By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
TAYLOR – From property value increases to change-making investments in neighborhoods, infrastructure and public safety, Mayor Rick Sollars delivered an upbeat state of the city message following recent FBI raids on his office and residences.
The Feb. 21 speech, delivered to a packed house at the Lakes of Taylor Banquet Center, 25505 Northline, was uncharacteristically crowded with local television news crews hoping for a comment from Sollars two days after the FBI executed search warrants on his city office, residence and vacation property.
Sollars delivered a 23-minute speech, with a standing ovation from attendees, before granting camera crews a three-minute response in the lobby outside the banquet room, during which he declared his innocence several times before the media was dismissed and his lawyer ushered him back into the luncheon.
Sollars focused on the progress the city has made with the Good to Great Neighborhoods program, which focus city services in specific neighborhoods, with the five areas targeted last year seeing an increase in property values from 16 to 28 percent.
“It is kind of a neighborhood makeover program,” he said. “We identify neighborhoods strategically and we deploy all of our public services, so residents wake up and we have street sweepers, tree trimmers, people out changing the lights, painting the fire hydrants, shooting the drains, so there was a value that residents felt.”
The blitz focused on parks, signs, tree removal and trimming, utility concerns, street repairs, replacing trash and recycling bins, sewer inspection and repairs and addressing public safety concerns with residents.
In addition, businesses within each targeted neighborhood were inspected for fence and exterior repairs, the removal of exterior junk and debris and certificates of occupancy and business licenses were reviewed. Parking lots and empty and abandoned businesses were inspected.
Of the five neighborhoods targeted in 2018, more than 11 miles of roads were repaired, 13 miles of sanitary sewers were cleaned, 200 street lights were converted to LED bulbs and $123,000 was spent on tree trimming and removal.
In addition, of the 592 rental units identified in the five targeted neighborhoods, more than 40 percent were brought into compliance with city codes.
From a public safety perspective, Sollars spoke of the tremendous impact of a new 3-component system for the police department, with the purchase of 40 new conducted electrical weapons, or “stun guns,” 70 new body worn cameras for police officers and 30 in-vehicle cameras.
“It is going to promote accountability, it is going to protect the residents, and it is going to protect our officers as well,” Sollars said. “This program should be live within the next couple of months, and it is going to change law enforcement in the city of Taylor.”
In addition to 10 new patrol vehicles and an increase of 20 budgeted officers since 2011, in the past year larceny is down 19 percent, robbery decreased 13 percent, auto theft declined by 16 percent and malicious destruction of property decrease by 20 percent.
The city also reinstated Advanced Life Support services, and answered nearly 10,000 calls in 2018, Sollars said. He said the number of budgeted firefighters has more than doubled since 2011.
Sollars said in 2019 the city will begin funding retirees’ other post-employment benefits, of which the city has a $293.8 million unfunded obligation.
Investments in city recreation buildings include new roofs for Heritage Park buildings, capital improvements to the Taylor Sportsplex, new flooring and painting interior walls in the senior center and investments in the Lakehouse Grille and in Taylor Meadows.
Sollars said improvements to the Frank and Poet Drain, to alleviate flooding, also are under way.
He also spoke of new businesses coming to the city, including BJ’s Warehouse, Bob’s Discount Furniture, Bubba’s 33 Restaurant, Marriott’s Fairfield Inn and Suites, Townplace by Marriott, and Hilton Home 2 Home Suites.
Sollars said he is passionate about business development.
“I know how great the city of Taylor is, and I know how great businesses can do here,” he said. “We spent a lot of time and energy recruiting new businesses. A lot of excitement, a lot of new businesses are coming to the city of Taylor.”
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at [email protected].)