CITY ADDRESS: Past, present, future of City

COLUMBIA CITY — “The government that is closest to the people is what is best for the people.” That was a phrase spoken near the end of Columbia City Mayor Ryan Daniel’s State of the City address Friday. The mayor said it is an expression he often quotes and one he sincerely believes.It is with this mentality that the city must tackle coming issues. There is optimism; as Daniel noted, the city had a better year than many in 2012, but there are also difficulties to come.The passing of the Clean Water Act means the city has to continue work on the Long-Term Control Plan. Phase 2A was completed in 2012. It cost the city approximately $8 million. The good news for citizens, according to Daniel, is Phase 2B will not be implemented for five more years. The price tag for that project is currently projected at $7 to $10 million.“We have to pay for it somehow,” Daniel said. “We are currently assessing the situation and trying to find any and all ways to cut back on the expensive nature of this project.”Future projects on the horizon include relaunching the Columbia City Housing Authority. Daniel believes this could be a key factor to aid community development.He also saw the housing authority as a way to combat declining housing stock, low property values and potential growth in crime.“I am very excited to see what a difference this group will make in our community,” he said.Daniel’s address carried a common theme — “trust local.”“We, as local, popularly-elected officials, are asking our state government to handle the big stuff, but leave the local issues to us,” he said.There will also be more utility work to come for the city, as the South Line Street project continues this year and in to 2014. Daniel also commented that the city plans on leaving the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, a move that could possibly lower rates for citizens.According to Daniel’s assessment, highlights from 2012 included increased work with city employees. The mayor touted the hiring of a new Human Resources director, a first for the city; as well as the hiring of a police officer, who will take over in the summer of this year. A new fire fighter may also be on the horizon. Departed employees were also noted, as the mayor thanked Electric Department Superintendent Larry Whetstone, who will be retiring this spring.“I appreciate Larry’s commitment to our customers and his service to the city,” Daniel said. Overall, there was good news and bad news from the mayor’s perspective. He praised the new Dunham Sporting Goods store that will open in the old Scott’s building as a marker for economic development. On the other hand, the next phase of the Long-Term Control Plan, along with other budget challenges, looms on the horizon.“I hope you hear optimism, but also some caution, as I look to the future,” he said.