ROCK ISLAND — In 2018, the city brought in new investment, jobs, housing, and made improvements in every sector of the city.
Mayor Mike Thoms gave his Rock Island State of the City address Monday, speaking during a joint meeting of the Rock Island Rotary and Kiwanis clubs at the Quad City Botanical Center, 2525 4th Ave.
Although the city made progress last year, Thoms said there is still work to be done.
“There have been many accomplishments in the past year, but we also need to recognize that the work doesn’t stop,” Thoms said. “I want Rock Island citizens to feel proud, involved and excited about our city; (have) pride in our community; (be) involved in decisions; and (be) excited about living and the future of Rock Island.”
Thoms said developers invested more than $27 million in Rock Island in 2018, resulting in 300 additional jobs. The city handled 3,000 permits, 3,200 building inspections, 1,300 housing permits, more than 700 health inspections and 2,400 nuisance violations.
The city made improvements by demolishing blighted houses and properties, including the former Case and Norcross factory buildings; approved 11 facade grants in the amount of $65,000; and made use of more than $1 million in Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants by improving Douglas Park and city sidewalks.
“These are all very positive for Rock Island,” Thoms said. “I commend the work from every employee that made these things happen.”
Thoms said the city also increased its number of urban garden plots to 20, collectively producing more than $65,000 in food.
The parks and recreation department had an active year with nearly 37,000 visits to White Water Junction, more than 45,000 visits to Saukie and Highland Springs golf courses and more than 15,000 people attended the annual “Red, White and Boom” Fourth of July celebration on the riverfront.
In terms of personnel, Thoms said the city hired seven police officers, eight firefighters, a utilities superintendent, a development program manager and a fleet manager.
The city received more good news in November when its bond rating was upgraded to A2 and the negative outlook was removed. The city’s finance department was awarded the General Finance Officers Association (GFOA) certificate of achievement for excellence in audit and budget documents.
Looking toward 2019, Thoms was pleased to report the creation of a new enterprise zone within the city, which began Jan. 1.
“This is a great economic tool to help attract construction and new businesses and sale tax,” Thoms said.
Thoms commended the police department, noting improved public safety and a significant drop in the city’s crime rate.
He said violent crimes such as murder, aggravated assault and criminal sexual assault dropped by 35 percent in 2018, compared to 2017, while crimes including burglary, robbery, assault, theft and arson dropped by 9 percent.
Additional cameras were installed at four intersections, which will help with traffic and criminal investigations.
While Thoms acknowledged many achievements in the city in the past year, he also noted existing challenges.
“It’s easy to talk about accomplishments; now I’m going to take a look at some hard realities,” Thoms said. “We need more development; we need more sales tax and property taxes — people living here to help with the city’s growth. We need to find ways to stabilize our budget. As of now, our financial position is solid, but that will not continue if we don’t commit to making difficult decisions.”
Thoms and City Manager Randy Tweet reported in December the city has $118 million of debt. To curb expenses, Thoms said services may have to be cut.
“If we make too many more cuts, we’ll end up digging deeper into core services,” Thoms said Monday. “The city of Rock Island has a great reputation for snow removal. We may have to reduce the number of snow routes, and it won’t be as great and efficient as it is now. I’m not saying we’re going to do that, but those are the things you have to look at.
“We have to make sure we have a balanced budget every year and stay strong. We have to change how we do business and continue to be aggressive and get more revenue coming in. There are many positive things on the horizon.
“The resilience of Rock Island’s residents is great, and our community pride is strong.”
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