Text: 2009 State of the City address

Mayor Tom Henry’s State of the City address as prepared for delivery on February 12, 2009, at the Public Safety Academy.

Good afternoon and welcome.

This is the first time a State of the City speech has been delivered here in the Regional Public Safety Academy of Northeast Indiana.

I certainly hope you will take advantage of any opportunity to tour the building.

The main mission of the Academy is to deliver integrated public safety training to regional 1st responders and we are proud to be associated with a number of education partners.

I’d also like to recognize the four members of the current board of directors for the Regional Public Safety Foundation: IPFW Chancellor Mike Wartell; I & M president Helen Murray, Bluffton Mayor Ted Ellis and Kendallville Mayor Suzanne Handshoe. The four of them are in the process of selecting additional members for their board and will be moving forward with the mission of this facility and the regional vision it represents. The board members join us today.

Today is the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln – many say, our greatest president (pause) so far. Lincoln had ties to Indiana, and he recalled moving from Kentucky to Indiana in his eighth year: “it was a wild region,” he said, “with many bears and other wild animals still in the woods.”

I think we’ve taken care of the bears, but plenty of challenges still lurk in the shadows.

I try to keep Lincoln’s second inaugural address in mind as we face those challenges: “With malice toward none but charity for all,” he said, “Let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds”

That seems to be the tone of the times, binding up the wounds of an economy in freefall and a market gone haywire – we’ve just come out of an historic presidential inauguration, and, as I sat on the steps of the capitol on that cold January day ‘President Obama said: “what is required of us now is a new era of responsibility – a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.”

Times are difficult. But we, in Fort Wayne, will persevere and succeed.

Politics did put us on the map in 2008 – and we enjoyed our moment in the spotlight. Former President Bill Clinton, Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Ted Danson in support of Hillary, President Barack Obama came twice, as did his wife, Michelle—and while, not political, Coach Tony Dungy and some of the Colts players were here for Oprah’s Big Give in April, teen star Hillary Duff visited area schools, and we welcomed gold medal olympian Lloy Ball.

But what was very special to me, in 2008, was to see how many of our citizens responded with hospitality and help on December 19th, when we faced one of the worst ice storms in Fort Wayne history. At one point, more than 100-thousand customers of Indiana Michigan Power were without power. And it was cold. Very cold.

We didn’t know what mother nature had in store for us, but for many, it ended up being days without heat or lights. Shelters were quickly set up, arrangements were made to get people out of their homes and into places that were warm and safe and we continued to ask our citizens to check and make sure friends and family and even strangers were safe and had a place to go.

Our 3-1-1 call takers worked extra shifts and answered nearly 12 thousand calls from people who had no way of knowing what to expect.

And I am still hearing stories about the acts of kindness that came during that time.

One story I heard, involved Don Hall’s Guesthouse and Restaurant. Tim hall was managing that weekend. Probably a weekend he thought would be typical.

But after the ice storm hit, he began seeing many panicked residents, some of them, parents with small children. As neighborhoods remained dark and without heat, temperatures continued to drop and it wasn’t long before the hotel was filled up.

Tim Hall sensed immediately that they needed to do more to help their community – so, they pulled out every spare bed and cot and opened up every conference room and hospitality room to put up their visitors in need. Staff members stayed to help, manning the restaurant so that those who were displaced could get a warm meal. Even the lobby was used.

The guesthouse didn’t have to do that – but they did and I think the efforts of that staff pulling together to help the community in a time of need is exactly why we should all be proud of Fort Wayne.

There were many stories like this during the ice storm. Tim is with us today, and I’d like to ask him to stand.

I have often said my commitment to this community is to each and every citizen of Fort Wayne: it does not matter to me what a person does for a living, each voice deserves to be heard… That’s how I was raised.

I value the conversations I have with citizens and I take seriously their efforts to talk with me about their concerns, during neighborhood walks, during Mayor’s Nights In and Mayor’s night out,  and at all of the many events I attend each week.

I have lived here almost all my life, and yet, I learn more about us, as a community, with each of those conversations.

What I learn, and what I know, is that we have many individuals, businesses, and public servants working very hard every day to make this a better place, for themselves and for all of us.

Just last week, here in this building, we had the second gathering of dozens of local non-profit organizations, it was part of the social services summit i had wanted to do during my first year as mayor.

The groups got together and began looking at what gaps may exist in serving our citizens’ basic needs, like housing, healthcare and food.

Action plans are now being developed and in about 90 days, we will have information about new ways to meet the needs of all of our citizens.

Soon after our city began to exist as a community, there were neighborhoods, and we are still a city of neighborhoods. I ran for office on a promise to strengthen neighborhoods and we made a good start on that commitment in 2008.

The Southeast Strategy Group, made up of staff and community business leaders, developed the city%9s first ever non-residential code enforcement ordinance in order to protect commercial and other property values throughout the city. Along with the new ordinance, we are currently working to refine and update the city’s residential code to better serve the public and meet sate law requirements.

We continue to implement pieces of our Downtown Blueprint, too, fostering a more vibrant central city which will bring residents and visitors alike to live, work and play.

We are also very excited to have the neighborhood stabilization program, getting underway – this is a seven million dollar grant from the federal government that came directly to Fort Wayne to help address our concerns over vacant and foreclosed homes. We are now ready to infuse capital into significant portions of our entire community.

Developers will buy these foreclosed homes, “rehab” them using local contractors and workers, and sell them to qualified buyers, — helping to ensure jobs in a tight labor market, and a more stable future for families and our neighborhoods.

Another way we are working to support our neighborhoods is through an effort I call “strengthening the heart of the community.” I asked my staff to consider how the city could help improve the image of our main corridors, particularly the gateways into our downtown district. The resulting program, the Commercial Facade Grant Program, was successful beyond our—wildest dreams.

We accepted matching dollar applications through the middle of December, and set aside 200-thousand dollars in CEDIT money to fund the projects, but the response was so strong and the projects are of such high quality, that I agreed with the staff to double the infusion to 400-thousand dollars and fund 21 projects —and where we had hoped to make this a dollar-for-dollar match, our local businesses really stepped up and the end result is one-point-two million dollars, or a 3 to 1 match of private-public funding. Soon, work will begin on several corridors and gateways, work that is so much more than cosmetic…it’s the economics of the “first impression.”’ When visitors come to Fort Wayne, they will see attractive business districts, and the message that sends is powerful: things are happening in Fort Wayne. Business is thriving in Fort Wayne.

In fact, many of our local businesses are weathering this economic storm very well.

The Fort Wayne-Allen County Economic Development Alliance informs me they worked on 29 different projects in 2008.

Their results are hard to ignore: over 2,000 jobs retained here.

950 jobs projected to be created.

The average pay of those jobs is over $39,500 – and the projected investment is $105 million.

It’s always a headline when jobs leave town, but the 5 to 25 positions that companies add don’t always find the spotlight…yet these add up. And their impact is powerful.

Jobs and investment will be part of our ongoing community discussion about gaming. The City of Fort Wayne began studying the issue several months ago. It was not something we that we sought, nor was it something that we, as a community, could ignore. It was an issue—an opportunity—brought to us by private business groups.

We know the issue of gaming has broad implications. That is why, as a community, we are studying it in depth. We need to fully understand what those implications are—both the positives and the negatives.

As your Mayor, I am committed to creating opportunity for all our citizens and making sure that Fort Wayne and Northeast Indiana have every chance to thrive and compete.

So let’s seize this moment to do several things that are essential:

First, let’s continue the community conversation about the benefits and costs of this opportunity;

Second, let’s allow the emerging prospect of gaming to move forward in the legislature;

and third, let’s have the courage to pursue a full consideration of the gaming issue – remembering that it must bring us new jobs, high-quality investment, and significant new revenue enabling us to enrich our community in meaningful ways.

Nothing less is acceptable.

As your mayor, I am always aware that my first responsibility is to the people of this community and to Fort Wayne’s economic health. For gaming to happen in Fort Wayne it has to be right – and it has to benefit our community, our region, and our state.

Business is also alive at Fort Wayne City Utilities. The last of our sewer separation project, in Southeast Fort Wayne was finished in 2008…creating additional holding space for sewer overflows and solving basement back-up problems.

Our city-owned utilities continues to invest in its infrastructure as well. Most recently completing a 32 million dollar clarifier project at our sewage treatment facility. These improvements will significantly increase the plant’s capacity to treat raw sewage,

These benefits are more than just environmental – they are also economic.

Twenty five million dollars of the 32- million spent on the project came back into the community in the form of salaries paid to local contractors. That’s a tremendous boost during tough economic times.

Most of you have heard about the Federal Government’s mandate on our city to make $240 million dollars worth of improvements over the next 17 years. Currently we dump raw sewage into our rivers 70 times per year. That’s about a billion gallons a year! Eventually, the long term control plan will reduce sewage overflow into our rivers by 91%.

Solving sewer issues means “better health”, “a stronger economy” and “a cleaner future”.

We also have a new “Clean Rivers Task Force” looking at funding options to fix our sewers. I will be reviewing their recommendations in the coming weeks as we continue to search for answers in efforts to clean our rivers.

Our Public Works Department had an extremely busy year in 2008, with eleven million dollars in projects.

For instance, safety and congestion issues were finally addressed at the time corners interchange.

Traffic reaches nearly 60,000 cars per day at the intersections of Covington Road, Jefferson Boulevard and Getz Road. As the population has grown this area has become extremely congested and we’ve had numerous accidents.

This project now more than doubles the number of cars that can turn east onto Jefferson. And it has proved to be a tremendous boost to the economy as local contractors were hired and 700 thousand dollars flowed back into our community.

Fort Wayne also moved forward with major flood protection projects in 2008.

For instance, homeowners in the Eastbrook/Westbrook neighborhood, which had experienced numerous floods for years along the Spy Run Creek, voluntarily approached the city asking to be bought out and last year the city was able to accomplish that. Using Stormwater Bond Money, the City purchased 11 homes in 2008.

Our Flood Control Project for this area now establishes a small flood plain, significantly reducing the opportunity for property damage during high water times.

We also wanted to make the area environmentally pleasing, so we created a rain garden. Now, as flood waters recede, plants will serve as a filtering system to improve water quality.

The Public Works Department also worked closely with the neighbors in the Woodhurst area near Foster Park. They, too, had experienced numerous floods and were concerned about preserving the beauty of the neighborhood. A serpentine wall has now been completed near Hartman Road.

We, as City government, will never be able to do everything we want to do—or you want us to do. We have to make hard choices— to do the most good with the best use of limited public funds.

Often, this means looking for opportunities to collaborate with other organizations, both public and private. One example of this sort of success is the joint land use department which was created by merging the County’s Planning Services Department and the City’s Land Use Department.

This merged department makes it easier for the business community and the public who need assistance to do business. They can make one office visit instead of wandering around the City-County Building trying to find answers.

Another example of collaboration is the City and County working closely together for the joint information technology needs of local government.

This has not only helped create small efficiencies, but it will create even greater opportunities as we develop a common strategic vision for future technology projects.

And of course, we are still looking for ways to collaborate on the 9-1-1 service, and to work with the county on many other opportunities.

Back in 1974, Mayor Ivan Lebamoff had the vision to implement a very creative plan. He agreed that the city would get out of the business of bringing electricity to customers and instead would lease the electric utility to Indiana Michigan Power The agreement stated that Indiana Michigan Power would continue to operate the system and the City could, if desired, take back the utility at the end of the lease.

The completion of the lease is approaching, and discussions are underway on an agreement that will best serve local citizens and customers. The city is currently holding thirty-five years worth of lease payments, held in a community trust. I had hoped today to tell you how I thought we, as a community, could be discussing the use of the trust fund. But two things prevent me from opening that conversation: one— the market has taken investors on a wild ride, and our trust fund, which was at about 35 million dollars a year ago, thanks to our economy, is worth significantly less. That’s troubling.

Even more pertinent, however, is the fact the money was originally set aside to assure citizens they would have a responsive, reliable source of electricity. Because first and foremost, that money is dedicated to assuring continued electrical service for our citizens’ that’s our top priority – and we do remain hopeful that an agreement will be reached soon.

Our Governor, in his State-of-the-State address, called for communities to consider ways to create purchasing collaboratives among governmental agencies. I don’t think he gave us credit for already doing just that! Back in June, I had our purchasing director put together a consortium of governmental buying entities. Representatives of more than a dozen agencies and municipalities attended.

During that day long session, the group discussed using reverse internet auctions, collaborations on the sharing of resources, and the creation of a joint fuel buying program. The better we can utilize public resources, the more we can stretch the limited budgets funded by taxpayer dollars.

Of course, one of the biggest priorities for city government is keeping citizens safe. About 70 pecent of our budget is dedicated to public safety.

This past year, our police officers not only developed an at-risk juvenile mentoring program,

But entered into an agreement with the FBI to participate in the Safe Streets Task Force. This unit will focus on long range drug and organized crime investigations.

Additionally, our Police Department will continue to work very closely with the Fort Wayne Community School system to educate parents and prevent gang violence.

During 2008, our police took 651 guns off our streets – and, there was a significant increase in the number of handgun permits denied. A strict permit process helps ensure that handguns will not fall into the hands of those who would do harm to others.

We had a first in the most recent public safety training class. We conducted Police Academy training for six Arson Investigators with the Fort Wayne Fire Department.  They now all hold Indiana Police Commissions allowing them to make arson related probable cause arrests.

We had still another first in 2008—our first community-wide CPR training program, which incidently took place right here in this building. Several hundred citizens spent the morning learning and practicing how to perform compression-only CPR in the “Don’t Miss a Beat” program offered by the City and area sponsors.

Plans are already underway to offer this class again in 2009 and I encourage you to please sign-up.

I want to help make Fort Wayne a city where we are truly able to help each other, where an ordinary citizen may save a life.

One of the things employers and developers look at when they are deciding whether to locate in a community is that elusive “quality of life.” For some people, that means the new ice development near Wells and Fernhill, which will bring families in from surrounding states for hockey and figure skating.

Other families may be very interested in the “boundless playground” project our Parks Department is working on, which will realize a young girl’s dream of a place where children of all abilities can play together.

Also this year, we look to complete additional sections of the towpath trail, that will connect paths in Aboite Township with our rivergreenway system. I believe connecting our trails, as well as other bike and pedestrian routes can significantly link neighborhoods to points of destination throughout our city — speaking of trails, more and more, people are now relying on walking or bicycles for transportation, whether to save energy or as a fitness tool or just for fun and relaxation.

We now have a team of city employees working to plan and create an additional transportation infrastructure, to include bicycle lanes and ways to improve bike storage.

The public has had a lot of input on this, too: we heard from more than 36-hundred people through a Bike Use Survey.

We are keeping in mind the old adage that you don’t plan “for” people – you plan “with” people—and I’d like to invite interested cyclists to a bike summit March 21st. You’ll hear more about that in the coming weeks.

In 2008, Fort Wayne received several hundred new residents, primarily from Burma. While our community welcomes immigrants and refugees, we were caught slightly off guard by the sheer number of these new arrivals, and needed to respond to their many needs, quickly—everything from helping to get housing and healthcare to connecting families to schools and helping them learn English.

I put together a team of agency executives, led by my City staff to create a plan to address some of the challenges and needs of this population. The team meets regularly and discusses issues regarding housing, education, health, employment, and other vital needs.

Our new community resource center for refugees, on Calhoun Street, is now open. In its first full month of operation, the staff and volunteers helped more than 400 individual refugees with more than 800 services.

As we look ahead into 2009, we still have many unanswered questions. We certainly don’t know how the economy will continue to impact the entire Harrison Square development— especially the retail and residential portions.

But I do invite each of you to join me April 16th for the first pitch at Parkview Field!

And, as long as House Bill 1001 looms over our revenue stream, we will continue to analyze how it will affect our budget and what city services may have to be reduced or eliminated in the coming years.

Finally, the federal stimulus package is largely an unknown. I recently went to Washington, D.C. with a group of Mayors to talk to our Senators and Congressional Representatives to make sure they understand how important it is to get funding flowing—-soon—- so we can put local people back to work and infuse some capital into our struggling economy.

We do have challenges. We do face uncertainty. But this is no time for despair. In the words of one of my father’s favorite Presidents, Harry S. Truman, “I have studied the lives of great men and women, and I found that the men and women who got to the top were those who did the jobs they had – with everything they had – with energy and enthusiasm and hard work.”

I believe the same can be said of Fort Wayne. If each and every one of us does the job we have at hand—–if we go about the business of putting this community on the right track, and being part of its future, and if we can contribute our energy, our enthusiasm—and, most importantly, our hard work. I truly believe there is nothing we will not accomplish.

When you think of our potential—250-thousand citizens—some countries don’t have armies that big! If we put our energies together there is no challenge too great.

The opportunities are many—whether you volunteer in your church or serve on your neighborhood board, whether you sign up to be one of the “real men who read” with the United Way or you join me in the “Polar Plunge” this Saturday to benefit Special Olympics—whether you help out in a classroom or deliver meals to the elderly – you have the drive and enthusiasm that this city needs, and welcomes.  Ask what you can do to help and, I assure you, we will find a place for your energy and commitment.

Thank you.

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