State of the City Address - 2/7/2011

STATE OF THE CITY PRESENTATION - FEBRUARY 7, 2011

 

          The last twelve months have seen significant changes in the status of the City of New Castle.  The downtown is coming alive, the city streets are noticeably cleaner, industry is returning, and the financial books are stabilized after what has undoubtedly been the worst threat to the financial security of the City for many decades.

 

DOWNTOWN RESTORATION

 

          The health of a community is determined by the condition of its downtown.  For the past three years a concerted effort has been made to get the heart of the city beating once again, through the restoration of its facades and getting business to return to this vital part of the city.  And we are being successful!

 

          Maxwell Commons at the corner of 14th and Broad Streets is nearing completion, with the corner store having already been purchased by Cinergy MetroNet, and the four residences on the second floors ready for purchase and occupancy in several months.  Upon arrival of warmer weather, the façade of the former Penny's Building will be restored to the same high standards of its three recently completed neighboring buildings in Maxwell Commons. 

 

          The Jennings Building, catty-corner from the Maxwell Commons, is expected to be acquired through foreclosure by the New Castle Redevelopment Commission after it spent half a million dollars to remediate and structurally stabilize the neglected building.  Keystone Group, a commercial developer, is one of several developers interested in acquiring the building.  Keystone is presently in discussions with Ivy Tech regarding converting the former ground floor business spaces into classrooms for the college, thus consolidating this important and growing college into one centralized location where, by its downtown location, it would benefit the entire community. 

 

INROADS TO A CLEAN CITY

 

          After a poor performance last winter, the City has moved its trash and snow removal responsibilities to the Waste Water Department where we are now seeing the results in improved trash collection, and snow plowing. 

 

          The appearance of city streets on trash collection day has considerably improved to the point that it is now impressive to see row after row of neat trash toters in place of the loose trash that we had become accustomed to seeing on collection day.

 

          If there is one embarrassing problem that the City was guilty of, it was the poor communications by the City with the public regarding trash and leaf collection.  It could have been much better and is now greatly improved.  Also, our trash collection efficiency has not yet reached that of other cities and we fell short in our leaf collection effort this past fall, because of staffing reductions and the early and continuous presence of snow cover. 

 

          We should, however, be especially pleased with the snow removal this year, as it is the same, dedicated group of employees who pick up trash that is also responsible for snow plowing as well as leaf collection.

 

          Unfortunately, the City this coming fall will not be able to vacuum leaves from curbside and will only pick up leaves if they are bagged. We sorely regret this action, but we must join the ranks of most other cities that do not provide this service.  

 

NEW INDUSTRIES

 

          Unlike established industries that have the financial wherewithal to "write a check" for new locations, a start-up industry such as Advantage Wind Turbine, which has identified New Castle as its new manufacturing headquarters and training location, must acquire the necessary equity and financial support before "signing on the dotted line."  AWT now has identified that equity and has obtained financing at a commercial rate, but is now attempting to acquire more favorable financing through the Federal Reserve before officially launching the multi-billion dollar industry in seven states. 

 

          Interested applicants for positions with the company should watch for an announcement in the near future regarding how to go about applying for one of the 800 positions to be established in the first phase of this welcomed industry.  AWT, when fully staffed, will employ up to 1800 workers in the New Castle area. 

 

          JaTech, a local research and development effort supported by the City for the past six years, is now in serious discussions with a group of investors and intends to conduct its manufacturing operations in the New Castle area.  As with other start-up industries, obtaining the necessary financing to begin takes time.

 

          Just last Friday, Crown Equipment of New Bremen, Ohio, announced its decision to move its 20 or so employee positions from its Connersville plant to the Metaldyne facility.  Since New Castle is so close to Connersville and within commuting distance, it is not known how many of these positions, if any, will be filled by New Castle residents.  Or, if the company expects to expand operations in the near future.

 

          Crown Equipment of Ohio is one of the world's largest lift truck manufacturers and the origins of its Connersville facility date back to 1918.  Their arrival in New Castle is a welcomed event.  Crown will be leasing the Metaldyne facility to gain additional floor space and the flexibility needed to support the company's product lines.

         

FINANCIAL SUCCESSES

 

          The City may have successfully weathered the property tax crisis, as the tax draw in December of last year was almost the same as the earlier draw in May.  Many people pay their entire year's tax bill in May, so that the December draw is usually considerably less.  The fact that the second half draw was almost as much as the first is an indication that property tax income may indeed be increasing.

 

          After surviving a most serious threat to the financial stability of New Castle, revenue to the General Fund in 2010 exceeded expenditures by $1.2 million due to tight fiscal management and reduced spending.  In 2006, the balance in the General Fund at the end of the year had reached a seriously low level of $341K.  Through tight fiscal management and difficult personnel reduction decisions, the ending balance in the General Fund increased to $2.1 million at the end of 2010 and is projected to be slightly higher at the end of this year as the City continues on its road to recovery.  Several more million dollars are required in the fund to keep from having to borrow to make ends meet during the year. Fortunately, the amount of money to be borrowed this year to fund the city until the receipt of the semi-annual tax draws has been greatly reduced. 

 

          Perhaps more significant are the impressive amounts of grants successfully applied for and received by the City.  In the three years since January of 2008, at the beginning of this administration, we have received $6.9 million dollars for specific projects.  By receipt of these grants, improvements are being made to the city that will last for many decades.

 

          The City has a one-in-six chance of being awarded a $11.5 million Stellar Communities grant in March.  Earlier today, a site visit was made by the grant judges to the various projects that were included in our application.  These projects include the expenditure of over $6 million for the painting, demolition or rehabilitation of run-down homes and the construction of new homes, all directed toward lower-income families in the city. Also included are the construction of safe sidewalks to school and for the elderly, renovation of downtown streetscapes and the remainder of the facades on Broad Street in need of repair, and development of the 40-acre Baker Woods just south of the field house parking lot into an environmental laboratory and wildlife park for students and citizens.  Also, the Maxwell Green Park across from the former Metaldyne facility will be developed as a second environmental and educational park and, in the event that Ivy Tech locates downtown, the building's façade will be renovated to complement the rest of the restoration work performed, or to be performed, in the downtown historic district.  Lastly, the downtown Senior Center and CRADLES Child Care will be collocated in a new facility that will have sufficient off-street parking and interior space for each organization.

 

GARNER STREET, FINALLY!

 

At last, the effort begun by Mayor Tom Nipp during his administration will come to fruition this week with the scheduled letting of the contract by the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) to extend the existing Garner Street from North Main Street to North 14th Street, just a block from the Hospital.  When opened to traffic this fall, access to the Hospital will be greatly improved and business and residential development in this struggling area of the city will have a better chance of succeeding.

 

FINALE

 

          The city has come a long way in the past three years, but still has a long way to go, especially in the area of employment and adequate housing.  With the prospects of an improved economy and jobs, problems often associated with high unemployment and poverty should lessen.

 

          We pray that the City's application for the Stellar Communities grant is successful; that Advantage Wind Turbine and JaTech will find the necessary funding and bring their several thousand jobs to New Castle; and that Crown Equipment will successfully settle into the Metaldyne plant and expand it local operations.

 

New Castle will then, indeed, once again become the finest city in East Central Indiana and will emerge as that shining city on the hill that we all desire it to be.

 
 
Presented to the City Council on February 7, 2011 by Mayor Jim Small