Freeport, Illinois — With Christmas upon us and New Years a few days away, this time of year always fills me with gratitude and hope. As I take inventory of the past, I am humbled when I consider the faith the residents of Freeport instilled in the city council to accomplish some significant tasks this year. When I look back at Freeport over 2017, I am renewed by the spirit of community which led us through some tough times; but also confident that Freeport’s best days still lie ahead.
When the voters of Freeport asked the city council and former Mayor Jim Gitz to chart a new course for 2017 and transition to a City Manager form of government, I recognized the scope and weight of the mandate. Over a century of ordinances, policies, and legislative structure had to be removed, revised, or created. When the city council and former Mayor Gitz asked me to lead this effort as Committee Chairman, I saw the immediate urgency to bring the best minds together to help reshape Freeport’s government.
We set forth a plan to engage key stakeholders in our community and spent adequate time to implement new best-practices for Freeport. We put aside differences, listened, gave legitimacy and a voice to all sides, and worked together to deliver the transition for Freeport.
Selecting the right city manager was perhaps the most important decision with which the committee was tasked. A comprehensive, national search resulted in the unanimous selection of Lowell Crow as our first City Manager. Mr. Crow came to us as a thirty year retired naval captain, with multiple advanced degrees, and a work ethic second to none.
Since his appointment, Mr. Crow has proven his value and won acclaim across Freeport for his vison and expertise in city government. One of the first recommendations Mr. Crow presented was to change our health and property liability carrier. Through a competitive bidding process, Manager Crow was able to present, and earn unanimous approval for a change that will yield nearly $500,000 in annual savings. The change was fully supported by our local unions and management. Changes like these bring real savings and make government more accountable and affordable for taxpayers.
These kinds of savings allowed the city council to continue to prioritize public safety. Previous budgets cut our police officer ranks to a level I felt would risk safety and lead to higher crime. This year we moved to add three new officers, pushing our total to forty eight. When I joined the city council, our police force had forty three officers. In the past few years, the city council has made some tough decisions on spending, but the commitment to public safety and our law enforcement professionals has not waivered.
Additionally, you may have noticed the increased clean-up of blighted buildings this past year. We accelerated our demolition program and have completed eighty demolitions this year, a 160 percent increase over 2016. The goal for 2018 is to eliminate another one hundred buildings that harbor rodents, trash, and crime and pose a physical danger to Freeport residents. We see demolition as a short-term solution for buildings that are too far gone, while the long-term goal is to help keep buildings from becoming a blight. Therefore, we added a neighborhood compliance officer that will enforce city codes and hold property owners accountable for maintaining their property. This move will, over time, save neighborhoods from the dangers of blighted buildings while saving money for Freeport taxpayers.
Finally, we expanded our road infrastructure budget by forty percent. Next spring, the budgeted improvements will eliminate hundreds of pot holes, target road resurfacing, bridge repair, and sidewalk maintenance. By supporting investment in infrastructure, we are really supporting our businesses, schools, and overall community. These expenses improve the quality of life in and around Freeport, and make Freeport an attractive place to live, work, and raise a family.
While I take pride in what we’ve accomplished together I know more needs to be done. Regional unemployment remains higher than the state average, our property tax burden remains near the highest in the country, and our businesses need a more competitive footing as compared to neighboring cities and states.
Simply put, we have a lot more work to do, but together there is nothing we cannot accomplish. When I see the commitment of Mayor Jodi Miller and this Council to helping each person achieve their dreams and enjoy this great place we call home, I look forward with the promise of hope for an even better 2018. I wish each of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Andrew Chesney is the current Alderman at Large for the city of Freeport. Andrew is also running for State Representative of the 89th District. You can learn more about Andrew Chesney here.
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