Ballard Pushes Jobs, Reform In State Of City Address

Mayor Plans To Invest In Job Development, Consolidate Townships

Progress has been made in transforming Indianapolis into a more livable city, but new investments and reorganization in critical areas will spur further growth, Mayor Greg Ballard said during his State of the City address Wednesday night.

Ballard showcased what he called his vision to make Indianapolis a destination city for people and companies, tourists and educators during his nearly 50-minute speech at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Economic Development

"Our relative economic stability comes in part from the fundamentals: a lower rate of crime, a now-predictable tax climate and a government that works with companies and entrepreneurs to foster job creation and economic development," he said.

Ballard highlighted the efforts of the Indianapolis Economic Development, Inc., an organization that worked with the city to secure commitments for retaining or attracting more than 11,000 jobs in Marion County in 2009, he said.

Analysis: Capitol WatchBlog

Ballard said the city would make a $3.5 million investment in IEDI to continue the forward momentum, while announcing the expansion of Stericycle, an Indianapolis-based provider of medical waste disposal services, creating 109 new jobs by the end of 2010.

"In recent years, we have lost major jobs opportunities in the core of our community, where redevelopment costs are often the highest, and the need the greatest, because there was no entity to level the playing field," Ballard told the crowd. "This investment will help address that problem.

The mayor also said the city should invest $1.5 million in the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association "to bolster our commitment to attract the biggest and the best conventions in the world."

Education

Ballard said education is key to encouraging economic growth in Indianapolis, and pointed out that 90 percent of Mayor-sponsored Charter School graduates have gone on to college since 2008.

He proposed broadening the scope of the Mayor's Charter Schools office, using $175,000 to transform the Charter Schools initiative into an Office of Educational Innovation.

"Marion County is home to 11 public school districts, 21 public charter schools and more than 100 private, non-public and parochial schools, yet there is not one source -- an information hub -- that serves as a resource across geographic and educational boundaries," he said. "It is long past time that we bring our best and brightest educators together for one conversation."

To fund the changes to education and economic improvement initiatives, Ballard said he would ask the City-County Council fiscal ordinance to spend a total of $5.5 million, paid for with collections from past economic development deals.

The mayor said he would ask the Metropolitan Development Commission to begin the process of revoking a number of tax abatements, including the Navistar plant, where only a few workers remain after drastic layoffs.

"They have acknowledged they cannot meet all of their commitments, and have agreed to pay Indianapolis $5 million," Ballard said. "We will begin the process of working with additional remaining companies on financial settlement terms and cancellation of their abatements."

Reorganization

Ballard also stressed the importance of government efficiency during his speech, highlighting ways in which his administration had streamlined efforts across Indianapolis, from the Mayor's Action Center to IndyParks.

He said holding the townships accountable would be critical to continued economic prosperity, and called for the full consolidation of township governments into city-county government by 2013.

Ballard said all fire department and EMS services should merge into the Indianapolis Fire Department, township government's excess funds should be shifted to the city so they can be appropriated by the City-County Council and there should be uniform standards for poor relief with the Health & Hospital Corporation at the helm.

"Reforming government is more than just a way to save taxpayer money, although that's critically important," Ballard said. "It's also a way to show the business community that we are serious about competing in a 21st-century economy without being burdened by a 19th-century government."

The mayor also highlighted advancements made in the areas of public safety, promotion of the arts, urban renewal and sustainability, and called on all Indianapolis to participate in the 2010 census.

"My vision for a renewed Indianapolis landscape starts with the basics expected by the citizens of their government. This doesn't mean we don't embrace our past accomplishments, but rather we build on them," Ballard said. "We have only just begun our journey to transform our city. The fate of our shared concerns and triumphs remain intertwined. We have much to do, yet much to be proud of."

The Marion County Democratic Party did not release a statement immediately following the address, but Executive Director Adam Kirsch posted messages on Twitter.com throughout the speech.

"Still feel like this is a litany of small stuff," read a tweet just after 7:30 p.m. "(Indianapolis) has been blessed for years with bold leadership. Mayor Ballard is small time."

A posting about 30 minutes later read, "Mayor Ballard's coaches apparently think if you say 'vision' and 'economic development' a whole bunch, you might get them."