Elmhurst Mayor Steve Morley delivered his first State of the City address bright and early Tuesday morning at Community Bank of Elmhurst. More than 100 residents, local dignitaries, legislators, officials and others turned out, despite temperatures dipping to -12 degrees in the morning.
Mayor Morley summarized the city's achievements over the past year, touching on Elmhurst's financial picture, economic development, crime reduction, flood remediation work and more. And, he did a darn good impression of former Mayor Tom Marcucci.
Over the past three years, at their State of the City addresses, sitting mayors have provided some big business news that gets citizens talking. In 2013, Interim Mayor Scott Levin announced Chick-fil-A was coming to Elmhurst. In 2012, Mayor Pete DiCianni confirmed the rumors that Mariano's Fresh Market would be setting up shop on the north end of town.
On Tuesday, Morley answered a question about the former Dominick's site.
"All indications are that Whole Foods is prepared to take over that property," he said. "There has not been an official announcement, but there may be within the week."
The former Waverton Hotel, which closed for good last May, also is under contract, he said. It is not known yet what business will set up shop at the site on North York and Industrial Drive, across from Mariano's, but a developer has secured the rights to go out and negotiate for the property, Morley said.
So many good things have happened over the past year, talking about them all was like "trying to put 10 pounds of diamonds in a 5-pound bag," Morley said.
"2013 was a very good year for the city of Elmhurst," he said. "People, businesses and developers chose to invest in record numbers in the city, and the financials are better than they've been in over 10 years."
As far as the city's financial achievements, Morley noted:
- The city's fund balances are healthy, with more than $15.5 million in the general fund, the highest in 10 years.
- The city has nearly $1 million in working cash.
- Standard and Poor's raised the city's bond rating from AA+ to AAA.
- Electrical aggregation over the 16 months since it was launched in Elmhurst has saved residents $4.5 million.
- Sales tax revenue has climbed from $5.8 million in 2009 to $8.16 million in 2013, a 40 percent increase.
- The city has activated a plan to address a municipal pension funding gap and is on the road to funding pensions at 100 percent.
- 2,626 construction permits were issued last year.
- 115 permits for new homes were issued, a 21 percent increase from 2012.
- Total construction dollars spent in 2013 was $85 million.
Crime rate also has been greatly reduced under Elmhurst Police Chief Michael Ruth's watch, Morley said, due in part to the increased visibility of the city's police force. Ruth has reactivated the Citizens Police Academy, and increased bike and foot patrols, Morley said.
"I actually got a complaint because (a resident) saw too many police at an event," Morley said. "I thought, 'Wow. If that's the biggest complaint I'm going to get today, that's OK.' "
He said robbery is down 73 percent, from 15 robberies in 2012 to four in 2013. Burglary is down 60 percent, from 145 in 2012 to 57 in 2013. Battery and several other crimes also have decreased in 2013, he said.
The fire department responded to 6,616 calls for service, an average of 18 calls per day. During flooding or other emergencies, those calls reach up to 170 calls per day.
Public Works planted 578 new trees, sanitary sewer work continues at the lift stations and with construction of the new Southwest Elmhurst Wet Weather Control Facility project, nine miles of roads were resurfaced, and the library and historical museum celebrated awards and exhibits that reached beyond the boundaries of Elmhurst.
He discussed the city's four tax increment financing districts. Three are set to expire in the next eight years and will providing millions of dollars to the rest of the city's taxing bodies, he said.
He touted the city's plan to build a six-story parking deck on Addison Avenue, stating "We're not only building for today, we're building for the future." And he drew applause when he announced the city's decision Monday night to pursue contract negotiations with Morningside Group to develop the Hahn Street property.
"As we look forward to 2014, there are two things I want to emphasize: redevelopment and infrastructure," he said. "The No. 1 infrastructure issue is battling current flooding issues."
Four times during his speech he referred to the plan put forth by the city last year to excavate various park and school properties in Elmhurst for stormwater detention.
"(We're) working with the Park and School Board on these projects," he said. "Since I've been mayor, we've worked through an educational process with the Park District and School Board. We can't answer enough questions as it relates to that. However, I do think it's time to move forward and put a shovel in the ground on these projects."
He said the city is working to prioritize three or four locations that will have the "greatest impact."
"That land is controlled by the parks and schools, and I can appreciate that," he said. "They are the stewards of that land. However, when it comes to a citywide problem like this, it's important to understand that … the land belongs to the citizens of Elmhurst. This isn't a school problem or a park problem or a city problem. This is everybody's problem. I'm asking everyone to pull together and work on behalf of the citizens of Elmhurst."
School Board members and Park commissioners continue to discuss the matter in their respective board meetings. The Park Board recently put forth a position statement on what it would like to see happen with respect to flood remediation. The city has not yet publicly responded.
The mayor's address will be aired on Comcast Channel 6 and on AT&T U-verse Channel 99 in February, and it can be viewed online via elmhursttv.org.