The year 2017 was a busy, but good one for the city of Washington and officials are hoping to cross off more important milestones in 2018. That was part of the assessment of Washington Mayor Joe Wellman in his State of the City address Monday night.
"From the vantage point of city government, the State of our City is in excellent condition," said Wellman. "We have finished some very worthwhile projects this past year and just as importantly, at the same time we are setting the ground work for future projects that will benefit our citizens in many ways."
The mayor pointed out that each city department had a full and eventful year. The fire department made 1,050 runs and police responded to more than 17,000 complaints. The building commissioner issued 301 building permits on an estimated $13 million in construction. Animal control took in 800 animals with many of them being returned to their owners and over half being sent to rescue organizations or new owners.
In utilities, the wastewater department lowered its overflows into Hawkins Creek to only four events, and the utility office sent out and collected more than 96,000 bills.
The city was also involved in a number of projects including owner-occupied home improvement grants, the blight elimination program, the addition to the Hill of Heroes and the sale, purchase and expansion of the railcar facility by Eagle Railcar.
"Maybe most importantly was all the work done on three long-standing projects in the city," said Wellman.
15th Street Bridge
The first of those projects, the replacement of the 15th Street bridge, is expected to begin later this month.
"The need for replacing the bridge goes back to the 1990s," said Wellman. "After five years of on-again, off-again meetings and conversations, I am proud that this will finally be done in 2018. Through our efforts working with Daviess County officials, CSX, INDOT, and the Daviess County Economic Development Foundation, through an interlocal agreement with the county, demolition of the existing bridge and construction of a new and better bridge will start later this month. The $2.4 million project will be completed by year end. And thanks to the Community Crossings grant that we submitted in April and the LOIT fund, the city's share of the project is already paid for and that makes me glad."
Tokheim vacant lot
The mayor points out another problem area, the old Tokheim property on Front Street is receiving attention. The testing of the property has shown there are no immediate health issues for the surrounding residents.
"There remains work to be done before the Indiana Department of Environmental Management will clear the property, but the city's work has resulted in one of the previous corporate owners of the property stepping up and conducting additional work as the site," said Wellman. "We expect that work to continue so that hopefully, one day, the property will be re-purposed into something more than a vacant lot."
Highway 50 through city
The third major project the city is working on is the re-building on Business Route 50 through town. The state offered the road to the city, but the mayor says it would take an unacceptable amount of work to fix it. The city has made a counter proposal to INDOT that would bring all of Business 50 through the city up to standards.
"I can't sit here and promise anyone when or even if our proposals will be accepted, but I can tell you that the city and state are closer together than ever before on coming together on this project," said Wellman.
Mayor Wellman says those projects have taken the time and attention of multiple administrations and he wants to see them get finished once and for all. "Those three projects..the 15th Street Bridge, the former McCord Tokheim property and Business 50...have plagued three or four city administrations and for various understandable reasons have waxes and waned over many decades," he said. "These projects have been languishing for the city for a long time and now it is time to move forward on them."
The mayor says the city intends to continue its efforts to eliminate blighted properties. The city will also update equipment and facilities, including the addition of a new salt barn this spring for the city's street department. The mayor says he hopes to see the city's stormwater department reach profitability. He also anticipates continuing cooperation with many of the volunteer organizations in the city.
The city will also seek more Community Crossings Matching Grant funds for road repairs.
"You will see quite a bit of paving this spring as the winter has been hard on our streets," said Wellman. "This summer we hope to start a new program of crack-sealing on our streets. This program is designed to extend the life of streets by reducing the amount of moisture that seeps into them."
The mayor praised the city's 156 employees and the elected and appointed officials for their efforts to improve the city.
"Not only is it time to attack some long-standing issues, but it's also the best of times to continue attacking current projects," he said. "When the hour glass of our lives is emptied, I believe we will all be able to look back over this time and be grateful that we are accomplishing much for the present and future citizens of Washington."