La PORTE — In 2023 the City of La Porte continued to make strides in infrastructure, public services, economic development and quality of life, but Mayor Tom Dermody stressed there is more work to be done.

"Our team is working extremely hard every day and we've partnered with many of you. Together we truly have made La Porte a better place," Dermody said during his fourth State of the City Address on Thursday at the La Porte Civic Auditorium.

"Everything we do comes back to one goal – improving the lives of our residents every day."

The city, he said, focuses on five priorities: infrastructure, public services, housing, economic development, and quality of life.

The city has continued to make progress in terms of infrastructure, having invested about $25 million in paving, ramps, sidewalks, water, wastewater, trails, and pathways over the last four years, the mayor said.

In the last four years the city has worked on Boyd Boulevard, Washington Street, Darlington Street and Truesdell Avenue, and installed five miles of sidewalks.

"And we're not done. Just look at I Street. Not only are we addressing our roads and sidewalks, we're doing what we said we'd do by replacing ancient water and wastewater infrastructure that in some areas is 100 years old," Dermody said.

Sewer separation projects began in Monroe Manor and continue in the Letters and Numbers Streets.

The city's public services range from police and fire to code enforcement. "I hope you all know how committed we are to keeping you and your families safe, Dermody said.

In 2023, collective bargaining agreements were successfully completed with both public safety teams. "Our goal is to have them spend their entire career right here in the city of La Porte."

This summer the police department also deployed its new PACT or Pro-Active Crime Team to combat street crimes.

"We've had valuable telephone calls averaging 30 per month. That's one call per day that's helping us with an existing case, leading to an arrest or seizure, or notifying our police department of a new problem," Dermody said.

"We will continue to make drug traffickers in our community uncomfortable and unwelcome."

New additions to the police department in 2023 included Caitlyn Kalisik, the department’s first mental health professional; evidence technician Anthony McClintock; and K-9 Raven, the department’s therapy dog.

The city's fire department has partnered with Franciscan Health to bring a paramedicine program, Operation Swaddle, to La Porte. The program will go into effect in 2024 and is aimed at supporting high-risk mothers and babies.

A Save Haven Baby Box will be coming to Fire Station 2 and is set to be operational in early spring. "We hope this will provide an option for those parents who feel they have no other choice," Dermody said.

The city also hired its first ever IT director, Roscoe Hoffman; and code enforcement saw more than 15,000 code citations in the last four years, with 3,500 this year.

"Everyone in our community now knows we mean business when we talk about code enforcement," Dermody said.

The city has dumped about 2 million pounds of unwanted items through its dumpster program.

Next year, Dermody said, will be the first known occasion in which the budget will be structurally balanced across all tax funds.

"Probably the number one public service for us is to live within our means and be responsible with your tax dollars," he said.

Addressing the lack of housing was a key issue in the city. According to the Healthcare Foundation of La Porte's housing study released earlier this year, La Porte needs a minimum of 900 market rate housing units and at least 750 rental housing units that include 300 rent restricted.

"There are over 10,000 housing units in the city of La Porte. Only 21% of these houses were built after 1980," Dermody said.

Local builders Mitch Feikes, Gerald Fedorchak and Jim Magnuson currently have developments underway in the city, producing close to 40 homes in the last four years. Regional builder Steiner Homes will be building 28 new units on 18th Street.

Beechwood Lakes, donated to the city by the Hiler family, has also gone out for bid. "We look forward to the once-in-a-lifetime project, which could include improvements to Beechwood Golf Course as well as produce 100 or more high quality homes," Dermody said.

The site of the former Tibma Bakery is currently seeing construction of five Habitat for Humanity Homes. Housing Opportunities will begin renovation on the Coke Building on Rumely Street in May, converting the former factory into a 16-unit supportive housing with wraparound services.

The Health Care Foundation also partnered with the Notre Dame School of Architecture and hosted a housing charette. "We look forward to sharing with you the final report in 2024 and begin steps to put the plan into place," Dermody said.

The mayor called 2023 a balanced year for economic development in terms of industrial, commercial and residential development.

The city saw the opening of new restaurants that include The Drift, Pizzeria Uno, Royale With Cheese and Lincolnway Cafe.

The latter half of the year saw a major change to the downtown landscape with the demolition of the old La Porte Hospital. "While we are grateful to this building and its many years of service to our community, we're even more excited about what the future will bring," Dermody said.

The city will be working alongside Northwest Health to come up with a plan for the site. "One that our residents ... can be proud of and will hopefully include housing and a public gathering space," he said.

More businesses were pumped into the city's west side including Biggby Coffee, Planet Fitness, Geminus and Fastpace Health, which will bring an urgent care option to the west side once construction is complete.

One La Porte manufacturer, American RENOLIT, added a new line this year.

"As far as industrial growth, we continue to compete with the best, winning against other communities and states and showing we have more to offer," Dermody said. "When businesses set roots down in the city of La Porte they do not leave."

NIPSCO also selected La Porte to expand its $20 million training facility.

The city is also nearing completion of the annexation of the first phase of 39 North. "Fixing problems and fighting for progress isn't always popular. Sometimes you're going to make some people angry – sometimes really angry. But we are keeping our focus and doing what's right for our residents both now and in the future," Dermody said.

On day one of his administration, Dermody said he heard from the public that there is nothing to do in La Porte. "As we reflect, four years later, anyone who says this now isn't looking hard enough."

This year saw the continuation of the Chessie II trail, work on the Clear Lake Loop Trail, and events including the La Porte Invitational, Civic Concert Series and LakeFest. Beechwood Golf Course saw record rounds played and the Activity Center for Older Adults membership grew from 40 to more than 120.

Looking to the next four years, the mayor said there is more work to do. "We accomplished many things in 2023 and over the last four years, but please understand, we are not done.

"I believe we have restored hope and confidence in what La Porte can be and if we all are relentless, we will succeed. Together we are La Porte Proud."
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