CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg delivered his State of the City address from council chambers Tuesday evening. He spoke with News 2’s Carolyn Murray ahead of the annual speech, where he touched on the biggest issues the city is facing in 2022.
Those topics include a fix for flooding and drainage, supporting the police department and other public safety officials, combating the affordable housing crisis, and working with community groups and government partners to improve quality of life.
Part of the focus was on the challenges both the city and community faced throughout the pandemic and its road to recovery.
“We’re in such a better place now, with vaccines and boosters and more knowledge about this virus thanks to our healthcare professionals whose advice I followed all along,” he said. “Despite the challenges, Charleston is in a good spot. We have to be careful but we’re proceeding to focus now on those things in our community that make the most common sense.”
He spoke about the city’s partnership with the Medical University of South Carolina and other health providers, like Fetter Health Care, to provide vaccines to the community once they were made available.
“We’ve offered our facilities on Lockwood Boulevard, and to date, we have helped vaccinate over 50,000 of our citizens right here in Charleston. He said the city is now pushing boosters in the ongoing fight against the virus.
Tecklenburg said the city will continue its focus on public safety this year. He has committed to using funds from the American Rescue Plan to protect people and their property by installing cameras around the city of Charleston.
“Over the past six years, the city of Charleston has increased its police budget by nearly $10 million a year and a similar number for our fire department as well. So, in addition to our own city resources, we are going to ask City Council to commit extra federal relief funds to buy technology and extra cameras to keep eyes on the city.”
He said it will augment the forensics facility the city opened last year. The cameras will be placed throughout the city at key intersections and areas of need, helping to bolster the Holy City’s effort to crack down on crime and improve safety.
Mayor Tecklenburg said he plans to continue to connect people and the city over the next year by increasing sidewalks and pathways. He acknowledged that because of Charleston’s historic nature, sidewalks need a little more maintenance and discussed the need to add sidewalks to much older neighborhoods that have been annexed into city limits.
“To dedicate some extra funds to improve existing and build some new sidewalks, I think, is a great idea for our city,” he said. Places we could see the new walkways include areas around West Ashley and places in the city that need repair or improvements. He called on members of the community to reach out to the customer service line (843-724-7311) if they know of an area that needs a little help with it comes to its sidewalks.
Flooding is not uncommon in the city, with its aging stormwater and drainage system, new development, coastal storms, and other issues. He is looking at ways to preserve and protect the accessibility to waterways while protecting the city from being damaged by the powerful forces of flooding.
“Protecting Charleston from all types of flooding risk is an existential threat to the city. That can be from surge, sea-level rise, from tides – you see high tides now happening where streets and neighborhoods are being flooded – it can happen with a rain bomb in addition to a hurricane. So, our comprehensive strategy and plans to mitigate flooding and provide better drainage are well underway.”
He said this year alone, the city will be spending over $100 million on drainage projects across the peninsula and in West Ashley. “We’ll be doing phase two of the award-winning Forest Acres Drainage Improvement Project. We have projects on Johns Island, on James Island — it’s really comprehensive with lots of small and big projects underway, and we’ll be started this year.”
Flood relief, he believes, could be seen this year.
Tuesday’s speech also focused on affordable housing and what the city is doing to keep people living where they work.
“All new development of any size in the city of Charleston has a requirement — stronger than anywhere in the state of South Carolina — to provide affordable housing or contribute funding for affordable housing. So, over the last few years, we’ve cobbled together over $50 million in various programs to invest in new affordable housing.”
He said many of those projects will be breaking ground this year.
The city’s Special Commission on Equity, Inclusion, and Racial Conciliation will focus on helping minority businesses and increasing affordable housing.