During his recent State of the City address, Woodstock Mayor Donnie Henriques said that, although 2020 had been difficult, there were also things the city could point to that were positive.
“In many ways, 2020 was the hardest year that I’ve had to deal with since I was elected mayor,” he said. “It certainly was the most unusual. There were many counterintuitive things that happened during the middle of the pandemic. We saw record sales collections, and issued more single-family building permits at any time since the mid-2000s, when Woodstock was one of the fastest growing cities in the country.”
Throughout the year, Henriques mentioned how the city spent a good chunk of its time figuring out ways it could help those most affected by the pandemic. When addressing issues and assisting those in need, he said the city had acted quickly to provide financial support where it would be most valuable. For example, using money Woodstock received through the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act, the city was able to give six local food pantries $40,000, as well as a $90,000 grant to the Cherokee County School District to assist in purchasing technology needed for students living in Woodstock the ability to access the internet from home and complete school assignments.
As part of a way to help businesses, Henriques reminded everyone how the city council had approved waiving or reducing business license and regulatory fees for small businesses that qualified for such relief. The city promoted pickup and delivery options for local restaurants and online shopping for retail stores through landing pages established on the Woodstock city website.
It was a very challenging year for public safety as well, he said, dealing with both issues created by the pandemic and societal concerns seen throughout the country. The Woodstock Police Department completed a process to maintain its state and national certifications while instituting implicit bias training and training in social intelligence. At the same time, statistics from the department showed reported crime in the city was down 21 percent from 2019. The Woodstock Fire Department responded to 5,720 calls in 2020 and maintained an average response time of five minutes, along with seeing an average of 309 training hours per employee with a 100 percent EMS training and recertification for all personnel.
Economically, although the city had seen a 4.6 percent decrease in overall revenue due to some revenue streams being lower than usual, there were positive aspects in the city’s economy as well. The city was able to reduce its tax millage rate by 3.77 percent, while its debt decreased by $2.5 million, which helped raise its debt rating by Moody’s Debt Rating Scale.
“There was a $65 million increase in construction value from 2019, bringing the 2020 total to $185 million,” Henriques said. “We had 600 new business licenses issued, that’s up 42 percent from 2019. Forty five hundred total permits were issued, which is up 44 percent, and 456 single-family permits were issued, up 42 percent from 2019.”
There were a number of programs launched in 2020 that have shown to be successful in providing a sustainable living environment for the residents of Woodstock. These included the completion and adoption of a sustainability plan and the initiation of an Adopt-a-Trail program. Nine sections of walking trails throughout Woodstock were included in the initial round of Adopt-a-Trail. In addition, another Little River cleanup managed to remove more than two tons of trash from the environment and 255,359 pounds of leaves and debris were collected by the city’s street sweeper.
“In closing, I think we can all agree that we are glad that 2020 is over. But, while we normally look to the new year with optimism, this year we look at 2021 with equal amounts of fear, skepticism and hope,” Henriques said. “No matter what 2021 brings, I know that our community is strong, and we can make it through together, just like we did in 2020.”