Indy mayor discusses positive changes at Gary Chamber meeting

Source: Times, Lu Ann Franklin

GARY | “I don’t want to be the mayor of Indianapolis. I want to do something,” Greg Ballard told the dozens attending Monday’s Gary Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

The 48th person to hold the title of Indianapolis mayor, Ballard talked about the positive changes that have taken place in the Hoosier capital since he was elected six years ago, and attributed much of that progress to maximizing public assets through public-private partnerships and listening to what citizens say.

That progress includes paying down debt and raising city revenues, creating a vibrant city where quality employees and businesses want to relocate and making certain “no one can mess with it (that progress) in the future,” Ballardm said. “This is public service.”

When he took office, Ballard said Indianapolis was under a federal Environmental Protection Agency decree, which his staff was successfully able to renegotiate. What the mayor’s team proposed to the EPA was that the city could change environmental problems “faster and cheaper.” That saved Indianapolis taxpayers $800 million, he said.

Another “win-win” situation involved permanently moving the debt-ridden city-owned water company and wastewater treatment facilities under the umbrella of Citizens Energy, a group that already controlled other utilities.

That saved $1.5 billion and generated $400 million to $500 million in cash for city coffers. And now that those utilities are part of Citizens Energy, no one can buy them out, he said.

Leveraging monies from the federal government and business partners helped create Rebuild Indy, with most of the funds going for infrastructure.

“Ninety-seven to 98 percent of that money has gone to build roads, bridges, sidewalks, alleys and getting rid of abandoned homes,” Ballard said. “We’ve taken out 2,000 abandoned home so far and we’re not done.”

This investment in the city provided jobs for construction workers during the recent economic downturn and has created a more vibrant city, he said. That vibrancy is important to attract “talent and business” to Indianapolis, Ballard said.

Bike trails, for example, are among the quality of life amenities wanted by younger generations of workers. The city partnered with Marian University to establish a variety of biking facilities.

In generations past, workers went where the jobs were, he said. Today’s newest employees want specific amenities and lifestyles before deciding to settle in a city and find work.

Bringing in talented, well-educated employees will also attract businesses that can provide the jobs, Ballard said.

Another large component of Indianapolis’ success is paying down municipal debt, the mayor said.

“Our general obligations are down … and we are not borrowing,” Ballard said. “We are generating income while retiring debt.”

By signing a 50-year lease for city parking meters in another public-private partnership, Ballard was able to generate more money for future mayors to use.

“I took $20 million up front (for the lease) and created an infrastructure fund for the next 50 years,” he told the audience. “Instead of getting $339,000 a year from parking meters, the city now gets $2.5 million a year.”

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