State of the City of Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight February 24, 2014 - Full Text

Council President Kennedy, members of the Kokomo Common Council, elected officials, distinguished guests and citizens of Kokomo, welcome. I would especially like to welcome my wife Kelli, and my family and friends who took the time to be here this evening.

And, as always, I want to take a moment to thank the people of Kokomo for your continued support, and for allowing me to serve as your mayor. I also want to thank the Kokomo Common Council for another year of dedicated service and bipartisan cooperation. I speak often with other mayors and council members across Indiana. And, I truly believe that Kokomo has the best city council in the entire state. You serve as a model of how a legislative body should operate -- in a way that sets politics aside, and places our community first.

I’d like to start today by taking a short look back. I’m proud to announce that in 2013, the City of Kokomo spent nine percent less than we had budgeted, and ended with $3.6 million more cash on hand than when the year began. This involved smart thinking, it involved smart planning, and it involved sacrifice on behalf of everyone. 

Our city’s current economic position is all the more impressive when you consider that in 2013, the City of Kokomo saw three major weather events. We recorded the worst flood in our county’s history. We experienced a storm in which two tornados touched down in our city. And we witnessed severe winter weather that resulted in extremely cold temperatures, coinciding with unusually heavy snowfall. In fact, we’ve had more snow this winter than any other on record.

The storms may be over, but they’ll continue to affect our lives, in ways both big and small. For one thing – and this won’t be shocking news to anyone – we’re going to have a lot of potholes this year. We’ve filled thousands of them so far this winter, with plenty more to go. It happens every winter season, but with the amount of snow, ice and sludge we’ve experienced, this year will certainly be worse than most. 

Overall, these storms created substantial costs to city government, resulting in nearly $800,000 in unexpected damages, overtime expenses and equipment loss. But still, our department heads and city employees executed an outstanding clean-up plan to restore services and address the residents’ immediate needs, all while staying under budget.

But beyond our city government, this past year has made me incredibly proud of our entire community. We were tested this year. We faced great adversity, and we responded in a proactive, progressive and professional manner.
It was incredibly tough to see some of our neighborhoods hit so hard by these storms. After the tornado, I surveyed the damage throughout our city, and spoke to residents and business owners, in places like Cedar Crest, the Rickets and Bell neighborhood, and the businesses along Hoffer Street. It was truly terrible to see so many homes damaged, and so many lives upended. It is one thing to witness this type of destruction on the television, from afar. But to see it in our own community – to see homes and businesses we’ve passed by, for years, utterly destroyed – truly brings home the human toll and the personal cost of these natural disasters. But at the same time, I was truly inspired to see so many of our community members come together, and help their friends, neighbors and even strangers through these difficult times. That’s Kokomo. We look out for each other. We put community first. And we persevere. 

But obviously, and unfortunately, this is not the last time our community will be tested. In the coming years, many of our greatest challenges may come from a different kind of storm. A financial storm, created by our own Indiana General Assembly.

The great American writer Mark Twain once said, “By trying, we can easily learn to endure adversity… Another man's, I mean.”
Well, our state leadership has certainly learned to endure adversity. Just not their own. As many of you know, the Indiana General Assembly is considering proposals to reduce or eliminate taxes on business personal property.

To understand the impact this would have, you must first understand how business personal property tax works. Currently, corporations must pay taxes on all capital equipment and machinery – essentially, anything that they use to create products and make a profit. Statewide, this generates about one billion dollars in revenue each and every year.

And now, state leaders want to reduce or eliminate those taxes, shifting them away from multi-national corporations, and onto homeowners, farmers and small business owners. Put simply, the corporations would save money, and you would pay more.

But – because of our state’s property tax circuit breaker – not all of these taxes would shift to you. Much of it would simply be lost. A study by Purdue University found that statewide, about $450 million in property taxes would shift to you, as taxpayers. Another half a billion dollars would go away. Permanently.
Manufacturing communities, such as ours, would take the biggest hit. The City of Kokomo government alone would lose $12.4 million, according to the state’s own Legislative Services Agency. Our county government, our libraries, our townships and our five school corporations would lose millions more. This would be absolutely devastating to Howard County, and to every other community around the state, forcing us to make some very painful decisions.

It’s no wonder these proposals face such widespread opposition. We are joining with a wide-ranging coalition, including local economic development groups and local Chambers of Commerce, the Indiana Library Federation, the Indiana Association of Counties, the firefighter and police unions, AFSCME, and many other organizations, individuals and small businesses across our state. This coalition also includes our own Kokomo Common Council. I’d like to thank them for passing a resolution, at their last meeting, to openly oppose these initiatives.

But all the opposition in the world may not be enough. This is a top legislative priority of Governor Pence and the Indiana State Legislature. And what’s more, it’s a long-term priority.

Our state leaders have made it clear that they value multi-national corporations over Hoosiers. Everything we see suggests that the tax burden will continue to shift from corporations to homeowners, farmers and small-business owners, through a system based more and more on local income taxes, impact fees and user fees. One way or another, this is what’s happening. 

And because this is what’s happening, it becomes even more important that we – at the local level – focus on people. That we focus on the individual. On our friends and neighbors. On our residents and farmers and small-business owners.
Now more than ever, it is so important to attract new residents and new homeowners to our community. Let me say it as bluntly as I can. We need people to live here. Having high-quality jobs and a diverse economy is a good start, but it’s not enough. For Kokomo to thrive, we must be seen as a desirable place to live, not just because of our job market, but because of the community itself. Our collective future depends on it.

Why? Because if you live here, you spend here. You invest here. You volunteer here. Your tax dollars help pay for our streets, our sidewalks, our trails and parks. Your spending dollars help keep our local businesses afloat. And your time and effort lend themselves to our youth sports teams, our community gardens and our service agencies. In short, you’re not just a resident. You’re a part of our community.

More than a hundred and fifty years ago, our government, at all levels, invested in railroad lines, canals and seaports. In an infrastructure that began to tie our nation together. For much of the 20th century our government, at all levels, invested in utilities, highways and industrial parks. And now, we must invest in a different kind of infrastructure. The infrastructure of people. We must invest in trails and parks, in housing and in mixed-use neighborhoods. Our local government must be an active partner in economic and community development, working alongside private developers, community groups, schools and universities, and non-profit entities.

If we want people to live in our community, we must give them a reason to live in our community. We must show them our commitment to creating a safe, clean and vibrant  city. And by doing so, we will also create a welcome environment for businesses. Believe it or not, CEO’s and other business leaders do not live in the boardroom. They live in a community, just like everyone else.
So where, exactly should our focus be? 

Well, to start with, it’s about schools. We have several members of the Kokomo school board here today, and I’d like to congratulate them on the extraordinary job that the Kokomo school corporation has done, in recent years, to create and implement a progressive vision for our community. Please stand up, if you would, so we can recognize you.

Kokomo’s new International School -- including their partnerships with schools in countries as diverse as England, Chile, Finland and Vietnam -- will serve as a model for other school systems across our great nation. In fact, we have several international students here with us today, and I would like to take a moment to recognize them as well, and ask them to stand. 

This year, Kokomo schools had visits from 69 international students, hailing from 15 different countries on four different continents. They enrich the lives of our students, in the classroom and beyond. Of these students, 28 live right across the street from this building, in our new international residence halls. What’s more, twenty of them will graduate on June 6th, earning a Kokomo High School diploma.
I also want to recognize Kokomo Schools for partnering with Butler University in establishing the Wallace School of Integrated Arts. This is a place where students learn the same core curriculum as other elementary students, but with the arts – including music, dance, visual arts and other subjects – integrated into all aspects of learning.

Looking beyond K through 12 instruction, I would also like to commend Ivy Tech Community College, as it continues to grow in Kokomo in new and innovative ways. Soon, Ivy Tech will finish moving into the First Farmer’s Bank Building, a landmark in the core of our city. And I have no doubt they will continue to grow with Kokomo, for years and decades to come.

And, of course, Indiana University Kokomo has once again shattered its enrollment records, as it continues to expand its offerings and enhance the quality of higher education in Kokomo. 

With new private student housing going up just across the street from the main campus, it’s long past time that we acknowledge an obvious truth. Indiana University Kokomo is no longer a secondary educational option. It is a destination college, and a first choice for undergraduate and graduate students in our community, our region and beyond.  

It’s about parks and trails. We have made huge improvements to our city’s trails system over the past few years, and I am very pleased to say that in another two years, we will have a north-south trail system that allows you to walk, hike or bike from Oakford, through all of Kokomo, to Cassville, and beyond to Miami and Fulton counties. 

The automotive industry is, and will continue to be, an important part of our city’s heritage. But not everyone is able to depend on a car, and frankly, not everyone wants to. And that is why we must continue to make our city more friendly and welcoming to pedestrians, to joggers, to bicyclists and to public transportation. We must create a community where an automobile is one option, but not the only option.

In last year’s State of the City address, I announced the formation of a blue-ribbon panel, to look at the options for either upgrading CFD Stadium in Highland Park, or building a new baseball stadium here in Kokomo. I am very pleased with the work that commission has done, and you can expect to see their final recommendation within the next month.

It’s about cleaning up blight. In last year’s State of the City address, we emphasized the important role that code enforcement plays in creating a safe, clean and vibrant city. 

In 2013, we ramped up our enforcement efforts, and more than doubled our citations for nuisance violations, compared to previous years. What’s more, nearly nine out of ten nuisance-related clean-ups were handled entirely by the property owner, with no further city intervention. In other words, we made the property owner aware of the problem, and they cooperated and fixed it.

We also promised to crack down on out-of-state property owners, who purchase real estate in our community and then let it rot away to blight and ruin. We did crack down, and the result was increased investment in our community. But our efforts are far from over.

As I said last year, cleaning up these blighted properties encourages others to improve their own properties, improving our community even further, while increasing everyone’s property values and standard of living.
We are also working to beautify our city, and enrich our cultural offerings. That’s why the City recently donated property to the Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial Commission. This group plans to build a monument on the land, which will serve as a lasting legacy to a man whose actions helped change the course of our nation, for the better.

And finally, it’s about housing. Kokomo has incredible, affordable housing stock. But to attract young workers, as well as aging baby-boomers, we need a variety of housing options. We have many beautiful suburban neighborhoods, and that’s a good thing. We need them. But we also need mixed-use neighborhoods. We need apartments, condos and townhouses. We need urban living, accessible to residents at all income levels. We recently broke ground on a downtown parking garage, which includes fifth-floor residential apartments. It will be just one of many such housing initiatives we hope to see in Kokomo in the near future. A recent report in Bloomberg News spoke of our country’s shift towards urban living, and towards a greater demand for high-quality, multifamily housing. This trend is being driven by two demographics. Millennials, at the dawn of their careers, and baby boomers, entering their retirement years. They are creating demand, and changing the landscape of the real estate market. As the Bloomberg News article said, “the communities that correctly anticipate these changes are likely to especially benefit.” We want to be one of those communities. 

And so, with every decision we make, we must ask ourselves, is this good for the people of our community? Will this make us, as a city, safer, cleaner, more vibrant and more attractive? Will it make us a place where people want to live, not just a place where people happen to live?

This way of thinking has already begun to transform our community. And believe me, people outside our county, and even our state, have noticed. Our efforts are beginning to pay off. Chrysler/Fiat is still investing hundreds of millions of dollars in Kokomo’s operations. Veritas Realty of California has spent more than $3 million to transform the old Kokomo Mall into the new Kokomo Town Center.
And, if you glanced at yesterday’s Kokomo Tribune, you read that California-based Kipcor has purchased four blighted properties along North Buckeye Street that have been empty for years. And in one case, for decades.

Kipcor is also redeveloping the 85-year-old historic Firestone Building, and the company recently purchased the former Elk’s Lodge, across from the courthouse, from local businessman and bank board member Craig Dunn. 
I just learned that Kipcor is buying the Republican headquarters building on North Main Street, making him the GOP’s new landlord. And as a Democrat, I’m okay with that, as long as they are investing in Kokomo.

All of these investments – and those yet to come – demonstrate the faith that people across the state and nation have in our community. They know that we, as a city, have had to make a lot of difficult decisions. And they know that we have also avoided a lot of big mistakes. There have been many times, in recent years, when we could have mis-stepped, by focusing on the short-term. We could have passed our problems on to a future generation. We could have done the easy thing, and not the right thing. We could have sought to avoid controversy, even if it meant damaging our community’s long-term prospects.

But we didn’t. We faced our problems head on, and we fought for what was right. As a result, we are seeing real changes in our community, and creating real opportunities.

But, you know what? We’re just getting started.
Thank you, and God bless Kokomo.