I delivered the State of the City Address at the City Council meeting on February 24, 2014,  highlighting  a year of transparency, collaboration, responsible teamwork and proactive governance.

“You’ve just heard a summary of our first Annual Report.  This was one of this year’s communications initiatives and it gives a nice snapshot of the planning and operations that go into providing city services.  So in this State of the City, I’ll touch on some highlights, but to get the full enormity of our City’s year of achievement, the Annual Report is your go-to source. It provides information about our budget and a handy guide of whom to contact with questions or concerns.

Every day our mission is to best serve the residents, businesses, and visitors of Highland Park both now and for the future. Let me introduce our senior team of management professionals who help us meet our goals and put our plans into action:

City Manger Dave Knapp

Deputy City Manager Ghida Neukirch

Finance Director Nikki Larson

Public Works Director Ramesh Kanapareddy

Community Development Director Joel Fontane

Police Chief Paul Shafer

Fire Chief Pat Tanner

Corporation Counsel Steve Elrod

They are doing a tremendous job. Join me in thanking them.  {Applause.}

As Mayor, I appreciate receiving input. You are our eyes and ears around town, and your comments and concerns are important in setting our objectives.  As a result, throughout 2013, we continued our focus on our City’s core priorities: fiscal stability, public safety and investment in our infrastructure as well as supporting our businesses, meeting the needs of our most vulnerable community members, celebrating the arts and preserving our natural resources.

These priorities continue in 2014 and in January, the City Council worked with staff to create more than 120 work goals for 2014, based on City Council policy, resident feedback and staff recommendations.  In doing so, however, it wasn’t just an exercise in “how do we keep doing a great job with less?”  These actions that we are taking, the work that we do every day, demands that we look at all facets of city government and ask a number of questions: Is this the best way to do it?  Do we need to do this?  Does this achieve our goals?

We’ve made dramatic changes and reforms over the last two years.  The majority of this Senior Staff was not here two years ago.  This reflects a new approach at City Hall, with goals of transparency, collaboration, responsible teamwork, and proactive governance as we focus on our core priorities.

So, some highlights:

The City’s financial house is in order, a fact affirmed recently when Moody’s reissued our Aaa bond rating, a rating held by only a handful of cities in Illinois. For the third year in a row, our operating expenses are in balance with our operating revenues. We have solid financial reserves, are achieving efficiencies through shared services with our sister governments and have achieved more efficient City operations.

While we clearly have external pressures that demand careful attention:  The State of Illinois’ financial challenges, pension mandates as well as spiraling health care costs demand our constant vigilance, we are meeting the ongoing challenge of providing high quality service while minimizing resident economic burdens.

In the past, investment into long-needed capital projects was delayed and even basic maintenance was at times ignored. We have made significant improvements into how we manage City-wide infrastructure, targeting critical projects throughout the city and investing for the present as well as the future. This winter has been a prime example, as our public works crew worked hard literally around the clock to meet our weather-related needs while also making critical infrastructure repairs. Additionally, the upgrades to our water treatment plant continue to be on time and on budget.  With technological upgrades and increased capacity, the plant will be able to meet the needs of our residents and municipal customers for years to come. This project should be substantially completed by late 2014.

And we are fortunate.  Public safety is not something we need to worry about every day. It is something we think about when we need it or hear about it in the news. This is why public safety is at the forefront of this Council’s decision-making, and maintaining accredited, professional, community-focused police and fire departments is our priority.  Fair and consistent code enforcement coupled with education continues to be our goal.

Economic strength brings jobs, sales tax revenue and vibrancy to our city and we actively support our businesses. We work to attract new businesses and market Highland Park to our region and beyond.  We recognize that our strengths extend beyond our city and this year created the Lake County Leadership Alliance, where business, civic and professional leaders come together to work on strategies for business development in our region.

As 2014 unfolds, we actively pursue the goals we have set for this year, the next five years and beyond. Our priorities inform what we do as a City and how we evolve as a community.   They allow us to work towards meeting those core needs through collaboration with our school districts, park district, township, county and state.  These actions are essential to maintaining all that is “Highland Park.”

So, thank you to my Council colleagues:  Tony Blumberg, Paul Frank, Dan Kaufman, Alyssa Knobel, David Naftzger and Kim Stone, our City staff, community volunteers and each of you for making Highland Park a great community in which we live, raise our families, work and play.  And I look forward to hearing from you with any questions or suggestions about how we can do better at City Hall.

Thank you.”

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