ELKHART — Mayor Dick Moore, in his state of the city address, took aim at the city council and state lawmakers for enacting changes he predicted will hurt city finances and budgeting.
The two-term mayor on Wednesday, April 2, pointed out that the council sided with businesses outside of the city in the compact sewer dispute and criticized the Indiana General Assembly for several pieces of legislation that will prevent the city from carrying out development plans and collecting revenues.
Moore derided the decision to phase out compact fees this year that will result in a loss of $1.3 million in revenues.
Opposition to the compact fee policy surfaced in late 2012 after the city attempted to expand the policy to other commercial customers outside of the city. The debate continued through much of 2013 as a majority of council members and even local state lawmakers pressured the administration to phase out the compact policy and begin establishing sewer charges based on a rate study.
Moore cast the scenario this way in his speech in the Lerner Theatre’s Crystal Ballroom.
“When some companies’ old agreements expired and it became time for them to sign new ones, some rebelled. The rest is history. A majority vote of our common council members in their own right decided to join with them and spent most of 2013 doing away with what was established by those who preceded them,” Moore said.
Achievements and goals
Mayor Dick Moore elaborated on many highlights from city departments in his speech and here’s a sampling:
■ Looking ahead, the city will apply for federal grant money that could lead to the elimination of up to 150 dilapidated residential properties.
■ Improvements at the airport will include completion of the Airport Road Beautification Project featuring a boulevard of ornamental trees. Taxiway improvements are also planned.
■ The city will continue efforts to divest itself of Elliot Park as well as Boot Lake Nature Preserve, both of which are outside of the city limits.
■ In the past year, city officials worked with companies that either located or expanded in Elkhart with commitments to generate more than 700 jobs.
Moore said his defense of the compact policy to state lawmakers “fell on deaf ears” and that he was encouraged to begin annexing commercial customers outside of the city.
As a part of the compact phaseout, the administration has begun an aggressive annexation plan that involves 16 areas around the city. As many as 13 could be annexed by Jan. 1.
Moore said the compact fees had provided a good source of revenue the city regularly depended on and noted that transitioning to a larger tax base through annexation will make budgeting more difficult in the near future.
“Until annexations are complete and tax revenues begin to arrive, we are facing an unknown. We do not know specifically when or how much annexation tax revenue will begin to arrive in the city treasury,” he said.
Moore also took aim at several bills passed by the General Assembly last month that could affect economic development plans and curtail revenues.
He criticized legislation he claimed would reduce redevelopment commissions to a “planning organization with no decision making powers” and “do away with our current use of TIF funding as we know it.”
The law shifts more power to elected boards, such as city councils. It also eliminates the use of tax increment financing districts that had been allowed to continue without an end date, but allows others to continue unchanged.
Another bill will allow sewer customers outside of the city to appeal new sewer rates through arbitration — a move that one lawmaker admitted was aimed at Elkhart.
Moore criticized passage of a bill that would open the door for elimination of business personal property tax for companies with less than $20,000 in personal property, which was hailed by Gov. Mike Pence as a first step toward eventually eliminating the tax.
Moore said the law will result in fewer revenues for cities, libraries and schools and predicted it would lead to competition between neighboring counties that are left with the decision of whether to enact the tax break when trying to lure new business.
“This is a bad law, which may put the counties in this region into a competitive mode that works against the vitally important (to) regional cooperation,” Moore said.
Moore also reiterated a collective stance of many local leaders that further tax cuts must be replaced with new revenue sources and warned against further changes in the tax code that reduce revenues.
“Continue to reduce our revenues and the cities across the state will fall into a state of regression,” Moore said.
The mayor spent a significant amount of time addressing crime.
He suggested fighting crime continues to be a front burner issue and said the department is addressing the issue in a variety of ways. One of those involves using more search warrants and taking advantage of new technology.
He said detectives assigned to more than 2,000 cases in the past year had “cleared” nearly 70 percent.
“While there were two more homicides than in the year prior, rape cases were down slightly. Robbery, burglary and auto theft cases were up slightly, assault and theft cases were down,” Moore said.
Furthermore, police had "cleared" — or solved — all six homicide cases from last year, he said.
While he said he supports the Second Amendment, Moore said he believes “stricter” regulations involving gun ownership are needed. He also pointed out that police confiscated 188 guns in the past 15 months.
He said he’s working closely with police in addressing crime.
“What they tell me is that they need help,” Moore said. “The end to violent crime in this community will only come with the help from the community. We need more neighborhood associations willing to get involved putting more eyes and ears on the job.”