State of the City 2012 Jon Costas, Mayor of Valparaiso January 25, 2012
On a starlit warm summer night last August, the people of Valparaiso assembled to celebrate their new community gathering place. Over four thousand excited residents emerged from every city neighborhood and nestled into the stunning new Central Park Plaza for a night of music, family and friends in the heart of the city. Grandmothers chased after toddlers, fathers tossed Frisbees, mothers unpacked the snacks, and music lovers waited in anticipation for the orchestra to begin. Following the ribbon cutting celebration, the ever-exuberant conductor/educator, Miguel Rosario took the podium and led the orchestra in the first of many fantastic concerts and events to occur in the stunning Porter Health Amphitheater. It was a night to remember and an evening to cherish. I could not have been prouder of our city that night. Proud that our citizens would enthusiastically support a bold and exceptional project. Proud that my administrative team had the courage to dream big and the fortitude to see that dream through. Proud that we had acted collectively as a community to make Valpo a better place for our children and 1
grandchildren. And proud that we left them this fantastic park without debt or a mortgage. I have often reflected on that evening and have concluded that it stands as a timeless symbol for the beautiful, resilient and dynamic city we call home. Here is what Central Park Plaza tells us about us. 1. We value community. Central Park is our gathering place. We love to assemble as families, neighbors and friends. We believe those relational bonds are vital to our well-being, both as individuals and as a community. 2. We are collaborative. Central Park emerged from the common will of many individuals and organizations. We know the power of teamwork and a unified vision. We are bridge builders. 3. We are innovative. Central Park is unique and a first for a Hoosier city our size. We are not satisfied with the status quo but explore new avenues for progress. We take calculated risks that often pay dividends beyond our expectation. 4. We are willing to invest in our future. Central Park was an investment of over $3M of your hard earned money. We say yes to keeping our house in order and in good shape. We know that strong infrastructure and organizations will keep us growing and form a sustainable economy. 2
5. We are fiscally responsible. Central Park is paid for, along with an endowment for maintenance. We hold fast to common sense principles of money management, yet refuse to sacrifice our future aspirations on the altar of scarcity. 6. We appreciate the arts. Central Park is a place where the arts will thrive and grow. The arts keep us human. 7. We value our parks and desire to be good stewards of the environment. Central Park is an oasis of verdant nature amidst a bustling center of concrete and asphalt. We value nature, solace and beauty as a refuge against the tyranny of a busy lifestyle. 8. We are generous. As individuals, we give sacrificially to enhance the lives of others and strengthen our community. Central Park was partially funded through the generosity of individuals and key business partners. What once was a struggling downtown filled with vacant buildings and empty parking spaces is now the envy of many cities throughout our state. Central Park Plaza stands proudly as a symbol of who we are as a city and it will call Valparaisains to gather and enjoy each other for generations to come. And there is more to come. Recently, I announced that the city would be acquiring the vacant parcel to the west of the park for further expansion. We will complete the sale in the next 45 days and will demolish the building by early spring. 3
Following a process of conceptual design and public input we plan to begin the second phase of Central Park in 2013 with the goal of having additional facilities and grounds to extensively expand our downtown events and activities. 2011 was another year of progress for our city. For our roundabout fans, we added another beautiful circle of harmony at the intersection of Silhavy Road and Vale Park. So far itâ€™s working wonderfully, but always remember, a roundabout is a slow dance, not a break dance. After years of planning, the new St. Road 49 overpass will be constructed later this year. We are pleased that Major Moves is funding this vital INDOT project that will save lives and enhance traffic flow. We are partnering with INDOT to enhance the overpass so it becomes a beautiful gateway to our city. A new pathway will be constructed this year from the new roundabout south on Silhavy all the way to Laporte Avenue, allowing greater safety and access for bikers, walkers and runners. And speaking of getting around town, how about that VLine? More and more residents and students are finding it a great transportation option. This cost-effective partnership with Valparaiso University is setting new ridership records each year. In 2011 the ridership was just under 90,000, a 22% increase over 2010. We plan to expand routes this year with additional funding but are careful to make sure it 4
remains a sustainable and efficient system. Did you know that there were 46,000 fewer cars on the road from here to Chicago in 2011? How do I know that? That is the new record ridership for the Chicago Dash, Valparaiso’s own express bus service to the Chicago loop – a 43% increase over the prior year. This spring we will add our fourth bus to the lineup to meet the growing demand. Several families have told me they chose Valpo over other cities based upon the Dash service. We are the only community in Northwest Indiana to offer such an extensive service. Innovation is paying off for Valpo as we lasso opportunity and good jobs from Chicago’s world class economy. We continue to improve our overall road conditions and it is getting harder and harder to find a road in poor shape in our city. We have funneled more money to sidewalk and curb repair, and while the progress is apparent, the need is great and additional funding will be required to replace our aging curb and sidewalk inventory – more than 200 miles in total. We will upgrade the intersection of Sturdy and Evans this year, improving traffic flow with additional lanes and a traffic light. With funding from the Redevelopment Commission, we will make additional streetscape improvements along north Calumet Avenue enhancing much of the private investment in that area. You may have noticed the improved lighting on Lincolnway and Laporte area, as last year we removed 99 wood NIPSCO poles with those 5
stock cobra style lights and replaced them with more aesthetic and efficient LED lighting. I suspect most of you have been to City Hall at some point. But have you noticed that we have been making noteworthy improvements over the last four years to that grand structure? Using funds saved from the budget each year, we have completely remodeled and modernized the building inside and out including a beautiful plaza where an ugly alley used to be. We will complete the renovations this spring with the new marble steps, a stately engraved sign and fabulous landscaping. City Hall may not be the newest kid on the block, but she’s looking and feeling beautiful these days. Occasionally I speak to third graders about city government and how it affects their daily lives. Rather than giving them a dissertation on the “solid waste reclamation facility” I simply ask them, “when you flush your toilet where does it go?” A lively discussion usually follows which brings home the importance of our city utility system. Now I am pleased to announce that when you flush your toilets, they will continue to empty. We are happy to receive your “biosolids and effluent” on a daily basis and are pleased to charge some of the lowest water and sewer rates in the area. Our Utility Department is working hard to upgrade water mains (7500 feet alone last year) and to increase efficiency through an 6
upgraded cartegraph system and utility integration. Also, the 10 year comprehensive storm water plan adopted last year is well underway in various key areas of the city and should virtually alleviate avoidable flooding issues for our city once completed. But just as assuredly as every piece of fried chicken starts with an egg, all progress flows from effective planning. The projects we will break ground on this year began as ideas, evolved into concepts and formed into concrete plans years before. In 2011 we completed an extensive update of our comprehensive plan as well as a detailed conceptual plan for Rt. 30 which I will talk more about later. To protect the right of every renter to safe living conditions we enacted a rental registration and inspection ordinance last year and we also added another full time code enforcement officer to help preserve our property values. While the residential housing market remains a challenge we see signs of improvement. In order to help spur housing starts we waived all fees associated with new single family home construction for the last two years. Our emphasis on proactive planning has transformed our fire and police departments into some of the best equipped, best trained and most effective safety departments in the state. For example, this last year we purchased and installed the first automated license plate reader in the region. Capable of 7
scanning up to 3000 license plates per minute, this tool has been successful in alerting officers to stolen vehicles and other criminal conduct. Our Fire Department sets the standard for ambulance care and continues to explore partnerships with other governments to reduce costs and improve services. Our commitment to maintaining safe streets, neighborhoods, and schools through innovation and proactive measures is fundamental to our future. Before modern day shipping, sailors took great caution to avoid the horse latitudes. These were areas on the trade routes that were notorious for lack of winds ultimately causing the ship to sacrifice horses on board for survival. It seems that for the last four years our nation has been stranded in the economic horse latitudes. And to make matters worse Congress seems unable to function or provide meaningful direction. Waiting for the federal government to solve our problems is like waiting for snow in June â€“ It might happen, but chances are not real soon. Here in Valparaiso we are fortunate to enjoy one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state. But at 7% itâ€™s still way too high when you consider that that statistic represents not just a number on a scale but hundreds of friends, relatives and neighbors who are in desperate need for employment. So we must do all we can to foster job creation. Now Iâ€™ve got bad news and good news. First the 8
bad news, we are not creating government jobs here in the city, in fact we employ fewer people now than we did ten years ago. Weâ€™ve learned to do more with less. Well I suppose that is really good news. We need more private sector jobs not more government jobs. Over the last year we have seen much more economic expansion than the previous three. Great local companies like Urschel Laboratories, Task Force Tips, North Coast Distributing, and In Touch Pharmaceuticals are expanding and adding jobs. Small businesses are holding their own and many are growing despite the stubborn recession. A number of businesses such as Retro Tech Systems and Paul Wurth Company have made the move from more costly states to enjoy the benefits of running a business in the Vale of Paradise. The bottom line is that investors like what they see in Valparaiso. Weâ€™re a city with a fair tax structure, a talented work force and a quality of life second to none. This bodes well for our future. Our top priority is to provide the necessary infrastructure, utilities, appropriate incentives, and shovel ready sites to build our job base and provide excellent work options for our citizens. While dreams are great, plans are helpful and collaboration is vital, letâ€™s be honest it takes money to get things done. Since elected in 2004, my administration has invested over $80M of tax dollars to fund the vast array of infrastructure 9
projects that have changed the face of our city. Most of that money came from grants that could have gone to other cities and states. We planned hard, wrote countless grants and stayed at the table until every last dollar was allocated. While there are very few dollars in operating budgets for capital projects, we are fortunate to have discretionary TIF funds to provide for the 20% matches for state and federal funds. We will continue to fight for those funds and I estimate that by the end of this four year term we will increase total grant funds received from $57 million in excess of $100 million. That means a better city for us as well as those who follow. As a city, we will not thrust deferred maintenance or excessive debt on the next generation. They have enough of that from our friends in Washington. And while most cities our size are struggling to make ends meet, we have worked hard to build up a surplus which by the end of this year will approach $6 million. Thatâ€™s almost 25% of an entire annual budget and 70% of our total tax supported debt. And that amount will, for the very first time in recent history, allow this city to operate the entire year without borrowing for operational funds in advance of tax revenues. To honor our commitment to our citizens we brought the city to its strongest fiscal position ever while in the midst of one of the worst economies in history. 10
Iâ€™ve learned a lot from our governor over the last seven years, and perhaps the best lesson is to be boldly proactive. When Governor Daniels took office in 2005 he realized that our state-wide road plan was terribly underfunded. Rather than raise taxes to fund the program, he found an innovative approach to raising enough money to fund 10 years of road projects by leasing the toll road. Despite heavy criticism at the time, the plan worked masterfully. Ingenuity is not the easy way, but it uncovers opportunity and creates value. We will again enjoy the benefits of the Governorâ€™s bold ingenuity as the Rt. 49 overpass to be built later this year was one of those projects on the INDOT list but unfunded until Major Moves. We have enjoyed a strong relationship with our state Dept. of Transportation. As you may know, the Eastgate roundabout was the first roundabout built on a state owned highway. I am pleased today to announce a new partnership between the City of Valparaiso and INDOT, one that will result in $20 million in improvements to Rt. 30. Under the partnership, the city will take over management and maintenance of Lincolnway in exchange for substantial improvement to Rt. 30 within city limits. It makes the most sense for the city to take over responsibility of Lincolnway as it runs though the heart of our city and is our signature street. We gain greater freedom to maintain and manage this key road consistent with our overall road program and 11
downtown agenda. And, in a broader sense, Rt. 30 has become our new main street. For many people who pass through our city, Rt. 30 is all they see of Valparaiso. And it must better reflect our values and quality of life. To that end, last year we completed an extensive improvement plan for Rt. 30, which will serve as the basis for the work we will complete over the next 3 to 4 years through the INDOT partnership. While the exact projects will be determined in partnership with INDOT, they will focus on improving traffic flow and safety, strengthening existing infrastructure, landscape upgrades and environmental enhancements. Under this partnership with INDOT, the city will benefit from more than $20 million in state and federal capital project funds; most to be used for substantial improvements to Rt. 30. Yet we intend to augment this funding with other grants along the way to make a profound impact on Rt. 30. Our goal is to transform it into a distinctive roadway that functions well and reflects the beauty and strength of this community. Planning for these projects will occur this year and the improvements will begin in 2013. We are pleased to have with us today Jim Pinkerton of INDOT representing his department and Governor Daniels. I want to express my appreciation and that of our citizens for their commitment to creative partnerships to improve the lives and safety of Hoosiers.
In closing, I want to convey my appreciation to the citizens of Valparaiso for supporting my administration and for paving the way for the changes that have occurred in the last eight years. We had a long “to- do” list when we started, and now that list is much, much shorter. Back then it was fairly obvious what needed to be done. Roads fixed, areas redeveloped, the downtown brought back to life, the Valparaiso Street Project completed, a new police station built, etc,. Now, as we look ahead, the things that need to be done are not so ostensible. Now, more than ever we need citizen input on what they see in Valpo’s future, on what kind of city they envision 5, 10 and 20 years from now. To that end, we will be coordinating the most ambitious citywide envisioning process ever undertaken by a city our size. We want to involve every citizen, young and old, in some way in this process so that there can emerge a long term vision for the city. This vision will serve as a compass for future mayors and city councils. We have already begun the research and plan to unveil it later this year for implementation in 2013. This is your city and your voice needs to be heard. So stay tuned for Vision Valparaiso 2013. Let me close with the words of Winston Churchill, “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Perhaps the attribute I admire most about the citizens I serve is their unrelenting optimism. I look out into this crowd today and 13
see the faces of those that have chosen to find the glass half full and on its way to overflowing, who have encountered obstacles but refused to be stopped, who have suffered loss, but risen to find joy again. It is that spirit that has made Valparaiso great. And I truly believe, that now, more than ever, we have reason to be optimistic. I sense that the next two decades will be an era of unparalleled opportunity, growth and success for Valparaiso and Porter County. With this optimistic view, with a resolve to collaborate and in a spirit of good will, let us build a better city for our children and grand children. Thank you.