The Together 2011 initiative began when 22 civic-minded Abilene organizations, in celebration of Abilene's 130th birthday, joined the City of Abilene in an effort to broaden, beautify and generally better the community through a series of projects. These passionate organizations represented a broad spectrum of the city's business and civic life, from nonprofits, medical centers and banks to real estate firms, car dealerships and the local newspaper. The theme of Together 2011 captures the essence of the Abilene spirit: “We live here. We love it.” Members of the Together 2011 committee made generous donations and sought major gifts, turning proposed projects into reality. One such project was a splash park.
The City of Abilene had placed a splash park on the Parks Master Plan based on surveys of Abilene residents. When Together 2011 came up with the appropriate funding for the proposed splash park, the project's wheels were set in motion. City staff and the Together 2011 committee conducted research, visited many cities that had splash park facilities, and developed a proposed plan; staff then presented their plan to the Parks and Recreation Board and later to City Council, which wholeheartedly approved the project. Dubbed Nelson Splash, the splash park is a 3,000 square foot, zero-depth park that has dedicated areas for both younger and older children, a variety of water features, a UV filtration system, restroom facilities and shaded tables. Nelson Park was picked as the location for the splash park because the Abilene Zoo, Camp Barkeley Dog Park, Nelson Lake, Fort Imagination playground and Nelson Park softball fields are located there and already draw large crowds. Nelson Splash officially opened to the public on August 4, 2012, to the squeals and delight of kids and adults alike.
Various species of Zoo babies have been born under the watchful eyes of the Abilene Zoo staff. At the end of 2011, the zoo was pleased to announce the addition of an endangered maned wolf born on December 29. Native to the open and semi-open grasslands of Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia and Peru, the new male pup weighed approximately 16 ounces and now lives next to the South American Pampas exhibit, which opened in the spring of 2012.
In May, the Abilene Zoo's first ever Caribbean flamingo chick hatched. Through careful planning by zoo staff and thoughtful additions made to the existing Wetlands of the Americas exhibit, the environment was just right for the flamingos to reproduce for the first time in zoo history.
Since flamingos are most comfortable in larger groups, 12 birds were added to the zoo's flock of 11 birds to encourage breeding last year. Zoo staff also created a dirt mixture for the flock that could be used easily by the flamingos to build their tall nests. The egg that held the flamingo chick was laid on a mud nest built by its parents and hatched after a 28-day incubation period.
Another baby flamingo was born later in the summer. The juvenile pair can be seen walking around the exhibit sporting their gray feathers that will be replaced by the characteristic pink ones by the age of two.
In August, the Abilene Zoo celebrated another addition to the animal collection with the birth of an East African Crowned Crane weighing 109 grams. Although this species has been on exhibit for several years, a chick has never been produced. In July, two eggs were laid in a nest inside the exhibit but the parents did not attempt to incubate them. Zoo staff gathered the eggs and artificially incubated them, and one of the eggs produced the new chick.
Zoo staff hand-reared the baby but carefully took steps to keep the chick from thinking it was human. Zoo Keeper James McKinney put innovation into practice and created a Crowned Crane puppet to teach the chick to eat and groom itself.
The excitement of new zoo babies, new exhibits, and renovations to zoo facilities resulted in yet another attendance record. During the last fiscal year, 217,103 guests visited the zoo, an increase of 9,492 individuals from the record set the previous fiscal year. This reflects part of the steady increase in attendance since 2005, when the zoo had 114,328 visitors.
And next year offers even more enhancements. Caribbean Cove will open in spring of 2013 and will feature a variety of Central and South American animals including monkeys, parrots, toucans and sloths.
Programs and Pages Touching All Ages
The services and programs provided by the City of Abilene touch every generation. This includes the Abilene Public Library, where there is truly something for everyone to enjoy. Programs begin quite literally at infancy with “Baby Steps” story time. The joy of reading is promoted and fostered as school-aged children participate in “Tween Time” and grow into the “Teen Time” program. Literature is enhanced by art as crafts that complement the featured book are offered. An astounding 914 patrons participated in the adult book club “Novel Destinations”. These programs, located at all three library branches, are free of charge and accessible to every Abilene citizen.
A new “Book-a-Librarian” service began in January of 2012 and quickly became one of the most popular services offered at the library. At any of the three library branches, citizens can make an appointment for assistance with one of the library's information professionals for up to thirty minutes of uninterrupted one-on-one time. “Book-a-Librarian” sessions can cover a broad range of issues including technology tutoring, genealogy insights or help navigating the library's vast collection. Plans for the future include continuing and expanding the “Book-a-Librarian” sessions.
Local and regional authors were showcased once again in the 2012 Texas Author Series. Sponsored by the Friends of the Abilene Public Library and the West Texas Book and Music Festival, a group of selected Texas authors shared backstories and heartfelt details about their featured books. From family cookbooks to football, Texas gangsters to fiction, each book was discussed by its author to the delight of library patrons.
Bringing Real Opportunity to Business
Eagle Aviation Services opened in 1994 with 86 aviation mechanics, with financial assistance from the Development Corporation of Abilene (“DCOA”). Located at the Abilene Regional Airport, Eagle Aviation provides aircraft maintenance for turboprops and jets flying all over the country. In February, Hangar 4 was officially opened and features a state-of-the-art foam suppression system designed to extinguish an aircraft fire within minutes. Today Eagle Aviation boasts five hangars, a Parts and Records building and approximately 450 employees. Eagle Aviation's successful expansion is based, in part, on its partnership with the DCOA.
Another successful DCOA partnership in 2012 was construction of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Nursing, which began in the spring of 2012. The school will open in early 2013 offering courses to two hundred students and supported by 36 faculty and staff members. The new school will connect physically with the Texas Tech University Health Science Center School of Pharmacy. As a result of financial participation by the DCOA and many other community partners, students graduating from the schools of pharmacy and nursing can serve the region's healthcare needs for generations to come.
When the DCOA heard from local and regional businesses that oil and gas exploration west and southwest of Abilene was luring away their welders, DCOA helped form a collaborative effort including the Abilene campus of Cisco College, Workforce Solutions of West Central Texas and area industrial managers. What became known as the Fast-Track Welding Program is seven weeks of intense training along with employment education courses like resume writing and interviewing skills. The program, which offers four graduating classes, has secured jobs for its graduates, some even before they graduate. The Fast-Track Welding Program not only equips students with the required skills but also provides them the opportunity to begin a lasting career.
Abilene's Police and Fire academies are an investment in the future peace and safety of Abilene. In 2012, the Abilene Police Department and Abilene Fire Department received an infusion of new officers and firefighters to their ranks.Among these newly hired men and women could be the chiefs, detectives, lieutenants and captains of tomorrow. The firefighters and officers that graduate are better equipped to serve the Abilene community than ever before.
The Abilene Police Department celebrated a significant milestone when 21 cadets graduated from the department's 50th Police Academy in July. The six-month academy is rigorous, implementing the most effective training techniques to prepare each cadet for the daily challenges police officers face. These men and women are Abilene's next generation of peace officers, who may well serve the community for decades to come.
Thirty-three recently hired firefighters have been familiarizing themselves with the day-to-day activities of the Abilene Fire Department throughout the year. Every rookie is a certified paramedic and has received the latest training in firefighting, technology and medical response.
In addition to the new departmental staffing, a new Emergency Medical Dispatching program was launched in 2012. This software system is designed to provide better patient care while providing the appropriate resources based on each patient's need. When a citizen calls 911, the response to the emergency call is based on the signs and symptoms presented to the 911 operator. The appropriate resources are sent to that particular emergency while other resources remain available for other, incoming emergency calls. Local 911 operators undertook thousands of hours of training and are now certified Emergency Medical Dispatchers serving the Abilene community.
In a time when municipalities across the nation experienced financial troubles and setbacks, the City of Abilene's financial outlook remained exemplary because of its conservative approach to budgeting. Abilene realized increased sales tax revenue in 24 of the last 27 months. During fiscal year 2012, which encompasses October 2011 to September 2012, sales tax revenue totaled a healthy, if not astounding $41,681,024.
As a result of the strong sales tax revenue, along with careful planning and budgeting, the City achieved a $5.36 million excess in the General Fund. Recognizing that this excess could be incredibly beneficial to City programs, projects and other funds, the City Council discussed many ways to use the excess fund balance. $3.2 million was used to completely fund the 2011 and 2012 Capital Improvements Program while $750 thousand was transferred to the Fire Apparatus Fund. The remaining excess went toward electronic data storage, neighborhood initiatives, an armored vehicle for the Police Department and other City property improvements. The ability to pay for these projects with cash will result in huge cost savings that will in turn be passed on to the citizens of Abilene. For example, the estimated savings of paying for the 2011 and 2012 Capital Improvements Program in cash, rather than issuing debt, is an incredible $1.2 million. The City currently enjoys a fund balance reserve of about three and a half months or about $22 million.
The City also received affirmation of its near perfect “AA+” bond ratings in December of 2012, which resulted in $2.35 million of debt service savings. The Government of Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada announced that, for the 26th time, the City of Abilene received the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award for its fiscal year 2012 budget.
The City's Finance Department also took steps toward increased financial transparency with the addition of an online check register located on the City's website as well as an official financial transparency web page. As a result, the Finance Department was rewarded by being upgraded to gold status by the State Comptroller' Leadership Circle Award, which is given to local governments who are striving to achieve a high standard of financial transparency online.
Thank you for taking a moment to look at the City of Abilene's 2012 Annual Report. It's with great pride that we, along with every City of Abilene employee, serve the citizens of Abilene.
We hope you are as encouraged as we are by these stories of progress, ingenuity and dedication. The past year has provided many opportunities for the City to move forward toward a bright and promising future.
The Abilene Zoo, Abilene's number one tourist attraction, continues to draw record breaking crowds with its refreshed facilities and exciting new exhibits. Hard work by a creative and dedicated zoo staff has resulted in successful breeding programs to the delight of zoo guests. Another generation of first responders was hired at the City of Abilene as the Abilene Police Department held its 50th Police Academy. Those men and women are now on the streets of Abilene providing safety and protection to our citizens today and for decades to come. The community came together and turned Nelson Splash Park into a reality this summer to the squeals and delight of children and adults alike. Abilene enjoys a healthy and diversified economy supported by the Development Corporation of Abilene. The Abilene Public Library, with its three branches and wide variety of programs, provides opportunities for citizens of all ages and interests. And conservative, thoughtful financial planning by City staff and the City Council has positioned our city to move confidently into the days, weeks and years to come.
We are proud of Abilene, its heritage, friendly atmosphere and can-do spirit. Looking to 2013 and beyond, the City of Abilene continues to build on its past while striving for excellence in the future always calling to mind the City's mission statement: “We work together to build a community of the highest quality for present and future generations.”
Norm Archibald Mayor
Larry D. Gilley City Manager
Robert O. Briley
Abilene Financial Facts
FY12 General Fund
FY12 General Fund