Christiansen delivers State of the County Address
Online Staff Report
Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen (R) delivered his seventh State of the County Address at 11:30 a.m., today, Thursday, April 21, at Cliffbreakers in Rockford. Following is the text of his speech, titled “Back to the Future.”
State of the County Address
Good afternoon community and business leaders, county board members, elected officials, county staff members, and fellow citizens. First of all, I would like to thank Einar Forsman and the Rockford Chamber Board members and staff for doing such a great job representing the business community and for hosting this event.
I am honored to bring you this year’s State of the County address which we are calling BACK TO THE FUTURE.
My philosophy for County Government has remained pretty much the same since I was elected to the County Board in 1984. In order for any region to succeed, it must have basic fundamentals in place – good jobs, excellent educational opportunities, enhanced public health and safety, accessible transportation and a diverse quality of life.
Some of the highlights of the past year include the following:
EFFICIENCIES IN GOVERNMENT
Working with Rockford Mayor Morrissey, we established an independent Intergovernmental Joint Efficiencies Commission to take a fresh look at ways governments can work together to save tax dollars. Everything is on the table, including department mergers, outsourcing, joint purchasing and cooperative policing.
The committee has identified six key areas for initial study:
• Fleet Management Maintenance
• Purchasing and Facilities
• City and County 911 Centers and information centers, such as 311 & the county’s very successful “Win Cart”
• One-Stop County-wide Department for Permitting, Inspections, Plan Reviews, & Code Enforcement
• Public Housing
• Cooperative Policing
Future Committees will address:
• Economic Development
• Human Resources
• Election Services
Last year, the county was able to realize an additional $330,000 savings for the taxpayers through in-house changes in the way we do business. Let me highlight some of the savings we realized this past year:
• River Bluff Nursing Home laundry outsourced for a savings of $100,000.
• Juvenile Detention kitchen operations combined with Adult Detention for a first year savings of $30,000.
• An independent bid on road salt by the Purchasing Dept. provided greater savings than state contract for a first year savings of $140,000.
• The Justice Center began coordinating with ComEd to run our generators during peak electrical loads to take building off grid for a $60,000 gain the first year.
The long process of deploying our new court and case management system has finally come to fruition. According to our vendor, this system is the most fully integrated system in the entire country. It allows us to continue to meet the demands of the criminal justice system even though we’ve cut staff.
With the appointment of two new judges, our Circuit Court is fully staffed at 25 judges. Just to give you an idea of the sheer volume of cases that pass through our courts, this past year, 88,780 Cases were filed, 93,789 cases were closed, FOR A CASE CLOSED RATE OF 105.6%
The Health Dept. has consolidated their operations from three separate buildings into one and all Juvenile Court and Probation functions will be consolidated into the old Federal Courthouse later this year. Both consolidations will result in significant savings.
After successfully chairing the Rockford Airport Authority and his great work with R.A.V.E., Mike Dunn has done an exceptional job in the position of Regional Director of Governmental Affairs. This position was created in partnership with the city of Rockford and the Leadership Council of the Rockford Area Economic Development Council to focus on intergovernmental efficiencies.
In his position, Mike is also working with state and federal government leaders to advance regional priorities and to coordinate our lobbying efforts.
As we plan for the future, I will work with Winnebago County Board members and our County staff to look for new ways to streamline operations. County Board members joined the effort last month when they led by example by eliminating pensions for future County board members.
The County tax rate continues at a low level, just 7.46% of the total property tax bill for a citizen living in the city of Rockford. Government everywhere is learning how to do more with less in order to survive.
When I began my second term of office in 2008, the cost to provide county services was $222 million. The budget for fiscal year 2011 is $181 million, a decrease in $40 million or a reduction of just under 20%!
One of the most important things we do as elected officials is to look back to the past to learn how to build for the future. Areas in which the county has been focusing its efforts include:
• Road, rail and air transportation systems
• Utility infrastructure development
• Job training programs
• Marketing the community.
I have always believed that the Airport is our #1 economic engine, serving as a transportation hub for air, rail, and freight. I would like to commend our Airport Board of Commissioners for developing a comprehensive Strategic Plan for the future. Incentives are in place to attract business and we need to make that a collective priority for our entire region. We look forward to implementation of the plan.
Since becoming Chairman, I have taken the position of always looking ahead and undertaking projects that will insure that our county is ahead of any economic upturn and prepared for businesses expansion.
And I have to say, we’ve come a long way!
In addition to maintaining 305 miles of road, our County Highway Dept. has made improvements that will benefit business and industry in the future. Roads that have been improved to accommodate growth include
• Willowbrook from McCurry Road to IL 75,
• the Riverside Bridge Interchange at I90 east to Olson Road,
• the new Palladin Parkway heading north of Riverside alongside the new YMCA and Sportscore II,
• Meridian Road from IL75 in the north to Route 2 in the south,
• Baxter Road from I-39 to Kishwaukee Road just south of the airport. Baxter Road improvements provide greater access from the airport and UPS to I-39 and the Rochelle Intermodal Hub.
All of these roads have been reconstructed to carry the maximum weight allowed by law. AND, some of the roads exceed that capacity in anticipation of eventual law changes which will allow for larger loads and less trucks, something that will benefit both the bottom line of businesses and the environment.
The county continually looks for partners to fund road improvements. A good example of this is the Riverside and I-90 Interchange where the County partnered with The Illinois Tollway Authority, the cities of Loves Park and Rockford, the Rockford Park District and adjoining property owners to fund the project. The best part of the project for the taxpayers is that nearly $5 million of the project came from property owners in the area.
Other road projects this past year include
• Phase I reconstruction of Bell School Road as a four-lane road from Newburg to Mill Road, a joint effort with the city of Rockford, the village of Cherry Valley and a private developer. Our County Highway Dept. is now working with IDOT and the City of Rockford to develop plans and engineering for the reconstruction of the Bell School/ East State intersection.
• Pre-construction of the new three-lane Hononegah Road west of 251 took place last fall with the final resurfacing scheduled for this spring.
• The last section of the Meridian Road reconstruction will be completed this year.
For our hikers and bikers, the Pecatonica Path project moved ahead with the construction of an underpass under Highway 20 near the village of Winnebago, as well as three new bridges over creeks along the path. This project is being funded with Federal Transportation Enhancement dollars. The county’s portion of the path will be started either late this year or early next year and completed by 2012.
In addition, the Highway Dept. is adding a part-time horticulturist to maintain natural plantings along county roadways which contributes to the green infrastructure of the region and reduces maintenance costs.
Equally important to future development is access to utilities. Several years ago, Winnebago County worked with the Rock River Water Reclamation District, another great partner, to extend sewer along Kent Creek in the northwest and along Baxter Road in the southeast to serve development sites along those corridors. A good example of this is the Rock 39 Industrial Park. Development at the four corners of Baxter Road and I-39 has the potential to provide in excess of 5,000 jobs.
We are jointly pursuing ways to complete the water system at Baxter Road and I-39 corridor to have water, sewer, power and gas in place to attract and retain businesses to that area.
JOBS, JOBS, JOBS
Through the efforts of the County’s Economic Development office working with the region’s economic development partners, over 600 new jobs have come to the county this past year. Our Economic Development Director is currently working with another 17 companies exploring relocation or expansion for a potential total of 800 jobs using our Federally-funded Revolving Loan fund and other incentives – the key word is federally funded.
But, in order to attract new business, we need to have a business friendly climate here in Illinois. All litigation needs to be reformed. We are continually challenged by our State Workman’s Compensation Laws. For example, a recent letter from Caterpillar compared two identical engine plants – the same size with the same amount of workers, yet the Workman’s Compensation costs were five times higher in Illinois than in Indiana. It’s time for a change quickly!
I would like to recognize Senator Dave Syverson, head of the state manufacturing caucus, for his work on these very important issues. It gets discouraging when Wisconsin is coming to Illinois companies with three sites and plenty of incentives to lure them north.
The only thing worse than losing business to Wisconsin is the fact that the George Halas trophy is temporarily located in Green Bay.
We are very proud of our manufacturing heritage and skilled workforce, and all signs indicate that manufacturing will continue to grow, even as we diversify our economic base. To that end, the County provided a $25,000 grant to Rock Valley College to support training of skilled workers. A second $25,000 grant was awarded to TechWorks for CNC machining training.
Our region is addressing aerospace in a whole new way with our unprecedented effort to attract the Embry Riddle education facility to this area. I was honored to be included among those who met every Monday to make this offer a reality, including Committee Chair Janyce Fadden of the RAEDC, Mayor Larry Morrissey, Jim Ryan, Ken DuFour, Brian Boyer, Bob O’Brien, Kraig Pierceson, Bill Roop, and Jeff Kaney.
What a terrific job!
I would also like to recognize the Sundstrand Retirees for initiating a Scholarship Fund for Embry Riddle students and especially thank Gloria Lundin, Linda Sandquist, and the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois, as well as our citizens for the outstanding community effort to raise over one million dollars for that fund. Let’s give them a hand.
Now let’s view some of the video created to help bring Embry Riddle to our region.
Freedom Field has grown into an 8,400 square-foot classroom, conference room and exhibit hall located at the Rock River Water Reclamation District (Kishwaukee St.) The vision is becoming a reality.
Since last June, over 1000 people and groups visited Freedom Field. Work is ongoing with at least 6 different professors at NIU and Rock Valley College to establish research projects, and training is being provided for Rock Valley College.
Projects completed this past year include:
1. The solar photovoltaic system went operational last June, making Freedom Field the largest producer of solar power in Winnebago and surrounding counties. Fifty-six panels produce 12.5 kilowatts of power an hour – enough to cover Freedom Field’s electrical needs.
2. Two small wind turbines were installed later in the year
3. A unique and locally developed Bio-Gasification Unit was installed and currently generates all of the heat and electrical power needed, exporting surplus outside of the facility.
4. A state-of-the-art weather station tracks atmospheric conditions and sends the information to computers which keep constant watch on the energy output of the facility and shares the information online with participating colleges and universities.
5. A 1000 square-foot Prairie wildflower Green Roof was installed last summer by David Smith of “Simply Prairies”. The green roof saves energy by capturing CO2 and slowing runoff especially during sudden downpours.
6. The county funded the purchase of three used wind turbines from Denmark. A partnership between Freedom Field, Northern Illinois University’s Outreach Program and RockWind LLC, has been formed to upgrade and sell the units, each of which can produce enough power to supply approximately 50 homes. Many local manufacturers will benefit from the process.
Thanks to Congressman Manzullo for providing seed money through the airport for Freedom Field and for being such a champion of manufacturing.
In addition to wind turbines, we are in process of helping spawn another significant businesses to create local jobs –water turbines. We continue to advise entrepreneurs who approach us at Freedom Field as to the likelihood of success and often refer them to appropriate service providers.
Freedom Field is believed to be the most integrated self-sufficient facility of its kind in the nation. Renewable energy is an emerging industry and we are proud to be on the leading edge.
KEEPING OUR CITIZENS SAFE
Public safety continues to be the county’s top concern. Recently, the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Dept. was named a Flagship Dept. as part of the accreditation process. With over 300 applying for accreditation, we are one of ten named a Flagship Dept. nationwide. Congratulations Sheriff and staff.
The Neighborhood Enhancement and Alliance Team (N.E.A.T.) has been successful in bringing together the 19 Neighborhood Watch Groups in the unincorporated areas of Winnebago County. Working together these programs go beyond crime prevention for our citizens. They provide education on personal and computer safety, neighborhood youth programs, and promote positive interactions between citizens and police officers, sheriff’s deputies, community leaders, and elected officials.
It is our goal to continue to increase these pro-active programs to provide avenues of communication and further reduce crime, which actually was down 20% in unincorporated Winnebago County in 2010.
We also try to protect our citizens from weather-related events that can cause extreme damage to property and life. This past year, a new outdoor siren warning system went live and the system now allows the county to alert our residents of impending weather or terror-related events.
As promised when the Public Safety Referendum passed, the County is spending two millions dollars a year on Alternative to Incarceration programs.
Alternative Programs are currently operated through the County’s Resource Intervention Center, the Jail, and the States Attorney’s office, which collectively served over 1300 participants this past year.
A large number of those people would be in the jail at a much higher cost were it not for these programs. Over 20 partners assist with clients at the RIC center and over 100 churches and their volunteers work with these programs.
Here’s a slide showing many of the GED Graduates from the RIC Center.
The Floods of 2008 and 2009 drew attention to how we as a region manage stormwater. To help mitigate the lasting effects of flood damage to our citizens, the county has applied for a FEMA grant to remove flooded homes in Edgemere Terrace and on Blackhawk Island.
The County Highway Department is developing a plan to mitigate flooding issues for neighbors along Madigan Creek and in the Wellworth/Wentworth area. Two IEPA grants through Section 319 of the Federal Clean Water Act will assist in improving storm water management in those areas.
Last June, the County hosted a Sustainable Communities Conference to bring experts here to share best practices in the areas of
• green infrastructure
• livable, walkable communities
• farmland preservation
• river protection
• responsible land use and transportation planning
HOSTING ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND TOURISM PROGRAMS IN WINNEBAGO COUNTY
Funds generated from what has become known as the Host Fee have been spread throughout the community providing jobs and benefitting programs and not-for-profit organizations at a time when finances are extremely tough. I would like to quickly run through a series of slides to demonstrate how this money has benefitted Economic Development and Tourism in the county this past year:
Economic Development through Jobs
RAEDC – Rockford Area Economic Development Council
RREDD – Rockford Region Economic Development District
Rock Valley College Associate Degree in Manufacturing – GEM Program
Tech Works CNC Machining Training
Metro Centre Improvements
University of Illinois Extension and 4-H
Helping the Environment
Soil and Water Conservation District
Keep Northern Illinois Beautiful
Wind Turbine Reconstruction Program
International Bio-Energy Days
Economic Development through Tourism
Severson Dells Nature Center
Burpee Natural History Museum
Other County Support
St. Patrick’s Day Parade
On the Waterfront
Natural Land Institute
Rural Lifestyles in Winnebago County (rural tourism enhancement project)
Flood Clean up (demolition)
Over $200,000 has been committed to reducing blight in Winnebago County through abandoned home and business demolition and clean-up.
The County is funding a study that will begin in May to provide site assessments for tourism-related farms, businesses, historical sites and nature organizations in rural Winnebago County. The assessment process is the first step in developing a comprehensive marketing plan to attract new visitors to our towns, farms, historic sites, and natural areas in rural Winnebago County.
To honor fallen fire, police and emergency medical technicians from Winnebago County and victims from the 9/ 11/2001 attacks, a Winnebago County 911 Emergency Responders Memorial will be constructed west of the county Justice Center downtown.
Two pieces of steel from the World Trade Center Towers arrived Saturday, March 26 and will serve as a key component of the Memorial. Like the Lincoln Courthouse Square, the project will be paid for predominantly with private funds.
Many people need to be recognized for their efforts this past year and I would like them to stand as I name them. First I would like to thank our County Board members, our Elected and Appointed Officials and all county staff for their hard work this past year. None of these accomplishments would have been possible without our entire county organization.
We have two long-standing employees who are retiring later this year – Bev Campion – Supervisor of Assessments and Dr. Richard Fairgrieves, Supt. of Regional Education. They have both been long-time officials of the county and have done an excellent job. Let’s give them all a hand.
Thanks also to our many partners in the public and private sector who have contributed to this past year’s successes.
And finally, I would like to recognize Dr. LaVonne Sheffield and Bob O’Brien for their contributions to the community. We wish them all the best in future endeavors.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
Great cities and counties are often the result of visionary leadership, and elected officials are a critical part of that leadership. Whether the vision for improving a region comes from inside government, from its citizens or from both working together, leadership plays a critical role.
In 2009, Chicago celebrated the 100th Anniversary of the Burnham plan. Daniel Burnham, the architect of the plan and a great visionary is perhaps best known for his saying: “MAKE NO LITTLE PLANS.”
They have no magic to stir men’s souls and probably will not be realized.
He went on to say: “Make Big Plans. Aim high in hope and work.”
He believed in the type of vision that inspires hope and commitment — a vision that could be carried out with perseverance, determination and flexibility.
In short, he knew how to get ‘er done.
A VISION FOR THE FUTURE
In closing, let me take a few minutes to outline what I believe can happen in the next 10 to 20 years. And I firmly believe that with hard work, collaboration, and – as the Rockford Register Star says, the world’s biggest YES pile – we CAN make it happen, so let’s look ahead together.
Arriving from the airport on one of its 50 flights a day, I see a South Main Corridor that is lined with new and expanding businesses. The downtown is vibrant – alive with the influx of students now living in the area around the old Rockford College campus and attending our Central City University. Perhaps they have classes in the Barber Colman complex or the Watch Factory and spend time in their Student Center in the old YWCA.
The students ride on the new interurban to commute to classes at the airport; attend baseball games at Blackhawk Park and concerts in the Bell Bowl. The interurban also connects Anderson Gardens, the Nicholas Conservatory, Tinker Cottage, the Ethnic Museum and Klehm, giving students and tourists alike the opportunity to visit these community resources.
Our aerospace and manufacturing communities are strengthened by the nano-technology and micro -machining started back at the turn of the century and through the new business and industrial corridors along Baxter Road, Riverside Blvd, Route 75 in South Beloit and Willowbrook in Roscoe. Many new businesses have relocated along our I-39 corridor in an effort to escape the congestion that has overtaken the Chicago and the I-90 corridor
Freedom Field continues to thrive. Our local governments have worked together to create a fleet of vehicles that operate on natural gas and electricity, and our citizens are following suit. The waste in the Baxter Road waste management facility now powers the businesses that have built up along the corridor. New companies that are focused on alternative energy solutions abound in Winnebago County.
Amtrak connects Chicago through Rockford to Dubuque. Commuter trains connect Rockford and RFD to Chicago and O-Hare every hour on the hour. Freight trains connect Winnebago County products to the world. The Rockford Airport has become the favorite of the western suburbs.
Our agricultural community is flourishing through the local foods movement which now supplies local markets and restaurants. Rural communities have developed into successful tourism destinations with new bed and breakfasts and country inns popping up in the rural areas. We lead the country in sport tourism once again, the Ice Hogs have won several Calder Cups, and our museums attract thousands of visitors a year.
Our collaborative form of government is a model for smaller regions throughout the state. Overall property taxes have decreased due to property values increasing on our homes and more importantly, on our previously blighted industrial buildings, which have experienced a renaissance through adaptive re-use.
We have become a medical destination, thanks to our state-of-the-art health systems, which work together to make Winnebago County the Mayo Clinic of our region and beyond. The dynamic leadership and partnerships of SwedishAmerican Health System in partnership with the UW Health in Madison, OSF St. Anthony Medical Center and Rockford Health System insure that our community is a leader in health services and wellness. It is also important to recognize the tremendous contributions of the University of Illinois College of Medicine, Saint Anthony School of Nursing, Rockford College BSN program, Crusader Clinic and the Winnebago County Health Dept.
Our many colleges and universities are experiencing unprecedented enrollment. Our graduation rate from public schools has increased dramatically and we have re-implemented our Vocational Training programs to prepare students to work in our diversified economic community. Our business friendly climate attracts new and expanding businesses and we are once again building wealth in our community.
Far-fetched? I don’t think so. If we approach our education issues and overall economic development strategies with the same kind of energy and collaborative spirit we’ve shown with Embry-Riddle, nothing can stop us. Our belief and commitment to a shared vision will transform us into a robust and vibrant community. A Great Place to Live!!
Thank you very much for your time and attention.
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