Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson said the City of Amarillo is making improvements during her first State of the City address Tuesday morning in the Grand Ballroom of the Amarillo Civic Center Complex.
“’Get it done’ is part of the fabric of Amarillo,” Nelson said.
About 400 Amarillo residents, as well as civic leaders such as State Rep. Four Price and State Sen. Kel Seliger, gathered to hear the state of the city address, which lasted about an hour. Nelson’s speech was buffered by videos trumpeting the efforts of various administrations and city departments like Center City, Public Works, the Amarillo Fire Department and the Amarillo Police Department.
Nelson talked about the city’s strengths and successes, the challenges it faces and offered corrective steps to fix the imbalance.
Low tax rates, low debt, moderate home prices, low unemployment rate and the new Double-A baseball team coming to Amarillo in 2019 are some of the city’s strengths, Nelson said.
“We have approximately 1,800 more people working jobs in the metropolitan area of Amarillo than we did this time last year,” she said.
Nelson also highlighted the city’s AAA bond rating and a 90-to-10 ratio of the city’s maintenance and operation budget compared its debt.
“Across the state of Texas, when you compare Amarillo to the other 27 cities that have a population of over 100,000, we have the lowest tax rate,” she said. “Our 2017 tax rate compared to San Angelo’s 2016 tax rate, is 45 cents lower.”
Nelson also talked about the important reinvestment into the city’s outlying neighborhoods.
“Our community is united and not divided … We’re getting it done in community partnerships,” she said. “We’re intentionally investing in areas of our city that need to be revitalized.”
Part of the investment from the city is the effort to revitalize the North Heights neighborhood that includes five goals, 22 strategies and 89 steps. Additionally, the city is also making improvements to the Barrio neighborhood. Next year, the city will use its resources to make improvements in the San Jacinto area, she said.
Nelson also addressed the nationwide controversy regarding statues, monuments and the honorary naming of schools after Confederate soldiers and leaders.
“We recently faced controversy about a statue in our community,” she said. “Amid the emotions and the opinions, we didn’t lose our community.”
The mayor said conversations will continue, and will include students, to discuss “leadership lessons” that will “respect every person’s viewpoint on this issue.”
Income, crime, illegal dumping, low education and poor customer service to its residents were among the challenges Nelson addressed Tuesday.
“We have good things happening in our city, but getting it done also means that we have to face the challenges,” she said. “While we’re getting it done financially we could be getting it done better on our workforce. Our average worker in Amarillo makes $45,000 a year.”
Nelson said 22 percent of Amarilloans have a bachelor’s degree and cited education and training as remedies that could not only increase wages and decrease crime but also lead to a stronger, more viable workforce.
One way to support education is to support Amarillo College’s $18 million ACE scholarship program in partnership with the Amarillo Area Foundation, she said, adding that of the $18 million the scholarship needs, $3.5 million needs to raised privately.
“If every citizen in Amarillo would give $20, we would get it done,” she said.
One of the largest blights on Amarillo Nelson discussed is the crime rate.
“On a national crime statistics ranking, with 100 being the best, Amarillo ranks a safety level of five,” she said. “Along with Lubbock and Odessa, the FBI recently ranked Amarillo one of the top five most dangerous cities in Texas. When comparing our rape statistics to the national average we have more than double the national rate. Texas averages 30 crimes per square mile but last year, Amarillo reported 104 crimes per square mile.”
Amarillo Police Chief Ed Drain said staffing numbers at the department and attitudes among some Amarillo residents contribute to the figures cited by Nelson.
“The reasons for high crime are related to a lot of things,” Drain said. “Some of them are just culturally the way things are here in Amarillo.”
Nelson encouraged deeper community involvement, volunteerism, vigilance and a change in mindset to start resolving the city’s problems.
“Problems are often vehicles for opportunities and one thing I know for sure is our challenges are not going to stop us from achieving greatness,” Nelson said. “To get it done, we’re going to have to choose a mindset that sees problems as opportunities.”
The morning’s festivities — produced and coordinated by Amarillo firm Nobox Creative, did not cost the city any money, according to city spokesman Jesse Patton and Nobox Creative President Kim May.
Both said the funding came from a list of contributors, including nine banks: AimBank, Amarillo National Bank, Citizen’s Bank, First Bank Southwest, First United Bank, FirstCapital Bank of Texas, Happy State Bank, Herring Bank and Interstate Bank.
The city did not know exactly how much the state of the city event cost the contributors but said a complete accounting should be available by next week.
How to get involved
The City of Amarillo’s social media hashtag to discuss its challenges is #DareToDoItAMA. For more information, text the word VOLUNTEER to 66866.