EAST CHICAGO | After a year of "rolling up our sleeves and getting to work," East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland, now with a four-year mandate from voters, said 2012 will be "a year of purpose" in addressing the city's long-standing challenges.
Copeland began tackling what he calls the city's "credibility problem" a year ago when he was elected by precinct committeemen to fill out the year remaining in the term of George Pabey, who was sent to prison after his conviction on federal corruption charges.
Officially inaugurated to a full term after decisive election victories, Copeland said he plans to address the city's looming budget shortfall and bloated payroll, while maintaining the momentum of existing civic improvement projects and bringing new public benefits.
The city's new $55 million water filtration plant opened late last year, and demolition of the old Lake Michigan waterworks will open up 10 acres of lakefront property to extend public access from the East Chicago Marina to Buffington Harbor in Gary.
Another 30 to 50 acres of shoreline also could be opened for recreation through a partnership between the city, Ameristar Casino and other industries, and the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority.
Construction of new housing near the lake in North Harbor also is continuing, with single-family homes built overlooking Nunez Park to complement the 125 townhomes built around the Main Street-Broadway corridor.
Homes in neighborhoods throughout the city also are being improved through federal stimulus funds, with former rental properties lost through foreclosure getting fixed up through housing and redevelopment programs to help residents become homeowners.
Work should be completed this year on a new four-story, 56-apartment senior citizen facility on Broadway near Callahan Park for older residents who no longer need their private homes. The new facility includes a ground-floor public parking garage.
Last December's water main failure, which left the city dry for nearly two days -- at a cost of $400,000 to repair, also was a wake-up call, Copeland said, to prioritizing long-neglected infrastructure improvements. A comprehensive mapping of sewers and water lines is scheduled to begin this spring.
To continue weaning the city off dwindling casino revenue, Copeland said he plans to reduce the city's workforce by 25 percent through attrition and retirement incentive plans for workers. Meanwhile he will add more police officers who will be administered by a new merit board.
In November, residents will get their first chance to elect School City of East Chicago board members, ending the city's distinction as the only community in Lake County with an appointed school board.
Recently passed state legislation replaced the previously mayor-appointed body with with a nine-member board which will assume office starting in 2013.