In a departure from the traditional plated luncheon at the Quad City Botanical Center, COVID-19 changed this year's address to a virtual Zoom meeting, attended by more than 70 participants.
Thoms immediately acknowledged the economic impact of COVID-19 on the city.
"Some have lost their income and some have lost their dreams," he said. "Building owners have lost rent. Many Rock Islanders have (been) remote working from their homes. Our children added remote learning to their vocabulary. And the city lost a lot of revenue. We were looking at a 6-plus-percent property tax rate increase, but we heard you. We cut our expenses even further to get to no property tax rate increase for 2021.
"It has been a challenging year for everyone, in many different ways."
Despite operating with fewer employees, Thoms said the city maintained services to residents. Finance staff were able to balance the 2020 and 2021 budgets, even with a drop in tax revenues.
"We passed a 0% property tax rate increase," Thoms said. "We improved our credit rating; and we gave out grants, not loans, to those businesses that need help. We gave out tax incentives to help businesses grow in Rock Island. We helped execute and create $70 million of opportunities from 2020 into 2021."
Thoms credited the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center and Board Chairwoman Tia Edwards for providing programs, daycare, structure and assistance for families during the difficult year. The MLK center distributed more than 3,000 meals and provided a record number of Christmas gifts for 500 children in 200 families.
"The center was able to gain many lasting friends and supporters this last year because of the changes," Thoms said. "There is no doubt the Martin Luther King Center creates community leaders."
Thoms also credited the city's public library and the parks and recreation department for providing additional services and activities during the pandemic by running more than 80 programs with 5,500 participants. The parks department created 40 new outdoor fitness classes and added 25 new virtual fitness classes. In addition, more than $1 million in renovations were invested in Douglas Park.
For those who choose boating as their choice of recreation, Thoms said the city was able to secure a $1.4 million grant from FEMA for renovations to Sunset Marina.
More than $9.7 million in investments are planned for downtown Rock Island in 2021, and investments of $3.9 million in TIF funds are planned for projects that include streetscaping, new lighting, sidewalks, streets, and more, Thoms said.
One of the successes of 2020 was getting the historic downtown district area listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The designation will allow the city to use state and federal property tax credits for commercial rehabilitation projects.
"We also have formed a downtown task force to continue the implementation of the 2015 Downtown Revitalization Plan and to pursue options to hire a downtown manager to work closely with the task force, downtown businesses and property owners," Thoms said.
Finally, Thoms recognized the city's information technology department for navigating the city through "an unprecedented time in our history as many of our employees worked from home" in order to keep residents and staff safe.
"I want to thank citizens for the trust you have given me and the city council," Thoms said. "I would like to thank the city employees for making the impossible, possible. And I really believe that the residents of Rock Island — and the whole Quad Cities — are resilient. As we continue to work together, we will continue to grow. This town 'rocks' resilience."