Huntington’s good, bad and beautiful was summed up succinctly by Mayor Brooks Fetters during his annual State of the City address on Friday, Feb. 2.
“’Do What You Say You Will Do’ – that’s kind of our formula for success,” he said. “I think a lot of times it’s that practical.”
Fetters presented his report of the city’s successes and challenges to a packed venue at the Café of Hope, focusing on three main areas: ongoing pursuit of meaningful jobs, the daily task of running the city like a business and helping people love living in Huntington.
Fetters said many from within the community as well as without have contributed to make Huntington successful, including the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership.
“We have had people from outside of Huntington invest in Huntington as we move forward,” he said. “The Regional Cities Initiative that was launched under former Gov. Pence brought $42 million to the northeast Indiana area, and Huntington has been the recipient of two of those grants that helped make some major projects happen.”
Projects benefiting from those funds were $250,000 toward the Little River Trail and $1.6 million for the rehabilitation of the UB Block in downtown Huntington.
Fetters added that work on the inside of the UB Block buildings is scheduled to begin in a week or two, calling the project “a game-changer” for Huntington. When finished, the buildings will sport 35 market-rate apartments, Huntington University’s Entrepreneurial Center and a regional art studio run by Pathfinder Services Inc. that will include a culinary arts learning area.
Other projects include park improvements, including nearly three miles of trails, updated park signs; a new BMX pump track; and a dog park, which is scheduled to open this year.
Fetters also recalled the revamped Veterans Memorial, located at Memorial Park and the acquisition of a Navy anchor and donation of a Vietnam veterans monument, which was funded by private donations. He added that this year’s goals include the addition of seven plaques that recognize the county’s Civil War veterans.
Other “wins” in 2017 include:
• The city’s ISO Fire Rating improved from a “4” to a “3,” which affects insurance rates. Likewise, the city’s flood insurance rating improved from a “9” to an “8.”
• Etna Avenue improvements, started in 2008, which Fetters said is running ahead of schedule. He said an additional $1.6 million was invested by the state, on top of about $2.5 million to fund those improvements.
“That will put curbs, gutters, storm sewers, which help make life better for the people who call that area of town home,” he
• Community Crossings grants to maximize paving projects throughout the city. Fetters said there will be more coming this year.
• Hosting the 2017 State Robotics Championship at Huntington North High School, which was attended by about 5,000 people.
“It was like watching a robotic Indy 500,” he said. “They had a pit room in the fieldhouse and it was just a lot of fun. Huntington really showed itself off well.”
• Volunteerism was up this year, with 4,262 people pitching in to make the city more attractive, working 15,189 hours on 113 projects.
• Curbside recycling was a big win, as it gets underway this year.
Among challenges Fetters outlined from the past year include:
• UTEC’s announced closing of business. Fetters announced that the company’s Huntington workers are “finding their way” after many lost their jobs last year. He added that UTEC is not closing, but is changing its role to focus on research, design and engineering, with a smaller workforce.
• The opioid crisis, calling it “an ongoing battle.” A recent opioid summit hosted by Sen. Andy Zay attracted more than 90 people to learn how to deal with the problem. He said a $20 hit of heroin can cause hundred of thousands of dollars of recovery.
The city will continue to cooperate to help eradicate the crisis, Fetters said.
“It’s aggravating, it’s frustrating, it makes you angry to see these things happening to human beings,” he said. “But, at the end of the day, what I appreciate seeing is the fact that we have (police and fire) chiefs and public safety leaders who have a heart for the people who are tangled up in these addictions.”
• Recovery from the 43 W. Market St. fire that occurred March 8. Fetters applauded the efforts of local fire departments, utilities and others behind the scenes to handle the millions of gallons of water that was used to fight the fire, while keeping it contained to the building in which it started as well as help from those in the community.
“It was a team effort and I’m incredibly proud of what happened back in March of 2017,” he added. “I think that just really demonstrates the ability of this team to come together and serve the needs of the citizens of Huntington.”
Looking ahead, the mayor cited the cleanup of the H.K. Porter site on the east side of town as the Fetters administration’s “legacy project,” as Environmental Protection Agency personnel converge on the site to clean up benzene, asbestos and lead contaminants. Already seven buildings have been torn down, he said.
“They anticipate that they’re going to bring this thing to a close probably in the next two or three months,” he said. “That is a huge project, not only for the people who live around this place but for the city as a whole.”
Fetters also announced that the city has been named compliant in its long-term control project, lifting an EPA order to keep the rivers clean. The move allows for new projects this year and also in 2020.
Storm sewer improvements on the south end of town are also in the works, starting with an oversized storm sewer line along Etna Avenue to handle feeder storm drains, sending water to the river near Horace Mann School.
“This is going to make a difference for the way people live and the quality of life they have,” Fetters said.
He also announced more street improvements in 2018, including sidewalk rehabilitation and increased code enforcement.
Funding will be supplemented by Community Crossings grants and resources from the wheel tax. Sidewalks uprooted by trees have been a big problem. Fetters said he plans to bring a proposal to the city’s Common Council on Feb. 13 to invest $125,000 in fixing what he called the “worst of the worst.”
More ADA-compliant improvements are coming as well. Fetters said all city facilities have been adapted to be ADA accessible, along with trails and greenways throughout the city.
“That means if you’ve got a wheelchair, a walker or some sort of a disability, you can go out and use all these amenities around the city of Huntington,” he added.
Fetters also wants to foster the Neighborhood Alliances program, which organizes neighbors in proximity of each other to share their resources to help beautify their community.
“My commitment is to help all of our neighborhoods all around town,” he said. “We still crave and desire ‘community.’ That’s what we’re trying to accomplish.”