Salisbury leaders cite accomplishments, goals to be met in State of the City address
SALISBURY, Md. – Tuesday night, Salisbury Mayor Jake Day delivered his annual State of the City address. He began by asking the question: “What does a better Salisbury look like?”
“A better Salisbury to me means taking a moment to look at where our predecessors wanted us to be, and have we achieved that? Are we on the right path? And if so, then we cannot stop,” said Mayor Day in a follow-up interview Wednesday. “We are but temporary stewards of this city. We aren’t in our jobs permanently. We are not kings and queens. We are temporarily trying to do our best with the limited time that we have to lead the city. We have to ask ourselves, have we done everything we can? Have we worked as hard and as fast as we can? I believe the answer to that question is yes.”
However, even with major improvements made over the past 12 months, Mayor Day and City Council President Jack Heath say more work is in order.
Motorist and Pedestrian Safety
Since 2018, the City’s public safety efforts have largely been part of its Vision Zero traffic safety initiative. Since the program started, accidents involving injuries have dropped 19%. In the same period, zero fatal accidents have occurred in the City.
The initiative seeks to drive those numbers even further down with the reconstruction of streets, addition of bike lanes, and increased pedestrian safety features. However, Mayor Day says that work has slowed with the COVID-19 pandemic, and associated supply chain issues.
“People see construction happening around the city and think about government workers. But, the reality is, they’re all private contractors,” said Mayor Day. “Today, it’s one vendor can get here in three months, and they’re here and own the site for a week. Then, the next vendor can’t get there for another month, and they’re on the site for another few weeks. These private entities are dictating those timelines because their labor is scarce, the materials aren’t arriving on time. So, we have to be understanding.”
Heath admits that the work has been slow. However, he says other initiatives are keeping Salisburians healthy and safe in the meantime.
“We’re a little behind, obviously. It took a long time to set up the red-light cameras. The SWIFT Program is a great example of something that’s positive, and works, and is ongoing,” said Heath.
Bolstering Public Safety Agencies
As this work continues, Mayor Day says the City currently has 35 vacancies across its public safety agencies. He says the City’s recent adoption of collective bargaining, and a shift in culture, will likely help to fill those gaps.
“That change, I think, is going to be a big dynamic shift in how people perceive what going to work for the City of Salisbury means. And, it guarantees compensation improvements over time,” said Mayor Day. “One of the things that we feel like we’ve been able to do is change the team dynamic and mindset to be one where we’ve got more of a collegial spirit. We’re one team, one fight.”
Even with better pay and incentives, however, Heath says the climate for first responders like police officers is making it a tough deal all around.
“Competition is tough out there, especially in the public safety arena. I think these things are going to help us out. But, like everything else, it’s tough to be a cop these days,” said Heath.
Business Development and Employment
Mayor Day says business is booming in Salisbury. Between 2015 and 2022, the City saw about 30% in growth of manufacturing firms across multiple industries. He adds that the urban core of Salisbury has added more than 7,000 jobs since 2015. However, the focus remains on retaining existing businesses and jobs, says Mayor Day.
“A job saved is as good as a job gained. Somebody who stays employed, or an employer that stays here, is more important than attracting the next employer,” said Mayor Day. “I’m very proud of [the 7,000 additional jobs]. However, it’s the jobs that have been saved, to me, are the most meaningful.”
Community investment, says Mayor Day, is also on the rise. Over the last 12 months, he says Salisbury has seen a $138 million investment in construction. Adding, that’s double the annual rate for the four years prior to that.
“You look at that scale growth, and people investing in our community, and I think that tells you that people believe in this place, and believe in the changes that we’ve made,” said Mayor Day.
With those investments, come people, says Heath. And with people, comes more opportunities for development.
“It attracts those executives and workers for those higher-end jobs. In the meantime, it also creates some low income housing,” said Heath.
Keeping Up With Housing
As business grows in Salisbury, so does the need for housing. The past several years have been a scramble to keep up with skyrocketing demand, says Mayor Day. He says Salisbury’s Here Is Home Initiative will help in that effort, but the pressure is increasing as home and rent prices also surge.
“We are becoming less affordable. That’s scary when rents and home prices growth are outpacing the growth in wages,” said Mayor Day. “We’ve got to do everything we can, the state has to do everything it can, the county has to do everything it can, and the federal government has to do everything it can is incentivize action.”
Since its launch, about 1,500 units are being built with a commitment for 7,000 more under the Here Is Home initiative. Mayor Day says when the city waived permitting fees for 90 days, there was a big reaction in the market place. $1.4 billion in home construction was proposed during that period.
“That supply addition is great. But, we also need the federal government to continue to fund tax credit deals. We need the State Department of Housing and Community Development to be at the table, and we’re going to put more money into low income oriented affordable housing,” said Mayor Day.
The Mayor adds that the private sector also needs to do their part to keep housing affordable in the City.
“The price of plywood is rising; interest rates are rising. All those things are getting tougher to get deals together. So, we all have to be at the table, trying to make any difference that we can,” said Mayor Day.
Heath agrees, saying that the Here Is Home initiative might be a useful tool in getting the private sector on board with cheaper prices.
“As the Here Is Home projects come online, there’s going to be pressure, especially in the rental markets, to come in line and drive those prices down,” said Heath.
Looking Back, Looking Ahead
Among the achievements, Mayor Day says he is particularly proud of the work to build up youth services and programming in the City.
“Just last week, we broke ground on the second phase of the Truitt Street Community Center, which is going to house the Boys and Girls Club of America. I’m really proud of that work. It’s been tough, because we didn’t have any youth programming as part of our government. We left it to the County, but now we’re at the table,” said Mayor Day. “We’ve got the Newton Street Community Center, the Truitt Street Community Center, and now Truitt Street will be able to offer activities in the gym space, and activities in the classrooms. It’s going to be twice the size, and we’re going to have a national organization in there running programming.”
Heath credits the collaboration between Mayor and Council for the work that was done over the last year. He says that spirit must continue in order to reach future goals.
“The Mayor and the Council have a good relationship, the Council members have a good relationship with each other, and we’re all striving to do the same thing,” said Heath. “Our job is to worry about how the people are. And, I think, that’s the major goal.”