By Stacey A. Shannon—
MUNCIE, Ind.—At the end of the seventh annual I.D.E.A. conference on March 5, Mayor Dan Ridenour presented his State of the City address in the Student Center at Ball State University. Muncie’s mayor recounted many accomplishments during 2021 as well as gave some insight as to what is coming in 2022.
Quality Of Place
In focusing on aspects of Muncie that make the city attractive and inviting, Mayor Ridenour started by discussing the work and improvements made to city parks. In 2022, $6.792 million will go into parks, which is 2.5 times more than in 2019. Mayor Ridenour said parks and outdoor places cause people to want to move to Muncie or stay in Muncie, which is one of his priorities.
“Parks are visual [and] create healthy options,” he said.
During 2021, the city opened two new park renovations with splash pads at Cooley Park on the city’s southeast side and Halteman Park on the northwest side. In 2022, Riverview Park on the northeast side and Thomas Park on the southwest side will be updated and have splash pads added as well. The Tuhey Park splash pad will also be repaired for a total of five splash pads available throughout the city this year. Tuhey Pool also received a grant to hire more lifeguards in 2022.
Mayor Ridenour doesn’t plan to stop there. He has increased park funding and will continue to do so with plans to create new park space in 13 acres south of Memorial Drive and Tillotson, add 6 acres to Riverside Park and erect a new park in Storer Woods. Plans for park renovations in Anthony and Blaine Southeast neighborhoods are coming soon.
“The parks are a major focus and will continue to be so,” Mayor Ridenour said, mentioning that the Parks Department works with the neighborhoods to create spaces the residents most want. “Without collaboration we’re not going to get anywhere.”
Francis Lafferty Field in McCullough Park has planned renovations which are funded by the city, the Cal Ripkin Foundation and Ball State University. The mayor said Heekin Park is getting upgrades as well with playground repairs and the addition of a nearly $1 million memory garden.
The city also has 75% of the funds for a skate park at Westside Park in the land just east of Tillotson and west of the playground. The mayor said his goal has been to pay cash for all renovations to avoid debt.
As part of the park system, Prairie Creek Reservoir has also had some upgrades. The park designed and purchased a new ADA boat dock in 2021 that will be installed this year. Mayor Ridenour mentioned all park renovations throughout the city are ADA compliant.
The Parks Department also constructed a new building at the reservoir and has a tennant who offers additional food options. A south shore expansion with a new campground is in the works as well. Funds from that campground will then by used to pay for more renovations to the north shore in the future, including the installation of floating docks.
Another big announcement for Prairie Creek Reservoir was the city’s contract to continue to host the Iron Man Triathlon through 2024. Mayor Ridenour said he is thrilled at the economic impact the Iron Man Triathlon will continue to have on Muncie.
“We know the economic impact that occurred with that event [in October 2021],” he said. “We will not let this go away while I’m in charge. It’s too important to our city.”
Along with park renovations, another focus for the city has been nature. Operating with a goal to plant 1,000 trees in 1,000 days, last year the city planted 352 trees and added to its urban forestry staff. Mayor Ridenour looks forward to the city being known for how green it is.
Infrastructure has had some challenges over the past couple of years, according to Mayor Ridenour. He said in January of 2020, the Muncie City Street Department balance was $-1.9 million. Now all accounts are in the positive. Community funds were used to pave nine streets in 2021, which was only 1/3 of paving scheduled thanks to delays by contractors that began in 2020 during COVID-19.
Mayor Ridenour said he got creative in ways to make sure streets were taken care of. For example, when the county offered to pay $500,000 to tear down the former jail for the city to use the land, Mayor Ridenour asked that money be used for street work instead. The city has since found another way to take care of the former jail by gutting the building and repurposing it as a housing complex with condominiums for purchase.
Street repair will increase in 2022. Mayor Ridenour said 63 streets will be paved in 2022, and he doesn’t anticipate delays.
“The contractors assure us they’re ready to do the work,” he said.
City Services And Funding
Both the police and fire departments were able to increase their staff in 2021. The police department added eight new officers and offers a bonus for experienced officers who are recruited. The fire department added one new position. Going forward, Mayor Ridenour is working to slowly replace police vehicles and has started discussions on improving the fire stations over the next decade.
Animal management also had a good year in 2021. During the past year, the animal shelter picked up 2,843 animals and 95.12% of those animals were able to be saved thanks in part to a 50% increase in animal shelter funding under Ridenour’s administration.
Mayor Ridenour also talked about allocating more than $15 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act Funds to 311 local businesses who needed financial help and assistance rather than using the funds for a city project.
“We chose to put that many in the people’s hands and not our own,” he said.
Additional ARP funds have been allocated for other areas including $7 million for infrastructure, $1.8 million for homelessness and $2 million for substance use and mental health treatment.
“We’re going to make a difference,” Mayor Ridenour said. “Just know it’s coming.”
Muncie’s mayor also focused on the need for new housing projects. He said many people want to live in Muncie but don’t have anywhere to move. For example, 75% of the residents who have moved into White River Lofts were already working in Muncie but lived out of town. A variety of projects are planned to continue increasing housing. In 2020 and 2021, the number of building permits for single-family homes increased 130% from 2012. In the coming year, 122 single-family homes and 75 multi-family units will be built.
Mayor Ridenour is also making sure that new developments of homes and businesses are classified so they will pay taxes into the city which results in additional money for city projects, schools, libraries and more.
During 2021, the city received $15 million in a grant from the Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative in Indiana. Mayor Ridenour was disappointed Muncie didn’t receive more grant money and said he will be even more vocal in the future to ensure the city gets the funding it deserves.
“We’ve got to come together as a region and understand we can’t compete with Indianapolis,” he said. “We need something that transforms us.”
One of his ideas is to push for State Road 35 to be widened to four lanes in the future and extended to connect Richmond to Chicago, which would make Muncie part of that thoroughfare and offer new economic growth opportunities.
For now, Mayor Ridenour said the city is offering a program called “Make My Move,” designed to incentivize remote workers to move into the city. Currently 14 people have been approved in the program and are actively looking for homes.
“People want to move here,” Mayor Ridenour said. “What we have is outstanding. This is the friendliest and most giving community.”
Another area of economic growth the mayor focused on during his speech was the need for sound financial management. As a former banker himself, Mayor Ridenour said the visions and long-term goals for the city can only be met through sound financial management. He pointed out that since January of 2020, the city has paid off $3.3 million in debt and decreased bond debt by $6.7 million.
Mayor Ridenour concluded by saying businesses are now looking to Muncie as a potential new home.
“Muncie has momentum,” he said. “We’re going to continue to help it grow by doing things the right way. Muncie is on the way.”
PDF of the slides used in the State of the City Address: https://www.cityofmuncie.com/egov/documents/1615305719_14997.pdf
Live stream of the event on Facebook: https://fb.watch/bzCvxoB9El/