Matt Ray - Candidate Position Statement

Center Point City Council Place 3

Candidate Matt Ray’s Position Statements

Economic Development:

What should be Center Point’s top Economic Development priority?  When it comes to Economic Development and growth, what are Center Point’s greatest challenges and greatest assets?

I am going to answer these two questions together, because I believe they are too strongly intertwined to separate.

Center Point Parkway is the face of the city.  It is where Center Point citizens can go to eat and shop, and it is where non-citizens are most likely to experience the city.  In this way, the Parkway itself is Center Point’s greatest challenge and greatest asset, and it is where the city must focus its economic development efforts.

Growing up in Trussville in the 1970’s and 80’s, I vividly remember my mother shopping in Center Point because of the convenience.  One of my earliest memories is picking out a toy truck at the TG&Y.  My across-the-street neighbor owned the Pasquale’s on the Parkway that later became Nick’s Village Pizza.

When I moved to Center Point in 2007, there were ten restaurants within 1.5 miles of my house.  Today, that number has dwindled to five, and may go even lower.  There were retail shops, a veterinary clinic, and gyms also, but most of the businesses that were here ten years ago have shuttered.  Instead, we have empty buildings and barren parking lots.  Lee’s Pawn Shop, a Center Point fixture for decades, abandoned the city after being robbed multiple times in a short period.  This past Sunday night (August 2), someone was shot while driving on the Parkway, only a few hundred yards from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s substation.  I’ve spoken with long time business owners who are determined to make it on the Parkway, but tell me that the city is, at best, indifferent, and at worst, hostile towards their business.

We only need to look as far as discussion groups for other nearby cities to see how we look to the outside.  People use Center Point Parkway as a cautionary tale, with statements like, “If we don’t fix this issue, our city will start to look like Center Point,” or “I don’t stop there anymore, I just try to get through as quickly as possible.”  Center Point’s own residents post stories about scary encounters at gas stations, or the frequency of having to avoid areas where the police have descended on a fresh crime scene.

For Center Point to survive, we must work to bring the Parkway back. This means bringing back public safety, a welcome feeling for residents and visitors, and cleaner, more attractive storefronts in place of empty buildings.  The businesses that are here now need to feel welcome, and those who are considering starting businesses need to believe that Center Point is a great place to do it.

How would you prioritize Center Point’s capital improvement needs?

There needs to be a focus on city rights-of-way being made as attractive as is practical.  We also need to push for infrastructure repairs that are the responsibility of the State and county governments to be made in a timely manner.  Where possible, I would like to establish a method of helping property owners along Center Point Parkway beautify their building facades and green areas near the roadway.  If we address the city’s major problems, and the city’s financial health improves, it will be time to implement more capital improvements like sidewalks.

One idea that I would like to workshop with other councilors is a food truck corral.  Food Trucks have become an important incubator for restaurateurs to try out innovative menus and processes, and have often led to the installation of a permanent restaurant.  I would propose that we adapt the Civitan Park property to support a food truck, with seating areas available for the customers.  Food truck owners would then be encouraged to schedule their trucks at the location for one day a week, and different trucks would be able to rotate in and out on different days.  By welcoming the food trucks, we would be bringing a varied and fun experience to both residents and passers-by, and also encouraging restaurateurs to see Center Point as a friendly place to set up a permanent location in the future.

The City and representatives from the Chamber of Commerce attend the International Conference of Shopping Centers annual convention each year as well as the regional ICSC meeting attended by the Chamber Economic Development Coordinator. These events are primarily recruiting venues for new businesses.  Both the City and the Chamber work closely with the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham to plan growth and development within the city.  The City of Center Point has also recently been named an Alabama Community of Excellence (ACE) which provides more grant opportunities for the City.  What other means would you employ to draw new businesses to our City?

Small business is the lifeblood of the American economy.  Center Point needs to be able to draw in individuals in the local area who want to establish or expand their small businesses, like restaurants and shops.  To do this, we need to change the perception of Center Point to be one of a welcoming and safe place to be, by engaging with local media and social media to show the great strides we are making, and the value of starting or moving a business to Center Point.  We can also directly reach out to local entrepreneurs who we believe would be a good fit for Center Point, and curate a shopping experience that meets the needs of both residents and those who pass through the area regularly.  Finally, the city government needs to aggressively slash red tape that prevents entrepreneurs from wanting to locate here.

The City has had a very aggressive grant writing program over the years that has gained the City over $12 million in services, inventory, construction and programs.  While grants do not fund operating expenses, they do allow the City to offer special programs that are over and above what the budget allows.  Some examples of things grants have funded in the City include:  law enforcement equipment and training, three additions to the Senior Center (including the one currently being constructed) as well as programs for seniors, all of the sidewalks within the city limits, the splash pad, energy efficiency grant to bring down utility costs, boardwalk at the Reed-Harvey Park, a playground at the community center, etc. What types of innovative programs would you envision our community having that might be accessible through grant writing?

If grant money is available, I would love to see more programs made available for community building and at-risk youth.  In particular, I would like to see programs that help direct young people towards lifelong hobbies and marketable trades, such as woodworking, metalworking, gardening, automotive repair, and other skills that both enrich a young person’s life and build confidence and skills that can make money.

Education:

Since our schools are a part of the Jefferson County School District, the City has limited input into their organization/structure. How can the City of Center Point best support the area schools in our city limits?

I believe that schools reach their fullest potential when there is a high degree of participation by parents.  Center Point needs to have a healthy PTA with the city government’s support to achieve this.

I also believe that, as a community, we can push for certain curriculum changes or reinforcements that will greatly benefit Center Point’s young citizens.  This includes making sure that part of the school day includes learning about emotional regulation, assertive communication, forming healthy relationships, and rejecting prejudice at all age levels, and job readiness and money management skills at the junior high and high school levels.

I would also like to create a junior police training program, to direct youth with a desire to protect their community into a career as law enforcement on the community policing model, and work with the schools’ student government organizations to create volunteer opportunities.  I believe this would help get our young people engaged with the community in a positive way and instill a sense of civic pride and duty.

Although our public library has an independent board, the city still supports the library financially.  What do you see as the city’s role as pertains to the library?

I believe that the city government’s role should primarily be financial support-essentially a silent partner which does not interfere in the library’s business.  As a community member, I would like to see the library continue to develop as a learning resource for the members of the community.  Libraries have changed significantly since the arrival of the Internet, but their core mission-to gather, protect, and disseminate knowledge-remains the same.

I have noticed that small town libraries have often added three very useful functions in the modern world, and I support Center Point’s library in achieving these functions as well:

  • Libraries have become the keepers of local history, gathering and protecting archives that pertain specifically to the local area or town where the library resides.
  • Libraries have begun to have extensive collections of local-interest genealogy information, making it easier for local residents and their descendants to research their own family history.
  • Many libraries have begun to integrate “maker spaces” into their floor plans, with computer-aided design equipment, 3D printers, and other tools being made available for public use. A maker space can even give younger residents a chance to learn important skills for the modern world.

Parks & Recreation:

Please name the existing services offered at each of the City’s parks that you are aware of and what services can be improved upon.

I am familiar with Reed-Harvey Park, the Civitan Park, and the sports park at the courthouse annex.  The park facilities themselves are quite nice.  I would like to see them used more often through community events, like the free movie nights that are currently held at Reed-Harvey Park.

Please state what additional recreational services you would like to see the City offer its residents.

I have mentioned that I would like to see a food truck corral set up at the Civitan Park.  But none of the city’s recreational services will be of any value without a focus on public safety and establishment of a Center Point Police Department.  People will stop using park facilities if they do not feel safe.

In addition, I believe that Center Point would greatly benefit from community building events.

  • City-sponsored neighborhood events, where residents can mingle, get to know each other, and enjoy their community. These could be working events, such as community cleanup, and fun events, such as neighborhood barbecues.
  • A city festival, similar to Trussville’s Dog Daze or Pinson’s Butterbean Festival, would be fun for both residents and visitors. The festival’s events could include historical reference to Center Point, such as a Polly Reed pie baking competition.
  • Car shows for local residents to gather and show off their custom work.
  • A barbecue cookoff, where we can show off our smoking skills.

Public Works:

Are there any areas of PUBLIC property within the City limits of Center Point that need improvements? Where and what improvements would you implement?

The Civitan Park facility needs cosmetic attention.  The courthouse sports park could also benefit from cosmetic upgrades.  For the most part, I think that the parks and rec department are doing a good job and have kept Center Point’s public outdoor areas in good shape.

Safety:

The US Department of Justice just completed a study of crime in the City of Center Point. The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department has provided updated information for 2019 as well as amended information from the DOJ data.   This study is available to read on the city’s website (http://www.thecityofcenterpoint.org/DOJ%20report%20with%20City%20of%20Center%20Point%20reponses.pdf ).  Please state which of the study’s recommendations you would implement first and why.

The most important and immediate need is a direct challenge to violent crime and theft by the contract deputies.  Secondly, we need more community involvement with the deputies, building trust between the citizens and law enforcement, and a concerted effort to create a neighborhood watch system for each of Center Point’s neighborhoods.  The report recommends rolling this out in a single pilot neighborhood, and I would like see discussion with the deputies about which neighborhood should serve as the pilot, then push to bring the residents of that neighborhood into the program.

Funding and availability of law enforcement candidates are barriers to public safety in Center Point.  There is a national shortage of police academy candidates, primarily minority candidates as well as difficulty in retaining law enforcement officers once hired.  What would you do to attract additional competent officers/deputies to our City? For those who believe Center Point should have its own police department, how would you fund it (either using existing budgetary numbers or increased revenue from other sources)?

It is my belief that Center Point’s future hinges on community building and establishing a local police department.  Make no mistake-if Center Point does not create a police force to stand for the safety of its citizens and visitors, the city is lost.  We simply cannot afford to not have a police department.  While I believe that Center Point can be saved, the window to do so is closing rapidly.

The Center Point police department must be staffed with dedicated individuals who care about this community.  If it is properly managed, it will be possible to attract and retain the right kind of officers.  If Frederick Burkes is elected mayor, I truly believe that he will bring the right resources to bring public safety back to Center Point.

I would like to fund the police department with no loss of services or increased tax burden on the citizens of Center Point.  I believe this can be done with careful financial planning, use of available grants, and an eager, supportive attitude from the city’s citizens. But again, make no mistake:  Center Point will not survive without a police department, and we are nearly out of time to make this happen.

Senior Citizens:

Please list the programs that you are familiar with as pertains to the Senior Citizens Center.

I am aware of the lunch program and the Tai Chi classes.  As someone who is not yet a senior, I haven’t utilized the Senior Citizens Center.

The Senior Center is currently being enlarged through a Community Development Block grant.  With this extra space, what additional programs would you like to see implemented?

Seniors with whom I have spoken have told me that meal delivery and help with yard work are things they find important.  I would like to see more volunteer work being organized to make sure that Center Point’s seniors get help when they need it.  Recently, some people have started “50 Yard Challenges” for their teens to go out and find 50 yards of seniors and others who need help with yard work, and I would like to see the city come out in support of this type of volunteerism.

As for the physical space, I would defer to the staff and users of the senior center to know what types of programs they would like to have available.

Candidate Information:

Matt Ray grew up in Trussville and North Shelby County.  He has lived in the Birmingham area for most of his life, with stints in Florida and New York City, before choosing to make Center Point home in 2007.  He lives in a classic mid-century ranch home with his dogs and collections of books, tools, and things that he has made.  Matt holds a BFA degree in filmmaking from Florida State University and an MS degree in Management Information Systems from UAB, and is planning to return to school to seek a third degree in accounting.  Matt has started multiple small businesses over the years, including an IT services company and a video production company.  He has also worked as a television photojournalist, covering city, county, State, and federal government.

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