January 16, 2014

State of improvement: Leaders describe city, county status

Sailors, Franklin declare state of county, city

by Mitchell Kirk Pharos-Tribune

---- — Cass County and Logansport have improved over the last year and will continue to improve, their respective leaders say.

Cass County Commissioner Jim Sailors and Logansport Mayor Ted Franklin delivered their annual State of the County and State of the City addresses to an audience of hundreds at Angie’s Catering Wednesday. Through the avenues of economic development, education and improving appearances and amenities, both leaders declared the states of their jurisdictions strong and listed the ways they hope to make them stronger in the year ahead.

Franklin referred to the city’s unemployment rate of 14 percent in 2009 and the 1,500 jobs it lost in the five years preceding 2011. Unemployment has since improved to 7.3 percent, a figure he wants to further progress through long-term economic sustainability.

One way to accomplish this is by improving electric rates in the city, Franklin said. He referred to the imminent closing of Logansport Municipal Utilities’ generating plant within the next two years after expensive requirements are enforced on coal-generating plants by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“We are in this position now, not because it is a new issue, but because of our failure to decisively deal with the issue in the past,” Franklin said.

Franklin continues to pursue a result to the city’s and Logansport Municipal Utilities’ rate stabilization initiative through negotiations with Pyrolyzer LLC, out of Boca Raton, Fla. over a generating plant that would be powered by refuse-derived fuel.

Logansport City Council recently passed a measure authorizing Franklin to negotiate with other parties over the initiative as well.

Franklin and other city officials traveled to Germany and Canada last year to view technology associated with the proposal.

“As the mayor, I find myself, and our team, negotiating the final points of a three-quarter billion dollar investment in our city,” Franklin said. “From this perspective, I realize that this investment opportunity is real, but it is also tied to global business standards, nothing like we have ever experienced before.”

Continued calculated risks are necessary to to entice new employers to the area, Franklin said before announcing that the city and the City of Logansport Economic Development Organization will develop and construct the first spec building in Cass County this year.

Franklin went on to praise the city’s schools, several of which showed signs of improvement on the Indiana Department of Education report card in 2013. Logansport High School went from a C to an A, Columbia Elementary School from an F to a B and four of the city’s seven schools received A grades.

The city assisted the school corporation with its sister school agreement with eight schools in Jinhua, China. In 2013, the relationship allowed four visits to Logansport from about 75 Chinese teachers and students, three Logansport High School teachers visiting China to teach and a visit to China from the high school girls basketball team.

The city’s relationship with China is not only educational. In May 2013, Franklin took the consul general of the People’s Republic of China in Chicago and his staff on a tour of development opportunities in the city. Franklin said this Sunday and Monday, he will host another “delegation of Chinese businessmen who have an interest in developing a business relationship here in Logansport.”

Two structures in Logansport partially collapsed while Franklin was delivering the State of the City address last year. Franklin said since then, the city has spent more than “$300,000 demolishing 20 commercial and residential buildings that had no hope of ever being saved.”

Franklin added that 1,500 property maintenance violations were enforced in 2013. The city plans to rectify more with the recent adoption of stricter rules for boarded-up windows and doors and the purchase of 30 blighted properties in a Cass County Commissioners sale.

Cass County Commissioner Jim Sailors pointed to the county’s economic development efforts, like its membership in a six-county regional economic development group that allows it to benefit from wider-reaching economic development efforts and have access to more grants.

Last year also saw the repaving of 275 West, a road Sailors said was in “dire need of repair.”

The county hopes to continue its road repair efforts, Sailors continued, specifically by repaving 400 South with funding made possible by the relinquishment of state roads formerly maintained by the Indiana Department of Transportation.

Officials worked to successfully bring a truck stop to the county in 2013 and plan to entice more businesses through the extension of utilities and fire protection out toward the Clymers area, Sailors said.

Sailors went on to praise developments at France Park, like the zip line and wireless internet service installed there in 2013.

Franklin presented the Kathy Dingo Spirit of the City Award to Bill Rozzi, owner of R & R Greenhouse. Before presenting the award, Franklin honored Dingo, who passed away in December, for her fundraising and event organization efforts throughout the city over the years.

Franklin praised Rozzi for his fundraising efforts and assistance with community projects like the pots of pink petunias hanging along city streets, a project Dingo spearheaded.

Cass County Commissioner Ralph Anderson presented the Spirit of the County Award to Cj Gilsinger, the county’s information technology director, for his positive attitude in light of “impossible tasks.”

An emotional Gilsinger thanked Anderson and contradicted his words in his acceptance speech by saying, “I come home most days thinking I’m the grouchiest person in the world,” drawing a laugh from the audience.