MISHAWAKA -- The city's 200th birthday is just 21 years away, and Mayor Dave Wood aims to start planning for it now.
Not for a party, he said, but a vision for how the city should look and operate and "to make this community the most livable it can be."
He announced this planning for 2033 at his annual State of the City speech Monday night. At one hour and 15 minutes, the speech was full of 2012 projects like a new playground at Central Park, plus sobering realities like water and electric rates.
"This city has changed almost entirely over the last 20 years," he said in an interview earlier in the day, talking about the 200th birthday.
He plans to set goals and "results oriented" planning, looking at a wide range of issues like the best uses for tax incremental financing -- and then how to continue doing those sorts of projects after TIF funding goes away.
What will the city's parks look like, or even its 911 call center? What about neighborhoods, homeownership and rental issues?
Public input would be sought starting this summer.
The city will study the water and electric rates that it charges
through Mishawaka Utilities. Water rates haven't changed since 2002
and electric rates since 1993, Wood said, adding, "We have some of the
lowest rates in the state."
He said the city also might consider charging per unit of water used.
And he said the city council will have to discuss whether the city
utilities should continue being regulated by the Indiana Utility
The IURC provides an extra level of auditing and protection for
consumers. But staying with the IURC means the city has to conduct
expensive studies and go through a bureaucratic process before it can
change its rates, causing rate increases to be more seldom but also
bigger, he said.
If the city were to break away, Wood said, the council would then
oversee decisions like rate changes.
Meanwhile, the city figures on signing a consent decree this year with
the federal government to spend roughly $150 million over the next 20
years to separate storm and sanitary sewers.
Other cities also face this "unfunded mandate," Wood said. The idea is
to keep rivers clean. Mishawaka has already eliminated about 86
percent of the combined sewer overflows since 1990, Wood said.
The city and the feds will sign the decree, he said, once the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency is done reviewing the city's plans.
The city also will start working on another federal mandate: to ensure
all city facilities comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
It would mean $3.5 million in improvements over the next few years to
parks and buildings like the Battell Center, Wood said.
Need more fun? The mayor touted the large new set of play equipment in
Central Park that the city would install this summer. It would have
the feeling of a castle, like Kids Kingdom.
That will be part of the renewal on the St. Joseph River's northern
bank west of Cedar Street. Next to the park, the nonprofit Center for
Hospice Care tore down the former Moose Lodge buildings in the past
week, where the center will build its new campus.
That is a cooperative project over the next few years where the city
will build new streets and paths.
Down the river, the city is applying for a federal grant of more than
$1 million that would pay 80 percent of the cost to extend the
Riverwalk through Merrifield Park. Construction probably won't start
Roads to ...
Main Street will be rebuilt and expanded to five lanes all of the way
through the three-quarter-mile stretch between Day Road and Ardennes
Avenue this year.
The city plans to expand Main to five lanes south of downtown over the
next several years. It will start by upgrading traffic signals there
Among other projects, the new road Trinity Place will be finished this
spring, linking Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center to Fir Road and
gaining access to land that could be developed.
New sidewalks, curb ramps and crosswalks will come to the area around
Battell Elementary School thanks to a federal grant.
Wood also said the city will evaluate whether the home for its Central
Services vehicles, from dump trucks to front-end loaders, needs to be
replaced. The seven buildings on Cedar Street, dating back to the
1960s, need major repairs and leave many vehicles outside in the
Wood noted that the construction market is still slow.
There were only 22 permits for building new homes last year, compared
with 163 in 2004. He said there was $45 million in new construction of
all kinds in the city last year. That's a bit up from $43 million in
2010 but still below the $100 million-plus in years before 2008.
But, for the first time in three years, new housing complexes will
open in 2012. Both are senior apartments: next to the Kroger store on
Merrifield Avenue and in the former Mishawaka High School in downtown.
Wood cited large Mishawaka businesses that added jobs in 2011: Patrick
Metals with 85 more employees than expected, WellPet with an extra 45
and Nyloncraft with an extra 63.
And he counted 10 storefronts in downtown that were newly occupied
last year, saying, "It lets you know that people are out actively
Staff writer Joseph Dits: