I was eager to watch the State of the City address this year. Our city, our state and our country have dealt with unprecedented issues throughout 2020. However, by the end of our mayor’s remarks, I was unsure of where we stood as a community.
The State of the City Address has always been used as a platform to give the citizens an idea of where we are headed. However, this address played more like a campaign commercial. There were too many remarks of what this administration was going to do and not what it has done over the last year. It’s time for this administration to take responsibility for where the city is today, not continue to blame past administrations.
As a former city council member, I understand many of the challenges we face as a community. Gary is one of the geographically largest cities in the State of Indiana, but with a small population. This combination leads to financial issues for our city government and our school district. Because of the low population and low property values, the dollars that we need to run our community aren’t raised through property taxes like other communities.
The obvious solution is to attract more people to our city. We must have a strong community base to increase our property tax collection. This basic government principle is one of the reasons I had such strong concerns after hearing the Address.
There were many ideas given in the mayor’s address, however, there is no reference to how any of them will be financed. Furthermore, there is a lack of reality in what can be accomplished with our current resources. How would any community be able to achieve the goals set for 2021 without offering a safe community and strong education options for children? This administration has given us a strong indication of where it stands on both.
The mention of a new charter high school in the city is exactly what we don’t need. The referendum passed. At this point, we should be planning for a new Gary Community School Corporation High School, not a new charter school. Senator Eddie Melton has authored previous bills to fund a new public high school. I will cosponsor this legislation in the House this session. Our school district has been devastated by the influx of charter schools over the last 15 years. The majority of the schools in the district are closed. It has decreased our sense of worth as a community and our strong community ties.
Also, I had an opportunity to watch the Common Council meeting regarding the city budget. The safety of our community is in jeopardy, now more than it has ever been in my lifetime. At this council meeting, the council proposed and passed a budget that included a raise for our police department that roughly amounted to $1,500 per officer. The administration vetoed it. They vetoed it knowing that our police department is paid less than any other department in Northwest Indiana and knowing that we are significantly understaffed for the geographical area that must be covered. This raise is necessary to retain current officers and attract and train new homegrown officers. The bottom line is violent crime in the city of Gary is up 65 percent from 2019 to 2020. How will we attract more people to our community?
The mayor’s plans are fine. But first, let’s take care of the basic needs of our citizens. Citizens of any community should feel safe, have a good education system to which they can send their children, and receive the city services that they pay for through property taxes. If we can’t provide basic government functions to our community, NOTHING ELSE MATTERS.
When the administration changed at the beginning of the year, our Gary legislative delegation made a proactive decision to help this administration in any way that we could. However, instead of calling on Gary’s legislators, this administration called on Republican legislators that not only did not live in or close to the City of Gary, but were legislators who have taken action to hurt Gary in the past.
We’ve all heard the concerns of the community. They are gravely concerned about this administration’s ability to connect with the people and understand and address their concerns. As we work through many of these issues this legislative session, I will be working closely with our delegation to find solutions.
All of us must work together to move Gary forward. Transparency, strategic planning and honest leadership are critical to our progress during these difficult times.