BY ASHLEY D. THOMAS
Public safety, city projects and quality-of-life improvements were among the issues discussed at the inaugural ‘State of the City’ address delivered by Mayor Derrick Henry on Jan. 30.
Daytona Beach citizens overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the city’s charter last November, which requires the city’s mayor to provide the presentation in January of each year.
Orange Avenue project
After hearing brief comments from the mayor, those in attendance watched a video presentation narrated by Henry that began by talking about the “significant investments” made in addressing the aging infrastructure of the city.
“Last June, we broke ground on the Orange Avenue Reconstruction Project. Once completed, this $18 million-dollar project will provide a complete overall of a major corridor in the heart of our Midtown community,” Henry explained.
“The project is not without its issues. Road closures have made it harder for customers to patronize long-standing, locally owned businesses. The city has worked diligently to expedite the construction along critical sections and increase signage along the detour route to improve access to affected businesses. We will continue to be sensitive to these business owners.”
MLK Boulevard repaving
Noted among the city’s recent road repairs was the repaving of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, which was repaved from Orange Avenue south to Shady Place.
Additionally, crews are constructing a new sidewalk in front of Westside Elementary School on Jimmy Ann Drive.
The students of Westside regularly walk to school and are escorted regularly to their schools by community organizations, teachers and Principal Judi Winch.
“It’s not all city projects,” Henry continued. “The city has partnered with outside agencies to maximize investment and value.”
Henry explained that the Florida Department of Transportation, is investing $300 million over three years to make roads safer, noting a $205 million I-95 project to widen the roadway and upgrade the interchanges.
The mayor also spoke about local public spaces In Daytona Beach.
“We are blessed with an extensive network of parks and public spaces. There is a renewed sense of pride and optimism, which is reflected in the recent improved level of quality and care of the city’s public spaces,” he added.
“We are continuingly evaluating the condition of our facilities and seeking opportunities to make improvements.”
One of those upgrades is the new video board and scoreboard at Municipal Stadium, which made its debut during the NAIA national championship game in December.
City seeking grants
Also in the address, the mayor spoke about how the city is seeking grants for public spaces.
At the Jan. 21 meeting, commissioners approved a request to seek a grant for the Derbyshire Park and Sports Complex, which is located in one of Daytona’s Black communities.
The 32-acre complex is the city’s busiest park, offering soccer, tennis, outdoor basketball, baseball and football. The city requested $350,000 for a drainage and irrigation system, grading and turf for the athletic fields, a complete renovation of the tennis and basketball courts and the addition of playground equipment.
A grant request also has been submitted for Daisy Stocking Park, located in the Midtown Redevelopment Area, for badly needed renovations. The request is for expenses including seating, better lighting and fencing.
Percy Williamson, director of Leisure Services, explained that the city first identified what was needed, itemized the list and then requested the grant money.
“We are primarily looking to get the money to help us upgrade some of our buildings and for maintenance on others,” he explained. “We are trying to keep our buildings nice in our communities.”
Money for the Dickerson Community Center and the historic Bandshell were also made.
“The city’s request is ranked 22nd out of 67 projects and we are hopeful that we get fully funded,” Henry shared.
“As communities across the country struggle with the very real issues of race and social inequality, our police department is a shining example of a law enforcement agency working with the community to create partnerships and being accountable,” Henry said of the city’s law enforcement agency.
“I want to thank the Daytona Beach Police Department for being proactive and responsive to our community. As unrest and protests captured the attention of our nation, the Daytona Beach Police Department continued to communicate with community leaders and our residents. The police department also hosted a mandatory ‘Diversity in the Workforce’ workshop in the fall.”
Last year, as reported in the Daytona Times, the City Commission authorized the purchase of an additional 50 body cameras for officers bringing the total to 100 cameras for patrol officers and 12 for SWAT members.
This technology, which Daytona Beach has used since 2012, protects both the officers who wear the cameras and the civil liberties of the public they serve. “Other cities are just now starting to follow this trend,” Henry added.
Officers in 10 schools
“As a parent and educator, one of my top priorities is mentoring and positively influencing the lives of our youth,” Henry continued. “This year, the police department will hire 26 new officers including 10 school resource officers. In the next school year, Daytona Beach officers will be in six elementary, two middle and two high schools within the city limits.
“This program, the first time it’s been done with Daytona Beach officers, is possible with the help of a federal grant and a partnership with the Volusia County School Board. Not only will this partnership provide safety benefits but officers will also foster positive relationships with our city’s youths, serving as role models and mentors.”
Henry noted that in addition to the police department, Daytona Beach’s Fire Department is the busiest agency in Volusia County, responding to almost 20,000 emergency incidents in 2014. In August, the department will receive two new fire engines.
Reported on heavily by the Times last year is the city’s homeless problem. Henry also talked about the Volusia Safe Harbor project during the “State of the City’’ address.
The Safe Harbor Project is a multi-city initiative seeking to bring the services of multiple agencies together into a one-stop center where those in need can find all of the services they require and have a safe place to stay while they are receiving help.
The City Commission unanimously authorized a 14-month contract with Dr. Robert Marbut to move the Volusia Safe Harbor project forward and is currently awaiting an opt-in from other cities in Volusia. Port Orange, Ormond Beach and New Smyrna Beach’s commissions have agreed to move forward in some way with the Safe Harbor Project.
Jobs, jobs, jobs
One of the last topics discussed by the mayor is employment.
He says the city is working hard to diversify the workforce and attract more minorities.
Currently minority employees comprise nearly 26 percent of the city’s workforce. This is up from 23.7 percent in June 2013.
“While complying with applicable equal opportunity laws, the city has taken strides to increase its diversity within its workforce. Minority hiring has increased over the past three years, but there are still opportunities for improvements,” he shared.
“Today, the city requires all minority applicants that are qualified for positions to have the opportunity to interview.
For promotional opportunities, all internal candidates, minority candidates and veterans are given the opportunity to interview for the open position. These proactive steps have increased the diversity within the city’s workforce to more closely mirror the diversity of the community it serves.”
From June 2013 to December 2014, the total percentage of minorities hired was 33.3 percent.
In the police department, minority employees comprise more than 28 percent of the workforce; up from 16 percent in 2003.
In Daytona Beach, the unemployment rate has decreased to 6.5 percent, down from a high of 13 percent in 2010.
According to a report by the Manpower Group, Volusia County will have the nation’s third-highest percentage of employers adding jobs in the first quarter of 2015.
“There are clear indications our economy continues to improve and both business owners and residents are showing more confidence,” Henry added.