No one could have predicted that as September 2020 marked the beginning of my administration's third year, we would continue to face the unimaginable. Because of the global coronavirus pandemic, businesses were closed, schools grappled with online learning models, and church services were attended online.
Despite the challenges forced on us by the pandemic, we have accomplished a great deal during our third year. Shelby County government employees found innovative and creative ways to help residents thrive and that will continue into our fourth year.
Very early in the pandemic, senior living facilities locked their doors. Keeping loved ones away was a life-saving measure for residents, but it also created social isolation. We established our "Senior Tech Connect" program to provide grants to local senior living facilities to purchase the technology needed to keep seniors in touch with their loved ones.
The “Our Beautiful Comeback” grant programs gave $500 to licensed cosmetologists, barbers, and stylists and $2,000 for close-contact business owners to help offset lost revenue when those businesses were closed. Meanwhile, the "Share the Tab" grant program provided relief for local bars, clubs, and restaurants. The "Share the Tab II" program put $1,000 in the hands of restaurant workers who couldn't work when businesses closed or dine-in services were limited.
In addition to providing relief, we worked hard to engage community members in our efforts to slow the spread and encourage vaccinations. That's why we established our COVID-19 Community Council. Council members represent Shelby County residents of all ages and from all walks of life. They have circulated accurate information about the coronavirus and helped increase the number of people getting vaccinated by working pop-up vaccine events, filming commercials, and distributing literature door-to-door.
There were other community needs that we took on along with COVID.
We advanced criminal justice reforms and invested in public safety. We're proud to have successfully pushed through an ordinance that requires county law enforcement to receive special authorization from the County Commission to acquire military equipment from the federal government, drawing a sharp distinction between law enforcement and the military. We made a $32 million investment in fire safety that includes the reopening of Fire Station 60 on Egypt Central Road. We now have plans to build two new fire stations, purchase new equipment, and hire more fire personnel. To reduce recidivism, we enacted new work programs for county inmates that teach them transferable skills that will help them gain employment after their release.
To combat climate change, Shelby County made its largest purchase ever of hybrid fleet vehicles in our government's history and expanded our investment in public transit.
We increased the amount of down payment assistance money available for qualifying residents seeking to own their own homes and joined with activists in the successful fight to stop the construction of an oil pipeline in our neighborhoods.
In our growing slate of mental health reforms, all fire department dispatchers received nationally-accredited training and are prepared to handle calls from residents experiencing a range of mental health crisis, including suicide threats. Fire department personnel now have the ability to transport a resident experiencing a mental health crisis directly to a mental healthcare facility, instead of to a crowded hospital emergency room. We doubled the size of our veteran’s services office, giving more Shelby County veterans access to the mental health care that they’ve earned.
As one of the county’s largest employers, we have tried to lead by example. We passed a new safe leave policy for county employees involved in domestic violence situations, provided free teletherapy for employees, lifted barriers for employees seeking mental healthcare, and gave paid time off so employees could get the coronavirus vaccine.
During it all, we have encouraged a healthier Shelby County with this year's “Move with the Mayor” bike ride through Shelby Farms with Shelby County Assessor of Property Melvin Burgess and over 80 county employees and residents.
Throughout county government, employees continue to work hard, be creative, thrifty, and laser focused on delivering the best services and the best programs for the residents of the best county in Tennessee. In this fourth year, we'll work to expand our paid leave program, advance ethics reforms, continue the course against COVID, and much more.
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