This Week With Freeport City Manager Lowell Crow

Freeport, Illinois — In previous articles you have seen Mayor Jodi Miller discuss the strategic plan.  Monday at the Committee of the Whole meeting the first draft will be presented.  Additionally, the staff has begun working elements of that strategic vision.  One part of that is the streetscaping plan.  The first version of this streetscaping plan for Chicago Avenue will be presented for Council review Monday night. The concept is to use Chicago as the basis to make the Downtown a walkable and billable portion of our city and make it the example and centerpiece of the downtown. The streetscaping plan will tie in all elements of way finding and run the full length of Chicago to begin tying in all elements of the downtown that includes the Art Museum’s art square, the library and Debate Square. This plan will not only include our historic past but embrace the changing and bright future of Freeport. Additionally, last Monday the Council approved a plan put together by the staff to do a complete assessment of the street conditions of the City. This includes the review of the conditions of the streets and rating them on a maintenance and condition scale. It will also look at the condition of the curbs and where new ADA compliant sidewalks need to be placed.

This streetscaping plan as well as the street assessment, and hydronic water main study represents the first steps toward the integrated capital improvement plan envisioned by the Mayor and City Council when drafting the city’s first strategic plan under the city manager form of government. The concept behind an integrated plan is to allow the city to better use its scarce resources to replace both the worst watermain, address any sewer issues and replace the worst roads in the city. This takes the guesswork out of the equation and uses data to determine which roads should be reworked first. As part of this integrated plan the Director of Utilities in conjunction with Fehr Graham are looking at the best place to drill the city’s new wells. This will balance the requirements of feeding both low and high zones as well as replacing the two wells taken off line previously.  I also wanted to introduce the newest staff member who just joined the City, Dennis Carr. He has his undergraduate and masters from Bradley in Civil Engineering. He is a Certified Professional Engineer who worked for Hanson Engineering. Previous to that he worked for Mason County in the Engineering Department. Tom Dole continues as the Director of Streets. With this new position our goal is to bring in better efficiency to the staff through coordination of resources.

Another initiative that has its roots in the City’s new strategic plan is the ongoing discussion about how to take the best of all the City’s economic organizations and focus them to continue to move Freeport forward.  City leadership feels that this is the best time to have this discussion since the FDDF and the Convention and Visitors Bureau are conducting strategic planning sessions, and NIDA and Collaborate Freeport are starting their search for new directors. As part of these initiatives, the City has asked these organizations along with the Chamber of Commerce to discuss the option of consolidating to form a single economic development group.  Our goal in bringing these organizations together is to create a a single vision, mission, marketing campaign and workforce development plan to create an environment for community growth.  By tapping into the strengths of each of our organizations we want to create a economic force to build a vibrant city that will continue to grow, attracting not only new business but new residents to our community.

What is driving this consolidation discussion, you may ask?  Over the last 7 years, Freeport has seen a drop in Equalized Assessed Value (EAV) in the area of 35 million dollars.  The value of both businesses and houses has decline by 35 million dollars.  This reduction in value causes increased  property taxes for the home owners and businesses alike.  It also limits our ability to maintain the services that the city provides.  With the return of MetLife, the opening of new stores and the growth of other industries in Stephenson County one of our City’s goals is to continue to attract new retail and commercial business, grow and retain our current businesses and finally grow our downtown business district.

Finally, as a veteran and longtime member of the United States Navy I wanted to reminder everyone that last Saturday was a time to honor our Veterans and their families for the sacrifices they have made. We have many Veterans in our community that have served our country and continue to serve our community both as Public servants and volunteers in many of our organizations. Take this opportunity to recognize their service to our community and our country.

Lowell Crow is the current City Manager for the City of Freeport, Illinois

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