Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, in his annual State of the City address Thursday night, exhorted citizens to become ambassadors for Indianapolis as a great place to live.
“I know Hoosiers are humble, but be proud Indy,” he said in closing remarks. “Be proud. Be determined to make the next decade in our city better than the last. And, be an ambassador for all things that make Indy a great place to live, work and raise a family.”
“Live Indy” was the slogan behind a panoply of initiatives geared toward making Indianapolis a more desirable place to live. While that’s the obvious goal of almost any city, Ballard’s administration is focusing its effort on residential growth in order to capture more local income-tax revenue in hopes of eventually closing a large structural budget deficit. The gap is projected to be $40 million in 2015.
Ballard addressed crime, schools, neighborhoods, entrpreneurism and architecture.
Dogged by violent crime since the number of homicides hit 125 last year, Ballard said, “No factor influences liveability more than making sure people feel safe at work, in their neighborhood and in their home.”
Ballard's mere mention of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department received applause, and members of a new police recruit class received a standing ovation from the audience at the University of Indianapolis' Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center.
By the end of this year, Ballard said everyone will be able to see the latest public-safety information about their neighborhoods, in real time, through a new “Safetown” online system, found at indy.safetown.org.
He highlighted IMPD’s movement of 150 officers to street duty and acknowledged some of this year's 80 new police academy recruits.
He acknowledged that the city will lose 150 officers over the next theee years to retirement, and he called for elimination of the homestead property-tax credit. Eliminating the credit, which is subsidized by income-tax revenue, would free up money to add 100 officers over the next three years, Ballard said.
The homestead credit elimination has faced resistance from Democrats and Republicans on the City-County Council. Ballard, a Republican, did not take a jab at the Democratic majority for blocking his initiative but said, “This is long past due.”
Ballard outlined several initiatives on early-childhood education:
— participating in the state’s early-education grant program so more low-income children can go to high-quality preschool;
— working with Greatschools.org to add pre-K information to the school chooser guide;
— asking the Indy Chamber to do an economic-impact study of early-childhood education.
Ballard touted the city's redevelopment of faded landmarks Bush Stadium, Keystone Towers and Winona Hospital, and called for a second round of infrastructure investment, dubbed Rebuild Indy II. He plans to host town hall meetings, starting next week, throughout the city to show the benefits in various neighborhoods.
“For years, people thought the city would never fix things in Martindale-Brightwood, Wanamaker, the Meadows, Crooked Creek or Martin Luther King Drive, but we did—and there is more to come.”
The plan, which is to issue bonds backed by state transportation grants, was blocked by the City-County Council, but Ballard said, “It is not a radical concept.”
Other mayors, including his predecessor, Democrat Bart Peterson, used the same funding model, Ballard noted.
“Make no mistake, Indy is a low-tax city and it will remain that way,” he said. “But the battle for the future of American cities will be won by the place that attracts and retains talent.”
To that end, he said the city will invest in things that make neighborhoods more attractive, starting with $5 million to improve Tarkington Park with basketball courts, an outdoor stage, concessions and a spray park.
The park improvements are to be paid for by the Rebuild Indy fund created by the 2010 sale of the city’s water utility to Citizens Energy, the Indianapolis Parks Foundation, and $1 million in tax-increment finance revenue generated by the controversial Whole Foods development in Broad Ripple.
Ballard didn’t forget the business community—especially small business and start-ups:
— Later this year, he said, the Indy Chamber will launch the “Business Acceleration Team,” modeled after a New York program that offers one-stop help for small businesses.
— The city is seeking partners and a location for a new business incubator downtown.
— The Brookings Institution has chosen Indianapolis for a program that helps local companies with global marketing.
Ballard also expressed concern about the city’s built environment. “Simply put, Indy needs to raise its game. We need more signature structures that define our skyline,” he said.
He said a new transit center will open downtown next year, and designs will be showcased starting Friday at Old City Hall.
City-County Council President Maggie Lewis said after the speech that things may not be progressing as quickly as Ballard would like, but they are getting done. She said she's met recently with the mayor to talk about how to launch Rebuild Indy II.
Lewis, who is part of the bi-partisan Hubbard-Lewis Commission on education, said she was glad to hear Ballard play up the need for early-childhood education. "We've been hard at that for some time," she said.
Lewis also noted that the hiring of police officers is a result of a mayor-council compromise on this year's budget.