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Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Naperville Mayor delivers 2021 State of the City Address


Flags along the Riverwalk and throughout the City of Naperville create places to pause and reflect about this city’s growth and development during its first 190 years.

2021 State of the City Address

Delivered by Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico, May 17, 2021

Thank you all for joining me today virtually for our State of the City address.

Even though we are not together in person, I’m thankful for the Chamber’s creativity and flexibility so that I can share the City’s accomplishments in this unforgettable year.

Ian Holzhauer and Kaylin Risvold

As always, thank you to Chamber president Kaylin Risvold and her team for hosting this event. Under Kaylin’s leadership, our business community was prepared for the challenges of 2020, and their resiliency has proven to be remarkable.

Christina Caton Kitchel

I also want to thank former Board chairman Ian Holzhauer, and a special congratulations to
Christina Caton Kitchel, who became chair earlier this month. Both are true professionals who have used their expertise and talents to make the Chamber stronger.

Congratulations, Christina, and thank you, Ian.

A special thank you as well to NCTV17’s Liz Spencer and her team for their partnership in producing today’s event and videos.

Of course, I want to thank my wife Julie and our entire family. Those we love are the foundations we lean on, especially in times of uncertainty.

Whether personal or professional, all of us have had to find our footing over the past year.

When everything familiar about our world changed, we had to change with it. I think they call that pivoting, and pivot really was the word of 2020.

Mayor Steve Chirico

It faced some stiff competition from words and phrases like “in these uncertain times,” “social distancing,” “You’re on mute,” and “unprecedented,” but pivoting is what kept us moving ahead.

For some of us, that meant a switch from the board room to the dining room or connecting over Zoom instead of in the office. (Which, by the way, we were well positioned to do thanks to Money Magazine naming us the 3rd best place to live if you work from home.)

Or maybe it was moving your business model to focus more online instead of, well, in line.

But whatever last year meant to you, one thing is certain – in times of turmoil and uncertainty, we can count on the foundations put in place to lead us to a brighter day.

In my State of the City speech last year, I challenged all of us to look back on the foundations we’ve built in order to move forward.

This year, I want to dig deeper on that concept. Just what are those core foundations? How did these structures serve the City over the past 14 months? How have the defining events of 2020 forced us to take another look at the best way to move Naperville forward?

For decades, our City’s traditions have made it an award-winning place to live and do business. In the past year, we leaned heavily on many of these traditions: fiscal responsibility, community, compassion, determination, entrepreneurship – and yes, change.

Change and progress has been part of Naperville’s leadership for decades and has led to Naperville being recognized across the country as one of the best cities to live and own a business.

The last thing you want is your local government to be boring or lazy and rely on our past success. As an organization and as a community, we must move ahead in a post-COVID world by recognizing what was successful in the past and what needs to change.

First Pillar – Local Economy

At the City, our foundation is built around four core pillars. Many of you watching today are the backbone of our first pillar – our local economy.

Helping businesses through the pandemic was and still is critical.

We put 18 executive orders in place that helped those most impacted by state shutdown orders. We waived some license renewals and permit fees, loosened certain liquor laws, and allowed overnight deliveries to grocery stores.

We also waived outdoor seating fees and found creative ways for restaurants to serve people outdoors.

We’ve given almost $85,000 to help residents and businesses pay their utility bills as part of our Utility Assistance Program, and we partnered with the Chamber and Naperville Development Partnership to create the Small Business Assistance program.

So far, 41 businesses received $205,000 for payroll, rent or mortgage, or other COVID related expenses, mostly funded by the CARES Act.

Let’s hear briefly from two of those business owners now. (Video not linked)

I want to thank Kaylin Risvold at the Chamber and Christine Jeffries at the Naperville Development Partnership for partnering on this grant. Your commitment to connecting our businesses with these opportunities means more doors stay open.

And open doors equal a stable tax base that helps support our City’s financial foundation. We quickly realized when the pandemic began that the City was not immune to its economic impact.

Signs of the times kept visitors to the Naperville Municipal Center, 400 S. Eagle Street, informed of local protocols.

But unlike the private sector, the City could not simply cut staff when the economy slowed down. When a resident or a business calls 911 it doesn’t matter if it’s a slow economy – we’re still expected to respond. If anything, our residents and businesses needed their local government more in 2020 than in other years.

I am so proud to say that we did not cut city services in 2020. To me, that’s really a huge success. Not every community was that fortunate.

So how did we weather last year’s economic storm?

Thanks to our staff, our City Council kept a close watch on trends to be able to respond at the right time.

We lowered expenses early on, including reducing our capital budget by almost $25 million, and we ended the year with general fund expenses $2 million under budget.

In the initial months of the pandemic, we saw certain taxes come in lower than expected, like sales tax, food and beverage tax, and hotel/motel tax – but we saw those same taxes begin to recover by December.

However, because of the pandemic’s unknowns, we made a strategic decision last summer to be flexible in how we commit our revenue streams in 2021. Our goal was to maintain the services you expect from us without raising property taxes.

We took advantage of historically low interest rates to bond for our capital projects at what is a better value in the long run. We borrowed $16 million in 2020 and refinanced more than $23 million in existing debt. Because of that refinancing, we’ll save more than $2 million worth of interest over the next eight years.

Thanks in part to $7 million in federal CARES Act money, we ended the year with a $2 million revenue surplus in our general fund.

Let me repeat that – we ended the year with a $2 million revenue surplus in a pandemic economy. This is no small feat when our early estimate was an $18 million shortfall. Still, in an effort to protect our long-term financial health, we budgeted conservatively for 2021.

After all, it was that same long-term mindset that paid off in 2020. And it was the financial principles we put in place in 2015 and the following years of focusing on paying down debt, replenishing cash reserves, and investing in our infrastructure, that provided the solid foundations that carried us through last year.

As a result of our financial discipline, we had so many levers to pull without relying on increased property taxes.

We were able to exercise financial flexibility, maintain our City’s savings account, and support our local businesses when they needed it most.

It’s that solid track record of responsible finances and abundant opportunities that gave developers the confidence to continue investing in Naperville even during a pandemic.

For example, along East Ogden Avenue, construction continues on our second Costco
warehouse. That warehouse is expected to open this fall but has already added to our local
economy with their halo effect.

Right next door, people began moving into the Vantage Naperville Apartments just last month.

These 112 apartments on the site of the former Regency Inn bring affordable housing to this corridor.

We took one of the City’s most problematic properties and replaced it with a modern building that helps bring more balance to our housing needs.

And I’m very excited that a new boutique grocery store is opening soon at the southwest corner of Naper Boulevard and Ogden Avenue.

As I said, our economic foundation gives businesses the confidence that Naperville is a solid investment, and wow – are they investing.

At the City, we managed 75 concept meetings in 2020, six more than 2019 and 12 more than in 2018.

Think about that – we did more in 2020 than in each of the past 2 years.

I’m proud that so many businesses chose to invest in Naperville even in the face of uncertainty.

Second Pillar – City Services

Let’s welcome some of our newest businesses.

Our local economy gives us the financial foundation to provide our City services to the community, which is the second pillar we’ll discuss.

Just as businesses needed to pivot, the City needed to pivot as well.

We maintained our core in-person services from day one of the pandemic, and we took our other services online in a matter of weeks – even days – to keep City business running. Within a week of the stay-at-home order, we began accepting home building and emergency repair permits electronically, and within six weeks, we were accepting all building permits remotely.

In fact, from May to December of last year we issued almost 5,600 permits – over 400 more than the same period in 2019.

Our success isn’t limited to our ability to pivot during the pandemic. It’s also how we kept our day-to-day services running.

Like our Electric Utility making sure that every customer received their connections on time during the pandemic. The measure of how often our customers were without power last year was a mere 14 minutes.

That’s outstanding work by our electric utility, and that’s even more impressive when you consider all the severe weather we saw last summer.

A banner at the Electric Service Center is a good reminder for springtime.

When other communities were out of power for days, our residents had consistent service. I want to give a special welcome to new Electric Director Brian Groth, who took over at the start of the year following former director Lucy Podlesny’s retirement. We know the utility is in good hands moving forward.

The same goes for our Water Utility, which began installing new modern water meters on homes and businesses last month. This project is known as Water 2.0, and this technology will make it easier for you to track your water usage and allow us to take readings remotely.

Naperville Police Chief Robert Marshall

Our core services don’t stop at the utilities. Our Police and Fire Departments are at the heart of this community, especially during a public health crisis.

Police Chief Bob Marshall and Fire Chief Mark Puknaitis lead teams that have shown exemplary service during the pandemic.

I’m proud to share that our firefighter/paramedics had zero COVID cases through their work.

Think about that. These are high-risk front-line workers and we had zero cases.

On top of this, Fire continued to excel in their everyday duties, and this, of course, makes a lifesaving difference.

A great example is our Fire department’s Pit Crew CPR program, which began in 2018. Pit Crew puts the right number of people and actions in place when a patient has stopped breathing and their heart stops beating.

Fire Chief Mark Puknaitis

Think of it like a race car pit crew where everyone has a specific role to play and the most critical actions, like chest compressions, have multiple people assigned to them.

Since we put this program in place, we’ve seen a 30% increase in survival rates – yes, 30%. This year, Naperville’s protocols will be put in place throughout the Edward Hospital region, making us the first multi-agency EMS system in the entire country to adopt this protocol.

We’re leading the charge, but that’s no surprise for a department devoted to leadership.

That same level of dedication can be found at the Police Department, which is why Safewise named us the safest place to raise a child in 2020. It’s also part of the reason Niche.com once again named us the best city to raise a family and one of the best cities to live in.

In a year that put a spotlight on law enforcement and its role in our communities, Naperville has led the way in community-oriented policing.

Naperville Police were training on implicit and explicit bias and de-escalation long before it became expected across the country, and a major focus has been crisis intervention training to better handle mental health calls.

Out of our 177 sworn police officers, 73 have already received this training, and dozens more can become certified this summer.

The department is also preparing for the future in a variety of ways. For example, body worn cameras, which is a major topic of discussion nationally, is something our police force was already pursuing, and the City Council approved as part of our capital budget.

This year is dedicated to research and testing, updating procedures, policy development, and implementing a pilot program.

Work continues on implementing the Next Gen 911 system to allow people to text 911 from their cell phones. We hope to have this feature in place later this year as well.

This forward-thinking approach helped our Police Department receive its ninth reaccreditation in 2020, and I’m proud that our 9-1-1 section received its seventh reaccreditation last year as well.

Truly, all City departments deserve a round of applause for their tireless efforts throughout the pandemic.

Third Pillar – People

All of these services I’ve discussed are provided by people, the third pillar that our City is built on. While I may be mentioning people third, make no mistake – our people are the foundation for all of our pillars.

On May 2, 2021, Council members John Krummen, Judy Brodhead and Kevin Coyne bid their farewells after 24 combined years of service on the dais.

As Mayor, I want to recognize the eight Council members who sit beside me on the dais. Earlier this month we said goodbye to three Council members who served our City well for a collective 24 years – Councilwoman Judy Brodhead and Councilmen Kevin Coyne and John Krummen.

All of them brought a deep understanding of public service and community to their work. Thank you for your service.

I also want to acknowledge the passing of former City Councilman Dave Wentz in January. Dave was a longtime community volunteer and believed in giving back to the place you live.

That belief lives on in our newest leaders. I’m pleased to welcome Ian Holzhauer, Jennifer Bruzan Taylor and Paul Leong to the Council, and of course, we want to welcome back Benny White.

The first City Council meeting of its new year on May 4 welcomed council members and the public back into Council Chambers. Seated at the dais were Council members Patrick Kelly, Patty Gustin, Paul Hinterlong and reelected Benny White. Seated facing the dais were Council members Jennifer Taylor*, Ian Holzhauer*, Theresa Sullivan and Paul Leong*. (*Elected in the 2021 Consolidated Election on April 6.) Mayor Chirico participated remotely.

They’ll make a difference in the lives of our people, which includes all of you – the residents, business owners, and visitors. And those numbers are growing.

Naperville had the highest census self-response rate in the country for cities our size. In a state that has lost population, Naperville continues to be a place where people want to live, learn, work and play. A special thank you to Mark Rice and Ashfaq Syed, who spearheaded our Complete Count Committee last year.

Even in a pandemic, we looked for ways to make living in Naperville more affordable for all our residents. In fact, the cost of living for the average resident has actually decreased since last year, and our cost of living also remains one of the lowest of our surrounding communities.

We held the line – even during a pandemic economy. That’s local government working for our people.

We have so many organizations that have also worked for our community this past year. As the vaccine rollout began, we saw our businesses rise to the occasion. Like the Mall of India, Jewel-Osco, the YMCA, and the Islamic Center of Naperville, who all hosted vaccination clinics.

Naperville wouldn’t be the city it is without our nonprofit organizations. They see a need, and they meet it.

Nearly two years ago, many members of the Jaycees Last Fling Executive Committee met at the new Naperville Jaycees Park, eager to announce information for the 2019 Last Fling. This year, the Jaycees again are putting together 2021 Last Fling for Labor Day Weekend.

Like when the Naperville Jaycees stepped forward to make the Smart Park a reality. They gave us one of the most popular gathering areas in Naperville and they are paying back their 10-year commitment seven years early. That’s giving back and keeping a financial promise in these challenging times.

Whether taking care of people’s emotional, spiritual, or physical needs, all of these groups stepped up when we needed them most last year, and it’s my pleasure to take a moment on behalf of the entire community to say thank you to them.

Just as we faced the pandemic as a community, we also faced last year’s calls for social justice.

Like many cities around the country, we saw numerous protests and calls for action on our streets and sidewalks.

Unfortunately, one took a destructive turn in our downtown last summer. While I was angry and saddened by the violence that took place on June 1, I was lifted up by what took place on June 2.

Community members came together to clean up damage left behind and reminded us that we are stronger when we come together.

Every person in Naperville has inherent dignity and value to our community. But it’s not enough to just say it. We need to live it.

Earlier this spring we welcomed new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Manager Dr. Geneace Williams to our organization. Her work will put action behind our commitment to honoring diversity and making sure everyone has an inclusive role in Naperville’s future. Dr. Williams also works with our new Human Rights and Fair Housing Commission that will educate our community on these topics and recommend new programs and policies.

Fourth Pillar – Programs

And it’s really our programs that make Naperville a desirable and forward-thinking City. Our programs – Naperville’s fourth pillar – look at the challenges of today to determine solutions for tomorrow. But to set programs, we need to be clear on our priorities.

This year we’ll bridge the past to our future as part of Naperville’s strategic planning process.

Our goal is to identify our City’s vision for the future and then take action; of course, we will be taking input from everybody in the strategic planning process.

In order to help with building next year’s budget, the goal is to have a new strategic plan adopted by October.

Also, clear planning will help us make decisions in areas like sustainability, cultural amenities, and infrastructure.

Speaking of sustainability, this year 3,500 solar panels were added near the Springbrook treatment plant along with 160 panels on our Electric Service Center. Together, the energy from these panels is enough to power 152 homes for a year.

We’re seeing more homes and businesses add solar in our City. Last year, 209 installations took place, versus just 34 in 2019.

Some of you may know that in 2011 I installed a 150 kWh solar power plant on the rooftop of my business, so this is something I have personally invested in.

As a City, we gave out over $400,000 in renewable energy grants last year. But we know we can do more, so this year we’re hiring a sustainability coordinator.

And this spring we heard from our sustainability task force, commonly known as NEST, on how we can move forward with reducing our environmental footprint. Their Sustainable Naperville 2036 plan will get a deeper dive by Council this summer.

In addition to a sustainable community, we also want a city that emphasizes culture and quality of life.

In early 2020, we added Cancun, Mexico, as our third and newest Sister City, and we look forward to a unique partnership with them.

Earlier this month, members of the Riverwalk Commission and Riverwalk Foundation met to tour the winding brick path to check its assets for care and maintenance needs while considering the 2031 Master Plan and “Creating a Path Forward.”

And the Riverwalk 2031 Master plan outlines ways we can update one of Naperville’s most coveted cultural amenities by our 200th birthday, like expanding the path south to Edward Hospital, updating the popular Grand Pavilion area, and adding a new nature garden.

Moving on to our infrastructure program, we have a very important project coming up. Motorists will see North Aurora Road between Frontenac and Fairway Drive widened over the next two years.

They’ll also see sidewalk, trail, and lighting improvements once the project is complete. This is just the first step in improving this important connection with Aurora. Future work includes replacing the railroad bridge and widening North Aurora Road.

All of this can only be achieved by working together with everyone who has a stake in this area.

Indeed, our progress, especially this year, is due to partnerships forged in less trying times. If anything, the last year has reminded us all that uncertainty is, well, certain.

But, when we lean into the foundations that supported us in the good times, we’ll have the stability we need in uncertain times.

From there, we can step back, reassess, and begin again.

I believe that next year we will be together again in person for this event. But until then, I wanted to end this year’s speech by taking a look back at 2020 and showing us where we’ve been – and where we’re going.

Because a community like Naperville doesn’t just settle for what was. It shows the region and the nation what we can become.

We’re not going back.

—Mayor Steve Chirico

Editor’s Notes / Images and photos used to break up the Mayor’s address are from PN’s files and were not submitted by the City for this purpose. Bold subheads also were highlighted by PN editors.

Consider a few more things to think about this week…

Public meetings on the agenda… Be mindful that local school boards of education (D203 Tues., May 18 / D204 Mon., May 17) as well as the Naperville City Council (May 18, 2021), Naperville Park District Board of Commissioners continue to meet, now mostly in person.

The Naperville Planning & Zoning Commission is set to meet Thurs., May 20, 2021. Watch local government, boards and commissions in progress, considering new developments, more important for public input than ever this next week, right here in your hometown.

Thanks to the entire community for paying attention.

Find the City of Naperville archive as well as schedule to future meetings on the Naperville website.

One more thing: The City of Naperville is now asking members of the community to participate in a survey to help with its strategic plan. Click here to find out more as city-seeks-feedback-through-strategic-plans.

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City of Naperville
City of Napervillehttp://www.naperville.il.us.
About Naperville: Located 28 miles west of Chicago, Naperville, Ill., is home to approximately 145,000 people. This vibrant, thriving City consistently ranks as a top community in the nation in which to live, raise children and retire. The City is home to acclaimed public and parochial schools, the best public library system in the country, an array of healthcare options and an exceptionally low crime rate. Naperville has ready access to a variety of public transportation, housing and employment options. The City’s diversified employer base features high technology firms, retailers and factories, as well as small and home-based businesses. Residents also enjoy world-class parks, diverse worship options, the opportunity to serve on several City boards and commissions, a thriving downtown shopping and dining area, a renowned outdoor history museum known as Naper Settlement and an active civic community. For more information, please visit our website at www.naperville.il.us.

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