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Last updated: Thu. Feb. 07, 2013 - 12:53 am EDT

Henry: City strong, getting stronger

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•To read a transcript of Mayor Tom Henry’s State of the City address, go to www.journalgazette.net and click this story

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FORT WAYNE — Mayor Tom Henry delivered his annual State of the City address Wednesday, telling a large audience that the city of Fort Wayne is strong and getting stronger.

“We have job growth, a quality of life that is second to none, a thriving downtown, great schools, trails and parks,” Henry told about 100 people, many of whom were city employees, in the Allen County Public Library auditorium. “While other communities across the state and country are struggling, we stand tall.”

Henry’s address cited the accomplishments of 2012 and listed initiatives already planned for 2013, but he did not announce any new programs or efforts except an internal program for city employees, the Mayor’s Strategic Leadership Initiative, aimed at improving work and leadership skills.

“I didn’t see what his vision was for the next three years,” said City Council President Tom Didier, R-3rd.

More importantly, Didier said, while the rebirth of downtown has been commendable, the southeast side of the city seems to be neglected in development efforts. Aside from a mention of the planned conversion of the McMillan ice rink into a community center, the southeast side was neglected in Henry’s speech, said Didier, whose district does not cover the southeast side.

“The southeast side needs focused on,” Didier said. “I know it’s supposed to be a feel-good speech, but the mayor needs to do more for the southeast side of Fort Wayne.”

Henry’s nearly 30-minute speech trumpeted expansions by area firms, including Sweetwater Sound, Edy’s Ice Cream, Dowco, Voss Automotive, Brotherhood Mutual, Vera Bradley and General Motors, which he said have brought $138 million in investments, resulting in 1,500 new jobs and 2,700 retained jobs.

Henry said the Fort Wayne area was ranked among the nation’s leading locations for job growth, ranked 11th in the Midwest, and its job base is getting more diverse, which will help the city survive future economic downturns.

Mick McCollum, interim president of the Economic Development Alliance, praised the speech and all the economic news it contained.

“There were a lot of good things,” McCollum said. “There’s lots going on.”

But things have not been easy, and they’re going to get harder: Property tax caps have strangled the city budget, and 2014’s budget could have gaping holes in it. The city has put together a fiscal policy committee, Henry said, to come up with ideas on how to solve the problem.

“I stand before you today confident that we’ll meet these challenges and the result will be a stronger, more united city,” he said.

Henry mentioned the city’s ongoing efforts to acquire Aqua Indiana’s southwest water utility, saying the push is vital to the residents in that area.

“I personally have serious concerns about their ability to meet water demands and a lack of a plan to meet the needs of its customers,” Henry said. “This is about public health and public safety. Those issues cannot be compromised.”

Henry said city government will continue to work to make Fort Wayne a better place, but it requires everyone’s efforts.

“As a citizen, what will you be willing to do in 2013 to make a difference? How will you make a difference at work, at home, in your neighborhood?” Henry asked at the close of his speech. “Be willing to be bold. Be willing to take the time to help institute meaningful change.”

dstockman@jg.net


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