GOSHEN — The past year was a good one for the city of Goshen, but there are certainly challenges on the horizon.
That was Mayor Allan Kauffman’s assessment in his State of the City address at the 11th annual Founder’s Day event Thursday, March 21.
Kauffman prefaced his speech saying some of the day’s perspectives would be seen through “rose-colored glasses,” and for good reason.
He touted the work of city employees and elected officials that help to make the city run and expressed his appreciation for their hard and, often, award-winning work.
Specific projects he noted were the completion of both the parking lot west of Interra Credit Union and the Winona Trail tunnel at Goshen College, the combined sewer overflow “wet weather detention” project and the purchase of Fidler Pond.
Kauffman tied their efforts in with the business community and other groups that help to make Goshen the city it has become.
“Everything comes together in Goshen. Or more precisely, everybody,” he said, quoting the city’s brand narrative.
“Together, we’ve worked to make Goshen a place where business is good, manufacturing thrives, downtown bustles, good things take root and people pitch in to make it all better.”
Kauffman also laid out some projects expected in the future, through the end of his final term as mayor and beyond.
Just in 2013, there are plans to move the bike path along the north side of Plymouth Avenue, near Goshen Middle School, across the road. Funds have also been appropriated for the reconstruction of Jefferson Street and the county will be improving C.R. 17 from C.R. 38 to C.R. 40.
Projects expected to be coming down the line include a Waterford Mills Parkway overpass in 2014, Kercher Road improvements in 2015 and the U.S. 33 rerouting and overpass, as well as Ninth Street Corridor improvements beginning in 2016.
Kauffman also noted the city’s 2012 finances. Goshen ended the year with a higher-than-anticipated $800,000 gain in operating balances due to a high property tax collection rate and departments saving more of their budgets.
But challenges await the city as assessed values decrease and circuit breakers increase. The most recent estimates gauge that the city will lose $3.7 million this year due to circuit breakers.
Kauffman said the city has done some things to combat the problems as they’ve come so far, either by combining departments, leaving vacant positions open or keeping employee raises low. But at a certain point, he added, there aren’t many more options for cutting and saving.
“If those property taxes remain flat, we have to look at other revenues,” Kauffman said.
Kauffman gave the illustration of an office supplies business, saying they can try all things possible in order to save money, such as buying lower-cost products to sell to customers.
After a while, he explained, when there are no other ways to cut costs, prices are increased.
He explained that the city, much like the store in his example, had reached the point where it needed to increase its revenues in some way.
“We have held our spending flat for six years. Virtually flat,” he explained. “I maintain that the city of Goshen is at the point where if you want services to continue in the city, we’re going to have to raise the price.”
Kauffman clarified that the increases wouldn’t come from property taxes, because the city cannot do that, but rather through other avenues such as fees.
Focusing on the members of city council in attendance, he said “City council, we need to talk trash again,” referring to his 2012 proposal of a gradually increasing trash removal service fee.
“While we’ve (been able to cover service expenses) so far and you haven’t noticed it, we cannot continue to do all these things forever.”
Kauffman appealed to those in attendance to contact their representatives in council when they are in favor of an initiative. He said that often, council members hear more from people opposed to initiatives than those who are in favor of them and councilors then get the perception that “everyone is opposed to something.”
“I will not willingly eliminate amenities that have made Goshen a quality place, or services that our residents expect and appreciate, just to fit expenses within declining revenue,” he added.
“If we base decisions on the premise that some people can’t afford to pay a new cost,” he continued, “we govern to the least common denominator. We won’t provide the resources that allow us to improve our quality of place.”
Kauffman completed his address noting that community building is more than “bricks-and-mortar” infrastructure and services.
“We have come to see local government only as service providers. However, there is a deeper purpose,” he said, adding, “that is to help establish and maintain an agreements on how we live together.”
Kauffman cited the efforts of the Community Relations Commission as they work to foster community conversation about what residents want the city to look like, while embracing diversity and respecting one another’s opinions.