Text: 2008 State of the City address

The text of Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry’s State of the City address, delivered on February 13, 2008, at the Grand Wayne Center.

Good afternoon and thank you for joining me for the first State of the City address of the Henry administration. As I said on Election Night here in this very building:

Risk more than others think is safe.
Care more than others think is wise.
Dream more than others think is practical.
Expect more than others think is possible.

Those four short lines are the West Point Cadet Maxim, and they mean a great deal to me. They ask each of us to reach beyond ourselves, to dig deep, to push the negative aside and reach for the stars. Fort Wayne is a wonderful city, because it is the sum of the greatness of its people, and there are no better people on the face of this earth. This maxim reflects exactly how I plan to guide this city. I ask you to join me in this quest. Working together, we can make Fort Wayne a place of pride and opportunity for every citizen, a place that is known for all that is good in America.

My philosophy of governing may seek to inspire, but it is also grounded in the practical. As your Mayor, I am dedicated to providing an efficient and effective form of government. In these unsettled financial times, we must do more with less, never fail to deliver quality services citywide, and constantly try to find ways to use cost-saving measures and innovation to help us realize our dreams. We must keep the positive momentum growing.

I am pleased to join you today, because the state of our city is strong. Fort Wayne has so much going for it right now. It is a great time to be in the Summit City. We are currently in the expanded Grand Wayne Center, which will host the 2010 Indiana Association of Cities and Towns conference. Prior to the center’s expansion and renovation, Indiana’s second-largest city couldn’t host this key event. Yet, two years from now, convention-goers can stay across the street at the new 250-room Courtyard by Marriott hotel. It is part of the larger Harrison Square project that combines recreational, retail and residential development, and is already serving as a foundation for new energy, new excitement and new private investment in our downtown. As you probably saw coming in, construction is well underway on the ballpark. We have local architects, local contractors and local construction workers literally rebuilding our downtown.

Yes, we will soon have new residents calling downtown home. We will soon have new services, new places to shop and new places to dine. We will soon have a new hotel to welcome visitors and convention-goers from around the country. And we will soon have one of the premiere minor league ballparks bringing families and people of all ages into the heart of the city. Harrison Square is about bringing new life, energy and investment into the core of our community. Why? Because downtown is where we come together. Beyond Fort Wayne, our vibrant downtown tells the world that we are truly a strong community.

Yes, I am proud of what we are accomplishing, but our motivation is more than pride. With every ounce of energy we must work together to create a community that can attract private investment, high-paying jobs and the talented workers that will keep Fort Wayne and northeast Indiana competitive for generations to come. I am excited to see the Harrison Square construction activity because it demonstrates that we are making real progress on all of those goals. It will be a signature project for our downtown and the entire region.

Not only do we have activity downtown, we are also seeing that same kind of public-private partnership working in other parts of our city. Only a few years ago, Southeast Fort Wayne might have been described as one of Fort Wayne’s best kept development secrets. It represented an important market whose needs were not being met because it lacked private investment. We planted the seeds for development, and now retail is thriving at Southtown Centre with a Wal-Mart and Menards and other smaller stores and restaurants springing up around it.

Incidentally if you haven’t driven south on Clinton Street and taken a left on Creighton Avenue east to John Street in awhile, you might want to make that trip. There’s another extraordinary venture underway. Blossoming like spring flowers is Renaissance Pointe, the new front-porch community in the heart of Fort Wayne. Walk through the six brand-new model homes open to the public; witness all the other new home construction and infrastructure improvements going on in the area. This is what private-public partnerships and private investment can do. It’s a proven model that is making our community stronger. I want to see more of this.

Another impressive example is the Regional Public Safety Academy that opened at the end of last year. The academy is a comprehensive world-class training facility for police officers and firefighters, and it’s right here in Fort Wayne.

I would like to thank my predecessor, Graham Richard, for his eight years of work on making these projects happen as well as instituting innovative and cost-saving strategies for the delivery of government services. I am continuing many of the ideas he put into place including our 311 call center, the true One Call to City Hall.

I would also like to thank each one of you as members of our community. Fort Wayne is a great place to live, work and raise a family because of people like you. Each and every one of you here, and those watching or listening to this address care deeply about the future of our city. And if your parents and grandparents lived here, I’d like to thank them too for leaving us with the fine city we have today.

I have now been in office for 58 days. It’s been great to be able to hit the ground running with experienced staff and employees. We’ve already successfully fought flooding with very little property damage, but we’ll continue to work on long-term flood-control strategies along the St. Marys River to protect our neighborhoods and businesses. I know previous efforts on the St. Joe and Maumee demonstrated their worth during the February flood. And I think we’ll see those same kinds of results along the St. Marys during my first term.

Two weeks ago, we successfully acquired the assets of Aqua Indiana’s north operations, including Aqua’s north customers. After more than five years of negotiations, residents on the north and northwest side of Fort Wayne are now receiving better water at a lower cost. By June or July all former Aqua North customers will have City water running through their pipes.

But nothing could be more important than giving renewed attention to our rivers. They are the emblem of our city, the source of our drinking water and an untapped opportunity to enhance our quality of life. Improving water quality in the St. Joseph, the St. Marys and the Maumee will happen in the coming years with the adoption of the City’s Long-Term Control Plan. Once complete, the comprehensive strategy will reduce combined sewer overflows from an average of 71 times a year on our rivers to less than 10 depending on rainfall. This $230 million investment in environmental and economic development will allow our rivers to become a focus for economic and neighborhood development opportunities. And while this doesn’t come without expense, I have called on our leaders in Congress and in the Senate to help us pay for these costs that benefit the entire Maumee River basin. The time is right to make our rivers a centerpiece for our city.

Our rivers also represent an additional asset to be explored. The North River land, the former OmniSource location, opportunity embodies that potential. I continue to believe strongly in negotiating with the owners of the North River property for the best possible deal for our citizens and taxpayers. This key piece of land linked to downtown offers a tremendous opportunity to continue private development in the core of our city. We have several outstanding ideas for this area because of the work of the North River Task Force. Truly this area can serve as a focal point and catalyst for the kind of high-quality development that brings new investment and new opportunity to our entire region.

I’d like to thank again the members of the community who participated in the volunteer North River Task Force. Gathering community input and working together is how the best decisions are made in our community. As your Mayor, I am striving to encourage this kind of openness and participation throughout my administration.

North River, Harrison Square and the vision I have for Fort Wayne keep reminding me of the Fleetwood Mac song, “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow.” I truly can’t stop thinking about tomorrow for our city. As Mayor, I want to use this office not only to be fiscally responsible with your tax dollars, but also create positive change with continued momentum in economic development, education and the nonprofit community.

During the campaign season I had the opportunity to meet thousands of our city’s residents. What a privilege. I talked to you on front porches, at neighborhood meetings and sometimes you’d even stop me on the street. And one of the top concerns I heard from you was about the jobs available in our city. Economic development is one of the key areas I want to work on during the next four years. We have some outstanding organizations working on job creation and job retention as this region transitions from a base of manufacturing into the high-tech, high-skill careers of the information age.

We are truly lucky to have a diverse group of entities working on economic development in our City including the Fort Wayne-Allen County Economic Development Alliance (one of the co-sponsors of today’s State of the City address), the Downtown Improvement District, the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center and the Regional Partnership. Each of these groups has its own concentration, but I would like to enhance local and regional collaboration on the issue of economic development and provide even better oversight for the tax dollars dedicated to retaining and gaining jobs.

The global race for jobs requires strength in numbers. It takes all of us working together, leveraging our resources and skills, to compete worldwide. My Economic Development Coordinating Council will create a forum in which that kind of interaction between these groups can and will occur on a regular basis. The Economic Development Coordinating Council will give our city and region a collaborative edge and our citizens the checks and balances their public dollars merit. It will be one more tool making us more attractive to new investment, business growth and the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

To promote the high-skill, high-wage jobs Fort Wayne needs and wants, we must have a capable workforce too. During this year, I will put together another collaborative economic development program. This one, between employers and educators, has three distinct elements. They are first, the Community Learning Network, second, an Educator-Employer Summit, and third, the “Learning to Earn” Council. The Community Learning Network will link students of our high schools and universities with the business community using Fort Wayne’s impressive broadband network. This brain trust will ultimately create a pipeline for students to local business leaders and potential employers.

The Mayor’s Educator-Employer Summit is a starting point to connect educators from secondary and postsecondary levels with business and industrial sectors. This event, which I’m planning for the third quarter of this year, will help our educator and employer community establish the needs and areas of opportunity for education and workforce development.

Following the summit, I’d like to implement the “Learning to Earn” Council. This will be an ongoing roundtable discussion of education, business and economic development professionals. It will continue the work started at the Educator-Employer Summit. My goal is to see partnerships develop from the Council with long-term benefits for our students, our employers and our city’s economic development efforts.

I’d like to see this same spirit of coming together in Fort Wayne’s social service community. We have wonderful nonprofits in this city doing great work every day. I can only imagine the good that can come from bringing them together for a Social Service Summit. Finding connections and common goals in the field of social service is something that can be a hallmark of my administration.

A program that I talked about on the campaign trail and would like to see implemented this year is the return of the Safe House program. This initiative will provide our city’s children a safe harbor in neighborhoods. In collaboration with the Fort Wayne Police Department, local schools and concerned citizens, these Safe Houses will provide kids a temporary shelter when they feel they are in danger or threatened on their way to or from school or when out playing. I envision the new Safe Houses, which will be clearly marked with a distinctive logo, to be secure havens in individual homes, apartment complexes, churches, fire stations or other public buildings. The Police Department in cooperation with local schools will administer the program and ensure the participants and volunteers have met and continue to meet the standards to provide for the safety of some of the youngest residents of Fort Wayne.

I can’t fully address the state of our city without looking at the fiscal future of Fort Wayne. We must recognize the economic realities Indiana cities are facing right now. I don’t envy the position of our state’s legislators. As I speak to you today, they are scheduled to send House Bill 1001, the property-tax relief and restructuring plan from Governor Mitch Daniels, to conference committee. State senators and representatives will attempt to hammer out a plan for property tax caps and cuts. But we all must keep in mind the effects on local government budgets across the state. In its current form, House Bill 1001 could cause a dramatic shortfall in revenue for the City of Fort Wayne in 2009.

I pledged to you to be an advocate of the taxpayer dollar, but my division heads and I also have to be realistic about the financial position our City is in. We have a legacy in Fort Wayne of fiscal responsibility regardless of political affiliation, so together with City Council, I am going to have to take a hard look at what reductions may need to be made. Unfortunately, depending on the outcome of the State Legislature on property taxes, we may have to trim services and staff.

I would like to see the Statehouse though give local government more flexibility in designating which revenue streams best meet the needs of our individual communities and give us the latitude to implement them. I also support the Kernan-Sheppard plan for restructuring local government in Indiana. The time is now to look at long-term solutions to Indiana’s property tax situation and governmental restructuring.

With that said, I will not sacrifice the positive momentum that our community has generated over recent years. There is an energy and excitement in Fort Wayne today, a feeling that must be translated into action and concrete results, the kind that is essential to attracting the high-paying jobs and the talented workers that will keep Fort Wayne competitive and desirable for generations to come.

Let’s start with the obvious: ways we can save the City of Fort Wayne money. While wholesale consolidation of City and County government is not an option right now, Fort Wayne and Allen County could come together to save taxpayers money in things like joint purchasing of road salt, fuel, service contracts, vehicles and more. We can even consider a consortium of other municipalities and school corporations to save money. I witnessed this system to be very effective in the private sector, and I can see no reason why it can’t work in the public sector now.

The City of Fort Wayne is nothing by itself; our city is you the people of Fort Wayne. It is great because of you. Every day with your ideas, your energy and your hard work, we are building for the future. As your Mayor, I am no less a part of this fabric. Like you, Fort Wayne is my home. Like you, it is a place where we are all making history every day. What we do today will become our legacy. I am committed to listening to you so that we can transform our collective vision into a better tomorrow for all of us. There can be no better legacy than to leave the world a little better than we found it.

As I did when I was campaigning to be your Mayor and during my 20 years on City Council, I will continue to listen and learn from you. That’s why I’m bringing back Mayor’s Night In and Mayor’s Night Out. Three weeks from today, March 19th in the Omni Room at the City-County Building, I invite the community to join me for the first Mayor’s Night In of the Henry administration. You need to know that I’m available to listen to your concerns or even your compliments about City government. Access to your leadership should not be limited to the select few, but rather every citizen. I look forward to meeting with you next month. I will also soon begin offering a Mayor’s Night Out program to neighborhood associations and partnership meetings.

As we think about what’s to come in Fort Wayne, I see so many possibilities. We have local companies growing and expanding their presence nationally and even internationally. We have entrepreneurs starting businesses every day in Fort Wayne. We have committed educators at all levels working to make sure students are being prepared for tomorrow’s workforce. There are dedicated employees in government and nonprofits doing very important work behind the scenes. We have growth throughout the city, from downtown to the City limits. We have so much ahead of us.

And as our forefathers and mothers left us with a city rich with opportunity, we owe it to our children and our grandchildren to make Fort Wayne a place where we all want to live, work, raise a family and ultimately make a difference for generations to come. I ask you to join me in keeping Fort Wayne’s momentum growing. We must do our best today, because we can’t stop thinking about tomorrow.

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