EAST CHICAGO | Mayor Anthony Copeland focused on one theme during his State of the City address Thursday: East Chicago is ready for investment.
After three years of deep financial cuts, Copeland said the city is now poised to put more funds back into the community.
"In 2013, I asked for your patience while the final adjustments were made to our austerity plan," he told those gathered at the Field Educational Center. "Now, I am happy to report that we have weathered the storm.
"The $15 million deficit that I inherited, it is gone. The $13 million reliance to shore up the general fund budget, is gone. Furlough days are gone."
Copeland listed a number of planned improvements, including 10 infrastructure investments totaling $22 million he announced in February.
The city plans to buy eight new police cars and one new firetruck and hire eight new officers and firefighters for a total investment of $1.8 million.
Other accomplishments include a contract agreement with the Teamsters for the first time in seven years, a new contract with the Police Department and bonus pay for city employees, Copeland said.
He plans to offer two bonuses in 2014, one in June and one in November, and a 3 percent raise for city employees beginning in 2015.
Copeland told the audience plans to correct the city's financial burdens were expected to take five years. Instead, they took three.
The city's crime rate is the lowest in 18 years, said Copeland, who credited police for driving the decrease by making additional traffic stops. Traffic stops jumped from 3,700 in 2012 to 10,600 in 2013.
A new police substation and shot-spotter technology also has helped officers enforce the law.
"The (police) department insists that East Chicago streets will not be used by criminals for crime," he said.
Copeland also lashed out against state legislators who force local governments to bend to their plans.
"While other layers of government reduce our ability to rule at home, telling us that more is less and less is more, through tax caps and the possible elimination of personal business property taxes, remember that many battles have been won, but the war isn't over," Copeland said.
The mayor ended by thanking residents for their sacrifice, but reminding them financial stability is a constant standard.
"The future and well-being of our city lies in our hands," Copeland said at the end of his 20-minute speech. "Your faith in this administration gives me strength to keep fighting as mayor — so we can continue to be the caretakers that fulfill the dream of a new East Chicago, one of a city of hope and progress."