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State of Our City: Morley praises city economy, takes aim at flood mitigation

ELMHURST – After many thanks to city staff, elected officials, community leaders and an impression of former Elmhurst Mayor Tom Marcucci, current mayor Steve Morley praised Elmhurst's economy during his State of Our City address Tuesday.

"Our financials are better than they've been in 10 years," Morley said.

Although the City Council made what Morley called the "tough decision" to raise taxes about $27 for the average Elmhurst home – the majority of which will go to the city's pension fund – Morley boasted the general and working cash funds were within city targets.

"It's important during good times that we save up our reserves so that when we're facing some difficult times we actually can tap into those reserves," Morley said.

Those savings mean the city doesn't immediately need to raise taxes during a sales tax shortage or other instances. The city's general fund, which should hold three to four months worth of operating capital is more than $15.5 million and the working cash fund is more than $800,000, but expected to be at $1 million by the end of the year.

Morley also mentioned the city's AAA bond rating, which saved the city $1.5 million through refinancing debt in 2013.

"Revenue is the life blood of our city," Morley said.

He added that rather than raise taxes to increase revenues, he prefers to encourage development in order to broaden the tax base, which he named as one of his two goals for 2014. The second was improving the city's infrastructure, specifically flood mitigation.

"This year we need to concentrate on [stormwater] flood mitigation," Morley said.

He noted that improvements to the sanitary system, which are underway, will affect thousands of homes, but named stormwater as a priority for 2014.

Once again, Morley announced Whole Foods is expected to take over the former Dominick's property at Elmhurst Crossing, but said an official announcement could happen as soon as a few hours after his speech.

Morley praised Mariano's as a fantastic anchor for the newly created TIF IV. The city plans to enhance the TIF with a North York Plan, which is in development.

"Developers are literally knocking on our door every day," Morley said.

He also said the city's revenue sharing agreement with School District 205, and the Park District for TIF IV is the most progressive in the state and used it as an example of the intergovernmental cooperation he hopes to continue as the city, park district board and board of education work together on the 10 sites identified in the Christopher B. Burke Engineering report for flood mitigation.

"If we can pull together a complex revenue sharing agreement like we did for TIF IV, we can certainly get together and solve our flooding problems," Morley said.

He explained that the proposed stormwater mitigation plan will cost millions of dollars, and that is why implementing it is taking so long. The Public Works and Buildings Committee is working on prioritizing the 10 projects in an effort to move forward in cooperation with the parks and schools to achieve a solution for residents.

"While those entities are the stewards of that land, the land belongs to the citizens of Elmhurst," Morley said.

He explained the surplus expected from the sales tax TIF overlaying in TIF I. He predicted TIF I will provide $9.5 million over the next six years to District 205.

He also mentioned the city has met twice with Nitti Development, which recently agreed to purchase the Berteau Campus property from Elmhurst Memorial Hospital and plans to develop single-family homes.

He voiced his support for more parking in Elmhurst's downtown and mentioned the Addison Parking Deck, which is currently under review by the city's Zoning and Planning Commission and announced that the city council chose to begin negotiations on the six-story Morningside Group proposal for the long-awaited Hahn Street Redevelopment project.

"I'm trying to put 10 pounds of diamonds in a five-pound bag," said Morley. "There's just not enough time in the day for me to say good things about Elmhurst."

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2013 by the numbers

Here's a look at stats Mayor Steve Morley provided in his State of Our City address:

$4.5 million: Money Elmhurst residents have saved over the past 16 months due to electrical aggregation

$8.16 million: Sales tax revenue collected by the city in 2013, a 40 percent increase since 2009

$85 million: Construction dollars invested in the city during 2013

73 percent: Drop in Elmhurst robberies during 2013; other crimes that have decreased include burglaries, aggravated assault and batteries, and motor thefts

6,616: Calls for service that the Elmhurst Fire Department responded to during 2013

578: New trees planted by the Public Works Department during 2013

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