State of the City Address (Photos)

Gaithersburg Mayor Sidney Katz and members of the City Council hosted the annual State of the City address on April 11 at Asbury Methodist Village.  More than 160 guests attended the reception and presentation, including civic partners who serve on boards, commissions and committees, elected officials, community leaders, etc.

Junior Mayor Jacob Levine also made his first public appearance.

The evening also included the screening of a new video, Fortifying Our Community.  Created by the City’s Cable Television Division, the production highlights unique collaborations that address such issues as homelessness, hunger, youth engagement, and aging in place.

The Mayor’s remarks are posted below:

“A year.  Three hundred and sixty five days.  In the scheme of history it’s not even a blink of an eye.  And yet so much can happen in that short period of time.

“From the most routine of projects such as paving a sidewalk to witnessing the birth of a brand new neighborhood, each and every day brings something to celebrate in Gaithersburg.  Much has happened this past year, so please bear with me as we share some accomplishments with you tonight.

“Nothing in this City would be possible without effective leadership and decisive action.  The Council and I recognize that our community’s reputation for excellence is a direct result of the hard work, creativity, commitment, and compassion of hundreds of City employees.  I would ask that they please stand to be recognized.  Let’s give them a great round of applause!

“Key leadership roles were filled this past year.  We were pleased to welcome former Council Member John Schlichting as our new Director of the Planning and Code Administration last summer, and in the fall it gave us great pleasure to announce the appointment of Tony Tomasello as City Manager.  Both bring a wealth of history, experience and unique perspective to their positions, and we know that they will be great stewards of this City.

“I would also like to acknowledge public officials at the federal, state and county levels who work closely with us on a variety of legislative initiatives.  We recently celebrated the grand opening of what we believe to be the first constituent congressional office in Gaithersburg.  Thank you, Congressman John Delaney.  Our District 17 delegation continues to advocate on our behalf in the state legislature, this year helping us with bond bills to enhance our Miniature Golf Course and helping us secure as much Highway User Fund revenue as possible to help preserve our infrastructure.  We continue to work with Montgomery County on a financing solution for the construction of the Watkins Mill Interchange along I-270.  Can we please have a round of applause for all of our elected officials?

“Economic vibrancy is key to the success of any community.  While the impacts of sequestration remain unknown, we are pleased that so many businesses have moved to or stayed in Gaithersburg, reaffirming their commitment to making this their home.  The commercial vacancy rate in Gaithersburg was recently announced at 12 percent.  We are making constant strives to lower that number, but it is a significant decrease from 19 percent at the height of the recession.

“Through incentive funding and tool box grants, Gaithersburg facilitated the relocation of Novavax, IT Innovative Solutions, Gaithersburg Heating & Air Conditioning, and Adventist HealthCare’s headquarters.  We helped ensure the retention and expansion of GeneDX and Cytomedix, and the retention of the North American headquarters of Sodexo.

“We were also recently notified by AstraZeneca that Gaithersburg will be one of its three global research and development centers.  MedImmune’s campus is set to grow to accommodate this expanded role, and as part of that growth we will enjoy the addition of open parkland space and a new pedestrian overpass connecting MedImmune’s campus to Kentlands.

“In all, these business moves and expansions account for 1,300 jobs in Gaithersburg, helping to solidify our position as a center of employment.

“Two significant multifamily projects opened in 2012:  Hidden Creek and Archstone Gaithersburg Station.  They bring a new vibrancy to the City’s historic center.  And you can’t miss the cranes that bracket our city, with fast-paced construction taking place at Spectrum to the north and Crown to the south.  With a mix of retail, housing and open spaces, these new neighborhoods will add to Gaithersburg’s reputation as a desirable place to live, work and raise a family.

“While there’s a lot being built, we remain focused on other opportunities to redevelop and enhance our community.

“We grew a little bit this year as we annexed the property formerly occupied by the Great Indoors on Shady Grove Road.  We look forward to welcoming CarMax into the City on that site soon.

“A study of the Frederick Avenue corridor is underway, and we will be hearing recommendations from the consultant and the community on what the future could look like for this vital commercial core later this summer.

“This past year saw the rezoning of the Montgomery County Fairgrounds.  While there are no immediate plans for their move, the rezoning positions the property for future enhancement.

“And also along the 355 corridor, we were pleased to welcome Five Mile Capital as the new owners of Lakeforest Mall and look forward to their vision for the 35 year old retail center.

“Holding our first “snow road-eo” in ten years last September pretty much guaranteed that we wouldn’t have much severe weather this winter.  Still, it was a wonderful event, with friendly competitions in equipment preparation and operation.

“But that doesn’t mean we didn’t have our share of emergencies to deal with.  I don’t know about you, but last summer was the first time I had ever heard of the word “derecho.”  We dealt with downed trees and power outages throughout the community, and in the aftermath had to shift our 4th of July fireworks by a week since the Fairgrounds site was occupied by hundreds of utility vehicles.  “Finally, Fireworks!” brought the entire community together to celebrate the end of that trying couple of weeks, and I want to extend my thanks to all who demonstrated tenacity and flexibility during the crisis.

“Our emergency response was also tested during Superstorm Sandy.  Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to those communities to our north that suffered such devastation as a result of this storm.  We were fortunate to miss the brunt of it, but were still tested by several days of closures and cancellations.  This event offered the first opportunity for our Activity Center at Bohrer Park to serve as an official Red Cross Shelter for Montgomery County.  Local conditions were not terribly severe, so the demand was not overwhelming, but staff was at the ready to care for those in need in our community.  They performed admirably!

“2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the Gaithersburg Police Department.  That deserves a round of applause!  It was formed in April of 1963, with one lone officer.  Today, our department stands at a strength of 57 sworn officers and 15 civilians.  We’ve expanded both our capabilities and our outreach initiatives over the past year.  A new bait vehicle program is in place to help prevent theft.  Our second police dog, Judah, graduated from canine school.  We conducted Pedestrian Safety details along South Frederick Avenue and Great Seneca Highway, and Holiday Safety details at Lakeforest Mall.  To further connect to the community we launched “Coffee with a Cop,” where the public can meet informally with officers to answer questions about crime and quality of life issues.  And next week we will host evaluators as the Gaithersburg Police Department pursues reaccreditation. After fifty years, our public safety initiatives continue to set Gaithersburg apart.  We are grateful for all of those who put their lives on the line for this community every day.

“This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the Wells/Robertson House, a transitional program for men and women who are homeless and in recovery from chemical addiction.  It has become a national model of success.  The house stands as a testament to what can be accomplished when a community comes together.  A quarter century ago merchants in Olde Towne complained about public drunkenness and vagrancy.  Under the leadership of Mayor Ed Bohrer, the community debated solutions, resulting in the establishment of a place where those in recovery can spend up to two years as they rebuild their lives.  More than 500 people have been helped by Wells over the years, and the community continues to support the program through financial and in-kind donations, ensuring a bright future for those who need a hand returning to a meaningful life.  Look for a joyful anniversary celebration this winter.

“The video you’ll be enjoying in a few moments highlights not only Wells, but several other community collaborations that warm the heart.  The Council and I are committed to maintaining funding for the nonprofits that do so much in our community.  From micro grants to help transport the needy to medical appointments, to six figure contracts to help ensure access to housing, food, physical and mental health and job development services, Gaithersburg’s commitment is unwavering.

“Our grants and collaborations extend into the educational world as well.  We continue to watch in awe as the new Gaithersburg High School rises from the ground.  This state of the art facility, which represents the largest physical plant of all MCPS schools, will ensure the best possible environment for learning.

“Through grant funding we’re helping with after-school homework clubs, musical instrument repairs, summer reading workshops, and parental involvement activities.  Our Youth Centers and High School Student Union programs engage our youth in mentoring and meaningful service projects, including the unique Beloved Communities collaboration with the residents of Asbury.  In fact, the center pieces you saw on the reception tables this evening were created by the young people in our Student Union program.

“You’ll soon witness some changes to our CHARACTER COUNTS! youth ethics program as we work with educators and community volunteers to reinvigorate this program, now in its 17th year.  And we continue to engage our youngest citizens through our essay contests, reading competitions and Junior Mayor program.

“Gaithersburg collaborates to address county-wide issues as well.  We play an integral role in the annual Montgomery County Housing Fair, Homeless Resource Day, School Community United in Partnership Conference, and Holiday Giving program. By leveraging our resources we are ensuring that our safety net is as broad as we can possibly make it.

“I’m proud to announce that last year Gaithersburg received a Voice of the People Award for Excellence in the area of Code Enforcement from the International City/County Management Association.  That deserves a round of applause!

“Technology is allowing us to make great strides in efficiency.  Our Planning and Permitting staff is now using the automated EnerGov system.  A public facing version that will allow you to track your licenses and permits will be the next step in the transition. And those of you who monitor our actions at Council Meetings will appreciate advancements in agenda and minutes management. New software is helping us streamline our administrative efforts and provide a better user experience.  Now you can click on an agenda item topic and automatically advance to the exact spot in the meeting video to watch what happened.

“Transparency is essential to good governance.  We were recently notified that Gaithersburg is the only government in Maryland and one of just 115 government entities nationwide to earn a perfect score by the Sunshine Review, an organization that compares and grades information contained in government websites.

“The Council and I further committed to transparency when we passed a Whistleblower ordinance a few months ago.  This important program, administered by a third party vendor, ensures that there are no negative repercussions to those who bring concerns and allegations to our attention.

“Communications have been enhanced with the debut of inGaithersburg, a glossy magazine that is being mailed to residents twice a year.  General interest articles offer unique insights into the world of local government – and we took pains to ensure that it doesn’t look like a municipal publication!  The spring edition is out now.  Look for the next edition in late summer.

“In the virtual world, you’ll notice the expansion of our social media presence, with fourteen Facebook pages that cater to a variety of unique interests.  The main City of Gaithersburg Facebook page remains the place for general news and information, but if you’re so inclined, please “like” the new pages for the Arts Barn, the Senior Center, recreation classes, Wells/Robertson House, and much more.

“A few weeks ago we were notified that we achieved Sustainable Maryland Certification.  Gaithersburg chalked up 260 points towards certification, well in excess of the 150 points required.  Through the establishment of a Green Team we documented the extensive activities we already undertake in the area of sustainability, and also charted a challenging course for future initiatives.

“Several Green Street projects are underway this spring along Victory Farm Drive, Dosh Drive and Cedar Avenue.  By extending curbs, adding porous paving materials, planting native grasses and bushes, and building swales, more water can seep back into the ground, improving water quality and the health of our watersheds.

“To further protect an important watershed, we were successful in obtaining a $71,000 Governor’s Stream Restoration grant.  High School ESOL students will work with City staff and other organizations to plant 400 trees along the Muddy Branch stream.  This collaborative project provides a unique opportunity to preserve an important watershed and engage the next generation in environmental awareness and action.

“Quality of life is about more than just safe streets and clean water.  It’s also about enriching activities that challenge the mind, body and spirit.  And Gaithersburg has no lack of cultural and recreational opportunities.

“As Council Member Jud Ashman mentioned earlier this evening, in just a few weeks thousands of literary fans will descend upon City Hall for the 4th Annual Gaithersburg Book Festival.  What Jud didn’t mention is that his efforts to put Gaithersburg on the cultural map were recognized with the Montgomery County Executive’s Community Award for Excellence in the Arts & Humanities.  Dozens of people play a role in bringing the festival to life each year, but it is Jud’s passion and commitment that drive it.  I think that deserves a round of applause!

“Our newly renovated Water Park, now complete with palm trees, water buckets, and even a spraying pelican, opened to rave reviews last summer.  Attendance was up 50% over the previous year.

“And I am thankful to say that construction has finally begun on the indoor Gaithersburg Aquatic Center.  It was closed early in 2012 after structural cracks were found, and we are collaborating with Montgomery County government and MCPS to repair the facility as quickly as possible for the benefit of both the students at Gaithersburg Middle School and the general public who use it.

“You’ve heard a lot of talk lately about our popular fairs and festivals.  With a goal of ensuring that these activities remain fresh, relevant and regionally appealing, we are working with stakeholders in the community to explore how we can continue to offer the best possible experiences.

“A few weeks ago we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with a wonderful parade at Rio/Washingtonian Center, and in September we’ll celebrate the 75th anniversary of our Labor Day Parade. I’m excited to announce that Oktoberfest will continue as a wonderful family-oriented event in the Kentlands, with some tweaks to make it even more enjoyable.  Kentlands, by the way, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year with a number of festivities planned.  That deserves a round of applause!

“The popular Celebrate Gaithersburg in Olde Towne street festival will take a hiatus from its usual September schedule, and will instead be held in June of next year.  Moving the festival to early summer takes a significant amount of pressure off our police, public works, and events staff, who juggle the Kentlands/Lakelands 5K race, the Labor Day Parade, Celebrate Gaithersburg, and Oktoberfest, all in a six week period.  Celebrate Gaithersburg will get a fresh new feel while remaining the City’s preeminent street festival.

“Track and field programs for young runners, interactive historical exhibits at our Community Museum, theatrical performances at the Arts Barn (which by the way celebrated its 10th anniversary last fall), workshops, trips and nutrition programs at our Senior Center, music and art programs for toddlers, volleyball and softball leagues, water safety days, new batting cages – the list of cultural and recreational programs and activities goes on.  We’re constantly fine tuning our offerings and working with our residents to ensure that we provide enriching programs for a diverse community.

“So what does the immediate future bring?  We’re soon going to be taking ownership of the former Consumer Product Safety Commission site off of Route 28.  That’s more than nine acres of space for recreational programming.  We’ll also be in possession of historic structures and parkland in the Crown development, for which we’ll explore potential uses.  We’re in the process of conducting a facility assessment for the Police Department, determining current and future uses.  Based on the outcome, we may pursue construction of a new station.  We’ll be working on much-needed renovations to our Senior Center.  We hope to identify a funding solution soon for the Watkins Mill Interchange.  We’re awaiting additional activity with the construction of a second office building at Washingtonian South and commercial and residential building at Washingtonian North.

“Our municipal finances are healthy, with the largest operating budget in the City’s history now under consideration.  And with your help, we have been able to remain debt free.  Our employment base is growing.  New neighborhoods are springing up.  And we continue to enjoy the effects of an active, engaged citizenry.  Just last week the Council joined me in proclaiming April as Volunteer Appreciation Month in Gaithersburg.  The words on that proclamation don’t begin to express our gratitude to the businesses, nonprofit organizations, educators, and residents who continually speak up, get involved, and provide the leadership necessary to guide this community to greatness.  You are the difference makers, and you deserve a round of applause!  Thank you.”

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