Abilene mayor revisits 2021, looks forward to the new year

Anthony Williams
 |  Abilene Reporter-News

A year ago, as we were still experiencing the aftermath of our unwelcome introduction to the coronavirus, I, like many, was eagerly looking forward to 2021.

Most of us, at that time, still had underestimated the residue left behind from 2020, and we hadn’t fully realized the many ways that COVID-19 would continue to be an intruder in our community. Texas trails only California in business closures over the past two years.

Nationally, we’ve seen inflation skyrocket, supply chains interrupted and our most vulnerable residents suffer the most, especially those on fixed incomes, moderate-income households and young families. Abilene is not insulated from these national circumstances, but we’ve fared better than most.

I’d like to provide an update and a glimpse of what we might expect in 2022. This is how Team Abilene is responding to the global pandemic and the other challenges and opportunities facing our community.

Omicron and the ongoing pandemic

The Hendrick Medical Center coverage area comprises about 9% of the state.

Hendrick staff have done an amazing job, also providing consistent communications and updates since March 2020. Omicron now is the dominant variant, representing 92% of all new cases statewide at this writing. It is more contagious than Delta, and Regeneron monoclonal antibody therapy is not effective against this variant.

Sotrovimab, a different monoclonal antibody, is helpful but not currently available in our area. Current data indicate that those who are fully vaccinated have a 76% chance of resisting Omicron, and this increases to 93% effectiveness with a booster.

More than 90% of all COVID-19 patients in our local hospitals are the unvaccinated, according to our health-care professionals. More than 50% of Taylor County residents remain un-inoculated. The city, county, our health district and Hendrick are working together to communicate, educate and bring in needed resources.

 In 2022, the coronavirus still will challenge our community, nation and the world. We have lost 565 of our neighbors to this disease and ,sadly, more deaths are projected.

I encourage all those who are not vaccinated to get the shot, and those who are should get the booster. We also will continue communicating about the Omicron variant and others that may follow.

Crime, water and streets

► Crime has escalated across the nation and state. But in Abilene, we have been more fortunate.

Though violent crime is up 13%, crime overall is down 5%. The drop in crime rate is mainly attributable to the 7% reduction in property crime.

► As I mentioned last year, the cities of Abilene, San Angelo, and Midland have secured enough water for the next 50 to 70 years. In 2022, we will continue to work with our West Texas partners to explore creating a permanent entity that will oversee the administration of this water supply. We anticipate an announcement of this structure during the first half of the year.

In February, in the midst of “Snowmageddon,” Abilene and 2,000 other state water systems lost the ability to deliver water. We had a workshop in March, another presentation during our budget workshops in July and ongoing conversations with consultants and state officials.

In our workshop early in 2022, we will discuss several options that have been raised with the goal of adopting a plan prior to or during our July budget workshop. The needed investment will be between $14 million and $25 million.

► We have effectively addressed investment in our streets. In fact, we project that from 2018 to the end of the coming year, we will have allocated or spent more than $150 million for improving our local streets. Though we have seen progress much remains to be done.

There is still a need for construction, and I would anticipate conversations about a street bond targeted for November.

Economic development

Strengthening Abilene’s economic infrastructures has been my focal point as mayor, and as I complete my current term it will remain my priority.

While COVID-19, crime, water and streets are important, nothing is more vital than family dignity, achieved by fiscal empowerment and made available to all our residents.

When women and men in our community have the ability to adequately take care of their families, these families have dignity; and when families have dignity they will engage in the community for the betterment of all of us. This is why economic development tops the list of priorities.

The downtown hotel is under construction and by the end of 2022, will be well underway. We anticipate construction will take 18 months and an opening in 2023 will be welcomed. The Abilene Convention and Visitor’s Bureau already has booked several conventions for the hotel when it is opened. We believe the hotel will continue the reinvestment we are seeing in downtown Abilene.

We’ve had a good run, with a number of huge wins under the direction of Misty Mayo. As she begins her 31st month, the Development Corporation of Abilene has incentivized the private sector to invest $295 million; more than 1,000 new jobs have been committed and more than 1,700 jobs have been retained.

In 2021 alone, 770 new jobs were created, 460 were retained, and $250 million was invested by the private sector. By the way, that figure does not include the recent $2.4 billion private sector investment. More significant opportunities await in 2022, which means that more families will have dignity. 

The Abilene Chamber of Commerce has a had a spectacular year.

Our Military Affairs Committee (MAC), which stewards the relationship between Dyess AFB and the Abilene community, performed at a level that delivered our second Barksdale Trophy, a national award presented by the Air Force for community support. Dyess generates more than $1 million a day for our local economy, and the MAC helps secure the stability of the three missions currently assigned to the base.

The chamber will have a year of transition in 2022, including a new location at 400 Pine, hiring a new leader for the Convention and Visitors Bureau to replace Nanci Liles after 36 years of outstanding service. Chamber president Doug Peters has a saying that many of us have adopted: “Abilene is not good enough for any of us until it’s good enough for all of us.”

Looking ahead

The next few months will see additional initiatives, some of which have not been finalized but in which significant progress is evident.

For example: more than 70% of the children enrolled in Abilene ISD qualify for free or reduced lunch. If not for the breakfasts and lunches provided by our schools, some of our community’s children would not eat. This, of course, creates a challenging environment and in the next few weeks, we will present an opportunity to address it.

We also want to continue to create an ecosystem of entrepreneurship that will empower young risk-takers.

Our nation is divided; political and social schism plagues our country. But I am deeply proud to affirm that we have done better in Abilene. As we move forward into a new year, I pledge to continue conversations in our community focused on what we have in common, rather than what divides us. 

I am l proud of our performance in 2021 and looking forward to what 2022 has in store. Let’s go, Team Abilene!

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