April 26, 2022
Below are Mayor James Mueller’s remarks as prepared for the State of the City address:
Thank you, President McBride, for your kind words. We’ve been fortunate to have three great Council presidents serve our City the past three years. You, along with your leadership team, are off to a great start, and I’m excited to continue our city’s progress and work with you and the rest of our Common Council to transform South Bend into a home where everyone can thrive.
Good evening, South Bend. Isn’t this a great, new civic space for our community? We are so thankful to everyone who made this possible. First and foremost, the St. Joseph County Library, under the leadership of Deb Futa, and the Community Foundation, led by Rose Meissner. The City is a proud and grateful partner. This new space will inspire our community and bring us closer together for generations to come.
Thank you, David Smith, for sharing your talents with us. Thank you, Rabbi Friedland, for your invocations. Thank you, Councilmembers White and Niezgodski and Youth Council, for leading us through the Pledge of Allegiance. Thank you to the honor guard for posting the colors tonight.
State of the City
Members of the Common Council, distinguished guests, city employees, residents, neighbors: it’s so great to have all of you join me in person tonight and to be able to gather without masks as I share the latest chapter of our story.
First, I am thrilled to report that the 2020 Census results finally arrived, and they confirmed what we all knew: South Bend is a growing city once again! Our city grew faster than at any point since the 1950s, before Studebaker closed. Our comeback decade also marked the first time in a century that South Bend grew faster than our county. Although new life in our downtown, the East Bank, and near campus brought some highly visible changes, progress spanned the entire City. Most of our neighborhoods shared in our City’s growth – a striking reversal from the decade before. And our fastest growing neighborhood may surprise many casual observers. It’s on the west side near our City Cemetery.
I am beyond relieved that after 712 days, our City’s state of emergency due to COVID-19 ended on March 1st. Since then, cases have plummeted, and life has felt the closest to normal in over two years. I want to give special thanks to our healthcare workers who quietly and diligently fought through the Omicron wave. While we all hope that’s the last wave to cause a significant strain on our healthcare systems, please get vaccinated and boosted if you haven’t done so already. We need to do everything we can to prevent another wave from disrupting our lives and healthcare systems. The toll has already been too high with nearly 900 of our neighbors in St. Joseph County dead, and many more suffering long term effects from this terrible disease.
I want to give specials thanks to our essential workers who provided critical services for our residents no matter what challenge they faced. To the Common Council, thank you for approving premium pay for them as a small token of our gratitude for their dedicated service during extraordinary times.
When I took office and stated that we were ready to navigate whatever macroeconomic headwinds come our way, I can assure you that I had no idea what economic rollercoaster was around the corner. Over the past two years, we’ve gone from historically low unemployment at 3.4% before the pandemic, to historically high unemployment above 15% during the shutdown, back to historically low unemployment, currently at 3.2%. That’s nearly 13,000 jobs created over the past two years.
The resilience of our economy has been remarkable, and our rapid recovery is exceeding all expectations, especially those from the early days of the pandemic. In fact, our comeback and growth have been so fast that prices are now rising at the fastest rate in decades.
There is no sugar coating this. These price increases are placing real burdens on our families and small businesses. Although I haven’t seen inflation this high in my lifetime, this is not an unprecedented challenge. We have the tools to get our economy back on track. The Federal Reserve is taking action to stabilize prices. And as the pandemic fades further, our global supply chains will continue to recover.
There can be no doubt. If we can emerge from the past two years stronger than ever, we will certainly power through this challenge too.
We also have more resources than before. Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, South Bend received just over $58 million federal dollars to invest in transforming our community. With over 800 responses and in person feedback, I am grateful to the City team, Councilmembers, and residents for working together to develop South Bend’s plan for this generational investment.
Although the past two years have been a wild ride, we’ve stayed on track and are now ready to seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to build the South Bend we aspire to be: a home where everyone can thrive.
Excellence in City Government
I am grateful and proud to lead a City team committed to excellence, not settling for good enough or great but aspiring to be the best. In 2021 our talented teams competed with heavyweights across our country and earned a number of national distinctions for their dedicated service to South Bend residents. To name a few:
- For the second year in a row, our Innovation and Technology team ensured our certification from Bloomberg Philanthropies as a What Works City — one of 55 cities — for our use of data to improve services for residents.
- Our Finance team once again earned the “Triple Crown,” comprised of three separate awards for excellence in financial reporting and budgeting from the Government Finance Officers Association. The team’s strong fiscal management has maintained our AA bond rating, even in the face of macroeconomic and fiscal uncertainty.
- Our Venues, Parks and Arts team was a gold medal finalist for excellence in park and recreation management, recognized by the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration and the National Recreation and Park Association.
- Our Zoning and Planning team gained a gold designation from the national SolSmart program for making our processes faster, easier, and more affordable for homes and businesses to go solar — a clear signal that South Bend is open for solar business. The team also was the 2021 winner of the prestigious Richard H. Driehaus Form-Based Code Award, an annual prize for stellar writing and implementation of a city’s zoning code.
- Our Fire, Public Works and 911 teams earned the highest ISO fire rating of one, placing our fire service in the top one percent nationally.
Our City team led and demonstrated excellence in many other areas, serving residents better and laying the foundation for future recognition. It is humbling to stand before you, sharing our City’s accomplishments and plans for the future. They are made possible by our dedicated and talented City team and our many partners in the community who rise to the occasion and answer the call each and every time.
Safe Community for Everyone
We are committed to delivering a safe community for everyone. Everyone deserves to feel safe and be safe in their home, in their neighborhood, and across the city. Yet senseless gun violence tears this away from us.
Last year we had 121 shooting victims, compared to 133 the year before. This, of course, is nothing to celebrate, even though the numbers are down. Too many of our kids are losing their lives, literally. Too many of our kids are ending up in prison or ending up dead.
We are hopeful that last year’s decrease means that we are recovering from the fallout of social distancing measures. We are encouraged that we had fewer shooting victims last year when other cities had more. Though we are not immune from national trends, we are not condemned to suffer their cruel fate either. We can choose a different path for ourselves.
But we must strengthen our resolve. Our kids must know that this violence has no place in their lives or South Bend. And we need all hands on deck to reach them. In the coming months my team and I will be doing more to engage our youth. I had the opportunity to speak with our Youth Advisory Council recently. They’re an impressive group, and I appreciate all of the work Karen White and the Common Council are doing to engage our youth.
I’m also proud of the work our Community Initiatives team continues to do, and the progress with our Alive and Free grant program in its second year. This year South Bend Alive selected 10 out of 58 applications, all focused on restorative justice and strengthening families. Since February, they have received two trainings, earning certificates of completion from Dr. Laurie Nathan from The University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for Peace, as well as The Alive and Free Institute of San Francisco, California led by Dr. Joseph Marshall, Jr. Combined, Alive grantees have served 390 youth and 243 adults so far this year and have partnered with local schools and community centers to spread hope and empowerment through their work.
Last year our Group Violence Intervention team served 498 people, placed 10 in jobs, and delivered 151 custom notifications to at-risk individuals. Though we often make adjustments, including a new GVI office at Goodwill, the core of our group violence reduction strategy remains the same. We offer help to those most at risk and provide opportunities for them to choose a better path. Unfortunately, too many continue to choose a path of violence and face the consequences of our criminal justice system.
I’m proud of our police department for adopting best practices and leading in 21st century policing. Our officers aspire to be the very best and serve our community with dedication, pride, and bravery.
Last year SBPD took 603 illegal firearms off the street, worked 194 drug cases, and responded to 82,421 calls for service. With our 220 sworn officers working every day of the year around the clock, this work was done while generating fewer than one filed complaint per week from the community.
Our job is about to become even more difficult because state leaders dismantled our permit system for concealed firearms. When this extreme, shortsighted change goes into effect this summer, our officers will face more danger and will no longer have this crucial tool available to get illegal guns and violent offenders off our streets. We can and will continue our work to address violence through other means, but we also need commonsense approaches to reduce the number of firearms ending up in the wrong hands. We need universal background checks and permits to carry. A permitless system may work in rural parts of our state, but for cities like South Bend our state leaders have moved us in the wrong direction.
Our goal is to prevent crime, not just respond to and solves crimes after the fact. We recently implemented ShotSpotter Connect, which analyzes crime patterns and guides our officers on missions around the city. Since this implementation, officers have completed 72 missions per day on average.
Meanwhile, our Violent Crimes Unit now handles homicide investigations in the city as of October. We have closed 7 out of 12 homicides since the change took effect. Of the remaining five, two have been presented for charges, and one has a suspect identified undergoing additional investigation. The investigation for the only open case without a suspect just started last week and is still very active. No matter how you cut the numbers, starting with a solvability rate of 100% (without counting the most recent homicide) is an impressive feat, and we hope to continue the current streak. I thank our investigators team for stepping up and making this transition successful.
Beginning this year Michiana Crime Stoppers increased the reward paid out on tips leading to an arrest on homicides from $1,000 to $2,500. In February, Crime Stoppers launched a new pilot program called Victory Over Violence, which provides an automatic $1,000 reward if a tip leads to the arrest or solving of any felony case that involves a firearm, such as shootings, armed robberies, felony firearm possession, and intimidation with a firearm. We are grateful to our partnership with Crime Stoppers, which continues to help us solve cases and deliver justice to victims.
Councilmembers, police leadership, representatives from GVI, and I recently traveled to Detroit to learn more about an initiative there called Project Greenlight. Following the visit and subsequent conversations with the City team and community leaders, I am convinced that South Bend needs a real time crime center. As we look to partner with businesses and residents to maximize its impact over time, I hope to have a pilot demonstration up and running by the end of the year.
We continue to adopt best practices and lead in 21st century policing and will update the community on progress soon. Going forward we will work with community leaders, advocates, sworn officers of all ranks, and civilian members of our department to hone our community policing efforts and outline how the community and our officers can collaborate and work together to solve local challenges and improve our city.
I also look forward to receiving the Council’s recommendation for our City’s next Civilian Review Director. Because it is critical that we get this right, we shouldn’t rush to meet arbitrary deadlines. We have a leading police department committed to working with the community and getting better every day. With fewer than one filed complaint per week, we have time to find the right person to be next Director.
Two years ago, we led and approved a bold contract with more competitive wages and benefits for our officers. This helped us avoid catastrophic shortages, especially when facing an increasingly difficult work environment. We must act again this year. Others in the region have followed our lead since our last contract, and we must do everything we can to reach a full staffing level within the next two years.
Meanwhile our strong financial position also enabled us to offer our firefighters the best wage and pension base package in twenty years.
Our fire team is working on renovating Station 8 to provide greater capacity, safer living quarters, and better space to house both our male and female firefighters.
We are working with our County partners on establishing a crisis response center, where residents can be treated for their health issues rather than locked up in jail. We are also collaborating with the County on a low-barrier center and other projects for our residents without housing. This year’s budget includes $5.8 million for these partnerships, and we will look for and identify other funding sources if necessary to get these done.
This year South Bend will start receiving settlements from our opioid litigation that can be used to address drug, mental health and other public health issues in our community.
A safe community for everyone also means a clean, safe environment. Work continues to address lead in our homes with federal grants. The process has been frustrating for residents, as well as our City team, due to all the federal red tape. While we keep moving that forward, we will expand our efforts addressing lead with local dollars to speed up the pace of progress.
After decades of questions and millions of dollars spent on testing, we recently received good news and finally have a path forward for LaSalle Park. There is no evidence of serious or imminent health risks at or emanating from LaSalle Park. The Environmental Protection Agency would like us to address a few things, which we will do this summer. Following this cleanup work, our park will be even cleaner going forward. We are committed to working with the community to rebuild the park better than before.
My administration is tackling some of the worst eyesores in South Bend. This summer, we hope to take possession of the former Drewrys Brewery site and begin demolition this Fall. We’ll work to hold the property owner accountable for allowing the building to fall into disarray. In a matter of weeks, the Environmental Protection Agency plans to begin demolition and remediation of the Wilson Shirt Factory on Sample Street.
Robust, Sustainable Infrastructure
We must continue to lay the foundation for a stronger future by making necessary improvements to our City’s infrastructure. That includes our streets, lights, and other neighborhood infrastructure, in addition to our digital infrastructure and water and sewer systems.
Unfortunately, funding sources for critical infrastructure have struggled to keep up with our needs over the years. Inheriting a backlog and mounting infrastructure debt, I have prioritized these long-term investments. I am thankful our Council has as well.
We are in the middle of a three-year plan to invest $25 million rebuilding our streets. By the end of next year, failed streets will be repaired, and the bar will be raised equitably across the city, within every neighborhood. Last year we paved just under 50 miles and performed maintenance on another 78 miles. We plan to work on roughly 130 miles again this year. But because of higher price increases, we will need additional dollars to stay on track with this plan. We can and must stay on track. I, along with our Public Works and Finance teams, will work with Council to get this done in the coming weeks.
Work is already underway converting all of our streetlights to LEDs. The 3,000 City-owned lights are mostly completed, and Indiana-Michigan Power will begin upgrading its 9,000 lights in a matter of weeks and finish this Fall. These upgrades will improve visibility, save money, conserve energy — enough to power roughly 200 homes for a year — and reduce light outages with these longer lasting LED lights. Once this conversion finishes, we will identify remaining lighting gaps in neighborhoods and develop a plan to address them.
If there was any doubt remaining about the necessity of digital connectivity to thrive in this 21st century economy, the past two years further underscored the urgency to close the digital divide. Our Innovation and Technology team is working to triple the City’s open WiFi coverage over two years and is charting a path to expand broadband access. We were proud to host a national municipal broadband conference with Next Century Cities and Pew Charitable Trusts. We are also proud to partner with South Bend Schools on citywide classroom, which provides free at-home Comcast internet service or mobile Wi-Fi hotspots for over 4,200 students, 1,100 21st century scholars and 330 district employees.
Our legal and public works teams developed and negotiated a new, better long-term control plan for sewer overflows into the St. Joseph River. Our new plan will save ratepayers $437 million and reduce E. Coli discharges by an additional 12% over the original plan. You heard that right. We now have a vastly cheaper plan that is better for the environment. This is an extraordinary accomplishment.
At the very beginning of the pandemic, I instituted a moratorium on water shutoffs that lasted two years. With the end of the emergency declaration and the worst behind us, we are returning to normal operations. But that doesn’t mean going back to business as usual. Access to water is a basic need. We cannot be an agent of cruelty and cut off that access if residents are making good faith efforts to stay current on their utility bill. That’s why we are reforming our policy for shutoffs going forward. When they resume this summer, our new policy will ensure shutoffs are a last resort and used only to prevent abuse. We are a generous and compassionate community. This reform is in line with our values. I’m proud of our utilities team for questioning habit and finding a better way to serve our residents.
In a similar vein, we used American Rescue Plan dollars in March for a one-time forgiveness of unpaid utility bills, providing a clean slate to residents who had fallen behind during the pandemic. In all, 4,957 households received $631 of relief on average.
And as part of the comprehensive utility rate package approved by Council last year, we expanded the Utility Assistance Program to provide up to a $25 per month reduction in utility bills for qualifying families. Because of this program, our families in the greatest need saw a net decrease in their utility bills this year. Going forward this program is critical to prevent families from falling behind and having to choose among basic needs.
Our Public Works team is also working with Councilmembers to update the fee and cost structure for new utility connections. We want to facilitate in-fill development and housing that can tap into existing infrastructure, while ensuring that new developments that need new infrastructure to connect are paying their fair share to join our utility system. This seemingly small, commonsense policy change will have an enormous impact. Once it goes into effect, new housing projects in neighborhoods across the city will be easier to finance and build.
Shared Growth and Opportunity
Over the last year, we’ve turned the economic downturn from the pandemic into an upswing that has expanded opportunity for residents, raised incomes, and reduced poverty. Along with the greatest population growth in 60 years, we’ve seen transformational projects begin in our community that will change its landscape for generations.
We spurred $79.4 million in private investment in 2021 with tax abatements, loans, and façade grant programs, including support for Cloud Walking Collective, Early Bird, Tres Mangos, and many more. More large projects are moving forward without public support, especially near Notre Dame. This is great news, and we hope the gaps to make big projects happen continue to shrink over time across the city.
Our region was selected to receive $50 million from the State of Indiana READI program to build quality of place and to attract and retain residents. We look forward to working with our regional partners to select high-quality, transformational projects that will spur further investment in South Bend.
We were short workers before the pandemic, and these shortages are more apparent than ever during our rapid recovery. Our local businesses are ready to grow, and outside businesses are ready to relocate to our region, if only we can provide more skilled workers.
That’s why we’ve focused on providing certifications that can help people gain skills to fill positions of need in our community. Through our UpSkill SB program, we’ll cover the cost of certifications in healthcare and technology fields to help our employers fill vacancies and help our residents advance their careers. We’ve also refocused our Pathways program and will be partnering with the Purdue Manufacturing Extension Project to offer training for careers in advanced manufacturing and cybersecurity.
The shortage of workers is also why our team has made attracting new residents a priority, to build on our population growth over the last decade. Our city must be a place that is welcoming for all who want to build their lives here and call South Bend home. I am proud that South Bend is an inclusive city that welcomes new residents and embraces our diversity.
I’m proud of United Religious Community and Catholic Charities for hosting more than 60 refugees from Afghanistan and look forward to welcoming Ukrainians once the federal government finalizes its immigration guidance.
We’re in the middle of celebrating the 100th birthday of the Morris. This summer renovation to the venue will begin and follow an aggressive timetable for completion by Fall. We are still fundraising to fund the the expansion and other larger scale changes to the block.
Just north of the Morris, Beacon Health System recently announced an ambitious investment in Memorial Hospital to build a 10-story tower, adding more than 500 new jobs and $230 million in investment. We are grateful to see this reinvestment into South Bend, and look forward to working with Beacon to fill in the missing pieces between Memorial and the rest of downtown.
It’s impossible to miss on our skyline: Our neighbors to the southwest, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, have been busy building a 23-story hotel at the Four Winds Casino, which will serve as an attraction for our entire region.
Near where I grew up, there’s great excitement around our newest residents — Seymour, Maximus, Wyatt, and Kellan – and the transformation of Potawatomi Zoo is incredible.
Investments in public spaces have been a priority for the City team, and we’re excited to be nearing completion of the first phase of construction on the Coal Line Trail.
We are beyond thrilled that ND hydroelectric project is nearing completion. Following that, we’ll begin to rebuild Seitz Park and connected trails.
And with the help of our community, we’re reimagining one of our most beloved community centers. On May 12, a conceptual design will be unveiled for a new Martin Luther King Jr. Dream Center. With $11 million already committed, we will work to find partners to help close the gap to make this generational investment a reality. We’ll continue to explore programming partners, including the potential for a Financial Empowerment Center to help residents build financial health and wealth.
Supporting the stabilization of existing housing and the construction of new housing units remains a top priority. Thanks to the American Rescue Plan our team will expand on successful programs and find new ways to support safe, affordable housing for all.
Part of our housing effort includes the expansion of our home repair program, which supports homeowners looking to make improvements to their homes like roof or HVAC replacements. Additionally, we’ll be working with community developers to support new construction in South Bend.
As we work to re-envision the Rabbi Shulman neighborhood, our partnership with the South Bend Housing Authority has never been stronger. This transformational project will provide 300 affordable housing units. Dr. Lamberg is leading a generational investment in our public housing that will serve our community for decades.
Additionally, the City is supporting tax credit applications for projects that could bring an additional 120 affordable housing units to South Bend. Finally, we are proud of our partnership with South Bend Heritage and others to build permanent supportive housing units. 22 units will open at Hope Avenue Homes later this Spring. The team is working with the state on additional projects that could bring many more units online in the next few years.
Housing is a long-term issue that can’t be solved overnight, but I’m confident we can make progress together to ensure safe housing for all residents of South Bend and provide space for new residents as well.
Our planning team has been busy completing four neighborhood plans in the past year. With one this year and two next year, much of the city will have an up-to-date plan for the future. The entire city will be part of the comprehensive plan process that will kick off later this year. I encourage our community to get involved in this opportunity to help set the vision for our city for the next 20 years.
Because of the rapid pace of planning and number of great opportunities available, we will work with Councilmembers to identify additional financing for projects in neighborhoods across the city.
To be successful into the future, we must do more to support our kids from cradle to career. The path to opportunity begins at the start of their education. We are excited that our partnership with United Way will create 250 new seats of high-quality affordable early childhood education. With the SE Neighborhood Center opening later this year and planning for the next center in the Far NW neighborhood well underway, we are now actively exploring a third potential site.
This is on top of the more than 110 pre-K spots that the Empowerment Zone added this year, and the 120 additional pre-K students that South Bend Schools is preparing for the upcoming school year.
We are also working with South Bend Schools on establishing a career center that will connect students with more opportunities to develop valuable skills. We hope to have more to share on that soon.
We need to strengthen our k-12 education system. As South Bend schools continues to address many of its longstanding operational challenges through right-sizing the district and other necessary adjustments, they are able to focus more on their core mission of educating our kids. We hope our state leaders continue to invest and provide the resources needed for a strong public school system. We hope that Indiana will continue to focus on educating and elevating all children, supporting both teachers and parents rather than pitting them against each other.
While setting our kids up for success is vital, we haven’t forgotten about our older residents. Last year South Bend became recognized as an Age Friendly Community by AARP, and we are partnering with the County to continue making progress.
Part of being an Age Friendly Community is having recreational opportunities for every generation. Our Venues, Parks and Arts team provide many opportunites for all ages and will repair athletic courts across the city throughout 18 parks — 50 basketball, pickleball and tennis courts total.
Our sustainability team has been busy administering the first cohort of the energy savings and solar grant, which provides funding to local nonprofits to make energy efficient improvements and to go solar. So far, 15 organizations have been selected, and we’re hopeful that this program will get 200 kw of rooftop solar installed.
We are excited to launch an opportunity fund later this year that will assist new and emerging businesses, which face barriers to getting started, particularly members of underrepresented groups.
And last night our Council unanimously approved celebrating Juneteenth as an official City holiday. It is critical that we recognize our shared history and celebrate the end of this dark chapter in our nation’s history — especially as we recommit to furthering justice in our time.
It’s not just what we do but how we do things. I’m proud of the collaborative spirit embraced by our City team and Common Council. This is why we have so many great partnerships to highlight tonight. This is how we build a better community.
In a media landscape of increasing information bubbles, we need more bridge builders to connect us together. In a time during which democracy is under attack around the world, we need to embrace compromise and seek common ground with one another.
When residents need a City service, we don’t ask for political affiliation or ideology. We represent and serve all residents.
While our City elected officials share a diverse set of political views, we don’t let that get in the way of making progress for our community together. We would be in a much better place if higher levels of government adopted this same approach. We serve all residents and look to find ways to move forwad together.
It is an honor to serve as your 33rd mayor and a true privilege to serve during this time of generational transformation.
For as long as I’m your Mayor, I will look to build bridges within our community and outside of it, and South Bend will be a willing and open partner towards progress.
If we continue down this path, we will transform South Bend into a home where everyone can thrive. South Bend will be world famed once again.
Thank you once again to all of our community partners for the work you do with and for us.
To the greater South Bend community, please join us to make every neighborhood safe and vibrant. Please join us to increase opportunities and build shared growth. Please join us as we make South a fairer and more just city. Please join us to make South Bend a home where everyone can thrive.
May God Bless our sworn firefighters and officers. May God continue to bless the City of South Bend.
Thank you, goodnight.