Crusader Staff Report
Mayor Jerome Prince said Gary does not have $15 million in reserves as promised by the previous administration.
The announcement came during Prince’s first State of the City address, which was streamed live on the city’s Facebook page December 17. The long-awaited report was scheduled to be given in March, but was repeatedly postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic and audit of the city’s finances by the accounting firm of Cender & Cender.
Prince began his speech with references to his time growing up as an ambitious individual who had visions of changing Gary. He highlighted his years as a Marine and his time serving in different government roles in Gary and Lake County.
During his speech, Prince highlighted the city’s achievements in 2020 during his first year in office, where he implemented his “Re-Imagine Gary” campaign that included a pro-business agenda that has gained both praise and criticism among some residents.
Prince’s polished State of the City address included aerial drone video of City Hall, The Lake County Superior Courthouse on Broadway, The Genesis Center, and neighborhoods in Gary.
Perhaps the biggest news is Prince’s announcement that Gary does not have $15 million in its reserves as promised by the city’s previous administration.
“We took a hard look at the city’s finances. We needed to shore up our finances if our city was ever going to move forward. We learned that Gary did not have $15 million in reserves as we were told in 2019. So, our team crunched numbers and studied countless pages and files and concluded that there were no reserves.
“Attorney Arlene Colvin who serves as my chief of staff and interim controller got to work with our finance team and our consultant, Cender & Cender, to identify bills that had not been paid and to correct bank records that had not been reconciled. They used proceeds from a bond issue to fill holes in our 2020 budget and to ensure that we would start 2021 with a balanced budget.”
The Crusader texted former Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson to respond to Prince’s announcement but she did not do so by Crusader press time Tuesday for its print edition.
Prince said he suspended the one-stop shop for residents and developers because “it was not completed and left many gaps in operations as well as inefficiencies.”
Prince said he introduced technology in his collection procedures that would improve revenue reporting and theft reduction. He also said the city reduced vehicle fleet operations by 30 percent.
Prince proposed creating a City Center Campus that includes a new facility that will house all of Gary’s departments and public safety. Prince said he will search for funding sources to make the proposal a reality.
“Our residents deserve a healthy home for their city government,” Prince said. “It was not to determine City Hall was a combination of leaks and moldy areas with falling ceilings and numerous problems with heating, cooling and ventilation.”
Showing the ribbon-cutting ceremony of Alliance Steel’s new plant in Gary, Prince said he has found “more creative ways to offer more economic opportunities to residents and business.
“We knew it made no sense to reimagine Gary without a real vision of what we can become. Now, we’re moving out of the shadows of massive integrated steel mills and away from relying solely on traditional manufacturing. If we do not offer more for our residents, especially to excite our young people, then we will fail them. They will move away, and this will continue to negatively affect our tax base.”
“We’re reimagining Gary as a technology hub and as a home for small businesses.” Prince said in October, Senior Advisor and Director for Community Investment Eric Read helped welcome Akyumen Technologies, which acquired Genesis Center as part of a deal. Prince said Akyumen will build the first ever 5G phones and tablet manufacturing facility in Gary and will offer free Wi-Fi service to residents and businesses.
Prince said the non-fatal crimes are up by 50 percent, but he said Gary is on track to have fewer homicides this year than in 2019. He urged residents to report illegal activity to its See Something Say Something hotline at 866-274-6347.
Prince also said code enforcement has been busy citing illegal dumpers and urging building owners to demolish crumbling, unsafe properties or repair them.
Prince praised the Fire Department and active block clubs that have worked to make Gary safer this year.
Prince’s campaign has won praise from many residents who have grown tired of seeing vacant buildings, untrimmed trees and potholes on their streets.
But his business agenda has come under fire from some residents, who believe he gives too many benefits to developers who do not live in Gary and do not hire locals.
This year, Prince fought the Gary Common Council as he sought to give tax breaks to the developer of the new Broadway Lofts on the site of the former Memorial Auditorium. MVAH Partners, based in Westchester, Ohio, believes the firm should be exempt from honoring the city’s community benefits agreement during the first phase of the Broadway Lofts development, saying the project was planned and funded before Gary’s CBA ordinance went into effect in 2019.
The council disagreed. Prince sued the council, arguing it overstepped its bounds when it forced him as the city’s executive, to enter into a community benefits agreement with mandatory terms.