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Naperville
Thursday, May 23, 2024

2024 State of the City Address, Naperville, IL

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The Riverwalk Covered Bridge at Webster Street and Jackson Avenue served as a metaphor throughout the 2024 State of the City Address given by Mayor Scott Wehrli on May 8, 2024. (PN File Photo)

(NCTV VIDEO: THE BIG LIFT)

A tribute to Christine Jeffries was followed by Jeffries’ introduction to the “speaker” at the luncheon hosted by the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce at Embassy Suites.

During the State of the City, Mayor Wehrli referenced that May 7, 2024, had been “Christine Jeffries Day,” a recognition that had been proclaimed at Tuesday’s City Council Meeting. (PN Photo)

Let’s give Christine another round of applause to thank her for all she has done for this city.

The story you heard and saw on the screen a few minutes ago is more than just a memory. It’s a milestone.

It was the moment that coming together to achieve something greater than anyone could do alone came to life through bricks and bridges. It’s when I saw “the big lift,” literally AND metaphorically. It’s a lesson I’ve learned again and again throughout my career, and it guided me to cross the bridge, so to speak, to my next chapter in public service.

Today is my first time standing here, not before you, but with you, to share the state of our great city. I stand with you to meet our City’s challenges head-on and champion its opportunities.

Yes, we have both. To say otherwise is to ignore the realities before us and the world around us. In many ways, this decade keeps giving us bigger lifts and heavier loads – many more than we could have imagined.

Yet, when we step back and realize collaboration and innovation are the answers, very little is insurmountable.  It worked for a covered bridge 43 years ago, and it still works today.

Before I get too far, I want to thank some exceptional individuals in my life and those people who made this event possible.

First is my wife Lynda and our children, Sam and Hope. Family is always first for me, and their love and support give me strength. Lynda and Hope are here today, and I’d like to publicly thank them for all they’ve done. I love you both!

Lynda Wehrli, Mayor Scott Wehrli and their daughter, Hope. (PN Photo)

Throughout my first year in office, so many of you have given me your support, your advice, your kindness, your words of encouragement, and even your prayers. These gestures mean more to me than you know, and I’m so grateful for them. Thank you. 

I’d also like to thank the Naperville Chamber of Commerce for hosting my first State of the City as well as the staff here at Embassy Suites.

In what’s become a tradition, NCTV17 produced today’s videos. Their photos and videos bring this speech to life. A special thank you goes out to Liz Spencer and her team.

NCTV-17 Executive Director Liz Spencer and City of Naperville Director of Communications Linda LaCloche are known to collaborate on City productions. (PN Photo)

Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to learn more about Naperville’s achievements.   

What we choose to do as a city and a community is both strategic and visionary. The success we see around us today is only possible because of yesterday’s leaders. In fact, we have one of those leaders with us today – Mayor Steve Chirico. Let’s give him a round of applause to say thanks for his eight years as Mayor.

Former Mayor Steve Chirico and Mayor Scott Wehrli are pictured at the 2024 State of the City luncheon. (PN Photo)

Mayor Chirico and other past leaders knew they were playing a long game, but they made those generation-defining choices along the way anyway. We owe a debt to their hard work, foresight, and risk-taking, and now it’s our turn.

It’s the leaders of today who must continue to make Naperville one of the greatest and safest places to live in the world and one of the greatest economies in the state of Illinois. Others recognize that distinction, as evidenced by our triple crown Niche ratings for the best city to live in, best city to raise a family, and best public schools in America.

It’s a tall order that comes with a big to-do list, but together, we are bigger. 

Before I took on this role, I spent countless hours learning and listening to hundreds of residents and business owners to understand what they wanted from their City leadership.

I heard it time and time again. People want to feel safe.  They want to live in a financially secure and economically sound community.  They want a place that provides high-quality services, fantastic schools, beautiful outdoor parks, exciting recreation, and a vibrant arts and culture scene. 

Many of these priorities have been the City’s focus for the past several years, and now it’s time to raise those efforts to new heights.

Let’s take a look at what we’ve achieved since last May by walking together over the same bridge that ultimately taught me about teamwork. The bridge’s entrance can serve as the starting point for reflecting on our success stories in four key areas: our health, economy, safety, and your government.

Health is a broad topic, and as a society, we are recognizing that health encompasses what we think and how we feel.

Within 24 hours of my taking office, a group of community leaders gathered at City Hall to discuss the difficult but necessary topic of mental health and our children. This subject is near and dear to my heart, and we must face it together. 

These conversations resulted in the teen suicide disrupter training called “Unlocking Hope.” 65 teens from all five 203 and 204 high schools have learned how to recognize the signs of suicide and point their peers in crisis to professionals who can help.

KidsMatter and the Alive Center will now take this program to the next level. We already know that school districts are asking for this training, and I believe this is the next version of CPR, where people can learn the tools to help other people in crisis.      

Many of those who helped create this program, as well as some of the first participants, are here with us today. Please stand and be recognized for the lives you have and will inevitably change.

Mental health is also tied to our sense of belonging in the community. Our most recent achievement in this area was receiving our first ever 92 out of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index.

This score is a vast improvement for us. It shows the proactive work we’ve done to make Naperville more LGBTQ+ friendly at the City level.

Our mental health is also tied to how secure we feel in our surroundings. A safe and stable home gives families a chance to grow, thrive, and give back to their communities. 

Last November, the state approved our affordable housing plan. This document highlights the strides we have taken to make this type of housing more available.

Naperville Tornado Relief

We also saw resilience rise from despair in the Cinnamon Creek neighborhood last fall. Naperville Tornado Relief replaced 66 yards damaged by the 2021 tornado so that families could safely enjoy playing outside. This project was led by two outstanding community volunteers, Kristy Kennedy and Kelly Dougherty, and made possible by state and city grants.

Health also speaks to how we take care of our environment. Our first pedestrian and bicycle survey showed that almost 78% of people would recommend our walking and biking trails to their friends.

We also made our environmental efforts more transparent on our website, including several success stories and facts. For example, fuel use by City vehicles has reduced by more than 25% over the last 17 years, and our community has used 17% less electricity since 2012.

Yet, during that same timeframe, Naperville has become the epicenter of electric vehicle adoption. There is now one electric vehicle for every 13 households in the city, which is four times higher than the rest of the country.

Our utility’s overall reliability is another highlight. Our customers experience the fewest minutes without power each year for municipal utilities in the entire state. 16.5 minutes is a far cry from almost 11 hours experienced in southwestern Illinois!

Naperville’s Electric Utility celebrates 125 years

Naperville’s Electric Utility is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. Congratulations to utility director Brian Groth and his team for keeping the lights on and their daily commitment. 

Our Water Utility also makes eco-friendly choices while maintaining reliability. This spring, a new disinfection system will come online at our treatment plant. This process uses ultraviolet light instead of chemicals to treat wastewater, which is one of our most critical municipal health operations.      

This is just one part of a multi-year, multi-phase improvement plan at the plant to meet new regulations and increase capacity for years to come.

Water’s work on projects to prevent sanitary sewer backups and shore up aging pipes has yielded big results, as you can see on the screen. The utility also inked one of the largest contracts that will come before this current group of city leaders: a billion-dollar, 30-year commitment with the DuPage Water Commission.

Why is all of this so important? Because reliable infrastructure isn’t just a health and safety topic — it also attracts businesses to Naperville and keeps them here.

Monica Conners assumed the role as President of the NDP on May 6 after Christine Jeffries retired on May 3. (PN Photo)

I’m happy to report that the state of our local economy, the second key area we’ll talk about today, is healthy and robust. I have no doubt it will get even stronger with Monica Conners as the new president and CEO of the Naperville Development Partnership. This is her third day on the job, and I’m excited to work with her. Let’s give Monica a warm Naperville welcome with a round of applause. 

2023 was another year of businesses opening in Naperville. Yes, a few notable departures made headlines, but it’s important to remember that change means growth and vibrancy. New beginnings mean new opportunities and continued economic relevance. 

I’ve enjoyed my first year of Chamber ribbon cuttings, although, talk about a big lift — I never thought giant scissors would be part of my resume. We even had to buy a new pair for the Mayor’s Office since Mayors Chirico and Pradel wore them out! 

In keeping with a State of the City tradition, let’s pause to welcome those businesses that opened this past year AND said yes to Chamber membership. 

(NCTV VIDEO: THE BIG HELLO) 

As an organization, the City’s big lift is putting action behind the words of our mission statement: “To provide services that ensure a high quality of life, sound fiscal management, and a dynamic business environment, while creating an inclusive community that values diversity.”

That sound fiscal management was on full display when we approved the city’s 2024 spending plan. This year’s budget gave us the lowest property tax rate in 54 years. 

Now, to put that in perspective, you’d have to go back to 1969 to find a lower rate. That’s a time when Naperville only had 24,000 residents, 18 police officers, one fire station, one high school, and one brand new resident named Scott Wehrli. 

Our commercial tax drivers are essential to keeping that property tax rate low. Since 2017 we’ve topped the sales charts, making us the second-largest economy in the state. As you can see on the screen, as our retail numbers have gone up, our property tax rates have gone down.     

No new taxes, fees, or other revenues were needed to fund this year’s budget, which was 1.6% higher than 2023’s. That’s well below last year’s CPI of 3.4%. No wonder we once again received a AAA bond rating from Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s!

Naperville City Council, Spring 2023 (PN Photo)

How to spend “the people’s money” is always a difficult conversation, and I’m so proud of the City Council’s unanimous vote on the budget. I’d like to acknowledge all of my City Council colleagues for their dedication and service to our community. Please stand so that we can give you a round of applause.

It’s that smart spending that makes Naperville so attractive to companies looking to build or expand here. My main focus this year was exploring innovative ways to revitalize the I-88 corridor. Business development and attraction is a contact sport. You can’t sit back and wait for them to come to you. You must go to them.

The first step was updating zoning in the corridor to limit warehouse development and encourage more life science uses. That zoning change paves the way for office, research, and lab space in biotech, biomedical, and other cutting-edge fields.

I’ve also made several contacts with businesses already here to reaffirm our city’s commitment to them. These and many other companies are valued partners in the eastwest corridor. Places like Calamos & CityGate, Cell Carta, Contruent, Endotronix, Kellanova, Lamb Weston, Nicor, Nokia, Orochem, RXO, Sikich, and so many more. 

If you own, manage, or work at a company along I-88, I’d like you to stand right now. You are a big part of Naperville’s success story, and I’d like to thank you for investing in our city. I’ve also reached out to many organizations that haven’t heard the Naperville story to tell them why this city should be their home. Redeveloping empty or underutilized spaces to their highest and best use means more tax dollars to support our schools and offset what residents pay in their taxes. This is especially important in the area of Naperville served by School District 204.

Looking ahead toward 2025

We have two very exciting projects coming online by 2025 in or near Route 59.

Over the next year, Block 59 will invigorate the northeast corner of Route 59 and Aurora Avenue with new dining, retail, and entertainment centered around an open common area. Not far away, the former Dominick’s grocery store at the corner of North Aurora and Ogden Avenue will reopen as 99 Ranch Market, one of the nation’s most elite Asian American grocery chains.

But it’s not just I-88 and Route 59. If you take a drive around the City, you’ll see new redevelopment all over. For example:

  • A Lifetime Athletic Resort will be built at Route 59 and 103rd Street.
  • Along Chicago Avenue, Heinen’s grocery store is set to replace the old Butera market.
  • At our world-class Endeavor Health Edward Hospital, a new medical office building is quickly taking shape on Martin Avenue.

Downtown, we’re seeing storefronts filled with locally owned, independent shops in addition to the bigger names, many of which you saw in the ribbon-cutting video earlier. Speaking of downtown, we’re also seeing a modernized look and feel come to life along Washington Street. That’s thanks to the downtown bridge work and a makeover for the street and sidewalks.

To keep all of these efforts moving along, we must be a community where great minds want to work and live. That brings us to our third key area of public safety. This is my top priority and one our city takes very seriously.

This year’s budget gave us six new police officers. Four will staff the downtown all day, everyday, and two will join the Strategic Response Unit to proactively address crime trends in our city.

Being proactive is what truly sets all of the men and women of the Naperville Police Department apart from other agencies. They’re aiming to stop crime before it happens. However, public safety isn’t just a police issue — it’s a community challenge. 

It starts with knowing your neighbor. When we know each other, we start to look out for each other. What happens to your neighbor impacts you, and that builds trust. From that trust comes care and concern for each other.

I’d like to remind you all of a simple, but important, ask: “If you see something, say something.” That applies to both work and home. Our police are here to protect and serve, and they need your eyes and ears and even your video doorbells to help them do that. 

Policing isn’t easy in today’s world. But Naperville does it right, and we’ve been internationally accredited 10 times in a row to prove it. I’d like to thank Police Chief Jason Arres and the men and women of the Naperville Police Department who keep us one of the safest cities in the country.

Naperville Police Chief Jason Arres

Care, compassion, and concern have also made our Fire Department a national role model. Their innovative Community Advocate Response Team has made headlines for not just responding to issues, but proactively looking to resolve them.

When someone starts to rely on 911 for their everyday mental or wellness care, we don’t brush them aside or talk around them. We talk to and with them. The team connects the person in need with long-term medical and social services so they can live a better life. They want to find a solution, not just put a bandage on the problem.

444 people have had their lives changed by these efforts, and six more firefighter/paramedics were included in the budget to expand this wonderful work.    

Naperville Fire Chief Mark Puknaitis

2024 is a very special year for the Fire Department as it celebrates its sesquicentennial anniversary. In fact, tonight I’ll be at Naper Settlement celebrating the opening of an exhibit honoring this milestone. Let’s give a big hand to Fire Chief Mark Puknaitis and his team for this pre-eminent organization’s century and a half of service to Naperville.

Being your Mayor is a job filled with reverence for the office itself. The Mayor’s office is not mine – it’s yours. When I took my oath, I wanted to redefine the people’s office and make it more transparent. We began by creating a guide for boards and commissions. 

The document clearly spells out what we expect from commissioners: regular attendance, robust discussion, and adherence to all laws and ethical codes. We held a training session this spring for our board chairs to teach them how to run a fair and efficient meeting, which is the standard we expect in Naperville.

Speaking of different city departments, I’ve called out some of our professional staff already, but I think it’s worth mentioning all of our directors. Each of them is a faithful public servant. Last year, we were fortunate enough to have Pam Gallahue promoted to Deputy City Manager and Blaine Wing join us as the new Human Resources Director, and just this week, Raymond Munch was named our new Finance Director.

I’d like City Manager Doug Krieger and all City directors to please stand so we can acknowledge your leadership and efforts.

Naperville City Manager Doug Krieger

As you may be able to tell, I think tradition is important. It’s become a State of the City tradition to visually thank our intergovernmental partners here. After all, the city government cannot make a community by itself. So, let’s take a look at what many of you in this room did over the past year to say, “We see you, and we are so very grateful for you. Thank you.”

(NCTV VIDEO: BRIDGE BUILDERS) 

As I enter my second year in office, it’s time to keep walking across the bridge, so to speak, and take action. That may seem easy, but in a world where what happens nationally and internationally feels very personal to so many of us, it can be easy to want to do it all and fix it all.

We cannot change the course of the world, but we can chart our course at home. Our 2023 community survey provided information on how we’re going to do that. Here’s a quick look at some of the survey results. 

(NCTV VIDEO: AS NAPERVILLE RESIDENTS, WE ARE . . .)    

What you saw represents our past performance. However, we need to look to the future. I believe in goals that inspire us and make us want to grow and improve. We’ll use that mindset and what we’ve learned through the community survey to start our next goalsetting process later this year. 

The leaders of the past showed us how to do this with a can-do attitude and an eye toward a future they may never see firsthand, but their children and grandchildren certainly will.

Indeed, the to-do list is long, and the lift is heavy. We’re exiting the bridge into an unwritten future, and it will take Team Naperville – that’s all of you – to turn action into achievement.

So let’s do what those who came before us did by following this approach: Put our heads together and work together. That’s Naperville in one sentence.

We love what has already set our city apart: those gifts of the past. Like the Riverwalk and our downtown, our schools and parks, and our emphasis on safety and families and the businesses that employ them and serve them. 

That’s what brings people here, but we’re looking far beyond that. We’re focusing on what sets Naperville apart: We build bridges. With each other, and with the community we serve.

When the task seems too hard or doesn’t go as planned, we put our heads together to overcome that bigger lift than we expected. By coming together, we set Naperville apart.

So join me in being part of “The Big Lift” and telling our story to everyone you meet. Because those people just might be the ones who write the next chapters.

I’ll end with this: “Be a doer.”

Be a doer for your neighbor, our seniors, your schools, the kids, the service clubs, and charities – all that make this City great. Because when you pay it forward, you will lift this community and leave a legacy behind, something way bigger than yourself. 

Maybe even a bridge.

The Riverwalk Covered Bridge at Webster Street leads to the Dandelion Fountain in the Civic Plaza, one of the most popular gathering places in the linear park since 1981. (PN File Photo)
Whenever you visit Civic Plaza along Jackson Street, pause for a moment and consider the words on the plaque. “The People are the harvest of our heritage and the seeds of our future.” (PN Photo)

Thanks for reading! —PN

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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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