WARSAW — Mayor Joe Thallemer started his State of the City address on March 6 at Lincoln Elementary School with a conversation he had with Governor Eric Holcomb. The main topics of that discussion included safety concerns with US 30, workforce issues, and the opioid crisis.
“As we were winding down our conversation, he [Holcomb] said, ‘Boy, it sounds like you have a lot of planes in the air!'” Thallemer said.
During his address, a lot of those “planes in the air” were mentioned.
First he discussed orthopedic jobs, stating that there are 7,700 jobs connected to the industry. The mayor also mentioned that as the 2020 census gets closer, Warsaw’s population figures are estimated at a bit under 15,000. This is a 10 percent increase from the last census in 2010.
He also addressed how Warsaw’s tax rates are some of the lowest in the state, with 75 percent of like size communities paying more in property taxes.
Thallemer continued his address by mentioning that applying for state grants and loans for road reconstruction projects has helped with savings.
“Almost nine million dollars of planned road projects will save the city over 7.2 million dollars of project costs because of grants,” Thallemer said.
The mayor said that significant upgrades to the sewage pipe collection system are underway with a wastewater utility expansion and renovation project, with construction expected to be completed by the summer of 2020.
“That is the date that if we do nothing, we will be out of space,” he said. “We have no options.”
He also discussed the opioid and meth epidemic within the community. There were 77 heroin cases in 2017, which was up from 28 in 2016. The mayor also mentioned that meth lab seizures are down, but this is also connected to the greater availability of imported street meth.
“The devastation they [drugs] leave in their wake is catastrophic to our families,” Thallemer said. “We are committed to a collaborative law enforcement solution to apprehend the illicit drug dealers.”
The Mayor also discussed road construction projects that were completed in 2017. This included the Husky Trail reconstruction; phase 1 of CR 300N reconstruction; engineering on Buffalo Street infrastructure improvements; and downtown alley activation.
More road projects are planned for the current year, including the beginning of phase 2 of the Market Street construction and Buffalo Street road connection to Indiana Avenue.
Thallemer also addressed how factors outside of Warsaw are presenting some growth challenges for the community. About 25,000 cars a day use the local sections of US 30, with 30 to 40 percent of the local workforce traveling into the county from the surrounding region.
“Transportation along highway US 30 is critical to our community,” Thallemer said. “However, there are increasing safety concerns as traffic and truck volumes increase along US 30 the level of an interstate highway. Governor Holcomb agreed that US 30 must be improved.”
The mayor discussed the US 30 coalition, which focuses on safety awareness for US 30 and solutions for the issues with the road. Between 2011 and 2016 alone, there were 127 accidents at US 30 and Parker Street. Seven counties are in the coalition, including Allen, Whitley, Marshall, Starke, LaPorte, and Porter.
Currently, the proposed solution is to convert US 30 to a limited access freeway in order to improve safety.
“Unfortunately, Kosciusko County has a much greater need for short-term solutions due to the large daily influx of traffic passing through our community,” Thallemer said.
The mayor also mentioned how he discussed workforce housing and affordable childcare with Holcomb. Thallemer suggested that local solutions need to be found for entry level workforce housing.
“Median household income has not kept up with rising construction costs and the level at which our workforce can enter the housing market continues to rise,” Thallemer said.
He also said that affordable childcare is a significant workforce challenge.
“We want a legislative change that could lessen the construction burden when developing non for profit and affordable childcare facilities,” he said.
As Thallemer ended his address, he reminded the community that moving Warsaw forward always will require a community of “doers”.
“It’s getting involved for the betterment of the entire community rather than self-interest,” he said. “Actions speak louder than social posts!”
He concluded with a story about volunteers who assisted homeowners near Pike Lake during the flooding a few weeks ago. “That group of about 20 or so volunteers showed up for a very physical task with smiles, chatter and energy in wet and cold conditions,” Thallemer said. “That, my friends, is the state of our city.”