St. Clair is doing its best to keep pace in the current difficult economic times, but it needs additional funding sources to continue moving forward, Mayor Ron Blum said.
Blum gave his annual State of the City address on Wednesday during the St. Clair Area Chamber of Commerce’s January membership meeting at Budget Lodging.
Blum told a nearly packed house that he wants “to keep the momentum going in 2013,” but that there are challenges ahead. The largest of those hurdles, he said, is a lack of revenue that has forced the city to try to maintain the status quo as best it can while also doing what it can to provide citizens with the best possible services.
“Just like everyone else, we have to do more with less,” he said.
Blum said that the city’s annual budget basically has “flat lined” over the past five years, meaning revenues have been about the same.
“Expenses and costs keep going up, but our revenues haven’t,” he said. “That’s not a good thing.”
The key, he said, is growing the retail base so real estate and sales taxes do not have to be increased, services don’t have to be cut and an already thin city employee situation doesn’t have to be trimmed back even more.
“No one wants higher taxes,” Blum said. “That’s why it’s so important for us to increase our retail base.
“We keep trying to figure out ways to promote St. Clair and grow that retail base, but it’s very difficult to do so in this current environment.”
And, he said, being complacent will only make matters worse.
“Often in times like this, we get complacent in what we do,” the mayor said. “Then, that comes back and haunts you. And during that time, the world is evolving and moving forward. ... We also have to keep moving forward.
“We have a vision to keep working so we can continue to move forward.”
Blum made reference to the city’s comprehensive plan, which was “put together as a road map for the city to prosper and grow.” He said many of the key elements of the plan remain in place, but in order to make the plan continue to work, the economy needs to improve and the city needs to use what it already has to the best of its ability, including available land for retail development.
“If those two things can happen, (the plan) is structured to work,” he said. “We have to keep striving for success.”
When asked, Blum briefly mentioned the St. Clair Regional Airport on the north side of town. He said a developer has retailers who want to locate on nearby land there, but they are concerned about the facility remaining open and leading to difficulties with the Federal Aviation Administration regarding restrictions.
The city is trying to close the 80-acre facility and use the grounds for retail development. Permission needs to be granted by the FAA because the city obtained federal grants for improvements at the site.
In connection with the airport, Blum mentioned the Interstate 44-Highway 47 road improvement project that relocated the I-44 North Service Road and opened the 33 acres for development.
That project, which is close to completion, was one of three major road improvements the city worked on last year and into this year. Blum talked about all three on Wednesday. The others were Highway 30, which expanded to three lanes from Highway PP to Forest Hill Drive and added a traffic signal at Bardot Street, and Springfield Road, which is being repaved with new water and relined sewer lines and sidewalks added.
During his address, Blum also mentioned last year’s adoption of a more thorough rental inspection program as a highlight in addition to the three road projects.
Looking ahead, he reminded those in attendance of two other potential road projects that would improve Main Street and Commercial Avenue. Discussions on those have started with the board of aldermen.
“Those are more pretty good projects in the works,” he said.
And, he discussed the new spray park that will be built in Evergreen Park where the old community swimming pool used to sit. He showed the group a rendition of the park, which will be divided into three age-appropriate areas for youngsters to enjoy and feature in-ground and above-deck water features as well as new restrooms and shade areas.
Construction on the spray park is scheduled to begin later this winter, weather and contracts permitting, with a projected opening of about May 22.
Finally, he said the city will be seeking a Federal Home Loan Bank grant similar to what it received in 2010 that allowed 110 families to upgrade their residences. The grant totaled $500,000.
“You can see we expect 2013 to be another busy year,” Blum said. “There are a lot of things in the works, and hopefully they will come to fruition. We have challenges, including the lack of revenue, but we will try to figure things out so we can keep St. Clair moving forward.”