City of Amarillo officials speak on various topics during 2021 State of the City event

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AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — Along with speaking on the status of the City of Amarillo’s broadband internet initiative and the upcoming November tax rate election, officials took the time during Wednesday’s State of the City event at Hodgetown to touch on a handful of other topics, highlighting how each one impacts the residents of Potter and Randall counties. 

Amarillo Police and Shootings

Amarillo Police Chief Martin Birkenfeld spoke about the recent rise of violent crime, as well as the recent shootings and homicides within the city of Amarillo, during his portion of the State of the City event. 

This comes after officers recently arrested 18-year-old David Winfield in connection with a string of drive-by shootings on Labor Day. Five shootings occurred in North Amarillo, one of which resulted in the death of 62-year-old Laura Ashley.

Birkenfeld said that so far this year, the department has seen 23 homicides, two of which have been unsolved. All the homicides so far have been gun homicides. Birkenfeld also said there have been more than 160 other shootings that the department is investigating. 

Because of the rise in violent crime, Birkenfeld said the department implemented a specific team dedicated to responding to shootings last year. 

“What that does is it builds the capacity for investigators to have whatever resources they need when a shooting occurs. So, 24/7, there’s a team on call, and if the investigator who is assigned that shooting goes out and decides he needs two or three more investigators, we call them out. If they need 15 more investigators, we call them out,” Birkenfeld said. “We don’t shortchange our investigations on shootings because as quickly as possible, we want to hold somebody accountable that get them off the streets and reduce the danger to our citizens.” 

What the department has found is that the majority of the guns used in these crimes are stolen firearms individuals find in vehicles, Birkenfeld said. 

“We’re in Texas and we love our guns and I appreciate that. We don’t have any issues with citizens who are law-abiding and carry guns. We never have,” Birkenfeld said. “One thing you have to make sure of is you can’t leave it in your car. You can’t leave it out for a child to get a hold of it. One easy thing to do is always take your gun out of your car, always lock your car, always take your keys with you. Those things would help us a lot because we find that the majority of the guns that are used in crimes are stolen guns.”

American Rescue Plan Funds

Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the city of Amarillo is expected to receive more than $42 million from the federal government through the American Rescue Plan act. Officials from the city of Amarillo outlined some of the plans for those funds during the State of the City event. 

The city plans to use some of the funds for the new broadband internet initiative, according to Amarillo Assistant City Manager Laura Storrs. However, the city also plans to use the funds for other initiatives including adding police and fire equipment and bringing life into parks in underserved areas. 

The city also hopes to boost some of its initiatives for the city’s homeless population with the American Rescue Plan funds, Storrs said. 

“We also have some homeless initiatives that we’re hoping to kind of move forward with the American Rescue Plan funds,” Storrs said. “One is actually a partnership between our Coming Home project and our Parks Department to help transition some of those individuals back into the workforce by helping form some litter crews in our local parks. So, it’s beautifying our areas and helping transition some of those most affected by COVID back into the workforce. We’re also looking at some potential for some safe housing for our homeless.”

Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson said the use of the funds is complicated, with the federal government outlining some stipulations on what they can, or cannot, be used for.

“Not every project qualifies in what the government says those funds can be spent for,” Nelson said. “It is exciting to see the opportunities and we’ll look forward to accelerating towards spending those dollars in a way that has a lasting impact in our community.” 

Amarillo City Manager Jared Miller said after the State of the City event that the uses outlined during the event are only some of the priorities which will be presented to the City Council, who will ultimately have to approve the uses of the American Rescue Plan funds. 

“All of the priorities weren’t discussed (during the event) and we’ve been collecting input from council over the last month or two, to make sure that we can refine what we’re going to recommend to council as accurately as possible,” Miller said. 

COVID-19

Casie Stoughton, the city of Amarillo’s public health director, gave an update regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic during the State of the City event, praising the city’s vaccination effort as well as the city’s monoclonal antibody treatment center. 

As of Wednesday, Potter and Randall counties reported 45,593 COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, 3,124 of which are active. There have been 41,572 COVID-19 recoveries and 897 COVID-19-related deaths. 

Stoughton said the city has given more than 141,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine since the vaccination effort began in January. Out of the total, approximately 1,000 of those doses were given through the city’s mobile vaccination clinics and approximately 500 of the doses were given to those who could not leave their home. 

“That’s a really important service that our team provided,” Stoughton said. 

Through the Amarillo Regional Infusion Center, recently brought back with the help of the Texas Department of State Health Services, Stoughton said more than 300 individuals have received the monoclonal antibody treatment. The center is now infusing eligible individuals with the Regeneron treatment. 

“This is truly a life-saving effort,” Stoughton said. 

Stoughton also stated that more than 17,000 patients have been tested for COVID-19 through the city’s testing site and more than 211,000 phone calls have been received and made through the public health department. 

Amarillo Animal Management and Welfare

During her portion of the event, Storrs also gave updates regarding the city’s Animal Management and Welfare department, stating that the shelter has improved over the past year with Victoria Medley and Kris Shaffer at the helm. 

Officials with the department have added a dashboard/report card for the department, highlighting statistics on a daily basis, including intake numbers, the number of adoptions as well as euthanasia data. 

“There are so many good things going on,” Storrs said. “We have a new partnership with the Texas Tech Veterinary School. They have been instrumental in already working in our shelter, teaming up with our vets to make decisions to do procedures and we’re looking forward to continue accelerating that partnership in the future.”

Currently, the shelter continues to work through an outbreak of both distemper as well as Parvo, Storrs said. This impacts the ability of the shelter to be open to the public. However, the department is continuing to use its reach to continue adoptions, as well as vaccination clinics. 

“You can go online and see what animals are available for adoption and make an appointment and we will have a staff member help get you introduced to that animal so you can have a successful adoption,” Storrs said. “…We’re working with Texas Tech hand in hand on making decisions about trying to stop the spread of distemper and Parvo. Please make sure your animals are vaccinated. We’re also doing vaccine clinics. An overwhelming amount of people have shown up for these and we have given well over 2,000 vaccinations to animals to help prevent this in the future.” 

Governmental Services 311

City of Amarillo Chief Information Officer Rich Gagnon highlighted a new program that would improve the residents’ access to governmental services if approved by City Council. 

If the program is implemented, residents would be able to dial 311 and reach a city official for various services or to report issues. Gagnon said this also includes a mobile application, where citizens can take photos of issues, like a broken stoplight or a pothole in need of repair, and submit it to city officials. 

“On the back end, it gives us the ability to get all that data to council so you can see… what kind of requests we are getting in which parts of town (so) we can make better data-driven decisions,” he said. 

If approved by the city council, Gagnon expects the program to be implemented by the end of the year. 

Other topics city officials highlighted during the State of the City address included the following:

  • Public works and illegal dumping; 
  • Economic development; 
  • Transportation; 
  • The Amarillo Civic Center Complex project; 
  • Housing Shortage; 
  • Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport; 
  • Communications. 

Nelson said she believes the State of the City event is important to be hosted for the community every year to help residents understand what is happening in the city they live in. 

“We have a lot of facts about our city,” Nelson said. “But if we don’t take those facts and connect them to how it benefits a citizens’ life, we’ve really fallen short of the mark. The reason that we do a State of the City is not to just talk about how many tons of trash we hauled away last year. The reason we do that is because we’re casting a vision for the hope that we have in building a better city.” 

To end Wednesday’s event, Nelson said there is a lot of hope for making the city of Amarillo better as a whole. She believes there are many opportunities available to the city at this time to accelerate its success for the future. 

“Together, we are Amarilloians and as Amarilloians, we share Amarillo values: faith, family, hard work, being kind to other people,” Nelson told the crowd. “We are curious about how to make Amarillo better, and that’s our shared purpose, right? Make Amarillo Better. We share in creating an Amarillo that everybody who lives in our city can reach their potential for greatness.” 

For more coverage of Wednesday’s State of the City event, and to watch the full event, click here.

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