EAST CHICAGO | By 2014, the city’s dependence on gaming dollars for its general fund will be zero, and major infrastructure projects, including the Cline Avenue Bridge, will be under way.
Mayor Anthony Copeland revealed that plan and promise during Wednesday’s Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce membership luncheon at Ameristar Casino.
For years, East Chicago used gaming dollars reaped from the city’s casino to shore up its shrinking general fund, Copeland said.
Because of that practice, the city could not fix its crippled infrastructure such as collapsing sewers and aging roads and bridges, and it used gaming dollars to make only emergency repairs. The city didn’t perform public works projects, he said
In addition, “East Chicago believed that job creation meant bloating the city’s payroll,” Copeland said. “Now we realize that we have to be healthy financially to create jobs and that the private sector is where those jobs will be created.”
Since being elected mayor, Copeland said his administration has worked to make major changes.
Gaming revenue totaled $20 million a year and Copeland said $13 million was being used for general fund expenses, including salaries and benefits.
In 2011, that amount used for the general fund was reduced to $8 million and to $6 million in 2012, the mayor said.
“In 2013, it will be $3 million and in 2014, that amount will be zero dollars,” he said to applause from chamber members.
Using gaming revenue for infrastructure will help attract businesses and residents to the city, Copeland said. Among the projects beginning this year and in 2014 are the Cline Avenue Bridge, with a $2.1 million contribution; 145th Street improvements for $2.5 million; the Northcote Avenue reconstruction for $2.8 million; and in partnership with BP, the Riley Road-Dickenson Road project.
“We will also be starting our RDA project on the lakeshore, leveraging the $38 million East Chicago has paid to the RDA over the years,” he said.
The Cline Avenue Toll Bridge will net the city 10 cents per car and also bring vehicles back to the business district, Copeland said.
Materials used for the Cline Avenue Bridge will also come from local sources, which helps local businesses succeed, the mayor said.
“The steel will come from Arcelor Mittal. The concrete will come from local suppliers,” Copeland said. “Forming these private-public partnerships is important. At a national, state or local level, we can’t tap all the dollars needed.”