Mayor Jack Heath settles into office, lays out vision for Salisbury

SALISBURY, Md. – Less than two weeks after being sworn in, Salisbury Mayor Jack Heath is still unpacking and settling in to the office. But more than that, he’s getting to work on city priorities.

“If the team that we have wasn’t in place, I probably wouldn’t have accepted the position, because it takes the team to make the dream,” said Mayor Heath in a one-on-one interview with 47 ABC on Tuesday. “Surround yourself with great people, give them the resources they need, and then get the heck out of the way.”

Vision Zero

As Mayor Heath accepts the new role, he’s also inheriting big projects. One of those tasks is Vision Zero, aimed at eliminating all traffic fatalities in city limits.

“We are going to focus very, very much on pedestrian crosswalks, and sidewalks. That’s going to be a big challenge for us,” said Mayor Heath. “Everything will be ADA-compliant. We’ll have sidewalks where there have been none. That, from a pedestrian point of view is going to significantly help things.”

Mayor Heath admits work on Vision Zero has been slow going. However, he says a recently awarded $12 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Safe Streets and Roads for All program will help accelerate the mission.

“It’s going to help tremendously, not to have to worry about where those funds are coming from,” said Mayor Heath. “Yes, there’s a small match that has to be done. But, in comparison to the output that we can get from that grant, it’s fantastic.”

Here Is Home

Another big task currently underway is Salisbury’s Here Is Home Initiative. As of November 2022, 1,500 affordable housing units are under construction in Salisbury, with a commitment for 7,000 more.

However, Mayor Heath says the key to accelerating the project could be getting the private sector to make a stronger commitment to completing affordable homes at affordable prices.

“Competition is always good. The reason it’s good is it keeps people honest. With the amount of available housing we have right now, the competition is very weak,” said Mayor Heath.

Mayor Heath says boosting competition in that arena will be crucial, as one of the City’s sole sources of revenue is property taxes.

“We’ll pick up the ability to generate more revenue. But by the same token on the rental side, if we can get more housing for renters, then that expands the competition, and that should drive the prices down,” said Mayor Heath.

Boosting Business

When it comes to the local economy, attracting and retaining new businesses downtown won’t come without challenges, says Mayor Heath.

“The successful downtowns now seem to be niche businesses that have a sustainability to them,” said Mayor Heath. “When I moved down here in the 80’s, I can remember coming to Downtown Salisbury, and at 9 o’clock at night there would be shops open.”

Taking advantage of lessons learned during COVID-19 and looking back to Salisbury’s roots as an industry town, says Mayor Heath, will prove to be crucial on that front.

“I think we have an opportunity to bring some manufacturing that we lost over the years to Salisbury. That raises the average wage up significantly,” said Mayor Heath.

Mayor Heath points to the computer chip industry, and its recent shortages and supply chain issues, as an example of why more manufacturing is needed in the area. He plans to work with community stakeholders, like Salisbury-Wicomico Economic Development, to balance industry with small business.

“Anne Street Village is a prime example. We’re waiting for one part to open up the village. That should never happen. Not in our country,” said Mayor Heath. “We have a tremendous amount of employees that have training. So, that’s a positive sign.”

Public Safety as a Top Priority

Priority number one for Mayor Heath is public safety. “Our citizens deserve to feel comfortable, safe, and we need to do whatever we need to do to make that happen,” he said.

This focus comes as Salisbury currently has dozens of vacancies across its public safety agencies. Mayor Heath says filling those spots will require innovative thinking and solutions.

“Whether you’re talking about the private sector or the public sector, we are in the most challenging time ever in terms of trying to attract individuals,” said Mayor Heath.

In particular, Mayor Heath says first responders are being drawn to larger municipalities for better pay. This, amid a worker shortage.

“We’re competing, not just against the lack of individuals that want to work,” said Mayor Heath. “But, we’re also competing against cities that have more power than us to provide the salaries and the wages required.”

Jack Heath’s Salisbury

Mayor Heath says he hasn’t had much time yet to think about what legislation will come out of his office first; he’s been busy meeting with City department heads to get their game plan together.

“We have a master plan. But, I think it’s good for use every so often to review the master plan, because priorities can change,” said Mayor Heath.

When Salisburians head to the polls to elect a new mayor in 2024, Mayor Heath says he intends to be one of their choices.

“I don’t think we’re far enough in that plan to have enough momentum to have somebody come in that’s not familiar with the direction we want to go in, and maintain the kind of growth that we’ve had,” said Mayor Heath. “I’ve learned so much in the eight plus years that I’ve been around in the political arena. There’s a lot that goes on that we take for granted.”

Mayor Heath says as he settles into the role, his office door will always be open to constituents.

 “You don’t become the fastest growing city in Maryland by just standing still. I think that if you have a plan, and it’s working, then modify it when needed, react when needed, but keep the direction,” said Mayor Heath.
Categories: Local News, Local Politics, Maryland