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O’Fallon Mayor Bill Hennessy: State of the City 2020

Bill Hennessy

(On January 10, O’Fallon Mayor Bill Hennessy delivered his State of the City address. Following is the text of that address, with introductions of those present removed.)

In 2019, O’Fallon returned to Money Magazine’s prestigious list of America’s Best Places to Live, landing at number 24 on the list. It is a tremendous honor, and it continues nearly two decades of O’Fallon being rated as one of our nation’s best cities. As your Mayor, I know that it is our residents, businesses and City staff who make this possible. You are the reason O’Fallon continues to be a great place to live, work and play, and I am grateful for all you do!

We also know that we can’t receive this kind of recognition without the support of our local public and private schools, the numerous Fire Departments who serve our community, the St. Charles County Ambulance District, the Library District, the O’Fallon Chamber of Commerce and Industries, and our own O’Fallon Police Department.

We are fortunate to be served by the best of the best here in our City, and we could not be where we are without all of you! Combined with our local community groups, churches, HOAs and dedicated residents and businesses, O’Fallon has an amazing foundation on which to continue building our City’s future, and our future looks extremely exciting!

O’Fallon also continues to be recognized as one of the safest cities in the United Sates. I am truly grateful to the men and women of the O’Fallon Police Department for all they do to help keep us that way. We are blessed to have one of the nation’s best police departments, and it is thanks to our residents and businesses who continue to support our officers. Our officers could not do it without you.

I constantly see examples of our residents interacting and supporting our officers, whether it be at a neighborhood gathering, our Coffee with a Cop events or just saying hi as our officers drive through the neighborhood. And, when residents take the time to let us know about things that just don’t seem right, it gives our officers a chance to investigate before it may become an issue. It’s that level of support that makes it easier for our officers to do their jobs.

Keeping O’Fallon as one of the country’s safest cities and best places to live is my top priority as your Mayor, and each year, this becomes even more challenging. Technology is changing at a rapid pace and we need to invest in the best technology and crime fighting equipment available, but to do that, we need to have additional revenues.

This April, we will be asking our residents to help us keep putting safety first by supporting Proposition 1. This proposition will allow us to invest more than $1 million a year in new police technology such as body cameras, in-car video equipment and improved safety gear. We also will be able to make our roadways safer with new concrete and asphalt replacements throughout all areas of the City.

The funds would come from a use tax placed on certain internet purchases. The impact on tax payers is minimal as only internet purchases totaling over $2000 are impacted, but the combined impact on our City would be huge, with more than $3 million in new funding that can be used specifically to improve the safety of our community through technology improvements for police and much needed road improvements for safer travel.

This tax, which already is collected at the State and County levels will allow us to invest in our future even further and will help protect our local businesses who are fighting to stay alive against internet giants. Proposition 1 benefits our community in so many ways and it’s crucial to our City’s future that we get it passed soon.

Unfortunately, our legislators in Jefferson City already are making noise about cities like O’Fallon losing funds from future use taxes if we fail to pass Proposition 1. It’s up to us to make sure they can’t do that.

Let’s make sure these funds stay in O’Fallon and work to keep this City safe for future generations when you go to the polls this April.

As we move into 2020, I am excited to welcome the O’Fallon Hoots to CarShield Field. The team will bring some of the region’s top college baseball players to our beautiful stadium, and they’re going to bring back the affordable family-friendly fun that the previous organization may have forgotten about in recent years. CarShield Field is one of City’s real gems, and we want it to again be a destination point for all of our residents and for those visiting from around the region.

The home opener is May 29th, and with 30 home games this season, there’s lots of opportunity to check out the Hoots. If you haven’t been to a game the past few years or had a bad experience with the previous organization, I encourage you to give this new team a try this summer. I think you’ll be happy with what you see. But, if the experience doesn’t meet your expectations, please let me know. I will make sure the ownership group hears about it.

Here in City Hall, 2020 will be all about three letters… ERP. ERP stands for Enterprise Resource Planning and it’s a process we will be going through over the next two years. Ultimately, it will culminate with a new IT, data and management software system that will completely revamp most of our internal functions, making us more efficient and allowing us to better serve our residents and businesses. It is a huge endeavor that will involve nearly every department, but it’s an investment that will benefit both our staff and our residents.

In addition to improving our technology, we’re going to take it a step further and improve City Hall as a whole. Last year, we began a process of redesigning our building with a focus on security and service, and this year, the real work starts. Construction will begin on the former police side of the building as we expand City Hall, bring more departments under one roof and offer our residents additional public meeting space.

Service to our residents and businesses is what we’re all about here in City Hall, and it is what guides us in every decision we make. You can see that commitment throughout all of our departments in our accomplishments over the last year and our goals for 2020.

 After opening O’Day Park to rave reviews and expanding our camp and sports programs in 2019, our Parks and Recreation Departments take another big leap this year with the addition of new programs like E-Sports and futsal. Plus, the addition of the new Find Your Fit week at the Renaud Center, which will offer residents free fitness class demos, talks with dieticians and other services to help you explore and improve your health.

Additionally, in response to numerous requests by residents, I’m excited to announce that we will begin serving beer at our concession stands this summer. Of course, we want everyone to enjoy responsibly, but this is something our residents have asked about for years, and the revenues we produce will help support even more new features and programs in our parks.

Both O’Day Lodge and Krekel Civic Center are becoming great destinations for weddings, meetings and family gatherings, and we’re looking to expand on the services we offer in these locations this year. With these great new facilities, we have the capacity to host nearly any event, so if you’re planning a wedding or special event, please reach out to our Parks Department and check out these beautiful – and affordable – facilities.

Last year, our Tourism and Festivals team launched several new events at O’Day Park, including the very popular Fall into the Arts, which we hope to see grow into one of the region’s premier art fairs. Celebration of Lights again saw near record crowds and our Heritage and Freedom Fest continued to be the highlight of the summer for both residents and those around the region.

Although I can’t reveal who it is yet, I can promise you that this year’s entertainment will be just as good as last year’s… But we’ll have to wait a while before I can announce it!

Our volunteer services team is a key component of the success of these events, and they again came through last year. More than 1500 volunteers supported our events, planted more than 5500 flowers and removed more than 1300 pounds of trash from our creeks and parks.

Our city’s infrastructure remains a focus as well. Our Renew O’Fallon efforts continue to rehab and upgrade streets throughout the City and we’ve seen major improvements in nearly every subdivision, along Mexico and Bryan Roads and in the areas south of I-64. This will continue in 2020 as work begins on the new Caledonia Parkway and even more improvements to our subdivision streets.

Work also continues on the I-70 corridor where improvements to the north and new south outer roads already are reducing traffic and allowing for safer travel throughout the area. We’ll see even more changes this year as the portion underneath I-70 is completed and work moves west towards Woodlawn.

These improvements also present a great opportunity for commercial development along this corridor, and our Economic Development team is working to find new growth opportunities in this area. Throughout O’Fallon, we’ve seen significant growth in 2019, and we expect this to continue in 2020. With more than 220,000 square feet of manufacturing space nearly 100,000 square feet of office and commercial development underway, we’re seeing growth in all sectors.

2019 was a year of upgrades for our water and sewer teams. Our staff rehabbed and lined nearly 11 miles of sanitary sewer lines and replaced nearly 12,000 feet of water mains, resulting in a 40% decrease in water main breaks last year. Those improvements will continue in 2020 with the construction of a new sanitary sewer line, more sewer and water main rehabs and construction of two new wells.

Our Environmental Services team extended our agreement with St. Peters, so we can continue to offer affordable recycling despite the changes in the global market. And we expanded the free bulk waste, electronic recycling and paper shredding events. This year we will add a new roll-off service for residents who need a construction dumpster during renovations and will continue to look for ways to make recycling easier and better.

Some of the improvements we made last year are a little less visible but just as important. Our City Council followed up on the work of our Planning and Zoning team to adopt a new Downtown Overlay District, which recognizes the historic and unique nature of our downtown area and offers new development opportunities that should give Downtown a much-needed spark in the next decade.

It’s all part of the continued smart and healthy growth of our City. We have seen a 20% increase in building permits over the last two years, and we will soon see even more as work begins on the Caledonia development near the DD and I-64 interchange.

The growth that began in that area with the soccer park and O’Day Park will now expand with hundreds of new homes and new commercial development planned for the vacant land south of I-64. We’re only at the beginning of this new development, but it’s an exciting opportunity for our City.

All of this new development means we need to build our team to better meet these needs. That’s why we’re hiring a new plan examiner to work with our developers and two new code enforcement officers to ensure our existing infrastructure remains up to par.

Our Police Department also is growing. Last year, we added our newest K-9 Vegas, who has joined his handler Officer Matt Vegovisch, to give us 24-hour coverage with our K-9s. We also added two new Lieutenants and an additional Sergeant to make sure we have proper leadership for all of our shifts.

Chief Clothier also has put a significant focus on recruitment to ensure that we are bringing in the best officers. Our goal is to be at full capacity in 2020 with a waiting list of qualified, dedicated officers who want to take their careers to the next level here in O’Fallon.

We continue to work on State certification of our police department, too. We already have implemented or updated nearly 80 policies to ensure we are both compliant with certification guidelines and meeting the best practices of 21st century policing.

It’s all part of our goal to meet the philosophy of our officers – and our department – being true problem solvers who not only respond to crime when it occurs, but also work to proactively develop solutions to the immediate, underlying conditions contributing to public safety problems.

To attract the best officers and employees, you have to compensate them appropriately, and our Human Resources department teamed with our Administration to analyze the pay scales of all of our employees in 2019.

The result was an improved pay scale that ensures our employees are paid fairly while still protecting taxpayer dollars. And, we are committed to making sure our compensation program remains competitive in the future. Over the next two years, our City Administrator will lead a committee that will analyze our entire employee compensation system to ensure it is competitive, sustainable and keeps O’Fallon as a place where the best employees want to work.

With the help of all of our staff and elected officials, our Finance team continues to be excellent stewards of your tax dollars and delivers a balanced budget year after year with healthy reserves to ensure that we are protected in the case of an emergency.

We also must provide the utmost in financial transparency, and as we implement our new ERP system, we will have even more opportunity to improve our financial transparency with our taxpayers through improved online features giving residents easier access to our City’s financials.

Combined with the 1000s of hours of City meetings that taxpayers can view live or on demand and our dedicated Citizens First team who is always ready to help, we will continue to make sure your government is responsive, transparent and easily accessible.

This past year, our Communications team has focused on improving communication with our residents through social media. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or YouTube, you can find just about everything you need to know on one of our feeds. I know most of you already follow our City, the Police Department, Parks and Tourism and Festivals on these formats, but if you don’t, please do! It’s the best way to keep up with all of the happenings around O’Fallon.

Our Communications team also gives you one of the best ways to watch and communicate with your government on our website, and I’m pleased to announce that we will be making that site even better.

In just a few weeks we will introduce a new City website with improved mobile capabilities, better navigation and great new features.

As we enter this new decade, I am truly excited to see where O’Fallon will go. Our City already is the second largest in the Metro Area and considered one of the country’s best places to live, work and play. And, we have the potential to continue that success over the next 10 years. I can assure you that our City Staff and our City Council is dedicated to making sure we continue to move this City forward.

But we need your support.

Whether it’s volunteering at a City or neighborhood event, organizing a neighborhood get together, stopping by to introduce yourself to someone new or even just picking up a random piece of trash that has blown into the street, you can help make O’Fallon a better place.

You can even come to a City meeting and see how our government works. If you really want to participate and make a difference, I encourage you to consider volunteering for one of our Citizen boards or even run for office. Whatever you want to do, the opportunity is there.

So, please get involved. Contact your Councilmember, our City Staff, or me directly and let us know what you think… tell us what you see in our City… and what we can do to improve. Your input is crucial to our success!

And, remember to vote this April. Proposition 1 is a responsible, affordable proposal that will help keep O’Fallon safe and ensure that your tax dollars remain here supporting your City. I encourage you to research it and consider voting for it to keep Putting Safety First in O’Fallon!

Thank you to everyone for joining us today. From my family to yours, welcome to a new decade here in O’Fallon. We look forward to a great 2020!

Thank you and God bless you, your family and this great City.

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