COLUMBIA CITY — Reflection on tough economic obstacles tempered with cautious optimism — city and county officials spoke Friday on the state of the county at the Whitley County Chamber of Commerce Business Briefing Luncheon.
The theme of the luncheon was the state of the city/county and representatives from Whitley County government and two of the four county municipalities were on hand to discuss challenges and achievements over the past year.
The towns of South Whitley and Larwill were not represented at the luncheon.
“There were several challenges in the last two years, related to the economy,” said Columbia City Mayor Jim Fleck.
“Some of those (challenges) we have the capacity to deal with and others we have to react to.”
Opening the event’s list of speakers, Fleck blazed the trail of what would be the most common topic of the day — the economy.
“The very lifeblood of Columbia City is dependent of our ability to grow jobs,” he said.
Keeping things for city residents as close to the status quo as possible in the face of economic challenge is the city’s proudest achievement, according to Fleck and he passed the credit on to city employees and officials.
“We’ve been able to keep a stable tax rate for about five years and I think we’ve been blessed by good people who have been able to make that happen.”
Fleck also applauded the relationship between Columbia City and the county and referred to the town as a nice place to live.
Fleck, who is finishing his final term as the city’s top elected official, referred to the town as a safe place to walk the streets at night and called on city and county leaders to keep paving the way for the future.
“You’re leaders in this community,” Fleck said. “You’re the ones who decide, when we get to that fork in the road, which one to take.”
Frank Kessler, president of Churubusco’s town council, displayed equal optimism about the future of Whitley County’s northern-most town.
“(This year) was a progressive year for us,” said Kessler, who said the addition of a water purifying system to the city’s water supply was the town’s most crowning achievement last year.
“Now, when you fill a tub with water, you can see the bottom of the tub,” Kessler said to laughter.
Kessler said the town was able to clear its city water thanks to a community block grant and stimulus funds.
He also pointed to a new building for the town’s police department, completion of the Blue River Senior Apartments, a new splash pad at the park and renovations to the fire station as notable achievements in 2010.
Kessler told the audience in the basement of Parkview Whitley Hospital that the Indiana Department of Transportation is working with Churubusco to develop a plan for relieving traffic congestion on U.S. 33 south of town.
Kessler reported census data had his town’s population at 1,796.
“Our income stream is down, there’s no doubt about it,” said Kessler, “but we’re weathering it well.”
Tom Rethlake and Don Amber, Whitley County commissioners, each spoke about progress and challenges faced at the county level.
“We feel we had a pretty good year, considering economics,” said Rethlake, who started by introducing all the county employees and officials in attendance.
“We’re asking more from our employees and rewarding them less.”
Amber talked about new strategies involving roads.
He told the audience that traditional paving with asphalt would become the exception rather than the rule.
The new process, he described, called milling, involves chewing up the existing pavement and adding stone before putting the mixture back down and allowing the surface to cure.
Amber told the audience that by renting the equipment to mill roads last year, the Whitley County Highway Department saved the county about $122,000.
“You’re not going to see a lot of re-paving projects,” Amber said. “That’s pretty much a thing of the past.”