State of the City 2018

State of the City Address, 2018

Delivered at the Winchester Rotary Club on January 22, 2018

 

Friends,

This will be the year that all of the ground that we tilled in 2016, and the seeds we planted in 2017, start to really grow and mature and begin producing fruit.

Right now, we have two property investors planning new housing builds for this year in our city. This is the result of people taking notice of our corner of the world, and wanting to be a part of it!

Thankfully, we’ve invested in our Sanitation Department this year with a brand new trash truck, and will be utilizing past investments by using the former as our recycling truck. Our curb-side recycling initiative is under development right now with councilors and volunteers jumping in to help educate and implement, so that we may use the 50/50 matching IDEM Recycling Market grant we obtained in the most responsible way. We are looking at a roll-out date for the curb-side recycling program to begin early this spring.

We are also fortunate that our foresight allowed us to invest in our waste water treatment plant with a 1.2 million dollar upgrade in critical infrastructure like a new generator, four new drying beds, and a new roof over the 30 year old plant. Construction has finished there and we are poised for growth, and closer to efficiency. We are investing in our sanitary sewer and storm water systems all over our city protecting past investments and the health and property of our residents.

Over the last two years we have invested in our streets to the tune of $2,079,000 with $1,338,147 through federal or state funding. The Indiana legislature created the Community Crossing Grant and we were able to take full advantage. It just goes to show that a little planning and a little investment in things like a road asset management plan can reap great returns on investments. We thank the State of Indiana for helping us invest in our streets.

The Union Street reconstruction project was completed in 2017 by 3D Company out of Muncie, which included full depth asphalt replacement, new combined curb and gutter, sidewalks, storm collection system, improved turning radii, and reconstruction of the 1921 retaining wall.  The $1,576,700 project was completed with the assistance of $1,084,000 in federal funding.  

We had a fabulous summer in the park this year. We held a concert series at our almost forgotten amphitheater. And while the music and ambiance of the long summer days was really snazzy, the work that the volunteer summer concert series committee put in to make this happen was inspiring and speaks volumes to our story. They are thanked, and we look forward to another series this summer.

We built a 27-hole disc golf course in our park this summer as well, and set this community on fire with a disc golf frenzy. Rarely could one drive by the park and not see people in places that were once devoid of human activity. Some disc golfers even play in the snow!

Together we have partnered in many ways with our leaders at the county level, including the development of county comprehensive plan. We’ve collaborated with county leaders for a successful workforce development grant in the amount of 250,000 to help skill up our workforce for today and tomorrow’s demands in a more technical and advanced job-environment.

We have partnered with the county to assume the county’s animal shelter at the city’s animal shelter. We have made significant investments in our shelter due largely in part to Comfy Paws, and the compassion of the late Terry Hunsucker who has made the quality of life for our furry friends much better.

Our ambulance service that started in 2016 has generated enough income to send to employees to school to become paramedics, we bought a new ambulance, and a new utility vehicles from the revenues of a year and half. Now that those critical investments are complete, and if we see revenues like we did in 2016 and 2017, we should see revenues of $175,000 in 2018. Our plan is to use that revenue to invest in a new ladder truck, which our current one is 24 years old, and used around the county as it is the only working 75 foot ladder in the county.

Finally, and most likely the story of the year is the Winchester House. Over a year of pioneer-style trail-blazing, or to fit the theme of this speech, one could say pioneer-style ground clearing, we are about to make the best investment a city can make. We are going to put a dent in the battle against the opioid epidemic, and begin to break the cycle of addiction by buying, and renovating a former church education building and then lease the building to the Volunteers of America to operate their highly successful Fresh Start Recovery Center. They will be able to begin treating up to 23 women at a time, starting this spring. Most will be mothers involved with the Department Child Services who will pay for their treatment because helping mom’s get off of drugs is one of the best ways to reduce abuse and neglect.

Some of the clients at the Winchester House will be pregnant women, thanks to a bill in 2017’s legislative session naming Winchester as a pilot city to help women seeking help before to overcome an opioid addiction before they give birth to a baby addicted at no fault of their own to illicit opioids.

This is all possible because in 2016, our small rural Indiana city boldly and bravely said that we have had enough of this heroin epidemic and committed to demanding that life-saving resources like treatment facilities are welcome where they are needed most. It took a lot of guts for this city and county to step out of their comfort zones and become vulnerable while a partnership was forged between our city and a non-profit treatment center. But we did it, we hung tough, and hammers are currently swinging at the Winchester House. A state agency called the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority has given our city a loan of 815,000 dollars of which about 2/3 will be forgiven, and the remaining 1/3 of the loan will be put into a fund at the Randolph County Community Foundation to improve the quality of life in Winchester for generations to come.

We cannot thank the state enough for the bold leadership they have demonstrated in helping us help our most vulnerable. The remaining 285,000 is paid for through EDIT reserves by both the City of Winchester and Randolph County. In my lifetime, I can say with certainty that I’ve never been a part of something so great, so meaningful than this project. It is incredibly humbling and awesome to play a small part in this endeavor.

Sure, we’ve had some misunderstandings and a few differences, but I think we all can agree on what John Wesley once said, “What we tolerate in this generation, the next will accept.” And doing nothing as our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends and parents are perishing in the wake of the greatest public health crisis this generation has ever seen is, simply, intolerable.

You know, back when I was on the farm, it took all of us doing our jobs to get the fields ready for planting. Sometimes, we would break equipment or had to replant because uncontrollable things do happen, but we persist because that’s who we are, we give grace to one another because that’s who we are, and we finish our tasks because that’s who we are.

Just like then, it has taken this entire community to cultivate our ground and plant the seeds. And now, in 2018, the third year of this administration, we aren’t just going to sit back and watch our corn pop up in rows, we are going to cultivate and fertilize those seedlings popping up so that come harvest time, we can truly celebrate a thanksgiving together.

This year we are going to find out the true strength and soul of this community as we open our doors to new faces seeking to join us as we begin writing the story of our next 200 years. While our bicentennial celebration continues throughout this year, again spearheaded by a dedicated group of volunteers, we pause to honor those veterans and their families who gave so much, including the ultimate sacrifice, so that we may enjoy the blessings of our own way of life.

We thank our teachers, both past and present, our doctors and nurses, police and fire professionals, our laborers and our farmers, our business men and women, our non-profit organizations, and our philanthropists. We thank those that keep our economy moving in transportation and infrastructure maintenance. We thank our visionaries, our dreamers, our innovators and our doers. We even thank and love our skeptics, for it is said, iron sharpens iron, and each one of us carries out our responsibilities to make up what is called community. And when we do all work together, and we do all move toward the same destination, we can and we will continue to do great things.

Once, each of us was a kindergartener starting our journey in this big old world and we were impressionable by the community that wrapped around us. Once, we were high schoolers ready to go out into the world taking our hometown values with us wherever we went. As we honor our past in this bicentennial year, and while we enact and begin to carry out the decisions and programs we agreed on over the last two years, let us think about our Winchester in a constructive manner.

Are we equitable in our daily actions? Are we purposeful in our decisions? Are we compassionate with one another, and are we ready to welcome the challenges of the inevitable future? Have you told our story to someone outside of our city limits? Have you participated in a community event, or invited someone new to a community event? Have you shopped locally when possible? Have you reached out your hand to someone new?

Many of us in Winchester don’t raise crops or have any crop raising experience. Many don’t know the difference between a herd of Angus cattle or Holstein. But our values here in rural Indiana transcend our occupations or our cattle breed identification skills. Our way of life is our common bond. Regardless if you find yourself just making ends-meet at the end of the month, or if you’re able to save and invest, we all belong here, and we all care and love one another, regardless of how we wear our emotions when things aren’t going the way we want. Let’s face it: we’ve done some amazing work these last two years and some people like it, and some people do not. That’s ok. We are still a community. We still value one another and things change, leaders come up and they move on. Regardless of age, sex, socio-economic status, political party, skin color, gender, or sexual orientation, this city cares about one another deeply, and cares about our future.

That’s why I am setting new goals for our city this year.

  1. Develop a highly qualified workforce

Strengthen our local and regional economies by developing a qualified workforce for all industry sectors and in particular Advanced Materials to encourage retention and expansion of our existing businesses and industries. Many businesses are experiencing difficulties finding a qualified workforce. We must continuously advocate for resources to our city and county (we are all in this together) that help residents of all ages acquire high-demand skills that will advance their employability, which will also create a positive impact for the employer. Communities then will experience a positive impact from the increased revenue and stability of a more qualified workforce. In order to do this, we could attach internships and apprenticeships to companies’ economic development incentives. We also need to support   and enhance training centers and programs like what we have at Winchester Community High School for Advanced Manufacturing.  

 

  1. We must continue to attract high wage jobs

A job is much more than just a pay-check at the end of the week. A good job provides the means for a family to be prepared for a school day, and the resources to help a community thrive. We must continue to promote our resources to attract these high wage jobs. One of our greatest resources is agriculture, and we should take advantage of that by attracting the kinds of jobs that support the hardworking farmers in the fields. Manufacturing is what we know here in Winchester, and in these next two years I am setting a goal to fuse the manufacturing skills we have and are developing with our rich agricultural heritage and work towards attracting a farm-implement plant right here. We have a busy rail line intersecting our city, and a heritage of hard-working men and women. We are strategically located 35 minutes from both Interstate 69 and Interstate 70. We are on our way with our Workforce Development grant, let’s train our people, then keep them right here.

  1. Identify necessary improvements in infrastructure that will promote economic growth for businesses

Physical structures like roads, bridges, sewer, water, drainage systems, housing, broadband and fiber, as well as supportive infrastructure for entrepreneurs, co-worker space, and educational programming needs to be mapped and prioritized. It may be worthwhile to bring in the area’s schools to create a mentorship program/ apprenticeship with students and public-servants so that the next generation of leaders will be prepared to lead with an understanding of our combined infrastructure vision.

  1. Support the sustainable growth of our healthcare systems and improve the health of our citizens

Healthcare is our area’s largest employer sector, and data shows that healthcare needs will increase in the immediate future thereby creating more jobs. Our population is getting older, which means there will be an even greater need for quality healthcare in the future. Access to quality healthcare is also a significant issue in business retention and attraction. Mental health and addictions       treatment capacity in rural Indiana needs supported and investigated through an analysis of current capacity versus projected need. We need to work with our schools and colleges to improve the training and recruiting for healthcare workers. Finally, increased healthcare need should be balanced by promoting healthy lifestyles through quality of place initiatives that promotes physical recreational activity and access to healthy food choices.

  1. Strengthen partnerships between government agencies including schools, townships, cities and counties

We are always stronger when working together, and efficiencies in government will allow us to better protect our first responders, prepare our students better for the 21st Century skills needed to thrive in tomorrow’s world, have more to invest in infrastructure, and attract and retain the most talented and brightest to East Central Indiana. With stronger partnerships we will be better able to provide incentives and economic development opportunities for the jobs we are training our students for. With shared resources and reduction of duplicative services we will save taxpayer’s dollars and benefit from a larger tax-base because of it.

The state of the city is in thanksgiving. We are thankful for the people who make up this wonderful place, and are excited to welcome new people in. We are thankful for the partnerships with our county and our state, and we are thankful for the businesses who stayed with through uncertain times and have invested in our city. We give thanksgiving to God, who has surely bestowed blessings upon us.

Thank you for allowing me to share a historical 2017 with you, and I’m looking forward to the fruit we will harvest in 2018 and beyond.

 

Shon Byrum, Mayor


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