Presented by Jeff Korb, Vanderburgh County Commissioner President.
On behalf of my fellow Commissioners, Bill Nix and Troy Tornatta, as well as on the behalf of all Vanderburgh County employees and staff, we want to thank the Downtown Rotary for this opportunity of keeping you informed as to our progress and our vision for the future.
What I've enjoyed seeing and being a part of in the short time I've been a County Commissioner is that we have a dedicated group of people in County government who work hard everyday to make our county and community a better place to work and live.
Maybe it's just because I find myself in the middle of things that involve County and City government on a daily basis, but I've noticed and experienced first hand a tremendous amount of communication, and cooperation within many of the County and City departments, and with the Mayor's office that truly makes what we do everyday for you, the taxpayers and business leaders of our community more productive and efficient.
I'm not sure that's always been the case, especially when one political party has been in control of the County government and the opposing political party has been in control of City government. It's refreshing to see and work with political leaders who understand that as your elected officials, we are charged with making wise and prudent decision that best benefit our community rather than special interest groups. We work for you, not the other way around.
Here is the 10,000 foot overview of projects that have happened in our county over the past year that serves as the springboard as to the direction we are headed in 2008 and 2009.
- Hamilton's Golf Course
- Green River Road Project
- Baseline Road Project
- Continued efficiencies at the jail
- University Parkway
- USI / Burdette Park Bike and Pedestrian trail
- Cross Pointe Boulevard
- Promenade - the Martin Group project
- County Highway Department improvements
- County Health Department Dental Clinic, Emergency Preparedness activities, the prescription drug card and preventative medicine such as flu shots
- Completion of the Youth Care Center
- Video Streaming of County Commissioner, Area Planning, Zoning Board, Solid Waste
- The Economic Development Coalition and Gage
- The Old Courthouse Ballroom
- The Successful delinquent tax sale of 131 properties
- Cost efficiencies such as cutting out directory assistance with the new telephone system within the civic center - and shared long distance service with the city.
When the call came in that the Hamilton family was no longer able to continue the day to day operations of Hamilton's golf course, we knew we both had a problem and an opportunity.
We held a series of town hall meetings regarding the future of Hamilton's and it became obvious that it was the desire of the community to keep it as a golf course. The challenge was, finding someone who would be willing to take over those day to day functions.
The problem was what to do with such a large parcel of ground and if we wanted to maintain it as a golf course, we had less than 2 months to find a solution before we could potentially lose the advantage of the time as when spring came, the greens if not tended to, would be lost.
As all of you know, through a series of negotiations, the Airport Authority was selected to take over the operation of Hamilton's. It was a victory for our community as we were able to keep Hamilton's as a golf course. And, it was a victory for the Airport Authority as they were able to keep valuable land that would not be developed in housing for continued safety for their glide paths of smaller planes.
The Airport Authority has budgeted using the revenues from the course as its main source of income to fund improvements and using federal dollars when those funds do not cover expenses. The FAA provides funding for such projects.
The encouraging news about Hamilton's is this:
The facility is on the mend and improving and . . .
The number of rounds for the year is up over past years. That information comes from Bob Working, the Director of the Airport!
The Green River Road project, with an estimated $35 million price tag, will be the single largest road project undertaken in Vanderburgh County without the use of Federal money. Our plan is to release a request for bids no later than September.
This will be a 2 year project as we plan to raise the road above the 100 year flood plane from Lynch Road to Millersburg Road. We have set aside additional funding to keep the road open during construction.
To some people, keeping Green River Road open seems like a luxury. We listened to homeowners, business owners and many fire and safety authorities and recognized that for reasons of safety, economic development and simple fuel savings for families and businesses in the area, we had to keep the road open if at all possible. Here are the statistics:
- Estimates by an engineering firm associated with the project, put the end user costs of keeping the road closed during construction was between $6.4 - $11.7 million dollars in additional driving costs alone. And that estimate was done when gas cost less than $3.00 a gallon.
- All of the county Volunteer Fire Department Chiefs cited safety as their number 1 concern if Green River is closed. In the event of flooding or fire, lives would be put in harm's way.
- Unestimated construction and job loss costs as home construction would grind to a halt.
- Lost tourism revenue and discretionary income losses by dollars NOT spent at local businesses because of a change in local traffic patterns due to a two year detour.
Baseline Road is another response to the need of improved safety for our residents who live on the Northside of Evansville. This project consists of the construction of new bridge on Baseline Road over the CSX Railroad track, just west of Highway 41, close to Azteca.
The construction of this bridge will allow for improved emergency vehicle response times in the northern part of the county as well as eliminate delays for all motorists who are stopped by CSX trains at this location each day. This project requires additional appropriations in order to have sufficient funding to proceed to construction. Our goal is to have this accomplished before the end of the year.
Sheriff Eric Williams continues to work with judges in expanding 'video court', utilizing video streaming from the jail to the courtroom. This was recently expanded from one system to two. The benefit: fuel savings in transportation and deputies freed up to do more than just transporting prisoners from the jail to the courthouse. I have asked Sheriff to carve out more space in the jail to further expand this program which best utilizes our tax dollars.
Sheriff Williams is also putting the finishing touches on finally having a dentist come the jail to treat prisoners. The jail was built with two dental chairs and a small clinic but we were not able to ever find someone to come and provide that service. With the help of Dr. Mark Wohlford, an oral surgeon and our newest appointment to the Health Department, we have been able to finally make this dream a reality. Again, the cost savings from transportation of prisoners to an outside dentist and the time saved by deputies more than makes this a great step forward.
Recently Sheriff Williams approached the Commissioner's with the request to purchase 3 transmissions and 3 new motors and re-furbish 3 old squad cars. The transmissions and engines came with warranties. With a little additional interior and exterior work, the 3 "new" squad cars have hit the streets. So literally, for what a new squad car would cost, we were able to put three additional vehicles back on the road.
Recently, Sheriff Williams traded in his Expedition and a couple of other, older squad and purchased a more fuel efficient vehicle.
University Parkway is going to be one of the most successful and beneficial projects we've had in years. Why?
It will provide another major arterial flow of traffic from Diamond Avenue to the University of Southern Indiana, providing much needed relief on the Lloyd Expressway. Imagine what that route will look like once we complete it all the way to I-64.
With the help of Steve Craig, our Burdette Park manager, John Stoll, our County Engineer and our lobbying group of Barnes and Thornberg, we secured a $1 million INDOT transportation enhancement grant to complete phase 2 of the Burdette Park / USI bike and pedestrian path. Through simply talking about the plan with USI officials and better coordinating our efforts, we are going to be able to pave and additional 1600 feet of Phase 3. That leaves less than one mile for us to complete the USI - Burdette Park Bike and Pedestrian path which starts in the heart of the USI campus and ends at Burdette Park.
Again, see, it's a simple thing like that communication between all parties involved that produces terrific results. And once it's completed, it will provide our community another incredible asset meant to improve the quality of our lives, provided we take the time to get off the couch and walk, jog or ride it.
The bids for the Cross Pointe Blvd. project have just come back. The great news is that they came in right at our budget which, I'm not going to lie, it was a huge to relief to all of us.
The Cross Pointe project will consist of widening the existing three lane sections that currently aren't connected and create another major, 5 lane artery, between Virginia and Morgan Avenue. This project will open up additional land for further economic development.
This can only help to enhance the future development of the Hirsch / Martin Promenade project, yet another huge development set to get underway.
Since 2005, the Vanderburgh County Highway Department, under the enthusiastic leadership of Mike Duckworth, has vastly improved and updated their operations in many ways. Mike's first task was to make an assessment of equipment, policies, procedures as well as methods of operations. The findings concluded that a massive overhaul to working conditions, equipment and improved services to services was warranted. Here is what has been accomplished.
The Vanderburgh County Highway Department Storage Building was built with 14 bays for the storage of vehicles. This insures that our multi-million dollar investment in county equipment can be stored and protected out of the weather during periods when they are not in use. Common sense tells you that this will prolong the life-expectancy of this expensive equipment.
The Highway Department resurfaces approximately 20-30 actual miles of roadways each year. The purchase of new paving equipment allows for maximum performance and efficient use of county labor and equipment.
The fleet improvements include a crane used to pick up fallen trees and additional heavy duty dump trucks.
More and more, the Highway Department has become a vital member of our community's emergency response system that also works in collaboration with its city counterpart.
And this is my favorite, Mike and his crews are proactive in preparing for winter storms by laying down beet juice, that's right, beet juice to help in snow and ice removal. This simple procedure also allows us to put down less corrosive materials on the roads during the actual storm activity which in turn causes us to experience less road deterioration which reduces our actual road repair costs.
We have also continued the "Road Hearings" which is where all three Commissioners travel to each district to listen to needs for repairs.
Our County Health Department, so ably run by one of your own, Dr. Ray Nicholson, continues to provide invaluable services for our community. This year, they are celebrating 60 years of existence.
Their continued success with the community Dental Clinic proves that we need to continue funding such a worthwhile endeavor. The dental clinic has provided more than 11,000 services to the poor and underinsured in just less than two years of operation. This is funded through a public / private partnership between the county (using riverboat funds) and Deaconess and St. Mary's hospital.
The County Health Department also does a great deal toward emergency preparedness by actually conducting practice drills of such "disasters'."
- Things like:
- Epidemic Pandemic Flu outbreak
- An anthrax attack on the Post Office
- A major earthquake in Evansville
- A nuclear explosion in Indianapolis
These drills are more than just "make believe." They serve the purpose of preparing our medical facilities, law enforcement agencies, schools and other critical services as to what our response will and should be in the event of a crisis.
Completion of the Youth Care Center is a huge accomplishment for our community. It allows us to house children who get themselves in trouble and involved in the Juvenile Justice System under the watchful eye of Judge Brett Niemeier to be housed right here in Vanderburgh County verses being sent to Vincennes or some other city farther away.
We continue to provide direct access to the community by the video-streaming of each of our meetings. Truthfully, I'm surprised at just how many people watch those meetings. I get tips all the time from everything about my bow-ties to my haircut and including my posture. Let's just say I laugh a lot.
Greg Wathen of the Economic Development Coalition and Joe Wallace of GAGE continue to promote our community to outside industries and corporations. They continue to carry the vision of what we have to offer as a community to inquiring corporations. Greg has made an excellent point: in today's virtual world though, many of the corporations "checking out" our community have done their due diligence and homework long before we are even aware of it.
The take away is that we need to continue to present our community, educational opportunities, healthcare capabilities, workforce abilities, building and land availabilities and our recreational - quality of life and cultural opportunities and of course what we are able to do when hosting a convention and associated activities on our websites. By collaborating with each other, imagine the message we send to prospective corporate citizens?
It is time for us to review and update our Vanderburgh County Website so that it incorporates all that we as a community has to offer.
Recently, renovations were completed on the Old Courthouse Ballroom. It used to be called the Wedgewood Room, but the Old Courthouse Preservation Board of Directors under the watchful eye of Dennis Au thought it made more sense to re-brand the facility as the Old Courthouse Ball Room because of its instant name association with the building. We now rent that space out and since it opened less than 2 months ago, with the help of SMG, we have already rented the space more than we have in the past 3 years combined. It's a wonderful facility for any event.
In March of this year, we held our annual auction of surplus, delinquent tax properties and accomplished something that had never been done.
In the past, the County was lucky if it sold 15-20% of the properties. This year, with the help of a local auctioneering firm and our local media outlets telling people about the upcoming auction, we sold 100% - all 131 properties. The total of the sale was for $103,890.
More important, we put 131 properties back on the tax roles for additional tax revenue generation.
Lately, it's not been business as usual in the county. It's a different tone of cooperation and communication between each department and with the city has been wide open and very productive. It is not uncommon for employees, both city and county, to stop me in the halls of the Civic Center to say hello and strike up a conversation about whatever they want to talk about.
We are excited about what the future holds for our community and we in public service, want to thank you, the business community and everyone in Vanderburgh County for making this such a great place to work and live!
Since I have taken office in October, I have been reminded on several occasions that government does not move at the speed of business. Given my 30 year business background, my brain grasps that but my heart won't accept that.
For every one item I've mentioned here today, there are three things that I didn't have time to mention that have been the direct result of bringing good business practices to government and by simply asking for input from everyone involved in the process of government and from citizen's in Vanderburgh County for their feedback. It has been a privilege to serve our community in this capacity.