Kelly PowersSalisbury Daily Times
SALISBURY, Md.— Capping off an historic year, Salisbury’s 2020 State of the City address didn’t fill an auditorium — it flowed to audiences over a video stream anchored in both East Africa and Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Mayor Jake Day, poised in front of an American flag, delivered opening comments from his post with Maryland Army National Guard. City Council President Jack Heath spoke from council chambers. And finally, acting Mayor Julia Glanz delivered the annual speech in the midst of a global coronavirus pandemic, statewide economic downturn and a national reckoning on race.
The remarks were not without optimism, though COVID-19 has certainly shaken up the city’s economy.
“I miss Salisbury, I miss Maryland, I miss America,” Day said. “But it’s so inspiring to read letters from so many of you and updates from our staff… sharing stories from our city, our community, lifting one another up when the world seems completely weighted down.”
Here are some highlights from the half hour.
‘Strangest of years’
The City Council president said 2020 offered a year like no other — seeing its mayor called out of the country, a pandemic slam the city and government business conducted solely virtually for the first time.
“This has been the strangest of years,” said Heath. Aside from the halting of curbside recycling, which has yet to return, Heath noted “the business of the city was never interrupted.”
Heath said government meetings going virtual led to more citizen participation than years prior in the Government Office Building. Moving city business online took a tremendous amount of work, according to Glanz, even if most of it took place behind the scenes.
“Normal is a relative term, and we will certainly continue to learn and adapt to life in the world of COVID and beyond,” Glanz said. “That’s easier to say now than it would have been at the onset.”
Glanz reviewed the city’s coronavirus precautions and shutdowns, praising the Salisbury Area Coronavirus Task Force and Delmarva Task Force model for sharing institutional knowledge on handling a raging pandemic.
With that, however, came disastrous and immediate economic impacts from COVID-19 as businesses in Salisbury and across the state had to shut their doors. Millions joined the unemployment rolls in mere weeks.
“As the state eases us through the stages of reopening, many businesses are experiencing a slow rebound,” Glanz said. “Jobs are being added back accordingly.”
Glanz noted some local industries held strong in the pandemic — such as real estate markets booming and construction continuing to buzz throughout the city. Get the Daily Briefing newsletter in your inbox.
Start your day with the morning’s top newsDelivery: DailyYour Email
Key legislative work in 2020
Health took a moment to reflect on new business for the city in 2020.
Key legislation included Salisbury approving a budget with no increase in tax rates, financial assistance for small businesses in a COVID-19 pandemic, a water main extension project for the regional airport, renter eviction protections and more.
“I want to thank our citizens helping each other get through this most difficult year,” Heath said. “You are the best.”
He also touted the formation of a Criminal Justice Reform Task force, alongside the honorary renaming of Black Lives Matter Boulevard. Glanz side the task force premise had been in discussion for years, but had yet to be implemented.
“Salisbury will set the standard for police-community relations,” Glanz said. “And the way that we can do it is inviting open and honest discussion.”
Glanz added to the list sharing the work of the city’s Vulnerable Population Task Force, its pop-up community events aiming to connect vulnerable populations to resources.
“The connections made as part of these efforts will long outlast COVID-19,” she said. “Allowing us to better serve our vulnerable populations in the future.”
Salisbury’s economic outlook
The city’s outlook is a lot different than officials would have expected in 2019.
“Salisbury has the tools to weather this storm just as well, if not better, than any other city in the country,” the acting mayor said.
But that comes with re-evaluating how the city spends its money.
With a five-month hold placed on parking and code enforcement, as well as a suspended collection on water bills, Glanz said she knows the government will have to tighten spending “responsibly” to make up for these losses.
Another facet of this outlook is further “catch up” Salisbury has planned, updating infrastructure throughout the city — similar to projects like the Riverside Roundabout and Main Street rehabilitation.
Glanz announced a coming project to construct a pedestrian footbridge across the Wicomico River, connecting the Camden neighborhood with downtown Salisbury.
Until then, the acting mayor counseled residents to stay strong, as the pandemic will pass.
“We don’t know exactly what the future holds,” Glanz said. “But I do know Salisbury’s future remains bright. We have made what feels like decades worth of progress in just a few years — and we owe it to everyone who has a stake in the city’s success to maintain this trajectory.”