WARSAW — In his eighth year as mayor, Joe Thallemer has seen substantial growth and efforts to accommodate and accentuate continued growth, but says there is more to do.
The two-term mayor of Warsaw, who is vying for another term in office this year, outlined his vision in a 33-minute State of the City address Tuesday, March 12, at the 2517 Event Center, while also pledging to face the challenges, including traffic congestion on US 30, the need for improved childcare and the efforts against the scourge of opioid abuse.
Thallemer began his address by recapping some stellar statistics the city holds claim to, including the city’s relatively flat tax rate over the past three years and an aggressive annexation plan that will offset costs associated with inflation and expanded services.
He also outlined six strategies aimed at sustaining the growth including growth management; business retention and expansion; business attraction; neighborhood revitalization; improved communications and downtown growth strategies.
Those strategies are working, he said.
“We have expanded our tax base 10 percent, which is $87 million over the past four years. Last year alone accounted for growth of over $38 million — roughly 4 percent. That by itself impacted the tax rate by four cents,” Thallemer said. “Growth doesn’t just happen. Years of planning, driven by community vision and collaborative leveraging of public and private dollars are the catalyst,” Thallemer said.
He also pointed to a robust 8.7 percent growth in population over the past eight years, a feat he called rare for most rural communities and represents a “key indicator of a community’s vibrancy.”
He also addressed the adoptions of sewer rate hikes twice in the past two years. The new average residential rate of $41.15 per month is in line with the average in the state and Thallemer noted that “we have neighbors who pay over $70 per month per dwelling.”
While residents complained about the rate hikes, he said the city had no other realistic option.
“These are projects that we had no choice but to act on due to failing infrastructure while operating at or over capacity,” Thallemer said, noting that the city took advantage of loan programs through the state that allowed the city to save almost $8 million over the life of the loans.
He also lauded resumption of the centralized unified city-county drug task force, a move pushed by first-year Kosciusko County Sheriff Kyle Dukes.
“This critical strategy to combat the distribution and sale of heroin, other opioids and methamphetamine must be resumed with little delay,” Thallemer said.
He said the number of heroin cases rose 15 percent in 2018 and that the proliferation of crystal meth remains a major problem, but that the county has seen a significant reduction in the number of meth labs.
He also touched on numerous other efforts.
Road projects in 2019 include phase two of the East Market Street project and improvements along CR 300N such as a roundabout at the Sheldon Street intersection.
Another major project is the Buffalo Street redevelopment effort in which a private developer will begin soon on a housing project and the city prepares to construct a nearby plaza to the north along Center Lake this summer.
The $30 million sewer treatment plant expansion began recently and will continue into late 2020 as the city expands capacity from four million gallons to six million gallons.
Thallemer also addressed some of the bigger challenges. While providing childcare is a complex issue, he noted that the Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce and the Kosciusko County Community Foundation started the “Launchpad” program aimed at developing a sustainable plan to address the issue.
He also mentioned the urgent need to address congestion on US 30 in Warsaw and the collective effort of six other counties to develop a new limited access freeway that would replace the highway.
But he said immediate solutions are needed to address current problems with US 30.
“In Kosciusko County, we are at a point now that safety of local travel on US 30 is becoming a critical short-term concern. The US 30 coalition has been persistent with INDOT and our legislators to identify funding now so that we can initiate this project sooner than later,” Thallemer said.
This summer INDOT will widen intersections along US 30 intersections at Parker Street and Anchorage Road to improve cross traffic movement and safety, he said.