Commentary by Jeff Papa, 2013 Town Council President
First I would like to say that there were too many problems solved and creative solutions reached in the past year to even list them all and all of this happened under the leadership of Tim Haak, who was our 2012 President.
Zionsville continues to make progress as we work through issues tied to our unique status as the only community in Indiana to have created Urban and Rural districts through the reorganization process, and the fact that, in light of the state’s constitutional tax caps limiting residential property taxes to 1%, Zionsville has something over 90% residential. This creates serious financial challenges and a definite need to achieve a more diverse tax base. The elimination of Union and Eagle township government and resulting expansion of the Zionsville municipal borders to 52 square miles has required extensive cooperation with the county government and many other governmental bodies. I would like to thank Boone County Sheriff Ken Campbell, Major Mike Nielsen, and Rick Carney and the Boone County Highway Department, as well as the county commissioners and county council for the extensive cooperation that has made this possible.
This week, the Town Council adopted a resolution in support of an effort to designate an Arts & Cultural District in Zionsville that will allow for certain benefits under a state program, and assist in marketing our town and its art and culture offerings.
A welcome center for Zionsville was recently established, which may eventually be housed with the Chamber of Commerce. Several new parks projects were either completed or made significant planning progress, including new pathway and park projects. Grants were received for a town tree inventory and purchase of new playground equipment, and several improvements were made at the municipal golf course, including a major investment in golf carts.
The Zionsville Police Department, under its outstanding new leader Chief Knox, responded to 12,672 calls for service in 2012. ZPD hosted its 4th annual Teen Academy, thanks to a generous grant from the Boone County Local Coordinating Council, and has received overwhelming public support and donations for the establishment of a K9 program. ZPD also established a neighborhood watch program in 2012.
Chief VanGorder continued his excellent work guiding the Zionsville Fire Department. ZFD responded to 2,090 calls in 2012, up by 254 calls from 2011. The fire department hired 6 new full time staff, and opened a third fire station on 700 East. Due to excellent planning and foresight, as well as cooperation from the school district, this facility was completely paid for when it opened with donated land from ZCS and construction cash wisely saved for years by the town, and completed under budget at that.
In an effort to achieve greater diversification of our tax base, while planning for appropriate growth and working to solve problems, we restructured our Planning Department into a new Department of Planning and Economic Development. As a part of this process, we hired a new Director, a new building inspector, and promoted an internal candidate to Assistant Planner. In coordination with the RDC and the town council, this new office worked on several exciting projects in 2012, including projects like a major Fed-Ex facility, development of the Ripberger Industrial Park, potential development of the Dow property, and development of new retail, restaurant and office space just South of the current village business area.
Building permits were up from 724 in 2011 to 810 in 2012, and inspections followed that increase, going from 5,916 in 2011 to 6,364 in 2012. 2012 also saw the completion of the town’s Economic Development Strategic Plan, which reviewed planning and potential for the Southeast portion of our town. Ongoing projects also include improvements to First Street, extension of water and sewer to new development areas, and two roundabout-style projects along Ford Road to alleviate traffic issues, which are now being planned.
In early 2012, A wonderful volunteer group in Zionsville organized ZBowl events in order to coordinate as a Super Bowl host site and attract visitors to Zionsville. Last year we also redistricted the 5 town council districts, began providing space at town hall for a satellite office of Boone County Senior Services, and completed our first-ever transition of qualifying neighborhoods from the rural service district to the urban service district. This is a process by which rural district properties contiguous to the existing urban district are reviewed every two years and if they meet certain criteria, the council can move them into the urban district. When this happens, primary responsibility for police and street services moves from the county to the town and the new properties also then fall under the town’s trash services contract. [briefly explain reorganization/dual service districts]
Also of note in 2012 is that when the town was faced with a very significant increase in health insurance costs, Ed Mitro, Sue Jones, and councilors Mundy and Haak were able to do extensive research and find an alternative that gave town employees more choices while eliminating the increase in cost and likely even reducing town costs for healthcare.
We also worked with Zionsville Schools with the outstanding collaboration of the school board, Superintendent Robison and Mike Shafer to voluntarily limit the town’s budget in order to avoid excessive negative impact on the schools. ZCS also worked with us to share the school’s fiber optic network with town government buildings, such as town hall and the new fire station, and on many other projects.
An email integration project moved all three existing town domains to a single, modern structure. The Sycamore Street pathway was completed under budget. Gavin Merriman and Lance Lantz worked to install a working rain garden at town hall which now mitigates drainage problems and provides public water quality education opportunities. The Stormwater utility continues to work hard on a fair plan for funding our federally-mandated stormwater program. Congressman Rokita, who is here today, has helped us with information and advice on this issue and we greatly appreciate that and his efforts to reduce government waste and overreach. The town’s wastewater plant treated 349 million gallons of waste water and reported zero violations of its operating permit in 2012.
Zionsville faces many challenges moving forward with its currently limited tax base. However, we are blessed with outstanding town employees, a safe and talented community of citizens, organizations such as the Zionsville chamber of commerce, the Boone county EDC and the Zionsville Merchant’s Association, and we have made great strides in 2012 toward attracting appropriate development to our town while doing our best to provide services and improvements. I believe we are on track to accomplish amazing progress in 2013 as we continue to find efficiencies, cut costs, find creative new ways to solve problems and make improvements, and as we continue to work toward a more sustainable tax base while maintaining Zionsville’s unique character and charm. Thank you.