State of the City in 2020 … dealing with a pandemic

State of the City in 2020 … dealing with a pandemic

Since I gave the state of the city in 2019, we’ve seen a lot of changes. The Covid-19 pandemic has gripped our region and continues to have a major impact on our daily lives.

You probably noticed there’s a different format for this address, which would normally be delivered in person to members of the Jenks community. But, like every other aspect of our lives, this is a little different, and I thank you for your patience as we find a safe way to accomplish the same goal: updating you on all the great things going on in Jenks.

Many businesses and families are still not back to normal. My family is one of those. As you may know, I work for the city as a volunteer, so I also keep a full-time day job. Both my wife and I have been working from home since March. Our son, who was born a year ago, was in intensive care in the final week of last year with a life-threatening respiratory virus. During this time, there was a real possibility he wouldn’t pull through, and we’ve done everything in our power to prevent him from being exposed to Covid-19, as his health history puts him at high risk.

Our four year old daughter’s day care has continued to suffer infection after infection, so we’ve relied heavily on family for her care, at any time we can get it, so we can get some work done during the day. That care typically comes from family members who are in the highest risk categories, so we go to great lengths to make sure those caregivers aren’t exposed. Most days, we end up working into the night once the kids are in bed, so we can stay caught up at the office. We’re grateful to be both healthy and employed, but between work, family, keeping a full schedule for the city, and now homeschooling, our household is certainly as busy as it can be.

From the earliest days of the pandemic, the people of Jenks have made great sacrifices to slow the spread in our region, and those efforts have paid off. The City of Jenks and our regional neighbors were able to act quickly, and there’s no doubt those actions saved many lives, and prevented our local hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.

The City of Jenks was a regional leader with our safer at home measures. We closed the Aquarium and moved all public meetings to virtual formats. We waived all online payment fees for utility billing. Liquor license fees for Jenks restaurants were waived. Jenks Senior Citizens staff continued to prepare and deliver meals to seniors in need. Public Works, Police, Fire, Aquarium, and City Hall staff all had to be creative in staffing, but we managed to keep every employee at full time capacity without furloughs.

Our city has had one of the strongest regional responses, and our numbers bear that out. We’ve had a little over 700 infections, just under 3% of our population, much lower than the regional average. Tragically, we’ve lost two of our citizens, and our hearts go out to the families in Jenks and around the state who have lost loved ones.

As we’ve slowly opened back up since the spring, the challenges have continued. Many of our businesses have experienced major slowdowns. Jenks Public Schools have had to make tough decisions, alternating between distance learning and new approaches to in-person instruction. Pick an organization or business around town, and chances are they’ve been affected by this pandemic in a big way.

I want to thank the people of Jenks, our business community, and our school system for everything they’ve done to slow the spread of this pandemic. I want to thank everyone at the City of Jenks: our Police and Fire Departments, Public Works Department, City Hall Staff, the Oklahoma Aquarium, City Council, Planning Commission, Board of Adjustment, Seniors group, and our partners at the Jenks Chamber of Commerce; all of whom have stepped up to the plate and have played a huge role in our response to this pandemic.

Despite all we’ve been through this year, it’s undeniable that the City of Jenks is stronger than it’s ever been.

We’re almost exclusively funded by sales tax revenues, and although we’ve braced for lower numbers in the midst of a larger economic downturn, we’ve consistently been surprised by repeated record-setting revenues.

Our annual audit showed we’re in the best financial health in our city’s history. One of the few things our auditor did ding us for was the fact that we don’t borrow enough. So, we issued revenue bonds to kickstart plans to improve our wastewater treatment system, and to install updated remote water meters throughout town, which we expect will pay for themselves in the long run.

The people of Jenks approved a GO bond in August of this year which will pay to widen south Elm Street, and to make improvements to the western gateway to our downtown. This bond also pays to engineer improvements to the final stretches of Elwood, as well as a brand new 106th street going into River District from Elm.

Speaking of our transportation infrastructure, we are well into a long-planned overhaul of the intersection at 111th and Elwood. When this is complete, we will begin a widening of Elwood between Main and 111th. At the same time, we are making improvements and repairs to roads all throughout town and throughout our neighborhoods.

These improvements are going to shave time from your daily commutes and improve your property values, but it’s also important to remember that our city is becoming more walkable by the day, with all of these projects including new sidewalks and trails, along with new sidewalks on B street and in many other places around town.

We also appreciate our partnership with Tulsa County, who are currently engineering much-needed improvements to 91st street and to 121st.

Meanwhile, our crews have been hard at work taking care of projects that are out of sight and out of mind for most of us but are among the most important functions of our city. As part of the residual effects of last year’s floods, we’ve had to reconstruct and replace water infrastructure and sewer force mains along Polecat Creek. We’ve fixed other sewer lines and storm drainage infrastructure across the city.

From improvements like these, to maintenance of facilities and parks and grounds, to emergency responses, our engineering and public works staff completed a whopping 5,666 projects in the last fiscal year, at an average of 21.8 projects per workday. Very often these needs come up late at night and in adverse weather conditions, so if you see our public works first responders out in the community, be sure and give them a thank you.

We’ve identified a list of about 100 capital projects that need to take place around the city, from roads to infrastructure to facilities, and we are currently working on a capital improvement plan that will provide the roadmap for how and when we will complete each project.

We recently approved a new comprehensive plan for the city, something we’ve been working on for the last year and a half. A true citizens’ document, informed by the public and honed by city leaders, this plan envisions the city’s future for the next twenty years, with a focus on revitalization of downtown Jenks, economic development, transportation, and recreation. The plan is the first, of a two-part process, with a thorough review of our zoning code being the next step.

We continue to see new businesses come to town, and after five years of hard work and patience, we’ve finally seen movement on our very own Simon Premium Outlets. This work was slowed on account of complications related to the pandemic, but Simon is working to get this wide-ranging construction project back on track. We’ve enjoyed working with Simon, who have been great partners for our city.

We’ve also enjoyed our first full year with our new curbside recycling program, which for the first time brought dedicated recycling options to our citizens. Since its August 2019 rollout, this program has diverted more than 1200 tons of materials from local landfills, allowing us to be better stewards of our resources and environment, while saving the people of Jenks long-term costs as we extend the lives of those landfills. The people of Jenks are leading the region in the use of this program, with 93% of Jenks households participating on a regular basis.

Our parks continue to get better and better, with a new splash pad and trails planned for Veteran’s Park, improved trails to the Churchill Trail system, and continued improvements to Park West. I’m excited to announce we are in the beginning stages of a brand-new nature park on Elm, just south of 106th street. This park will include many types of trails and terrains, water features, and a place for the people of Jenks to enjoy our city’s natural beauty. We appreciate Mike Wallace of the Jenks Chamber of Commerce Community Foundation for his help in kicking off this project.

We planted 150 trees around the city over the last year in partnership with Up with Trees, and the City of Jenks recently was designated as a Tree City USA. Trees are such an important part of the fabric of our city. Not only do they beautify our surroundings and improve our quality of life, but they raise property values, improve air and water quality, promote walkability, and help with stormwater retention.

We’re in the beginning stages of planning new central fire and police stations, which will better help our first responders protect and serve our citizens. We couldn’t be prouder of our community police and fire departments, who workday in and day out to keep us safe. They’ve been on the front lines of the pandemic, and they’ve done a phenomenal job as they’ve been exposed to even more danger than usual.

Our Police and Fire departments completed their first full year of the Jenks Emergency Services Air Support and Drone Program, launched in 2019 in response to the historic floods we experienced. Thanks to the hundreds of hours of work that went into creating the unit in accordance with FAA guidelines, the Jenks Air Support Unit is the premier unit in the metro area, with 8 FAA-certified drone operators. This unit is a big help to our public safety operations, including search and rescue, aerial visuals of fires and tactical events, security of large public events, and interior searches of buildings. We’re proud of this program, which has been an important resource in Jenks and across the region as the only active drone program in the area.

Jenks Police Department responded to over 14,000 calls in the last year, with an average response time of 3.78 minutes. They completed more than 4,600 hours of training and participated in more than 90 community events, including events for Jenks Public Schools, the Oklahoma Aquarium, and the Special Olympics.

Jenks Fire and Rescue enhanced their capabilities last year with new equipment like battery-powered extrication gear and thermal imaging cameras, and with nearly 6,000 total training hours. Jenks Fire and Rescue responded to 1,568 calls last fiscal year, with an average arrival time of one minute and 19 seconds.

Jenks Animal Control responded to over 750 calls for service in the last year, including 62 wildlife calls. 70 pets were reunited with owners, and 16 were adopted, with the help of the new Pet of the Week social media program that was started in August 2019. Jenks Animal Control acquired a new heated and air conditioned truck bed for animal transport, and we’ve begun the site selection process for a new animal shelter, which will provide a more comfortable environment for the animals in our care, while being more accessible to families for adoption, with the ultimate goal of making Jenks a no-kill city.

We’ve begun the process of establishing a new activity center for the Jenks Senior Citizens group. The group currently meets in the city hall community room, which they’ve outgrown. The new center will give the seniors a dedicated space to gather and participate in a wide variety of activities. We have a very active seniors’ group, with an average of 67 in attendance each Tuesday and Friday, 14 who take a weekly art class, and 754 trips provided in the last fiscal year.

It’s been a remarkable year for the Oklahoma Aquarium. Pre-pandemic, they were on track for their most profitable year, but like so many other organizations, have taken a financial hit in recent months. Luckily, they’ve grown to be an extremely resilient organization, well-positioned to weather any storm. And they’ve used this as an opportunity to develop new and improved outreach efforts through social media and other outlets that will serve them well as they continue to bounce back.

Despite some of the disappointments this year, the aquarium has had a lot to celebrate, with the unveiling of their new Secret World of the Octopus exhibit, and the beginnings of new invertebrate, jellyfish, and clownfish exhibits. In fiscal year 2020, the Oklahoma Aquarium brought nearly 260,000 guests, which would have been much more had they not closed for Covid-19. They hosted 137 events and were aided by 574 volunteers. Aquarium staff made a visit last year to our sister aquarium in Jerusalem and made a major donation to wildlife conservation groups responding to last year’s wildfires in Australia. We’re proud of the aquarium’s work in the areas of research and conservation, with an impact that is felt across the globe.

It was a big year for the Jenks Chamber of Commerce. They unveiled new initiatives for economic development and tourism, and they welcomed a new economic development director, who hit the ground running in working to attract new businesses to Jenks. The Chamber has worked overtime to support our local businesses, our city operations, and the Oklahoma aquarium in this challenging year.

Of everything that’s happened in 2020, I’m amazed by two things in particular: how much the city of Jenks has been through; and through it all, how much we have continued to flourish and grow.

I’m proud of all that we have achieved this year, managing to shine even more brightly in the face of these difficult and uncertain times. I’m proud of the way the city, the business community, our schools, our community newspaper, and citizens have pulled together to find new and creative ways to keep each other safe, often finding better ways to operate than we had before. We may be physically distanced this year, but we’ve never been more unified as a community. I can’t wait to see what we’re able to accomplish in the year ahead.

A sold out crowd watched Jenks Mayor Robert Lee deliver the 2020 State of the City Address Wednesday at the September Chamber of Commerce Luncheon. Photos/Kyle Salomon
Jenks Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Josh Driskell introduces Jenks Mayor Robert Lee Wednesday at the Chamber Luncheon prior to Lee’s State of the City Address.

Kyle Salomon

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