March 31, 2023
Below are Mayor James Mueller’s remarks as prepared for the State of the City address:
Members of the Common Council, distinguished guests, city employees, residents, neighbors, and all who call South Bend home: it’s so great to be with you tonight as I share the latest chapter of our story.
It has truly been the honor of my life to serve my hometown as mayor. Just over three years ago, I started as South Bend’s 33rd mayor, arriving with a detailed plan to build on our progress and reform our public safety systems. I am pleased to report that most of these plans are completed or well underway – not even a once-in-a-century pandemic, historic inflation, or supply chain challenges could stop us – and because we pushed forward, our city has turned the corner.
I am thrilled to share that last year our population growth accelerated. The latest estimates for South Bend project that in just one year we matched nearly half of the total population gains from the last decade – a decade when we grew at the fastest rate since the 1950’s before Studebaker closed. This progress has happened across South Bend with most of our neighborhoods contributing to our city’s growth.
The resilience of our economy has been incredible. Not only have we weathered the economic storm from the pandemic and supply chain disruptions, but we are now powering through historic, aggressive economic tightening by the Federal Reserve. Over the past year, the Fed has increased the borrowing rate by nearly 5 percent, starting near zero. With this action, supply chains have begun to heal, and prices are stabilizing. Through all of this, unemployment is now roughly what it was before the turbulent events of the past three years – at a level economists consider to be sustainable full employment.
And we are attracting record investment. Last year we saw more than $330 million of investments into our buildings, homes, and businesses. This year we are anticipating more than double that amount with known construction projects and capital investments. If for whatever reason projects are delayed and only half end up moving forward this year, the total investment since the beginning of 2020 would still be over one billion dollars. That’s a staggering figure in normal times – even more so during this macroeconomic rollercoaster.
Although our wild ride may have another twist and turn for us ahead, we’ll stay on track. The state of our city is as strong as ever, and South Bend is ready to reach new heights.
We are committed to delivering a safe community for everyone and fully funding our critical public safety systems.
Our fire service remains a leading department – top one percent nationally – and our firefighters continue to deliver high quality services to our residents. Last year our Fire and EMS team fielded over 24,000 calls, logged over 60,000 hours of training, and advanced upgrades to Station 8 that will provide greater capacity, safer living quarters, and better space to house both our male and female firefighters.
SBPD is a leading department as well. Our officers fielded over 92,000 calls for service and logged nearly 22,000 training hours. A new simulator with de-escalation scenarios will ensure our officers are trained and put our community’s use of force policy into practice as they work to keep us all safe. Last year we saw an average of roughly one use of force per week. Each week the community submits roughly one complaint and one commendation. Only one complaint for use of force was filed during all of 2022.
With strong training and accountability systems already in place, we will soon add another layer with the civilian review office and board. Earlier this week the Common Council sent me two finalists for the Civilian Review Director – both with strong ties to our community. I thank the Common Council for their hard work pushing this forward and narrowing the list down to two well qualified finalists. I will sit down with each of them along with key leaders in my administration to hear more about each of their visions for the office. I will move quickly and announce a selection as soon as possible.
Our community has made great progress in our crisis response. Thanks to the state, the 9-8-8 crisis lifeline is now operational 24/7. Oaklawn operates mobile crisis response teams Monday through Friday, 8 am to 8 pm and continues to move toward 24/7 coverage. Our 911 center has policies and procedures in place to dispatch certain calls to these teams. And the behavioral crisis resource center is moving forward thanks to Beacon, Oaklawn, retiring health officer Dr. Bob Einterz, Sheriff Redman, Faith In Indiana, the American Rescue Plan, and the city. We remain optimistic that the statehouse will provide the funding necessary to sustain this center into the future and that the County will reconsider its decision to withdraw from this partnership on crisis response and mental health.
The civilian review office and our improved response to behavioral crises wrap up nearly all of the unfinished 21CP recommendations outlined three years ago. Going forward we will work with community leaders, advocates, sworn officers of all ranks, and civilian members of our department to hone our community policing efforts and outline how the community and our officers can work together to solve local challenges and improve our city.
Our real time crime center is up and running, with new crime analysts, the latest technology, governing policies to protect the privacy and rights of residents, and opportunities for our community to join our efforts. I encourage businesses and residents to register and connect their systems into our center at SyncSouthBend.org.
Last year Part I crimes were down more than 12% compared to 2021, and down roughly 11% from 2019. They are still too high. And we must work together as a community to reduce crime, while we continue to address its root causes.
Shootings were down the first half of 2022 – until the state’s permitless carry policy went into effect. Last Fall, John Hopkins released a study that confirmed what we already knew: relaxing conceal carry permit policies lead to a significant increase in firearm assaults. We need to move forward, not backward on commonsense gun measures to keep guns out of the wrong hands, and our community safe. I will continue to advocate for these commonsense measures and urge residents to keep pushing our state and federal lawmakers to act.
Between SBPD and SAVE, our Group Violence Intervention team delivered 255 custom notifications to our residents involved in violence, providing them with an offer of a better path of opportunity and hope.
If they continue down a path of violence, however, we have no choice but to stop them. Last year our Strategic Focus Unit recovered 538 illegal guns and seized over 87,000 grams of meth, cocaine and heroin. These are individuals driving much of the violence in our city, and we must send a strong, united message that violence has no place in our community.
Though the perfect record of our new Expanded Violent Crimes unit ended, we are still outperforming cities across the country, with a homicide closure rate near 80% in 2022, 86% since the expansion in the Fall of 2021. This is well above the national average, roughly 50%.
SBPD turned the corner on staffing last year and hired 51 officers, the largest and most diverse group in over three decades. Since the beginning of my administration, we’ve raised pay for and brought in 76 new officers – a third of whom are women and people of color. I thank the training and recruitment team for all their efforts, including the innovative prospect day. I thank the Common Council for supporting the resources necessary to make this happen.
With these new officers, we will be fully staffed this summer and able to focus on more proactive strategies for community concerns like drug houses, reckless driving, investigations of lesser crimes, and community-based policing. Our units focused on gun violence will be fully staffed as well.
A safe community for everyone also means a clean, safe environment. Work continues to address lead in our homes with federal grants. Last year 15 families enrolled in the program and 10 homes have already been completed. This process has been frustrating for residents, as well as our City team, due to the federal red tape. We will keep moving forward and look to speed up the pace of progress with locally controlled dollars, which are more flexible.
After decades of questions and millions of dollars spent on testing and cleanup, we can definitively say LaSalle Park is safe and will be into the future. We are now moving to add upgrades to the park to increase the vibrancy and amenities for our community.
We also made great progress last year tackling some of the worst eyesores in South Bend. In partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency, we remediated the former Wilson shirt factory on Sample and worked on SB Range along with the County. We also acquired the former Drewry’s site, securing with a new fence until EPA completes the cleanup this summer.
A safe community for everyone means a robust public health system. In the face of high infant mortality disparities and our lower life expectancy, our County health department has worked hard to increase capacity and address our root health issues. Governor Holcomb is leading with his Health Commission’s recommendations, including asking the General Assembly for substantial investment in local health services that would bring us out of the bottom 10 states in public health funding. There is a clear need for these funds. When the state passes the funding, we will need the County to act. We must seize this opportunity as a community. We must continue to address our clear and present health needs.
Cradle to Career Education
We must also do more to support our kids from cradle to career. The path to opportunity begins at the start of their education. We are excited to have nearly 500 more PreK seats and look to expand on our partnerships with United Way and South Bend Schools. With the SE Neighborhood Center open, the Far NW Neighborhood Center is next, and we hope to break ground later this year.
In partnership with South Bend Schools and enFocus, our Innovation and Technology team has provided over 4,500 students with internet access. Last year our Public Works team partnered to install nearly 140 school-zone flashing beacons at 40 schools across the city. These beacons remind drivers to slow down and watch for our kids before and after the school day. My team will continue to look for more opportunities to partner with South Bend schools.
The reality is that we have more school spaces than kids and teachers to fill them. Simple math tells us that something has to be done. While the 2020 referendum saved South Bend Schools from massive layoffs and closures, right sizing the district was always a core part of the referendum plan. Now the state legislature is forcing the issue further and considering a bill to target South Bend schools and allow charters to use partially used school buildings in the district. This is not a constructive policy that will move our community forward. We all need to work together. We need to educate and lift up all children. Our success into the future depends on this.
South Bend Schools are moving many important things forward: Pre-K expansion, strategic neighborhood feeder patterns, and a career center that will connect students with more opportunities to develop valuable skills.
Shared Growth and Opportunity
Our city’s growth is visible all around us: Trader Joe’s, the expanded main library, Pure Green Farms, Four Winds hotel, the renovation and upcoming expansion of the Morris, and the transformation of Potawatomi Zoo. Beacon’s new tower and lifestyle district will completely transform the north side of downtown, adding more than 500 new, good-paying jobs. The Chocolate Factory and Indiana Dinosaur Museum are bringing new life and activity to the west side of South Bend. Our state legislators are working on delivering more resources for major upgrades to Four Winds Field, without any new taxes or strain on our general fund. We received a competitive federal RAISE grant to plan and design better infrastructure in and around our Market District that will propel the further revitalization of this area.
These large projects serve as catalysts to further investment and set a strong foundation to build upon. But we are also all in with our incremental developers and grateful for the $4.6 million of projects they have already delivered. It will take all of us to rebuild our city and neighborhoods block-by-block. But together we will make South Bend a home where everyone can thrive.
In 2022, our revolving loan programs financed 22 businesses with nearly $5.2 million of capital – 55% are minority owned, 36% are women owned. And there’s more financing help for our entrepreneurs and small business owners on the way.
We’ve also supported our workers, supporting residents as they transition into new fields and grow in their careers. We launched the new Upskill SB program, which has already provided matching funds for 25 participants seeking new professional certifications. And our existing Pathways Program provided training for 177 South Bend residents as they learn new skills in manufacturing and leadership to advance. We also launched a High Skill Immigration Fund to help our local employers fill critical positions and grow their businesses, creating more opportunities for everyone.
We are committed to advancing racial justice and making our city fairer and equitable. Our Engagement and Economic Empowerment team built a blueprint for financial empowerment and equity in South Bend. Their blueprint engagements began with Boosts and Blocks, a partnership with the Civil Rights Heritage Center that examined policies, which have advanced and impeded wealth building in our communities of color. Undesign the Redline traced the impacts of discriminatory federal housing policy on our neighborhoods and people. We are working with the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund to form a financial empowerment center, a key part of our blueprint, and to implement proven strategies that help our families build wealth and become more financially stable. We also look forward to recommendations on reparatory justice nationally and here in South Bend, and I thank President McBride and Dr. Darryl Heller for stepping up to lead local efforts in a constructive way.
Last year I issued an executive order for us to be Broadband Ready, streamlining permitting to unlock more investment, forming a South Bend Connectivity Coalition, and creating a roadmap for digital equity to ensure all residents can thrive in our digital economy. We are on track to triple our Open WiFi coverage, which has already doubled since last year. We recently were awarded $500,000 in grants to boost our digital equity efforts and increase local sign-ups to the federal Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides discounts for qualifying families.
Transportation is a critical part of our shared growth and opportunity strategy. Commuter’s Trust worked with 12 local employers and 13 nonprofits to help over 700 employees and clients, providing over 75,000 discounted rides on Uber, Lyft, and TRANSPO. We are also working with TRANSPO to see what kind of strategic investments can be made to improve service and ridership and strengthen our public transit system – a critical service that empowers our residents with access to opportunities and enables them to meet their essential needs. We’re also excited to see renewed energy around bringing back passenger rail service to our downtown. Amtrak, South Shore, or both would be great catalysts for growth in our city, especially our southern downtown neighborhood.
Following the one-time forgiveness of unpaid utility bills that provided a clean slate for 4,957 families, we worked with the Common Council to provide greater flexibility in payment options and reform our policy for water shutoffs, using them only to prevent abuse. We are a generous and compassionate community, and these reforms are in line with our values.
More than 3,200 utility customers signed up for our expanded Utility Assistance Program, which provides qualifying families with up to a $25 per month reduction in utility costs. This program is critical to prevent families from falling behind and having to choose among basic needs.
And it bears repeating: our new long-term control plan for sewer overflows into the St. Joseph River will save ratepayers $437 million and reduce E. Coli discharges by an additional 12% over the original plan. You heard that right. Cheaper and better for the environment. This is an extraordinary accomplishment that passes savings to our residents and businesses.
Safe Affordable Housing
Safe, affordable housing for our residents remains a top priority.
With our population growing at the fastest rate in decades, demand for housing is higher than ever. To keep prices down, we need to increase supply across the board, from affordable to workforce to market rate. This is why my administration has adopted an all-of-the-above housing policy, which recognizes the simple fact – and confirmed by multiple studies – that the more housing we build the more housing prices will stay down for everyone. This is the law of supply and demand. Increase supply or reduce demand. Because we want to increase demand further and build on our growth, we must keep our foot on the gas pedal and build more housing. Well intentioned policies to prescribe housing types or impede the building of market rate housing will have the unintended effect of raising housing prices for all families in South Bend. This is not a zero-sum game. More housing of all types is good for the city and good for everyone.
During my term in office, we have seen a sharp rise in new homes – more than 1,500 units constructed, underway, or fully funded. And a quarter of those are affordable units. We are thankful that the state awarded our city three low-income housing tax credit projects this year that will add 241 new homes, of which 160 will be income-qualified units. We will continue to embrace housing of all types.
We launched our New Neighborhood Homes Initiative that makes it easier to finance and build infill homes across the city. Our Public Works team worked with Councilmembers to update the fee and cost structure for new utility connections. These updates facilitate in-fill development and housing that can tap into existing infrastructure, while ensuring that new developments that need new infrastructure to connect are paying their fair share to join our utility system. This seemingly small, commonsense policy change will continue to have an enormous impact as we rebuild our vacant lots. Our Community Investment team developed pre-approved plans for 5 building types that reduce design and permitting costs for new housing, and issued a request for proposals for new infill housing. We look forward to announcing successful proposals soon.
We have made strides in verifying that our rental homes are safe, performing 696 RSVP inspections and certifying 171 units. We are currently working with the Common Council to update and strengthen this program and the underlying ordinance.
We have also completed repair work at 21 homes through the South Bend Home Repair Program, with a total investment of $362,276.88. An additional $117,003 of work is already underway and soon we’ll launch the next round to deploy $1.5 million from the American Rescue Plan to provide roof and HVAC repairs for qualifying houses.
Our Housing Authority has begun to turn the corner with the leadership of Dr. Lamberg. We are making progress and thankful for our partnership.
We have also made tremendous progress on our housing first approach over the past three years. Housing first is not wishful thinking. It’s an evidence-based policy, first adopted by the federal government under President George W. Bush. The pillars of our approach are (1) to add permanent supportive housing units that provide affordable homes with the supportive services that our unhoused neighbors need to move forward successfully and (2) establish a permanent low-barrier center in partnership with Our Lady of the Road. We have already secured over 100 permanent supportive housing units and are working to add more in the coming years.
For the past couple of years, we have been providing wraparound services for the County’s Motels4Now program – a bridge to the permanent low-barrier center. When the County abandoned its Motels4Now program a few weeks ago without any plan or transition, we stepped up to keep it going.
We must keep pushing forward. We cannot go back to large tent encampments in South Bend. Earlier today, Our Lady of the Road closed on the purchase of the property, providing more certainty into the future until the permanent center can be completed. As part of this partnership, we are also increasing security measures to address the neighborhood’s concerns.
We have partnered with The Center for the Homeless, helping to renovate their existing facility and expand their capacity to provide weather amnesty to 75 of our unhoused neighbors during cold weather months.
We broke ground at the new Youth Service Bureau site and cannot wait to see the new campus take shape on this longstanding empty lot.
Vibrant, Welcoming Neighborhoods
Making our neighborhoods welcoming and vibrant is another top priority.
Last year we awarded nine neighborhood main streets grant awards for $400,000 of total investment. Our new vibrant places grant builds on this work citywide with additional resources for sustainability and solar investments. We have already received over 80 applicants and look forward to seeing these improvements made all over the city.
Our NEAT crew partnered in 12 neighborhood cleanups and removed 1.9 million pounds of waste from our neighborhoods.
Our partnership with our neighborhood associations continues to grow. We are pleased to see more neighborhoods strengthen their associations, participate in our Neighborhood Consortium, and develop great projects for our IGNITE grant program, such as signage, pocket parks, signal box art, a shareable tool trailer, and community garden.
In just under 5 years, every district of the city has seen upgrades and improvements to over 35 parks as part of the $60 million My SB Parks and Trails initiative. We have waited patiently, and with the hydropower plant completed this will be the year we finally reopen the new and improved Seitz Park. We built the dream together while designing the new $20 million King center. With financing in place, construction is moving forward. We welcomed an improved Randolph Park in the Southeast and opened the Stephen J. Luecke Coal Line trail. Its next phase from Riverside to 933 is underway. We are creating 18 pickleball courts and repairing basketball and tennis courts in 11 parks across the city. We’re also planning for major improvements to Kennedy Park and Potawatomi Park in the coming years. It’s no wonder our Venues Parks and Arts team was nominated for the gold medal for the second year in a row. This time, the judges got it right. We are proud to say that we are officially number one in parks and recreation.
Our arts and culture have also moved forward. We found the perfect spot for the new Harriet Tubman statue in Howard Park and now have a new equity in the arts position to bring more public art opportunities to our city.
Roughly 18,000 residents attended Best Week Ever, which was even more special with the celebration of the Morris 100. After nearly 20 years, we’re bringing back South Bend’s Ethnic Festival, a celebration of all our cultures and ancestries. While we will connect with the rich history of previous Ethnic Festivals, we are also looking to reimagine elements, including the name itself. Stay tuned for more details soon.
We are also investing to clear the backlog of neighborhood infrastructure needs and committed to equity in these investments. We are rebuilding our streets, including those in neighborhoods that haven’t been touched in decades. And by the end of the year, we will have paved or reconstructed nearly twice as many miles as we did in the previous four years, and will have performed work on over three times as many. That’ll be more than 185 miles paved after completing our three-year plan. This summer we will work to outline our next plan to rebuild our streets in our next chapter. Along with AEP, we’ve converted over 10,000 streetlights to LEDs, providing better, more efficient light in our neighborhoods. Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, last year 321 homes benefitted from our curb and sidewalk programs, and we are implementing our comprehensive neighborhood traffic calming plan to install various measures on over 40 neighborhood streets across the city identified by residents.
We are reimagining our neighborhoods and worked together on neighborhood plans that will guide investments for years to come. Last year we completed four neighborhood plans for Kennedy Park, Near West, Northeast, and Rum Village and launched a plan for Monroe Park/ Edgewater plan. There’s been lots of community engagement with nearly 10,000 mailings to keep residents informed and invite them to share their ideas. Plans for River Park and LaSalle Park are kicking off this year. We made progress on the Southeast neighborhood and West Side Main Streets plans with completion of streetscapes on Dubail and Lincolnway West.
With so many neighborhood plans, we recently moved a neighborhood financing package to fund roughly $30 million of improvements across the city: including LaSalle, Linden, and Mishawaka Avenue streetscapes, a trail to connect downtown to Eddy Street, and improvements for Walker Field, Elwood, and parks – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Coquillard, Southeast and Kennedy. Thank you to the Redevelopment Commission and the Common Council for making funds available for these important neighborhood projects. During the bond issuance process, we confirmed our AA bond rating, which reflects our continued strong financial position and responsible fiscal stewardship.
As we look to the future, we’ve already hosted over 50 community workshops in preparation for our 2045 plan. I encourage everyone in our community to get involved in this opportunity to help set the vision for our city for the next 20 years.
Climate action will be an important piece of our 2045 plan, and we’re working to update and strengthen our Climate Action Plan. I’m proud of our Sustainability Office’s work to leverage limited public funds to deliver $760,000 of private investment into energy efficiency and solar. The EASSI program supported 19 organizations last year and included 7 rooftop solar projects totaling 390kW of capacity, including the installation on the roof above us. These investments save money over the long term and allow these nonprofits to invest the savings back into their core missions and our community. We’re also preparing for federal investments in EV charging stations. Our 8 new charging stations are only the beginning.
Our Venues Parks and Arts team is growing 1,328 trees in 16 urban nurseries throughout the city. Increasing our urban tree canopy will be important to adapting to more extreme hot temperatures on the way, as well as doing our part to capture carbon.
Before I close, I would like to thank our internal service departments – Administration and Finance, Innovation and Technology, and Legal. They help make all the progress I mentioned tonight possible. And a special shout out to 311. Over the past decade, 311 has answered over 1.2 million calls. Our 311 team is receiving greater than a 4.5 rating out of 5 for their outstanding customer service. Thank you for helping our residents access city services every day and delivering top notch customer service.
As I reflect on this term in office and look to the future, I am amazed by what we have already accomplished and the many partnerships that made our progress possible.
We worked across the political spectrum to navigate the pandemic together. We must continue to band together to avoid being pulled apart by the extremes, who believe compromise is a weakness. Our democracy depends on compromise to function. We can work together with conservatives, progressives and moderates, as long as we bring mutual respect, compassion, and pragmatism. For as long as I’m your Mayor, I will look to build bridges within our community and outside of it, and South Bend will be a willing and open partner in progress.
Let’s continue down this path together and transform South Bend into a home where everyone can thrive.
Thank you once again to all of our community partners for the work you do with and for us.
To the greater South Bend community, together we can make every neighborhood safe, welcoming and vibrant. Together we can make South Bend a fairer and more just city. Together we can expand opportunities and take our growth to the next level.
Together we will rise to new heights.
May God bless our sworn firefighters and officers. May God continue to bless the City of South Bend.