Text: 2011 State of the City address

Text of Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry’s State of the City address, delivered at noon, January 26, 2011, today at the Allen County Public Library’s Main Branch.

Thank you, Jeff, for that kind introduction. And thank you for the great work that you and your staff are doing.

The Allen County Public Library is one of Fort Wayne’s exceptional assets.

I wanted to come to the library for the State of the City, because this building represents knowledge – and knowledge is the power to shape the future.

My primary focus as Mayor is on strengthening our community and making Fort Wayne a more attractive and competitive city – a place of pride and opportunity for residents, and a first-choice location for business investment.

Our economic status is key to that goal. That’s why I am proud of Fort Wayne’s economic story. Yes, we have experienced the full impact of one of the country’s worst recessions, but I can report today that the City’s fiscal standing is sound. For the third straight year, our budget is balanced, essential programs are fully funded and we have a healthy savings account to see us through these challenging times. Every day, we are delivering high-quality, cost-effective services to our residents.

Your city government is financially strong and at your service.

At a time when cities across the country are cutting police officers and firefighters, when street lights are going dark, and snow-covered roads are going unplowed, Fort Wayne has continued to provide the outstanding services that you have come to expect.

These successes are remarkable, because over the course of the last decade the population of Fort Wayne has grown 30 percent, and the area we serve has expanded 40 percent.

Yet during the same 10 years, our employee count, except in public safety, has decreased by a full 10 percent.

We are doing more with less.

And we can look to the future with optimism; because the City’s financial foundation is strong.

As Mayor I am doing everything in my power to make Fort Wayne a place where good jobs can grow and families can thrive.

I am working hard to keep the City’s fiscal house in order because I know our residents rely upon these services, and I know how much pain this recession has caused for so many:

Jobs lost, homes in foreclosure, dreams that have vanished. I wake up every morning dedicated to building a better community.

Because creating an environment that promotes job growth and private investment – an environment in which companies can prosper, is how we make life better for all of us, and ensure our economic progress. All of the decisions my administration makes are focused on this outcome.

It’s why streets and sidewalks matter. It’s why top-notch schools and universities matter. It’s why a vibrant downtown matters. It’s why healthy neighborhoods matter. It’s why community collaboration matters. And it’s why a well-run City Government matters.

These are the things that make life good for our residents and make a difference to businesses looking to invest – and ultimately, create jobs in our city.

Let’s take a look at what we are doing to make Fort Wayne a more attractive and competitive community.

I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but by bringing nearly all local government together, I knew we could make things easier for our residents and roll out the welcome mat for new jobs and business development.

We listened to our business community. And we are now creating a one-stop shop for economic growth.

After three decades, the goal of a full City-County partnership through co-location is becoming a reality.

Because of the hard work of many, including the County Commissioners and the City and County Councils, 200 East Berry Street will soon be the administrative, neighborhood, and economic- development hub for local government. And the current City-County Building will become the headquarters for Public Safety personnel.

This forward-thinking decision continues my commitment to a more cooperative and effective local government.

Because we are one community, and because creating jobs is priority one, we are already hard at work with our Allen County partners to streamline our permitting process.

We know time is money, so we want to make it easier for businesses to prosper in Fort Wayne.

Another vital community solution was the merger of our 911 communication services. Earlier this month we welcomed a new director to a combined City-County 911 call center, because there is nothing more important than the health and safety of our community.

Once again our willingness to put aside the outmoded ways of doing the people’s business has resulted in a common-sense solution that will make our community better and more efficient.

All of these collaborative improvements – co-location, a merged 911 emergency call center and streamlined permitting – are not city solutions or county solutions, they’re community solutions. They were achieved through a unified vision and the willingness to take on the tough challenges.

When I came into office I pledged to make City Government more open and accessible to all.

I want to know your ideas, your concerns and your suggestions. We are partners in building a better community.

That’s why I continue to walk neighborhoods and open my door for Mayor’s Nights In. It’s why on major decisions, I make sure we are always gathering information from citizen committees like the Clean Rivers Task Force, the Solid Waste Contract Committee, Bike Fort Wayne and the Social Services Summit.

I am equally committed to using new methods and new technologies to ensure that more people can have input on their own time schedule. That’s why I launched SmartGov.

SmartGov brings government to the people. Phase ONE was about delivering more information and increasing access.

This online feature puts City budgets, contracts and our checkbook at your fingertips 24/7.

Phase two is about encouraging collaboration and interaction. We’re starting a new conversation. And Feedback Fort Wayne is just the first example. The response has been incredible.

Right now you can help “Name Our New Building” and weigh in on the future of the City Light Lease funds.

Community collaboration does matter. But infrastructure matters too. It matters to residents and it matters to businesses.

Last year, 465 construction jobs were created as we finished more than 60 miles of street repairs, including concrete repairs in 26 neighborhoods.

We also added 11 miles of new trails. In fact, over the past six years, our trail system has tripled in size from 20 miles to more than 60 miles. Our partnership with nonprofit groups and the County will see us add another 10 miles in 2011. Because active transportation is a hallmark of competitive cities, I am also committed to building more bike lanes and making our city more friendly to pedestrians. Using the new Bike Fort Wayne and Walk Fort Wayne plans, we are improvingsafety and enhancing ur quality of life.

This year, I am looking forward to the grand opening of the new Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Bridge on Clinton Street. It will improve traffic above and the flow of the river below. As we honor this historic leader, we will also be creating an impressive gateway into the heart of Fort Wayne.

As Mayor, I see each and every gateway into our city as important. By putting our best foot forward, we let travelers know that we’re glad they’re here. It’s the economics of the first impression.

Our Gateway Advisory Group started meeting last August to explore ways that we can use signage, lighting and landscaping to make our front doors more appealing.

Working with leadership Fort Wayne, we’re also taking note of our downtown railroad overpasses. Watch for activity on Lafayette, Clinton and Columbia Street as we highlight our arts district and other downtown destinations.

Creating a sense of place and promoting investment matter to all of us.

Like so many Fort Wayne residents, I share the goal of celebrating our rivers. Last year we witnessed the inaugural Riverfest on the IPFW campus. It drew 20,000 people to the banks of the St. Joseph River in a single day. I’m really excited it’s coming back again in a couple of months. The new bridge, our gateways, and events like Riverfest, symbolize the pride we all feel in our community. These are investments that businesses and families desire.

Quality of life matters.

And for many of us, nothing captures our pride of place better than our award-winning Parks and Recreation Department. Our more than 24-hundred acres of public parks saw record use. And participation in our summer playground activities grew a record 20 percent. The Cooper Community Center celebrated its thirty-fifth anniversary. And we’re creating a new public art park dedicated to our Sister Cities at the old Dimension Ford property.

The nonprofit organization KaBOOM! honored us as a “Playful City USA.” And Taylor’s Dream is about to take flight. Taylor Reuille is the girl who dreamed of a boundless playground – one that is accessible to all. I’m happy to say the park – the first boundless playground in the state of Indiana – will be finished in June.

Just like the parks, clean water is essential to building a community where good jobs can grow. Our Long Term Control Plan is already bringing us significant benefits. Last year, sewer separation projects and changes at our water pollution control plant kept more than one billion gallons of sewer overflow out of our rivers.

Additionally, the $38 million we invested to improve water services resulted in some 1,200 fulltime construction and engineering jobs – most with local contractors.

In 2010, City Utilities was recognized as one of the best in the country, winning the Directors Award for Safe Water practices for the tenth year in a row.

Our city’s nearly 80,000 households got terrific news in 2010. We got a new garbage and recycling contract with National Serv-All, that not only reduces rates, but also improves service.

Because of the hard work of our Solid Waste Contract Committee, while other cities are watching trash collection prices go up; our costs have actually come down along with fees for all residents. We’re saving more than a quarter of a million dollars annually.

And for the first time ever, we are sharing in the revenue generated through the sale of recycled materials. We estimate as much as $200,000 annually can be used to keep our rates low. With One-Cart recycling we’ve already broken the 50 percent participation barrier.

Sustainability matters.

Two years ago we launched the Green City Business program. It helped businesses look for ways to become more sustainable. Its popularity grew so much, that last October; the Northeast Indiana Sustainable Business Council was formed to help our entire region become more competitive in the global market place.

This true business-to-business network is increasing participation in the new Bright Green Business and Stewardship programs.

In the City, we have one greenest vehicle fleets in the country. All traffic signals now use LED lights. And we are currently studying the use of methane for power generation at our waste water treatment plant.

We’re embracing sustainability in our neighborhoods, as well. The Neighborhood Stabilization Program has been a hallmark of that effort. Because healthy neighborhoods matter. Through this program local developers purchased vacant or foreclosed homes, rehabbed them, and sold them to qualified homebuyers.

A couple of our local “green-field” developers – who traditionally build on open, suburban land – hopped on board. They learned how to develop houses in our established neighborhoods and really made the program work.

Significant neighborhood investment. Good jobs. Great homes for families. And an average increase in home value of 62 percent. The N-S-P is an unqualified success.

Our Neighborhood Main Streets got their own boost with the third round of our popular Commercial Façade program. With upgrades to storefronts, our small business owners are sending an upbeat message to customers and a powerful signal to other businesses looking for great places to locate.

This is a private-public partnership that works – and works well. In almost every instance, business owners are investing more than required, some even four times the grant amount. Obviously, it will be back again this year.

Check out Wells Street, North and South Anthony Boulevards and Broadway at Taylor. You’ll see pride growing and businesses prospering. We’re helping our small-business community succeed, and they in turn, are enhancing nearby neighborhoods. Together we’re keeping the fabric of our community strong. Because small business matters.

And so does a safe city. Because there’s nothing more important than feeling safe in your hometown. Our police department takes its charge very seriously, as do I. Overall crime was down in 2010 by about five-and-a-half percent. But there was a slight uptick in homicides and that concerns me.

Every life is precious. Our commitment to both aggressive prevention and investigation is one we will renew again and again. It is why we expanded the use of technology with an updated Automated Fingerprint ID System and wireless print units in the field. And in 2011, we will gather palm prints and create laser sketches on site. We’re already seeing the impact. GPS tracking systems and effective team policing have increased our gang arrests by 25 percent. Our police department is working hard, but addressing the causes of crime is an ongoing community challenge. That is why our partnerships with neighborhoods, businesses, schools, social-service providers and our faith-based community are vital. It takes all of us working together to keep our city safe.

The Fort Wayne Fire Department is also working to achieve our safe-city goals. The new Incident Command Training Center improves “on-scene” operations. Housed at the Northeast Indiana Public Safety Academy, this sophisticated training is open to all departments in Northeast Indiana. The acquisition of a Quint Fire Truck will result in a savings of about $500,000 dollars annually. This dual-purpose vehicle does the work of both a ladder truck and an engine truck.

Our efforts to keep City finances sound and to foster economic opportunity take on a special urgency when we think about the young people of our community.

We are the stewards of their future. We must invest now to ensure a Fort Wayne that is filled with possibilities for our children and grandchildren.

That’s why the expansions at IPFW, Ivy Tech, Indiana Tech and the University of St. Francis and Manchester College’s new pharmacy school are energizing this community. Their student populations represent our next generation of leaders.

There are no more important partnerships than the ones we build to advance learning, because a good education matters. My Mayor’s Youth Engagement Council has 27 high-school students from across the city working to inform their peers about local government. They also provide me with the valuable voice of our younger residents.

We’re putting a new emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math for high school students. This innovative program with ATOS Origin, our IT provider, along with businesses, universities, high schools and our economic development partners, will soon be fighting “brain drain.”

Well over a decade ago we made a collective decision that a vibrant downtown matters. It is a measure of our pride, vitality and the potential for economic growth. All around us you can see the progress we are making. Harrison Square has truly been the catalyst project we had hoped. Take a look at the scorecard: Over 400,000 people coming downtown for TinCaps games and events at Parkview Field; A record year for activities at Headwaters Park, festivals and events; A lively and growing fine arts district; Businesses investing; and restaurants expanding their hours. Capping it all, a new Courtyard by Marriott hotel that opened last August.

It has taken vision to stay the course on many issues that are vital to our community. It took courage and perseverance to bring together a team of local and regional banks to make the new hotel happen. But together, we did it.

And now today, not only do we have a beautiful new hotel, but we are also attracting conventions that once picked larger cities. Five big convention wins in recent months prove this point emphatically.

Our energized downtown is attracting investment, capturing new revenue and creating a climate where businesses can prosper and families can thrive.

It has been tough to be patient as the economic downturn and tight credit market kept the last piece of Harrison Square on hold. But much like the courage and tenacity that it took to realize the new hotel, today it is my good fortune to announce the financing package for The Harrison is nearly complete.

Several Financial institutions have now stepped up for our city. With PNC in the lead, along with Tower Bank, Three Rivers Federal Credit Union and others – the residential and retail component of Harrison Square will soon come to life.

You might say, I’ve saved the best for last. The end of 2010 brought the positive resolution to the 35-year-old City Light Lease issue. The settlement agreement with Indiana Michigan Power – still requiring the approval of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission – will pay us $39.2 million over 15 years, with $5 million coming as an upfront payment.

It is an agreement that will strengthen our community and position us for economic growth. Moreover, it will leave us with a lasting legacy. There were those who said that this community asset had no worth. But I was determined to fight for fairness, to fight for the people of Fort Wayne. That’s why I went the distance. Now we have the opportunity to look to the future. To think long term. To be bold. The City Light Lease Settlement and the nearly $36 million in the Fort Wayne Community Trust are a unique legacy. Our community is in a once-in-a-lifetime position. We have the chance to help discover the future for nearly $75 million.

When I ran for Mayor, I made a pledge that when a settlement with I and M was reached I wanted all of our residents to have a chance to contribute their ideas – to help determine how we might best use these exceptional funds. Legacy Fort Wayne is a promise kept.

It’s time to start thinking about our hopes, our dreams, our goals and our priorities. Our choices must be ones we study thoughtfully and make together. Let’s use this treasure wisely. Go to LegacyFortWayne.org and get ready to get involved.

When I look at Fort Wayne in 2011, even in these difficult times, I see a city with a strong foundation and sound finances. I see a community determined to do everything it can to make Fort Wayne a place where good jobs can grow. Businesses can prosper. Talent can blossom. And families can thrive. When I look at Fort Wayne in 2011, I see opportunity. The strengths and assets of our community are many, our people exceptional, our accomplishments enormous.

The people of this community are what really matters. You fill me with hope that our best days are still to come. Working together, we can make amazing things happen. The time is now.

Thank you all for coming.

Go to the AFW State of the City Address Archive.

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