Portage, Indiana, like no other time in her history, has risen up and faced huge challenges, corrected her state, and laid a foundation to move forward and poise herself for great and unfettered successes because of her elected leadership standing firm in the face of daunting circumstances. Portage elected officials put away their political parties and faced their problems with courage and are paving a future era of success and strength for years to come.
One of our budget corrections and accomplishments has come through our garbage pick-up. Automation of trash pickup had to happen. Our costs of trash pickup have been vastly out of control for years. The daunting task of achieving automation was paying nearly 1.5 million dollars in purchasing the new toters to get the plan started. Once again we had to be bold. We were able to negotiate for over 24,000 toters by trading our recycled materials for them. Then two free trucks came from our friends in Valparaiso. Our only out-of-pocket investment was 40,000 dollars to install tippers on our existing trucks. Recycling is not only an environmentally sound practice, but an economically sound practice as well. Portage will save hundreds of thousands of dollars in landfill costs each year.
Today, Portage is completely automated, and our sanitation department made this happen in less than 60 days, and we have found that a neighboring city our size took two years and another is going on four years to become automated. We have increased our recycling rate already this year to nearly 17 percent up from 4 percent last year, and we believe we will eclipse our lofty goal of thirty percent soon. Portage residents have responded with overwhelming support understanding that the more they recycle the more funds can be directed to pave streets and improve infrastructure.
The Port of Indiana without exception is the greatest industrial asset of the State of Indiana. Portage has played pivotal roles from its inception to its recalibration from bulk item aggregate storage to the thriving steel and industrial beacon it now is. Portage has subsidized this Port to the tune of nearly 1.3 million dollars a year, and it costs us nearly 1.8 million dollars a year to provide the services we do for the Port. I want to be clear, we value the Port, the jobs and economic value it brings to Portage, and we have no problem continuing to subsidize this great asset; we just cannot afford 100 percent of it. We look forward to resolving this issue quickly with the Port, and continuing the strong partnership Portage has had with the Port.
Last year, Portage Police Chief Troy Williams warned the Mayor's office, each City Council member, and most importantly, the residents that crime in Portage was on a precipice. Through his leadership, the men and women in blue have beat back crime in Portage. Portage SWAT was activated 20 times. That is more than the previous seven years combined. Portage detectives have solved numerous cases and as a result, crime in Portage was down this year 17.5 percent. In several categories, crime was less than in 1997 when Portage first started recording its stats. This year the police department believes it can do even better. We are in the process of adding two canine units to the police department this year and will add two more before our term is finished. Camelot Manor has agreed to employ two off-duty officers to assist in the crime levels in their jurisdiction and specialized equipment has been added to the force to assist in capturing criminals. We will spend the spring and summer slowing down traffic on through streets where our kids play.
Our fire department and personnel remain efficient on the cutting edge of technology. Portage residents are proud of the unprecedented service this group of first responders achieves. Portage fire department and dive team put into service the state of Indiana’s only watercraft firefighting vessel.
Their assistance and knowledge has helped us immensely as we have been in discussions with the Ports of Indiana. Chief Fieffer and his team have started preliminary planning on a new fire station, freeing up needed space in our City Hall. We began routine maintenance on the existing fire stations to make sure we are protecting those assets. Portage residents should be proud that we are preparing and saving for new fire equipment rather than being reactive to break downs or disasters.
The staff at our parks department and Superintendent Jen Orsburn faced the most broken department when she came to work. Today, there is not a city in the state of Indiana that has a park system that compares to Portage. We intend to restore the vision of our founders and invest in Woodland Park, bringing the fountain back to life, refreshing the street lights, and installing an elevator to connect the floors are just a few areas we intend to restore. Our workers will have the equipment they need to get the job done and restore the park’s beauty and grandeur. We received bids to demolish the yacht club, and we are ready to take down an aging facility that was costing the parks not just financially but in the time and work of our laborers. All of Portage looks forward to a new day of renewal in our aging parks.
Under the leadership of Steve Charnetzky, our streets and sanitation department has put the finishing touches on the automation of our trash system and this year we will begin the consolidation of building maintenance, lawn care, drainage and any other general services the city has need of. This year the days of different departments driving past each other to mow a patch of grass will be a thing of the past. By next year we will analyze and then centralize every department we can. We intend to make every minute of our workforces time productive for them and for the taxpayer.
Portage leadership will continue to set its bar high, have a large vision and believe we are the premier community to raise a family. We will communicate and correspond with our residents like never before which will allow us to respond to their needs like never before. Most importantly we will govern with the principle set forth by President Reagan, there is no limit to what a man or woman can do if they do not care who gets the credit.
Mayor James Snyder