By MATT HOPF
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Making sure city finances remain stable and continuing to work to create head-of-household jobs was to be the central focus of Mayor John Spring's annual "state of the city" address at noon Friday before the Quincy Exchange Club.
In an interview, Spring said keeping the city's financial house in order will remain the No. 1 priority as both the state and federal governments continue to deal with mounting debt. He said the city has had to make difficult decisions to reduce expenses during the economic downturn, like many businesses and personal households. That means the city has an operating budget at 2009 levels.
"We've had to do what every person has had to do ... cut back," Spring said. "It's difficult for us because when we cut back, we (still) have to protect public safety. We have to maintain and pay attention almost on a day-in and day-out basis, because that's ultimately what drives city services."
Spring believes the city maintained its financial stability, in part, by offering an early retirement initiative in 2009 in an effort to save $5.18 million over five years.
"I know there were some skeptics, but we stayed to form on that," he said. "We reduced the 22 positions at that time. We only brought one of those positions back."
During the last update in August, aldermen were told the city had saved $2.84 million over the first three years of the plan, above original estimates of $2.34 million.
Spring, who is facing a re-election challenge from Republican 3rd Ward Alderman Kyle Moore, also is touting that his administration has lowered tax rates seven of the eight years he has been in office.
"At the end of the day, what people really care about are essential services, knowing they are safe in their own community and making sure they don't have to pay more in taxes then they should," he said.
Spring noted that Adams County had the second-lowest unemployment rate in Illinois in December at 6 percent, a position it has maintained for much of the time since the recession first began to take hold in late 2007.
Yet, he realizes work needs to continue to build on and increase the number of job opportunities here.
"Does that mean that everyone has a head-of-household job? Of course not," he said. "Have some people had to take some jobs where they are underemployed? Yes. But the fact is we still have a good environment for the workforce here. We have to make it better."
Spring said workforce development continues to be a priority, especially in the manufacturing sector. He said the region has more than 100 manufacturers, and many of them say there is a shortage of qualified workers.
The number of construction projects underway in Quincy points to an economy on the move upward, he said.
"If you go west to east and you go north to south, you can't help but see construction going on in this community," Spring said.
"You come across that bridge and you head up the road on Broadway, you see there is a $70 million construction project going on at Blessing Hospital. If you head south and you get down there by Harrison, you see what Good Samaritan Home has accomplished in the last couple of years.
Spring expects work to start this year on the Safe Routes to School project along Columbus Road near St. Dominic School. The city already has committed $250,000 to the project.
A $600,000 riverfront project to connect Clat Adams and Edgewater parks also is expected to move forward this summer.
Spring announced last year that the Illinois Department of Transportation has started discussions on replacing Memorial Bridge, but he doesn't expect talks to reach a serious stage until 2014.
"It will be a long process," he said. "My guess is the process of leading up to the construction of a new bridge -- wherever that might go -- will probably take longer than building a bridge, which usually can be built in two years."
Spring said the resurfacing of Ill. 57 south of Quincy is on the IDOT's priority list, but he doesn't know if it will be completed this summer.
Spring is pleased that voters in November approved a move initiated by the city to allow for an electrical aggregation program.
The city locked in a three-year contract with Ohio-based First Energy to provide electricity at 4.194 cents per kilowatt hour, which is expected to save residents more than 23 percent on the electric supply portion of their utility bills.
Under municipal aggregation, residents and small businesses are grouped together to allow the city to bid for electric supply on their behalf to lower costs. The referendum was approved by 65 percent of Quincy voters Nov. 6.
"This a shining moment for us, because we allowed the people to decide," he said.