The following is the first in a series of four messages from Mayor Chris McBarnes regarding the financial status of Frankfort and the administration’s vision for addressing opportunities and challenges on the community’s horizon.
Frankfort Moving Forward: Overview of Challenges and Opportunities
Often, there seems to be as many diverse opinions as there are residents in our city. While we may differ on what should or should not be done with any opportunity, we all can agree we want Frankfort to improve and become a stronger city for our children and grandchildren to enjoy.
Change, large or small, is never easy. But change – planned carefully in a strategic direction – can be beneficial, especially when the other option of doing nothing is extremely detrimental. Frankfort is at an economic and community development crossroads. We either can take well thought out, bold steps necessary to make our community appealing, vibrant and strong for generations to come OR we can keep the status quo, do very little and hope that by eking out drops of progress that somehow, we thrive.
What follows is a sampling of the bold steps we have joined together to take in a short amount of time to move Frankfort forward:
- building an Ivy Tech Community College campus in the heart of our city
- helping create hundreds of new jobs throughout our industrial sector
- making record investments into our local roads with more to come
- building new streetscapes in our downtown
- restoring and beautifying historic Old Stoney
- strengthening the operations of our municipal utilities with a business mindset
- improving our infrastructure throughout every department in our city to better serve all citizens
- attracting a $7.2 million-dollar luxury apartment complex in the heart of our downtown square
- implementing competitive pay wages for City employees to attract and retain top talent
- helping save and repurpose the former Southside Elementary School as senior housing
- being named the 23rd Safest City in Indiana.
Recently, I’ve heard concern over our City going $50 million dollars in debt over the next two years in light of multiple projects being discussed. First, Frankfort is on incredibly strong financial footing. The number of projects and department infrastructure upgrades accomplished while keeping our municipal bank accounts full has been no easy task. Throw in the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) that skyrocketed our premiums and it’s been quite an incredible accomplishment. Providing unprecedented financial oversight and strategic financial planning means our administration is the first, I believe, in our city’s history that conducts annual budgeting based on a five-year capital improvement plan.
The statement “our city will be $50 million dollars in debt” is flawed in many ways. There is a vast difference in funding sources and revenues; between rate dollars generated by our utilities customers and tax dollars; and between how and where various funds dictated by State statutes can be used. Different boards, commissions and councils oversee and dictate where these revenues go. The intricacies of careful financial planning mean monetary resources are balanced with ongoing community needs.
There is a reason we have witnessed a lack of new housing development, a leaking population and don’t see many young people returning to our community to plant their roots and raise their families here. The reason: Frankfort has not yet effectively tackled our major infrastructure amenity challenges.
Our police station is woefully inadequate for the highly-trained officers and civilian staff who enter that building every day. Without quality public safety resources, our city will not experience growth, keep skilled officers, attract new jobs or families here. I look forward to working hand in hand with our City Council and public safety officials to correct this troublesome situation once and for all.
Our waste water treatment plant is nearing capacity. While not a flashy topic, it is a key topic when it comes to job creation and economic development. Without a plant expansion, our economic development leaders won’t have the future ability to attract another top employer like Frito Lay. Private investment grows our City’s assessed valuation. When we grow assessed valuation, individual taxes a property owner pays decrease. To drive taxes down we must invest in infrastructure that gives us the ability to attract private investment, bring jobs and reduce the burden on individual taxpayers.
Without an amenity infrastructure such as Prairie Creek Park, we will not attract young professionals back to our city. It will not happen. We have severely blighted spaces in our downtown and western corridor that should be cleaned up. Our Redevelopment Commission works within the existing tax levy generated by building owner investments in our historic downtown district to lift up these distressed areas. These dollars have to be reinvested back inside the geographical area where they are collected (e.g. cannot be used to build sidewalks in the south part of our city or pave roads in the eastern half of our community). Green spaces like Prairie Creek Park could be built without raising one additional cent of tax dollars. Relying on our downtown revitalization plan, this step should be done in tandem with the private sector to further reduce the burden on our Redevelopment Commission.
The three projects above have separate funding sources; one is not dependent on the other. A new police station and green space amenities could be funded with monies we already collect. That means NO increase in existing taxes and NO new taxes to get these projects done.
A declining population, shrinking tax base, lack of middle class growth and lack of a qualified workforce: these are the issues Frankfort currently faces. Instead of asking “can our city afford projects that stimulate economic growth?” the question should be: “how do we change our city for the better if we don’t pursue these projects?”
I look forward to sharing how we will continue to build upon our city’s strong financial prowess along with funding much needed infrastructure projects in the weeks to come, leading up to my March 1 State of the City address.