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Posted on: January 24, 2017

State of the City Address from Mayor Nancy R. Rotering

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As this new year begins, let's take a moment to reflect on the past, while we embrace the future with determination and confidence.
 
We are fortunate to live in a strong, passionate, vibrant community. My Council colleagues and I work alongside dedicated City staff, government partners, residents and businesses focusing on issues that matter to all of us. At the core of everything we do, are all of you - sharing an idea, providing input and actively being part of the process that creates a community that cares deeply about each other and the type of future we want for ourselves and the next generation.
 
Working together, we identify opportunities, build coalitions and find solutions to meet the needs of our community. This is evident as we focus on the City's core priorities of fiscal stability, public safety, investment in our infrastructure and community vibrancy. We work to advance business development, meet the needs of our most vulnerable community members, celebrate the arts and preserve our natural resources.  These achievements are illustrated by the more than 150 projects we undertake at the beginning of each year, demonstrating a broad desire to highlight the many ways in which our city continually and thoughtfully evolves.
 
Over the course of about seven months, we hold neighborhood meetings and public budget workshops. With your input, City staff, my Council colleagues and I work as a team to create your budget - our most important policy statement. We are fiscally responsible with your dollars and plan for the coming year as well as the future with an eye on potential challenges and opportunities. I am proud to say that we approved a balanced operating budget for the sixth year in a row and with healthy reserves, our financial house is in order. This fiscal stability is despite very real challenges from our State government via mandates and unsustainable and unpredictable policy decisions. Highland Park's fiscal strength was recently re-affirmed by Moody's with our continued Aaa bond rating, a rating now held by only a handful of Illinois cities. 
 
Through longtime partnerships with our dedicated first responders, our community's public safety is strong both on a day-to-day basis and during the Ravinia Festival summer season, when more than 600,000 people come to town to celebrate the arts. Through community relationships and regional collaboration, matters of concern are addressed promptly and proactively.
 
Continued city-wide infrastructure investment and multi-year planning mean we ensure resident health and safety each day and for years to come. Our Department of Public Works crews work hand in hand with us, meeting our daily and long-term infrastructure needs. Of significant note, last summer, the City partnered with all sister governments, taking precautionary measures to ensure that our public drinking fountains are safe. All public drinking fountains and faucets were tested by City staff for the presence of lead. Fixtures indicating lead were closed and repaired, with plans for on-going annual testing.
 
Implementation of our Bike Walk 2030 Plan continues, creating safer streets, sidewalks and bike routes. This plan connects neighborhoods for our families and provides transportation alternatives. In response to resident requests, we are continuing the plowing of all city sidewalks this winter, another example of how our responsive Public Works Dept. enhances our community.
 
We are committed to ensuring the continued economic vibrancy we have experienced in recent years, especially with the paradigm shift in commerce. We made strategic changes to our zoning and have seen an increase in transit-oriented, market-driven housing development that encourages longtime residents to easily downsize and new neighbors to move here. This new housing brings opportunities for our seniors to age in place, continuing a Highland Park tradition of multi-generational families returning to raise their families. The result will be more people shopping, dining and visiting our Downtown, helping to ease the property tax burden on residents. 
 
For the fourth year in a row, we welcomed hundreds of community leaders, real estate professionals, businesses and business prospects to the City's Annual Business Summit. This event provides an excellent opportunity to review economic trends, discuss the local economy, enhance business attraction and retention and facilitate economic growth within Highland Park. This year we added a real estate roundtable to gain valuable feedback to make investing in Highland Park even more desirable.
 
Recognizing that students are our future leaders, the City continues to work with our school districts, taking an active role in connecting students of all ages with opportunities for experiential learning that engages them in critical thinking, problem solving and decision-making. High school students contribute to local government through membership on city commissions and participate in a career shadowing program. All third graders visit with me at City Hall to take part in a mock City Council meeting. These programs provide practical learning experiences with a goal of inspiring all students to get involved in their community both now and as adults.
 
In 2016, our Leadership Alliance continued to convene conversations fostering partnerships among regional leaders.  An organization that I created in 2013, the Leadership Alliance brings hundreds of regional leaders together to address human service needs through business and economic development, ensuring that these interests in Lake County are identified and addressed. Over the years, we have examined a broad range of topics including the demand for seamless regional transit and the importance of civic engagement by major businesses, all focusing on regional economic opportunities and meeting the needs of our vulnerable populations. This past year's conversations examined gun violence and substance abuse reduction.
 
In our own community, we know that collaboration and synergies benefit the public and improve efficiencies. We will continue our regular meetings with our government partners, local clergy, multiple citizen advisory task forces and community groups. Thank you to the members of North Shore School District 112 and Township High School District 113, the Park District, Moraine Township, clergy, and other partners who have joined us this evening and work with us throughout the year. These conversations result in our cooperation on a multitude of initiatives that benefit our community's day-to-day life, help us coordinate better planning for the future and provide representative government at its best. 
 
As State resources continue to shrink and become more and more unpredictable, especially for human and social services, we depend on the power of local partnerships to meet the daily needs of our neighbors. The Moraine Township Food pantry, serving over 700 families on average, now has the continuous, active support of the entire community, and is able to provide fresh produce and dairy products in addition to non-perishable foods.
 
The Highland Park/Highwood Legal Aid Clinic is almost two-years old and has grown with the support of countless residents, neighbors and nearly 80 volunteer attorneys. The Clinic has provided pro bono legal services in the areas of immigration, domestic abuse and housing to nearly 200 clients who live and work in Highland Park or Highwood. Of special recognition is the Clinic's student board at Highland Park High School. They organized the first naturalization ceremony in Highland Park, an event they hope to repeat annually. 
 
Our community is driven by a collective desire to work together to shape our future, starting with fresh thinking and appreciating our city as a place where new ideas and approaches are welcome. Your input makes a tangible difference in what we do and how we evolve as a community. As individuals, governments and organizations, we are all interconnected with the shared goal of making our community the best it can be, both now and for the future. We are a team and thanks to our collective engagement, we will continue to be a strong and vibrant community.
 
Thank you.

Nancy Rotering
Mayor, City of Highland Park 

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