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|Mayor: State of the city is 'very strong'|
Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo touted several accomplishments from 2007 during his annual state of the city address, and he promised brighter days ahead in 2008.
Mayo delivered the speech Wednesday at the Monroe Civic Center before an audience of roughly 400 people.
"I am proud to say that the state of the city is very strong," said Mayo, who will face four challengers in the Feb. 9 mayoral election.
"Our departmental business plans have led to greater fiscal management, which is evident by a record budget surplus of $11.6 million," Mayo said. "When critics painted pictures of doom and gloom after we suffered some major losses, specifically State Farm and Guide, we chose to be the master of our own fate."
He said the city council made a tough decision to increase water rates to help pay for repairs to its 70-year-old water lines. Federal mandates required the city to take on sewer and water improvement projects to meet federal government guidelines.
"Those tough decisions have to be made," Mayo said. "But these type of decisions, along with positive attitude and team effort, is what it will take for our city to remain progressive and fiscally sound."
Economic development will remain one of the top priorities for Mayo's administration. He said his goal is simple: "To bring more good-paying jobs to Monroe that will stabilize families, our economy and the future of our city."
The city has more than $3 million in a special economic development fund account, which is used to recruit companies "to provide good jobs for our citizens," Mayo said.
"Now we have something to offer when sitting at the bargaining table with CEOs of major corporations, site selectors and the many developers who come to the city of Monroe," he said.
Monroe was recently recognized by the Louisiana Municipal Association for its use of those economic development funds to improve economic development in the city.
Monroe was awarded first place for economic development in cities with 25,000 or more citizens by the LMA.
Monroe submitted an entry that showed the LMA how the city dedicated $2.3 million for 13 projects such as funding for the Greater Ouachita Port Commission, Accent Marketing and the Monroe Motor Speedway.
"We can see evidence of how this has benefited Monroe by driving through our major corridors," Mayo said of the use of the special economic development funds to attract new business and improve existing ones.
He touted the ongoing construction of Best Buy as well as the newly opened businesses of Kohl's, Accent Marketing's call center and American Eagle Airline's return to Monroe.
"The wise use of economic development funds has cleared the way for business growth," Mayo said. "This is evident by the numerous new restaurants, specialty shops and other small businesses expanding or locating within our city."
During the speech, Mayo and his wife, Angela, presented the city with a $53,833 check as part of his family's commitment to return a portion of his salary back to the city. Mayo promised to return $60,000 during his current four-year term.
"We have a couple of months left," he said.
Mayo expects the future for Monroe will remain bright. It is expected that an automotive assembly plant, which could boast an annual payroll of $32 million, will eventually occupy the former Guide plant off Interstate 20 east of Monroe.
He said there are other multiple prospects close to finalizing deals to locate within the city limits of Monroe as well.
The city also is committed to the revitalization of downtown and south Monroe through various projects to enhance their image and improve infrastructure. Those efforts are being carried out to hopefully draw more businesses to downtown and south Monroe and to improve the quality of life for residents there.
The city will continue to improve neighborhoods and provide better housing for the citizens of Monroe, Mayo said.
"We must increase home ownership," Mayo said. "There is a direct relationship between home ownership and crime reduction, as well as school performance and community pride."
Another top priority for Mayo this year is to streamline the process to build new subdivisions. He said new businesses will create an additional need for new housing.
Other top priorities include the continuing effort to instill pride within the community, beautification efforts and the continued marketing of the city to potential businesses and companies.