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There’s no doubt that 2021 was a challenging year. If there’s anything the past 680-plus days of this pandemic have taught us is that, tomorrow, everything can change.

Together, even through these challenges, we’ve made great strides in the past year. And there are real, tangible reasons Charleston is strong and poised for a brighter tomorrow.

In the throes of a pandemic, we balanced the budget with no new taxes and without cutting or eliminating essential city services while maintaining the largest rainy-day fund in our city’s history.

We fixed a long-time pay issue for police officers working night shift and a pay discrepancy for Street Department drivers — ensuring drivers doing similar work are being paid the same. We increased the pay for all Charleston police officers, increased the starting salary for probationary police officers and offered a $15,000 signing bonus for first-time certified recruits.

Additionally, the Charleston Fire Department now offers a $15,000 signing bonus for qualifying first-time recruits who are certified paramedics.

Working in collaboration with our U.S. senators, the West Virginia Division of Highways, Federal Highway Administration and local partners, we secured a $1.75 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to help revitalize the Kanawha Boulevard corridor along the riverfront.

The Charleston Capital Connector Project will better connect our West Side, East End and downtown while improving safety and making Charleston more walkable and bikeable.

We increased paving, demolitions and sidewalk projects. Our downtown, city-owned parking garages underwent major upgrades, including new security cameras, better lighting and extra security presence in the evenings and on weekends. Our street and police departments completed a lighting audit on the West Side. And we are ready to unveil a plan to provide a safer way to connect the historic Five Corners.

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Charleston is part of the $500,000 winning application in Phase 1 of the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge. Out of 529 national applicants, the ACT Now Coalition was selected as one of 60 and awarded money to compete in the second phase of the grant process. This opportunity is one of the most exciting economic development projects we have worked on in more than a decade.

We partnered — long-term — with The McGee Foundation on the creation of a master plan to improve the lives of all people living and working on the West Side — addressing housing, jobs, social services and food access.

The Charleston Roots program — a partnership with the Charleston Area Alliance and Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau — brought, and continues to bring, highly skilled people who want to give back to our community — their new home. Through this program, we have more families here and on their way.

Our new partnership with OVG, which manages the Charleston Coliseum & Convention Center and Municipal Auditorium, has proven incredibly successful, and we are quickly joining the ranks of other successfully managed venues across the country. Through their wealth of industry knowledge and existing relationships, we have already secured a major return on investment for both of these revenue-generating facilities.

Parks and Recreation fields and facilities throughout the city have seen major renovations and additions, including the city’s first skate park, an AARP FitLot on Dixie Street, Celebration Station, Slack Plaza, MLK Center, Emma’s Place dog park, Bailee Rose Dunlap Park, Cato Park and a new park on Beatrice Street, in the heart of the West Side.

Ten years after the Youth Summer Jobs Program ended, we brought it back, providing more than 40 local kids a job. Spring Hill Cemetery opened West Virginia’s largest arboretum, which includes more than 100 distinct tree species. Seventeen permanent public art pieces were installed last year — making Charleston home to more than 375 permanent works. We kept baseball through our new relationship with the Atlantic League — and our team — the Charleston Dirty Birds. And we announced the return of the Regatta.

I’m proud of what we have accomplished — together. But know, there is more work to be done. With your help — and that of the City Council, our city team, and our partners — we will continue our positive momentum, bringing life to our incredible vision for West Virginia’s capital city.

Amy Shuler Goodwin is the mayor of Charleston.

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