ELKHART — Mayor Dick Moore warned the community Wednesday night that continued moves by state legislators are threatening the vitality of cities and towns in Indiana.
The two-term mayor offered an overall upbeat message in his sixth State of the City speech as he touted the city’s recovery from the economic recession and highlighted numerous ways the city has worked to save money amid shrinking property tax revenues.
And while Moore acknowledged some success in state government, he took aim at the state legislature for numerous changes in state laws that threaten to take the state into a “different and negative direction.”
Among the issues hurting municipalities is pending legislation that would impact the city’s rental registration program and the on-going state law that continues to reduce property tax revenues for local units of government.
“We continue to see bills introduced that infringe upon the right of city and town residents across the state. We have always had too little home rule and after seemingly every state legislative session, home rule continues to diminish,” Moore said during his speech at the Lerner Theatre.
“If state government continues to make it more difficult for municipalities to exist, they are putting future economic development at risk,” he said.
Earlier this month, he criticized Rep. Tim Wesco for “meddling” in city affairs after the Republican state lawmaker from Osceola authored an amendment to a bill that would allow commercial customers outside of the city to appeal sewer rates and fees established by municipalities.
Angered by the amendment, Moore retaliated last week by halting all new sewer and water connections outside of the city.
Wesco’s involvement came at the request of business owners outside of the city who are upset with the city’s new compact sewer policy that will raise fees substantially.
The city is currently looking at a second compromise to quell the controversy that has simmered for five months.
Prior to beginning his prepared remarks, Moore referred to the compact dispute, which has gained the attention of Elkhart County and state officials. He said the administration will continue to defend the interests of the city.
“Lemons make lemonade. Issues create challenges and challenges create opportunities. Those who would work against us will find the people of Elkhart up to the challenge,” Moore said.
Moore also said he continues to look for a location to establish the transportation hub.
Moore proposed the transportation hub a year ago in his State of the City address and had suggested a site east of the downtown civic plaza was being considered. He shelved that plan within weeks after it was criticized.
But on Wednesday, he said the plan was still alive and could come together without the use of local tax dollars.
The green, energy-efficient transfer station could include a shelter, an internet cafe/bookstore and could ultimately become a transit-oriented mixed-use development, he said.
“This is a plan in progress,” Moore said. “The financing is available (and) we need the location,” Moore said.
Moore also hinted that he may propose a trash fee again. The proposal was defeated by the city council last year.
Moore said finding an alternative source for funding trash pickup service “is currently our biggest challenge.”
“The trash and recycling challenge has been with us for years. It is now literally at our doorstep and we must deal with it,” Moore said. “But again, the state’s lawmakers are considering legislation that may put more hurdles in our way. We await the results.”
State of City, 2013