Archive for Thursday, January 20, 2005

State of Baldwin outlined

January 20, 2005

Citing past progress -- most notably a reduction in the mill levy -- and an eye towards a future that includes a reduction in the cost of utilities, Baldwin City Mayor Ken Hayes gave the annual state of the city address at Tuesday's city council meeting.

"As we enter the year 2005 we can look back over the accomplishments of the previous year with pride and a sense of accomplishment," Mayor Hayes said to open his remarks. "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," Hayes said. "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 percent. This is a significant factor in trying to control taxation in our city."

But, mill-levy reduction wasn't all of it.

"In difference to this reduction we have seen our valuations climb by an average of 28," he said. "Although this does not apply to everyone equally, reduction over valuation increase is a lessening of taxation by 4.7 percent. 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 reducing the level of taxation," said Hayes. "Further we have seen an increase in our sales tax revenue of nearly 10 percent last year alone. This is significant when coupled with the numbers of new businesses that have opened in our community."

But, an eye-popper that could be even bigger for some is the plan the mayor unveiled to reduce the cost of utilities, long considered a problem and Baldwin's "dirty little secret" to those that have been here for years. The high costs have been attributed to the massive rebuilding of infrastructure, including building a new power plant.

"Our city admittedly has an issue with the high cost of utilities," said Hayes. "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," he said. "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 a month. In most cases this would be a reduction of 5 to 10 percent 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," said Hayes. "This is a reduction of 5.8 percent 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 other parts of his address, which can be read in their entirety on the Signal's Web site at www.baldwincity.com, the mayor pointed to other improvements that have been made and more that are on the horizon, including the revitalization of downtown.

"2005 should be a year to redirect our focus from the issues of infrastructure that has dominated the last four years and begin the initiatives that will deal with other aspects of life in our city," he said. "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," said Hayes.

He also mentioned the renovation of two bridges on High Street that need to be made, including the "Women's Bridge," and working with Baker University on providing parking in the area of the sports complex and the city pool as matters that need to be addressed.

Hayes also called for a long-term plan for the city to be formulated, as well as answers found for the ongoing need for additional ball fields. In closing, the mayor called on everyone to play a part in making Baldwin City better.

"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," said Hayes. "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 city's needs that will cripple our controlled growth and internal development of our community."

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