On April 27, 2011, a horror of a different nature befell our great City. In the aftermath of the immense destruction and suffering caused by the April 27 tornado, I was blessed to be a part of the community effort to rebuild Tuscaloosa. Looking back on that time now, I can see we were also blessed with what we learned during that experience that would help us face uncharted challenges like the one we are facing today. As a local government, we learned valuable lessons about the legal and financial process of declaring a state of emergency. Our team learned how to best work together in an emergency situation. We have defined our emergency response roles and were prepared to meet the COVID-19 challenge with clarity and preparedness. Unlike April 27, the City had time to prepare for this crisis. In the weeks before the pandemic inevitably reached our state, the City put in tremendous work in preparation. I believe that the lessons we learned from April 27, combined with the time we spent preparing for COVID-19 has saved, and will save hundreds, if not thousands, of lives in our community.
Another strength of Tuscaloosa’s for which I am eternally grateful is the City’s finances. The COVID-19 pandemic will have an enormous financial impact on Tuscaloosa. The single move of sending home over 25,000 students in the middle of their spring semester costs the City over half a billion dollars in annual revenue. The number of students who abruptly left Tuscaloosa this spring is equivalent in size to the fourth-largest city in Alabama. Local industries are hurting because of this unexpected loss in revenue. However, I firmly believe that sending the students home was the right decision, because we must always choose lives over livelihood. Should this crisis continue into the fall and result in the loss of football season, Tuscaloosa stands to lose an additional $200 million in revenue. But our City’s finances are strong. We have a triple A credit rating, and after April 27, we were able to pay back our $50 million reserves. Once again, our past has prepared us to meet this uncertain future, and for this I am grateful.
Finally, I want to take a moment to reflect on the strength and determination that each and every one of you have shown during this time. The COVID-19 pandemic is an incredibly tough situation. We are all sacrificing something right now. The heroes on the frontlines – medical professionals, first responders, sanitation workers, and so many more – are sacrificing their own health and safety. But also, each person staying home and missing important milestones is making a tremendous sacrifice. Stephanie and I were so looking forward to watching our daughter Taylor walk across the stage at her high school graduation. I know each of you has made and is still making sacrifices like this. We have all suffered a great sense of loss during this time, but I believe it’s paramount that we maintain hope. I encourage you all to smile, find joy, find something to laugh at, or otherwise take a brief respite when you can. What we all are sacrificing is flattening the curve and helping our community get through this with as little loss as possible. We are #TuscaloosaStrong, and we are in this together. God bless each of you, and may god continue to bless the City of Tuscaloosa.