Based on structural review of Thompson Park pool, the current above ground pool cannot be repaired. The neighborhoods most impacted by closing Thompson Park pool will be the key drivers of whether to rebuild a new pool or replace it with a different outdoor, water-related facility. All options for how to pay for the project need to be considered, including the possibility of a public/private partnership for raising funds. Currently, there is a movement by citizens to consider options and I plan to be involved in those conversations.
One of the primary challenges to attracting new business to Amarillo is the ability to provide a skilled workforce. This is a challenge not only for Amarillo but for the entire nation. It is important that we take on the responsibility for developing our own workforce and not expecting new businesses to provide that for themselves. This is one of the reasons why I am a strong supporter of our new Thrive program, providing 2 years of education for all graduates of Amarillo Independent School District (AISD) that meet basic requirements. In addition, continuing to develop trade programs through AISD and Amarillo College (AC) that train workers for jobs in our local area will be important to expand. Coordinating efforts between Buy the Way, Amarillo Economic Development Corp., AISD and AC to effectively hire, train and maintain workers will be important going forward.
Our current Civic Center has served us well for 50 years but is not adequate to move us forward in the future. If we as a community want to compete for new trade shows and entertainment opportunities (as well as keep our current users), we must address the inadequacies of our current facility. City Council has appointed an independent, five-member executive committee to meet with current users as well as evaluate requirements of new organizers we would like to attract. This process will help determine an appropriate expansion. As one of the Council representatives to this committee, I have attended several days of meetings to gather information and discuss possible opportunities.
Event organizers have very specific venue requirements based on the individual entertainer. The convention center executive committee is reviewing the list of requirements to determine what scope of project would be appropriate for the community and surrounding area.
As more information is gathered, additional community input will be requested and required before moving forward with a design plan that would eventually be presented to voters for approval.
Prior to our current at-large election process, Amarillo had a “ward” system, which was a form of single-member districts. Amarillo was one of the first cities to pioneer a change due to the issues related to single-member districts. One of the largest complaints of the former system was that it created ongoing divisions as neighborhoods competed with each other for resources. With a single-member district system, you are in effect giving council members that do not represent your specific neighborhood permission to overlook your needs. With an at-large system, every council member and the Mayor must answer to any citizen in the community regardless of where they live, and therefore I believe it is a superior form of local government. But that being said, I believe having a representative City Council has more to do with the people who sit in the seats than which system is used.
As one of the customers of the new curbside cart program, I am very pleased with the new system. Living in an older neighborhood that does not have alleys, we placed trash in individual bags curbside. In between pick-up days, I had to choose between leaving trash in my home, walking it out to our detached garage, or placing it in the back of my husband’s truck to avoid animals digging through it. I am now able to place bags right outside my kitchen door inside the cart and move it twice a week curbside. We have had no issues with capacity. Our cart has blown over a couple of times but did not move beyond where it had been placed. For those physically unable to move the carts, the city is providing paid pick up. For those who want to avoid additional fees, the city has arranged with Meals on Wheels to provide cart assistance to their current customers. Additional non-profit, volunteer organizations are anticipated to assist as well if the demand supports it.
Amarillo currently has over 30 organizations that provide services for our sheltered and unsheltered homeless community. The city, under the guidance of Juliana Kitten, our new City of Amarillo Director of Community Development, works with these organizations to provide guidelines to address public health and safety issues for them and the rest of our citizens. The city recently completed our Point in Time (PIT) count to determine, as closely as possible, our sheltered and unsheltered homeless population. For the first time ever, a mobile app was used assisting 52 volunteers, 25 teams in gathering data to more accurately reflect our homeless population. Current PIT reflected 306 sheltered individuals, 95 in transitional housing and 331 unsheltered.
The city also recently implemented the Coming Home program which provides vouchers for housing and intensive support services for chronically homeless individuals. The program requires participants to be accountable and provides ongoing supportive care to help with their transition to housing in hopes of a permanent solution. This is a new program but I am very encouraged at the prospect of meeting numerous objectives that we have been unable to achieve through other programs in the past.
Our goal is to end chronic homelessness in Amarillo (currently estimated to be 263 individuals) by utilizing the evidence-based practice, Housing First. The first focus is going to be on 93 unsheltered chronic homeless individuals. Housing vouchers must be combined with intensive support services provided from trained, full time staff to be effective. Additional goals include setting up Medicaid billing to off-set the cost of support staff and creating a stronger collaboration with NWTHS and BSA for discharge planning when someone is homeless.
The current forum Amarillo City Council is using for public comments is fairly standard across the state and nation. In general, this forum is helpful for highlighting issues of concern to all the council at one time but not for addressing underlying causes or allowing for interaction between council members and citizens. Over the past years, a variety of times and locations have been chosen for public meeting comments, work sessions and regular meeting times. Regardless of what time or location is selected, I understand that some residents will be unable to attend and recognize the level of disappointment and frustration this creates. Although public meetings are a useful opportunity to share concerns with Council, my personal experience is that direct contact through phone calls, meetings, emails, etc. is a more productive way to communicate with the council. I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since the officer being assigned to Guyon Saunders Resource Center (GSR) was already a member of the Amarillo Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) unit, we are not removing any beat officers that answer calls or detectives that investigate cases. The assignment of an CIT officer to focus on homeless outreach at the GSR provides a number of advantages for the city, non-profit support groups, and the homeless. This is a proactive solution that addresses the fact that many of the homeless that use the GSR also have mental health issues that result in the CIT unit having to respond to the GSR anyway when there is a “mental crisis.” Having an officer there will allow us to respond quickly and get help to those who need it. Further, having an officer stationed at the GSR will reduce the illegal drug activity and enhance public safety in area, giving non-profit support groups a safer space to provide help to those using the facility.
We do recognize the problem of a lack of bus benches on Georgia St. and agree that amenities need to be added. The City Council recently voted to authorize our transit department to apply for federal grant funding and TxDot developmental credits that would go toward purchase of 7-8 new buses and infrastructure improvements. Final route construction to determine best efficiencies, along with transitioning our fleet to more low-floor vehicles, will continue to improve the quality of service we are able to provide citizens. Placement of amenities such as benches and covers are based on boardings per day and passenger counts. The transit department is in the process of conducting these surveys to determine the best locations for amenities. We have also had some discussions with private individuals that may want to sponsor sheltered benches. The City Council anticipates a report and recommendations in the near future.
On December 19, 2018, City Council approved a contract with Brandt Engineering to implement the bus stop amenities project focused on placement of shelters. To date, Brandt Engineering has completed site surveys on 31 sites under consideration for transit shelters, noting that each site is unique with variable costs based on new/replacement, ADA compliance, and other variables. At this point, staff does not have cost information for implementation of amenities, although it is estimated that Amarillo City Transit (ACT) has adequate funding for 25 shelters, with the remaining shelters and amenities coming from future funding. Brandt Engineering is starting the design and implementation phase that will generate cost information, with anticipated completion of amenities using existing funding by July 2019. In addition, ACT is developing an RFP to initiate advertising on buses, benches, and shelters as a revenue source. This will assist in offering more amenities at bus stops across the system such as pole seating.