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By Gus Bode

Mayor Joel Fritzler and city officials spoke about the issues facing Carbondale as well as its recent accomplishments at Tuesday’s State of the City Address.

“The last seven months have been a very interesting experience,” Fritzler said.

The address was part of the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce’s monthly luncheon and was held at the Civic Center.

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After some opening remarks, Fritzler let other city officials speak for most of the address.

Mayor Joel Fritzler laughs with his department heads Tuesday before his State of the City Address at City Hall. During his speech, Fritzler listed the improvements made during his time in office, such as increased liquor sales by granting liquor licenses to grocery stores, and summarized the improvements residents can expect in the future. Chris Zoeller | Daily Egyptian

Kevin Baity, acting city manager and director of development services, and Sean Henry, public works director, spoke about their respective departments. Retired City Manager Allen Gill also spoke about several broad issues he saw facing Carbondale.

Fritzler began his address by comparing himself to SIUC Chancellor Rita Cheng because they’d both spent the year dealing with controversial issues and responding to heavy media attention.

“We have faced them head-on and moved forward,” he said.

He said a central issue the City Council agrees with and will address is that the core of the city, including the Strip and surrounding residential areas, has been neglected for too long.

Gill also said the health of the downtown area is in need of improvement and of utmost importance for the city’s future.

“If there is not a solid, beating heart at the center of the community, it cannot bode well,” he said.

Gill said there were a number of other problems the city will have to confront, describing the state of the city as a weather forecast.

“I would have to say partly sunny with some clouds on the horizon,” he said.

Among those clouds on the horizon is decreased enrollment at SIUC, escalating pension costs, increased housing vacancies in older buildings, continued state fiscal troubles and competition from nearby cities for retail revenues, Gill said.

He said to address these problems, the city will need to find new ways to partner with the university, invest in the downtown with infrastructure improvements and tax incentives, foster growth of the medical industry, and encourage growth of tourism, which includes more than just the area’s wineries.

To do this, city leaders will have to be bold and possibly take unconventional measures, but he said he’s confident they will step up to the challenge.

Baity and Henry addressed more specific goals and accomplishments their departments had for the year.

Baity, speaking for Finance Director Don Ursini, said the city is currently sound financially but will have to face the pension fund issue, which has suffered from decreased investment performance and a high number of inactive vs. active personnel. He said while the city’s pension funds are not near fully funded, they will have to be 90 percent funded by 2040.

Despite this, he said the city’s budget is on good ground.

“The financial state of the city is solid, much more so than average communities,” he said.

Henry said the Public Works Department had a number of achievements through the year, including the new water and trash collection rates, which will allow for reinvestment into those systems.

Baity also spoke about the progress of development services, including annexing about 50 acres, working with Veteran’s Affairs to bring a VA clinic to Carbondale and, performing thousands of rental and hotel room inspections.

He also said there were several new businesses opening in the near future in addition to the several that have opened recently.

“The economic recovery continues,” he said. “Although at a slow rate, it has not stopped.”

 

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