public engagement on issues facing our city. Through face-to-face conversations, phone calls, e-mails, and social media, it is heartening to see greater levels of citizen participation and I encourage everyone to participate as they are able. I would also encourage individuals to focus on the issues as opposed to personal attacks of public officials and citizens that have recently taken place on the radio, social media, and at meetings. The more people who express their views on issues and the more people that participate in city initiatives, the better our city will be.
In this new year, the city council can do a better job of embracing citizen-driven initiatives such as neighborhood revitalization and environmental protection (e.g., native plantings, water quality, etc.). Take neighborhood revitalization as an example. In the first half of 2019, the council had two study sessions on neighborhood revitalization where citizens had the opportunity to provide feedback. Since that time, city council discussion about what each neighborhood would like to see as it pertains to revitalization has been limited. Without more intentional discussions between the council and residents of each neighborhood, we will not have as strong a neighborhood revitalization initiative as we could. In 2020, let’s have a city where citizens play an increasing role in advancing city initiatives.
I hope that 2020 will be one of the best years for you and for Decatur, and I am very optimistic as we enter this new year. I welcome your feedback and please consider sharing your new year’s resolutions.