Heading into the third year of his first term, Mayor Jorge Elorza delivered his annual State of the City address Wednesday, making note of the various accomplishments and benchmarks reached during his time in office.
“I stand before you today … with the message that we are building for the long term,” Elorza said. “We are changing this narrative and writing a new script together.” One of the most identifiable ways in which that narrative has been altered is the city’s financial landscape, he said.
From the end of the 2015 fiscal year to the end of the 2016 fiscal year, for example, the city went from a $13 million deficit to the strongest flow of income it had seen in years, Elorza said. He added that for the first time since 2011, Providence will have a rainy day fund.
One symptom of these improvements is home sales in the city, which have increased rapidly, including a 24 percent increase in single family home sales, Elorza said. Thanking the governor for her cooperation in attracting businesses to the city, Elorza lauded the new locations of several companies like General Electric and Johnson & Johnson as signs of Providence’s growth.
The mayor intends to build on these developments and has submitted a five-year capital improvement plan worth an estimated $120 million to the City Plan Commission. Speaking on the importance of maintaining the city’s roads, bridges and sewers, Elorza maintained that “we can afford these investments. We can’t afford not to make them.”
A large portion of the address was related to educational reforms undertaken by the Elorza administration, including last year’s $2 million investment in 8,000 laptops for city students. Elorza said that $10 million would be spent to make repairs to school district buildings, a component of a recent announcement that the city would increase its contribution to schools for the first time in six years.
This will factor into Elorza’s larger stated goal of “(creating) the greatest urban educational district in the country.”
Another likely factor in improving educational outcomes is an expansion of the city’s contribution to childcare for its residents. In expanding the number and quality of city recreational centers, Elorza has seen the number of meals served in those centers increase from 3,000 in 2015 to 100,000 in 2016. “No child should ever experience hunger, and no family should ever be short on food,” Elorza said.
Touching on the issue of crime in Providence, Elorza made note of the fact that the 2016 homicide rate was tied for the city’s lowest in 30 years. In addition, there was a 37 percent decline in the number of shootings recorded this year compared to the five-year average. Elorza attributed this decline to community cooperation with police and an overall doubling of crime watch groups in the past two years.
Elorza spent the final five minutes of his speech addressing a figure with whom he has found himself more and more at odds in recent weeks: President Donald Trump. “It’s important to address the changed landscape in which we all now find ourselves,” Elorza said. “It’s been two weeks since our president was inaugurated, and already we’ve seen attacks on the principles we hold most dear.”
Elorza, himself a child of immigrants, said he was “deeply proud and personally thankful of how inclusive and welcoming” the city has been both to his own family and to immigrants more broadly. Elorza focused on that openheartedness, imploring city residents to invest themselves in the city and help improve it.
“We are the change we seek,” Elorza said, quoting former President Barack Obama. “Together, let’s build the one Providence we all know we have the potential to be.”