(As presented by the mayor on Friday, January 8. Video is available at www.ofallon.mo.us)
Good morning! And thank you to our residents, guests, elected officials and City Staff who have joined us – either virtually or in person – for my annual State of the City address. I hope everyone had a wonderful and safe Christmas and a happy new year, and I welcome you to what we all hope will be a fresh start in 2021.
Before I begin, I’d like to introduce our City Councilmembers who are here today…
I’d like to introduce Kathy Duck, the president of the O’Fallon Chamber of Commerce and Industries. Thank you for being here and for all you do for our City. I also would like to introduce our City Administrator Mike Snowden, our Assistant City Administrator Lenore Toser-Aldaz and our Chief of Police Philip Dupuis.
It is safe to say that 2020 wasn’t quite what we all expected when I gave this speech a year ago. We had no idea what would hit us just a few weeks later. As we all know, COVID-19 changed this past year for all of us. And my thoughts and prayers go out to everyone who dealt with serious illness or the death of a loved one during this pandemic. Despite everything, there were signs of hope. COVID has challenged us to respond and rethink how we live our lives, operate our businesses and even interact with each other socially. I am so proud of our residents and businesses who have willingly changed the way they live to keep each other safe.
I want to thank our doctors, nurses, health care employees, police officers, paramedics, EMTs and firefighters who have continued to serve and protect us. They never had an option to work from home or shut down for a few weeks, and they never complained. They continued showing up to work with a desire to serve and be there for us when they were needed. We are so thankful to all of you for continuing to answer the call.
I also want to thank our teachers, school administrators and all of the parents who have found ways to continue to teach our children. From when everything shut down in March and teaching over Zoom became a standard practice… to finding new ways to bring students back to school in the fall… to accommodating those who needed to stay home due to quarantine or illness, our teachers have found a way to get through it all.
On behalf of all of us here at the City of O’Fallon, we are truly grateful for all you have done and all you will continue to do in this coming year.
Finally, we say thank you to all of our essential workers who continued to keep our economy working here in O’Fallon. As I’ll talk more about later, our City’s economy not only survived, but thrived, during this pandemic. And it is because of the men and women who work at all of our stores and restaurants. You kept working and found new ways to keep your businesses open and safe throughout this year.
Of course, we have our own team of essential workers, and I am so impressed with how our Staff responded to every challenge 2020 threw at them. Our Police, streets, water and sewer and environmental services teams continue to provide exceptional service without any interruption. Our Parks and Recreation Department rescheduled and re-imagined events as things changed throughout the year. And everyone here at City Hall continues to work through this pandemic to serve you. I am grateful to all of you for your hard work, creativity and willingness to face every challenge!
I know 2020 was difficult for all of us, but we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
Here at the City, we also have had to make major changes, and one thing this year has shown is that our City is united, resilient and incredibly strong. We met every challenge, and I am so proud of our City Council, our City Staff and all of you for making it happen. As I mentioned, despite everything, this has actually been a solid year for our City economically. Our business community responded in so many ways, and our sales tax revenues met the goals we set long before we had ever heard of COVID-19.
We owe a great deal of gratitude to our residents, who adjusted to wearing masks and social distancing and continued to Keep it in the O by supporting O’Fallon’s restaurants and retailers. It’s been tough for us all, but your dedication to shopping locally is the main reason our City has been able to weather this storm.
Additionally, you reaffirmed your faith in your hometown by passing Proposition 1 back in June, adding a use tax to many out-of-state purchases. Because of you, we can ensure our local businesses can compete fairly with online giants, and we will see a new stream of revenues that will improve technology in our Police Department and allow our street crews to make even more repairs in your neighborhoods.
Here in City Hall, we adjusted too. Our Economic Development and Planning departments worked with our restaurant community to expand outdoor dining options. And our CDBG programs offered funding to help our local businesses keep our residents employed and rethink their layouts to protect both employees and customers from COVID. We also are now offering grants of up to $6000 for residents who are behind on their mortgage, rent or utility bills because of COVID. If you need assistance, please call us at City Hall, and we can put you in touch with organizations who can help!
Despite everything 2020 threw at us, our City has continued to move forward. Our residents responded to the Census in record numbers, which should ensure O’Fallon continues to receive fair representation in Congress and our fair share of Federal funding for important projects as we move through the next decade.
Our City’s financial management continues to be excellent. We again operated with a balanced budget and even offered our residents a lower property tax rate than the previous year. O’Fallon also was recognized for our financial excellence as Moody’s upgraded our bond rating from an Aa2 to Aa1, which is one of the highest ratings available. This is due to our conservative financial practices and strong operating reserves.
We launched a new City website, which has made finding the information you need even easier, and we will be adding even more great features in 2021. A big part of this will be improved self-service opportunities to allow our residents to access City services online as easily as possible. This is a major goal of our project to revamp all of the City’s technology systems and bring them onto a single platform, making us more efficient and allowing better collaboration and innovation between departments. We just launched the first – and possibly most significant – piece of this on January 1st as our entire financial system moved to the new system. And we’ve already begun the process of building on this foundation. You’ll see many of the public-facing, user-focused improvements later this year.
Throughout 2020, we made significant improvements in our infrastructure too, as our Renew O’Fallon program reached several major milestones. In our water and sewer department, we began construction of our new $26 million sewer plant. The new plant, which is needed to meet ever-changing DNR requirements, will allow for a cleaner, more efficient system. The plant is on schedule to open in Fall of 2022. We also changed the way we remove our biosolid waste, resulting in a future savings of nearly $17 million and lowered the planned sewer rate increase by more than 7%.
Our water and sewer line replacement projects also kicked into high gear, with miles of water lines replaced throughout North O’Fallon and improved sewer lines throughout the system. This year, we’ll continue to replace older lines and we will rehabilitate several of our wells and water towers to ensure we continue to provide a safe and clean water supply.
Perhaps the most notable infrastructure improvement we’ve made throughout the City, just wrapped up last month. The first phase of the I-70 corridor project is now complete, which means the City’s primary northern entrance has been completely redone. This project, which has significantly improved traffic flow throughout the north side, should also be a major driver of economic development in the coming years as new commercial and industrial land is now available for development.
Our Engineering team also secured more than $8 million in state and federal funding for road improvements on many of our major streets. Projects along Main Street, Winghaven, Mexico and Highway DD will all see improvements from this funding. On the City’s south side, another huge project is now underway. After three years of negotiation and hard work by nearly every City department, Payne Family Homes broke ground on one of the largest mixed-use developments in O’Fallon’s history. The $400 million Streets of Caledonia project includes more than 650 single-family homes and townhomes and nearly 100 acres dedicated to commercial, office and retail development. The project is located at the intersection of I-64 and Highway DD, adjacent to O’Day Park.
Our Economic Development efforts greatly impacted our existing businesses too. During these extremely challenging economic times, our staff was on the front lines working with and providing support to our existing business community. We partnered with the O’Fallon Chamber of Commerce & Industries to contact more than 1,000 businesses during the first two months of the pandemic with a real emphasis on retailers, restaurants, and manufacturers. Our O’Fallon Chamber does so much for our business community, and we are proud to continue our strong partnership with the Chamber and all of our businesses. We launched a new “O’Fallon is Open for Business” campaign.to support our existing businesses and remind developers and decision-makers that our City is a great place to locate and operate your business. The focus on business recruitment already has paid off as several retail openings, created by the impact of the pandemic, are on their way to being filled.
Advanced manufacturing firms constructed almost 300,000 square feet of industrial space in O’Fallon this past year. We welcomed Cosmos Corporation and their 200 employees into a beautiful new global headquarters on Pearl Drive, and they immediately stepped up to help our community. This family-owned business donated a hundred cases of their newest product – much-needed hand sanitizer – to the City and the O’Fallon Chamber this Spring. It is just one of the many examples of a local business supporting our City.
Our Economic Development efforts will expand in 2021 as we add a new staff member who will be charged with leading our business attraction efforts. The retention of O’Fallon’s existing businesses also will be a top priority. These businesses survived this past year’s economic adversity and will get special attention as they adjust to new economic realities.
Our Public Works teams excelled throughout the year as well. In our Environmental Services department, we expanded the recycling drop-off locations at both the Justice Center and Renaud, resulting in more convenient facilities and increased usage. And, despite the challenges presented by COVID, the department provided a dozen bulk waste, electronic recycling and shredding events and more than 3 million curbside pickups!
In 2021, Environmental Services will enhance the drop-off location at City Hall and will offer a new, affordable service allowing residents to rent roll-off dumpsters for residential clean up or renovation projects.
Our Parks department received a tremendous honor last year when it won the Missouri Municipal League’s Innovation Award for the amazing O’Day Park. MML recognized our Parks team for the spectacular design that preserved the natural beauty of the area and the innovative water preservation system that uses reclaimed water from the playground to irrigate the park. Our newly-formed Recreation Department made constant adjustments to provide our residents as many safe programs as possible. This year, our Parks and Recreation teams will partner to undertake a needs assessment and master plan for our entire system. This process will help us shape the future of our parks system.
Master planning is also a focus of our Planning Department, which is working with a group of residents to create a new Comprehensive Plan for our entire City. This process began with public meetings last year and will continue throughout the year. We also will be updating our building codes this year. This process will ensure our housing and commercial buildings are built to the highest available standards.
Our Police Department completed their accreditation process last year and introduced a great new golf cart program that helped our officers engage with our residents safely throughout the summer. Over the next two years, the Police Department will begin significantly upgrading its technology with a new records management and dispatch systems and new body and dash cameras. These much-needed improvements are all funded with use tax funds that you, our voters, approved last June.
As we all know, COVID forced the cancellation of many of our great events and volunteer opportunities last year. But I want to thank our Tourism and Festivals and Volunteer Services teams for all of their efforts to bring as much normalcy as possible to the year. These departments tried every idea they could to offer our residents safe, fun activities. And, through their efforts, we were able to offer Jammin’, Celebration of Lights, the Holiday Stroll and countless small events. Of course, our showcase event, Heritage and Freedom Fest, was rescheduled and later cancelled. We’ve already started working on bringing this event back in 2021, and I can’t wait for all of us to safely return to the Ozzie Smith Sports Complex for the 4th of July.
Our Volunteer community continued to support our staff through the donation of thousands of hours of time at events, in our offices here at City Hall and especially on our Boards and Commissions. These dedicated individuals advise the City Council on many of the issues that impact our community, and we couldn’t do our jobs without them.
Needless to say, 2020 forced our businesses, our staff, elected officials and all of you to look at things in a way none of us ever had before. It was a challenging year for all of us, but we got through it together.
I truly believe that our City staff is the best around. Whether it’s the police officers you see patrolling your neighborhood, the environmental services drivers who collect your trash and recycling, the water crews fixing a broken main at 3 in the morning in bitter cold temperatures or the fitness instructors leading a class at the Renaud Center, our staff works for you. And they take great pride in that. I am so grateful for all they do!
Our staff also is heavily involved in our community. Our Adopt-a-Family program provides Christmas gifts to local families and the programs funded by our Community Development Block Grant and our annual Project HOME golf tournament allow numerous low-income residents to fix up their homes, address code violations or even buy their first home here in O’Fallon. This year made things tougher than ever, but our staff once again exceeded all expectations.
And 2021 already is showing us that there is real hope for a return to normal life. I am so proud of what we accomplished this past year, and I am extremely excited for what’s to come. As we move forward, I would like to encourage you to help keep O’Fallon strong by getting involved in your City. Volunteer. Attend a City Council meeting or help out on a committee or commission. And please don’t hesitate to contact your Councilmember, our City Staff, or me directly and let us know what you think… what you see in our City… and what we can do to improve.
As I close today, let me just say thank you.
Thank you for allowing me to continue to serve as your Mayor.
Thank you for meeting all of the challenges from this past year.
Thank you for shopping and dining in O’Fallon.
Thank you for stepping out of your comfort zone to find new ways to live safely.
And, thank you for continuing to keep this City one of our Country’s best places to live, work and play.
Thank you and God bless you, your family and this great City.