Beech Grove Mayor delivers 10th State of the City address

Beech Grove Mayor Dennis Buckley gives the 2021 State of the City address at the Greater Beech Grove Chamber of Commerce meeting. *Submitted photo

Beech Grove Mayor Dennis Buckley delivered his 10th State of the City address on March 11 the Greater Beech Grove Chamber of Commerce’s monthly meeting. Buckley highlighted many accomplishments and upcoming initiatives, including: financial stability, raises for city employees, the 2021 budget, infrastructure improvements, decrease in crime and more. Read the address in its entirety below:

2021 State of the City Address

If I told you that 2020 was a bad year, that would be an understatement. I can’t remember anytime as long as I have lived in Beech Grove that has had an effect on our city as COVID has.

Our city basically changed overnight. We modified services, closed buildings to the public, disinfected vehicles and held several virtual meetings and  yet none of our employees lost their job and no employee lost a paycheck.

In 2020,  we continued to receive funding from INDOT through the Community Crossings Grant ($175,000.00). We also received a grant notice of award from OCRA for upgrades to our sanitary sewer system ($660,000.00). We received approximately ($1,300,000.00) in funding from INDOT to construct a roundabout at the intersection of Arlington Avenue and Churchman Bypass. The good news continues as we received approximately ($2,600,000.00) in funding from INDOT for the construction of a greenway through our city.

In 2020, work continued on making substantial infrastructure improvements throughout our city. A road Asset Management Plan was done and all of our roads were inventoried. Roads continued to be paved based on the Asset Management Plan. Sidewalks, curbs, and driveway approaches were replaced. Maintenance continued on our sanitary sewer system and drainage improvements continued to be made.

In 2020, our entire telephone system was updated which allows employees to work from home. Our complete computer system including servers were replaced, which also allows employees to work from home on a as needed basis. Computer work was not done in the City Court, Police Department, and Fire Department.

In 2020, we continued to upgrade Personal Protection Equipment for all employees and we also purchased automatic CPR devices which allow hands free work to be done.  The Cares Act funding ($ 211,000.00) and reimbursement program through FEMA has really allowed our city to improve its inventory and allowed us to update some much needed equipment.

In 2020, our budget preparation was very good and our Common Council approved the 2021 budget at  ( $ 13,254,921.00 ) as funding was inserted to give a cost of living increase of 2% to all employees and retirees. Our DPW has recently ordered a new payloader and is working on purchasing a new bucket lift truck. Our Police Department has ordered new body cameras along with a computer server system to operate such cameras. Our Fire Department ordered a new ambulance and is on line to order a second one in the first quarter of 2022. City Hall and the Senior Citizens Center received new copy machines as well.

In 2020, the City continued to pay down obligations concerning debt issued through bonds. Within the next 2 years, the City’s debt will be eliminated, including debt issued by the Redevelopment Commission and by 2025 the State Revolving Fund Loan and the 2005 bond issued through our Sewage Works Utility will be paid off as well.

I can remember back in 2012 when I became Mayor our Asset Valuation was certified at ( $ 325,000,000.00 ).  Compounding that with property tax caps and circuit breaker losses, we were in the tank as a city. I can report to you that the Marion County Assessor’s Office has certified our Asset Valuation for 2021 at ( $ 517,900,000.00 ) which is really good news for property and business owners in our City. and to top that off we began our new fiscal year with a corporate fund balance of approximately ( $ 5,200,000.00 ).

I want to expand on our city services that we provide to all of you. In 2020, those services continue to perform under the direction of some excellent department heads.

Our Senior Citizens Center under the direction of Stephanie Bramlett had to adjust and change course a little bit due to COVID. Membership allowed into the building was limited and extreme sanitization took place throughout the year as this was our most at risk group. I was very pleased with the outreach programs provided which included home delivery of food, food preparation, continued transportation to doctor’s offices and stores, and transportation to St. Francis South Campus for vaccinations. These were very caring services and said a lot about the good people who work in that building.

The Hornet Park Community Center under the direction of Angel McKenna had to adjust as well to change from COVID. There was a period of time that the Center was closed as a precaution. I have always thought that the work Angel and her staff did concerning providing hot meals and stocking up the food pantry was good and some people in our area needed this. COVID has caused many problems for our citizens and food insecurity is one of them. For an extended period of time the exercise area and classes were put on hold to prevent COVID exposures and the banquet rooms were not rented.  The work done to accommodate students while school was closed was very good.  This was trying but the staff worked through it and it turned out well.

Throughout the year the Department of Public Works under the leadership of Brad Meriwether performed very well. It didn’t matter whether it was plowing snow, picking up trash, road projects, writing grant applications, the results were excellent. I’m not sure any other department had as much exposure to COVID than the employees out at DPW. Trash pick up and recycling pick up continued, potholes got filled, heavy trash was picked up and sewer calls were responded to and mitigated. Both sanitary and storm water improvements continued to be made through 2020. Brad is also responsible for submitting all applications for funding along with all required reports for IDEM and INDOT.

In 2020, we once again had to adjust our sewer and trash charges that we assess to customers of Beech Grove Sewage Works Utility. Nobody likes to do this but we have one of two choices, either increase the fees to remain solvent or hold the line on fees and the City goes into financial difficulty. I gotta tell everyone that the cost of treating wastewater continues to rise and with the next two years we will ask our ratepayers to pay approximately ( $ 1,000,000.00 ) more in fees than we did back in 2018. This was the basis for my recommendation to sell the utility which was turned down.

2020, was Jim Coffman’s first year as our Clerk Treasurer, It generally takes a new Clerk Treasurer  one term to get acclimated to the financial operations of the city and how the Sewage Works Utility functions. Jim caught on fast, he had to because of COVID. We closed City Hall to the public back in March of 2020, and as of this writing, we are still closed to the public. Jim has done a very good job with the finances. One of the reasons we survived 2020 and COVID was because we were financially solvent.   I appreciate the efforts of Jim and our former Clerk Dan McMillan for the steps they took which resulted in this.

Our Clerk Treasurer did a very good job working with our Department Heads to put our 2021 budget together.  He continued the conservative approach to spending throughout our city. In 2021, we started the fiscal year with approximately ( $ 5,200,000.00 ) in funds in all of our accounts, which did not require a tax anticipation warrant to be taken out to operate the city. 

As I mentioned earlier, we received funding through the Cares Act and Jim was responsible for submitting claims and overseeing this program. The efforts made to replace an antiquated phone and computer system were very good and each day employees see the benefit of this. Well done.

In 2020, our parks system under the direction of Tom Hannan was affected as well by COVID. Several programs and shelter rentals were cancelled and the Little League played a very brief schedule. Our annual fireworks display was cancelled as we could not conduct any type of social distancing and have a crowd of over 10,000.  The event would have become a super spreader. Work began on the Franciscan Trail in late fall and is expected to continue through 2021. The dog park and the basketball courts remained open throughout the year.

In 2020, several trees were removed throughout the City and in the park system due to disease and the Emerald Ash Borer insect. Trees and bushes were added for the trailhead located at 16th and Albany. Towards the end of the year, Tom replaced 1 riding mower and the maintenance building and grounds were partially turned into the storage area for the construction company working on the Franciscan Trail. This is somewhat of an inconvenience but will save quite a bit of money that could be utilized somewhere else in the trail project.

In 2020, our Fire Department under the leadership of Chief Robert Cheshire continued to meet the challenges of providing both firefighting and Emergency Medical Services. It was not easy especially with COVID. Exposure after exposure to COVID has caused hardship to our employees and have caused many to be sidelined as a result. Through all of this, our fire engines responded to 4,613 emergency calls including 120 reported structure fires. Notwithstanding, our Ambulance Division responded to 4,607 calls for help. Both of these numbers are trending consistent with the previous 3 years. Our part time fire inspector Mark Rihm completed 202 fire inspections and assisted the Fire Department with programs such as the Knox Box System.

In 2020, we had a fire loss of ( $712,125.00 ). Our Fire Department incurred much greater loss than that, but the fires were in the jurisdiction of the City of Indianapolis, so we were there to assist our neighbors

2020, brought new investments and employees into the mix. The big ticket items were the purchase and installation of 2 gear extractors, which are machines that wash turnout gear. Also, automatic hands free CPR chest compression devices were purchased and are in service as a result of exposures to COVID. Towards the end of 2020, our Fire Department began preparations for a visit from our Accreditation Services to begin the process of becoming Nationally Accredited in Emergency Medical Services again in 2021.

In 2020,  we did not lose any Firefighting or Ambulance positions as a result of budget cuts. Throughout the year one of our stations may have closed for  shift to staffing, but that was a direct result of COVID.

In 2020, our Compliance Division worked quite a bit from home. Officers Cathy Chappell and Ed Bell often came in to make calls or answer questions or complaints. As with other departments, the compliance office was closed at times, yet over 740 inspections were made. New computers and telephones have helped them considerably.  Starting in 2021, the Compliance Division Officers answer directly to a Police Officer assigned to this division. As with other departments, the hours worked by Compliance Officers were increased from 14 hours to 20 hours per week.

In 2020, our Police Department under the leadership of Chief Michael Maurice made significant  changes to the inner workings of the department. One of the most significant changes was that they transitioned to start using the  Lexipro policy review program and rewrote the majority of the policies on the operation of the Beech Grove Police Department. This included but was not limited to pursuits, detainment, placing people under arrest, release of information and evidence.

Our Police Department had the opportunity to hire at least 3 additional officers and have now assigned 3 Police Officers to different buildings in the Beech Grove School District. This has been one of my high priorities as I hope that one day we can place a Police Officer in each school building.

The COVID virus also played a significant role in the operation of our Police Department. Detectives and other office staff worked quite a bit from home and Police Officers still made traffic stops, but approached vehicles attempting to distance themselves.

I have always considered Beech Grove to be a safe City and the 2020 statistics confirmed this. In 2020, our Police Department responded to over 24,831 calls for help. This reflects an increase of 11% even with COVID restrictions. Our Police Officers arrested 588 people and responded to 311 traffic accidents, which resulted in 1 fatality.

In 2020, we interacted in 93 drug cases and 1 Police Officer was assigned to the Metro Drug Task Force. This has paid huge dividends for our City.  In 2020 our Police Officers responded to 2,312 calls for help in apartment complexes, 440 responses to motels, and our Animal Control Officer responded to 297 complaints concerning animals.

Crime is always front and center for every city and these statistics are monitored all the time for trends. With all the civil unrest that occurred in 2020, we were fortunate not to have issues. The City had 1 peaceful protest of which I took part in but, other than that I’m proud to proclaim that we are a welcoming inclusive city where all our welcome.

In 2020, our city experienced 1 targeted homicide, 3 assaults, 15 robberies, and 7 rapes.  4 of the 7 rapes have been closed.  Our residents experienced 60 stolen vehicles, 52 burglaries, and 58 acts of vandalism.

In 2020, our Part 1 crimes increased from 19 to 26, our Part II crimes increased from 285 to 306 and our Part III crimes decreased from 1,689 to 1,566. So our total crime in Beech Grove decreased by 7.3% from 2019.  We all must continue to be diligent as crime can occur to anyone, at any time, and anywhere.

In the last quarter of 2020, our Common Council gave approval to begin the process to plan for the construction of a new police station. A committee was formed with members of our Police Department and Common Council. Work continues and as of this writing the Common Council has given approval to send out a RFQ and we are awaiting on those submittals.  This investment is very much needed for our city and will go a long way to aid in assisting our officers providing vital services to our citizens and guests.

In 2020, our economic development situation was surprisingly stable. Last year, during the COVID outbreak, we had several new businesses come to our city and didn’t lose any large businesses in our industrial park nor did we have a large loss of jobs. The new roundabout helps but working with larger businesses, Zoning Boards, Develop Indy and the Indy Chamber and will ultimately pay dividends down the road.

Businesses changing their hours due to COVID really hurt our city and small local businesses. As of this writing, I have not issued 1 order to close local businesses. I have taken the position that business closures should be left up to the local business owner, the same applies to school buildings.

I believe that citizens should wear a mask unless they are eating and drinking, and social distancing is important.

So what lies ahead in 2021?  First and foremost is the safety of our citizens, guests and employees. We have to continue to invest in our services and continue to provide the good services that we have. We must continue to improve our infrastructure by paving roads, addressing drainage problems and correcting issues with our sanitary sewer system.

In 2021 we are going to have to invest in a new fire engine, police cars and an ambulance. The construction of a new police station is paramount concerning the future of our Police Department. Talks are being conducted about entering into an agreement with IFD for fire suppression services.   This is something that the Council will have to decide in the near future.

Hopefully, we will finally hear some good news about the former CSX property. We had our hopes up high with the potential arrival of Milestone, but as we all know it didn’t turn out in our favor.

As we move into summer and fall, it is my intent to have fireworks on July 3rd along with the Fall Festival and Car Show in September and the Oktoberfest in October. It’s very important to me that we get back to some normalcy as we all desire to go back to pre-COVID life. But, until then I ask that you wear a mask when in public, conduct social distancing when in a crowd, stay home if you are sick, and get a vaccine should you choose to do so.

Dennis B. Buckley

Mayor

City of Beech Grove