Posted on March 20, 2014 at 3:37 p.m.
| Updated on March 20, 2014 at 4:23 p.m.
GOSHEN — Mayor Allan Kauffman’s State of the City speech for 2014 included a long list of victories for Goshen — and just as many challenges.
Kauffman spoke to a crowded room Thursday, March 20, brimming with hundreds of the city’s most influential movers and shakers for Founder’s Day at the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds. The mayor’s annual address touched on the city’s financial position, upcoming construction projects and his optimistic outlook for the community’s future.
FINANCE AND BUDGET
Kauffman started off his address with a staggering piece of information about the city’s financial position.
“When I was here last year, I said that 2013 would probably be the first year in recent memory where we spent more money than we took in,” he said. “Our property tax cap losses due to the state of Indiana have grown from nothing in 2008 to $3.5 million last year.”
The cumulative loss since 2008 is slightly more than $10 million and the city is expected to lose another $4 million next year.
“We have coped so far with that, but it doesn’t get any easier as the days go by,” Kauffman said.
Kauffman reviewed the city’s 2013 spending, which added up to roughly $400,000 more than its revenue. When preparing for 2014’s budget, the mayor said he was concerned about the city council feeling a need to cut spending without being willing to use cash reserves.
“This would require cutting services somewhere,” he said.
Kauffman asked the Goshen Chamber of Commerce last year to create a task force to review the city’s budget and services. He asked the group to look for recommendations on budget cuts, making government more efficient and seeking additional revenues.
“The chamber came back with a letter saying the city has done a good job of seeking efficiencies,” he said. “They suggested that we keep looking for more efficiencies as we go forward, but they also stated that we don’t have a spending problem -- we have a revenue problem. Further, they don’t want to give up any services that we’re currently providing and prefer that we maintain a city that attracts new residents and new businesses.”
The chamber’s suggestions aided the city in its budget approval, Kauffman added.
Kauffman highlighted some of the city’s projects completed in 2013, including the reconstruction of Jefferson Street downtown, a new park north of the S.R. 15 overpass, the addition of Fidler Pond and the continuing development of the millrace.
But last year’s projects, Kauffman said, “pale in comparison to what is planned for the next several years.”
Some upcoming projects include plans to improve traffic on the city’s south side, renovation of the Goshen Theater, new housing developments and the conversion of the former Hawks Furniture building into lofts for artists to live and work. One of the largest projects will be the rerouting of U.S. 33 through the city.
Kauffman participated in a panel this week in Carmel with the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns. He said he was invited because word is spreading throughout the state about positive things going on in Goshen.
“Knowing that people downstate are hearing good things about us is affirmation that we’re doing some things right here,” he said.
But despite the city’s successes, Goshen is not without its threats and challenges, Kauffman said.
The city’s biggest threat? It’s the state government, according to the mayor.
“Year after year, cities and towns are in a defensive mode, trying to battle against legislation that is anti-local government and hurts our public schools,” Kauffman said. “Legislators and administrators talk the talk of believing in local government, but bills they pass don’t walk the walk. The state legislature every year is making decisions that should be left to county, city and town councils.”
Through the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, Goshen has “worked hard to champion local control,” Kauffman said. Local government is “where the rubber meets the road,” he added.
“It is a fact that most people feel better about decisions made closest to them,” he explained. “More voters trust their local governments than they do their state or federal government. The further away from them that decisions are made, the less trust a lot of people have in those decisions. Nobody likes to pay taxes, but they feel better about paying their local taxes than they do their state or federal because they can see, touch and feel the benefits of their local taxes.”
Kauffman said the city has been on the defensive against anti-annexation legislation, restrictions on tax increment financing districts and their revenues and the loss of business personal property tax revenue.
CHALLENGES AND WHAT LIES AHEAD
Kauffman ended his address on a positive note, explaining how he wants to build “quality of place” in Goshen.
“All that has happened, and all that is upcoming are parts of a complex puzzle,” he told the crowd. “It’s a mix of the mundane, the basics, good public safety, plowed snow, filled potholes and the glitzy, the amenities, great parks, bike and pedestrian paths and a cool downtown.”
Goshen chamber president David Daugherty said after Kauffman’s speech that creating a city that people want to visit and live in is important.
“You have to have a community where everybody wants to be,” Daugherty said. “That’s the part of his message that I really liked because to me, that’s what makes a community.”
Kauffman challenged local elected officials, business owners and community leaders to take pride in the city.
“Develop your love affair with Goshen,” he said.
Kauffman urged the crowd to support downtown businesses and events and take opportunities to be part of the city’s legacy.
“We can’t always reverse decisions of our predecessors,” he said. “We can’t change our community’s history. We can’t change our geographic location, but we can make our future better by making quality decisions and investing wisely.”
Follow Elkhart Truth reporter Angelle Barbazon on Twitter at @tweetangelle.