Archive for Thursday, January 20, 2005

2005 State of the City Address

January 20, 2005

State of the City Speech

January 17, 2005

Mayor Kenneth Hayes

As we enter the year 2005 we can look back over the accomplishments of the previous year with pride and a sense of accomplishment. Our city has made strides toward improvement in services on many different levels.

The one that has the most impact for the citizens of Baldwin is the further reduction of the Tax mill levy for 2005. Four years ago our mill levy stood at 44.456 mills. Today it stands at 30.117 mills, this is a reduction of 32.7%. This is a significant factor in trying to control taxation in our city. In difference to this reduction we have seen our valuations climb by an average of 28%. Although this does not apply to everyone equally, reduction over valuation increase is a lessening of taxation by 4.7%. Now some critics say the mill levy number is not significant, and that valuation is the primary factor. This view is both short sighted and uninformed. The only tax number controlled by our city is the mill levy. Overall we have managed to increase services to our citizens while on average reduce the level of taxation. Further we have seen an increase in our sales tax revenue of nearly 10% last year alone. This is significant when coupled with the numbers of new businesses that have opened in our community.

2005 should be a year to redirect our focus from the issues of infrastructure that has dominated the last 4 years and begin the initiatives that will deal with other aspects of life in our city. First the submittal of the downtown improvement initiative in late 2004 will be hopefully realized in mid 2005. This supply of Federal and State monies to help rebuild our downtown will greatly improve the heart of our city, and give a boost to the viability of businesses located in this area. It is my opinion that the downtown belongs to all the citizens of Baldwin. And following that logic it should be responsibility of the city as a whole to provide the small percentage of matching funds that will be needed to finish this project.

One item that is in need of attention in the near future is the condition of our bridges on High Street that are in deterioration. The "Woman's Bridge" located between 10th and 11th on High is of National Historic significance. I have spoken with U.S. Representative Jim Ryun about this structure and its unique nature in the history of our city, and nationally in the effort for women to be recognized as citizens worthy of the right to vote. He has agreed to sponsor legislation that will direct federal monies to the project of restoring the bridge. This preservation effort will also be accompanied with its placement on the Historic Register roles of our country. The other bridge located between 5th and 6th on High has been entered into the Douglas County program for bridge replacement and will be scheduled for its replacement. The key on both of these initiatives is the participation of other levels of government to see that our tax dollars paid out at state and federal levels return to our community.

I would also like to recognize Councilwoman Cleavenger for her work with USD 348 in beginning the planning process of replacing the ball fields at the high school with a sports complex of fields at the new intermediate center. We face a growing problem of field space for our youth to participate in activities and this process needs to be explored fully with our partners at USD 348.

All of these factors deal with the changes that our community is experiencing due to aging of our infrastructure and the weight of new members to our community. We as a community are lacking in a viable community planning document to chart the eventual growth of our city. I call upon the Planning Commission to begin work on a city wide plan that will map our growth over the coming decades so that the issues of growth and infrastructure can be better planned for and dealt with in the future. At present our annual rate of growth over the past 4 years has averaged at 3%. This is not a high amount of growth but reflects a steady, manageable level of development in our community.

Another initiative that I would like to put forward to the city is the early negotiations that have been conducted with Baker University to address parking issues around the Baker sports complex and the city pool. We should explore fully the redesign of this area to accommodate parking for sporting events, ease the inconvenience on the public living in the area, and provide for a real parking solution for our city pool. The aspect of parking for the pool would be the establishment of a parking lot on the south east corner of 4th and Fremont. If the city and Baker work together on this project I believe it would be tremendously beneficial to both parties.

The past year also saw the completion of our new power plant. This new facility which will modernize our supply of electrical power for decades, has already shown its worth in the recent ice storm as our city was able to generate its own requirements. I would also like to publicly acknowledge the efforts of our utility and emergency crews during this time of difficulty. Although our city is still lacking in a coordinated emergency plan, our fire, police, medical, and utility crews all worked together to protect the public and restore services much quicker than larger municipalities around us were able to do.

Our city admittedly has an issue with the high cost of utilities. This is a reflection of the level of rebuilding that was necessary to bring our utilities up to a level of acceptable service for our community. Previous councils that deferred the new construction of infrastructure only delayed the inevitable costs associated with these city projects. City sewer, electrical, and water all were in sore need of modernization. These have been in large part accomplished. To pay for these improvements we have seen utility rates steadily climb.

In reaction to the high cost of Electrical power, the mayor, electrical utility director and city administrator have put together the following proposal for the consideration of the utility committee and the council as a whole.

First would be the elimination of the monthly residential customer charge on electricity for citizens that are of an age of 65 or older, or on state or federal assistance due to disability. This would mean our aged population and community members with special needs would see an immediate reduction in utility billing of $11.00 a month. In most cases this would be a reduction of 5 to 10% of a customers electrical bill. Further we propose the reduction of residential electrical KWH rates from .106 per kilo watt hour to .10 per kilo watt hour. This is a reduction of 5.8% of the cost of electrical energy for all our customers. I strongly urge the utility committee to meet and after careful study implement these proposed changes to help in the reduction of utility costs in our city.

In conclusion our city is fiscally strong, its infrastructure is now modernized in large part, and our community sees a wide variety of initiatives and ideas to keep Baldwin a vibrant place to live. We have to remain focused on where our city is headed, and planning for that future, instead of backsliding into a mindset of minimalist government and large reduction in the investment in our cities needs that will cripple our controlled growth and internal development of our community.

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