In 2023, we have much to be thankful for here in Valparaiso. We have a public school system with a 95% plus graduation rate. We have a highly ranked, CALEA certified Police Department. We also have an ISO 2 Fire Department, which is only 1 of 8 departments with this rating in the State of Indiana. We also have a Parks Department that improves the Quality of Life of residents in the area and offers programming for all ages. Our City Council approved a downtown vision plan, Elevate Valpo, that calls for increased walkability of the downtown and to create a corridor between downtown and Valparaiso University. And after 3 plus years, the Republican led City Council finally hosted a conference to discuss a community issue and ideas on how to improve (opiate settlement). And the Urschel investment of millions into a boutique hotel, without public money, is the type of investment that should be celebrated.
Unfortunately, we still have much to be desired. While our Police Officers, FireFighters, and EMT’s are highly rated, they are underpaid and “under benefited” when compared to surrounding communities. We can only hope that our wonderful First Responders continue to decide to work here for a “hometown” discount. We cannot expect to continue to enjoy Public Safety if we continue to underfund it.
In order to ensure we continued our solid graduation rate and broad programming within Valparaiso Community Schools, we had to vote to support yet another referendum. We supported this referendum because we wanted to save jobs and programming for Valparaiso youth. Rather than fully fund our education system, as Governor Holcomb just called for in his latest budget, Republicans would prefer to raise taxes locally. Imagine if this latest referendum was instead used to fund a new Senior Center or an Indoor Sports Complex?
We cannot afford the downtown “transformation” that Matt Murphy has solely dedicated his entire term to. Valparaiso Taxpayers are paying for over half of the development costs of the LINC and their parking. Valparaiso Republicans don’t believe that the free market should exist for luxury apartments and condos, they love to have big government come in and subsidize developers, whether it is Calkins Hill or the LINC. In order to make way for the LINC, Matt Murphy and the RDC closed businesses while allegedly using the threat of eminent domain to take private property. The total damage; 7 businesses closed, 2 businesses moved, none given help by the RDC, $3.1 million given directly from the RDC to Hageman, $5.6 million from the State of Indiana Redevelopment Commission to Hageman, $17.5 million for the parking garage and finally, the City basically gave away almost an acre of city parking in exchange for 0.2 acres of land. The tax revenue from this development over 25 years for the life of this TIF is expected to be around $5 million. The math doesn’t add up. We cannot afford this.
Elsewhere, the RDC was in quite the hurry to bulldoze private property, at taxpayer expense, in the 110 plus year old sewing shop for 28 parking spots. Instead of paying to bulldoze the property, it could have been rehabilitated with that money to furnish another downtown business.
And what about some of the other RDC projects? How are those investments going? The Garmong Shell building that was purchased by Amazon last year sits empty. The speculative gamble to fulfill Jon Costas’ shovel ready vision has failed and cost taxpayers millions of dollars. We also have no idea what is happening at the Journeyman/ANCO rehab that has been delayed many times. What happened to all those homes that used to exist on Brown and Campbell? The RDC paid over one million dollars for all of that land, not including demolition, to clear the way for a 5-story condo complex. We still don’t see a condo complex there, instead, all that land continues to sit empty instead of being used for the LINC, the RDC got involved downtown.
If Matt Murphy's leadership was extraordinary, he’d be running for re-election. He’d continue collecting $100,000 a year in taxpayer money for little to no work. Instead, Jon Costas is running to return if he can get past former Valpo Police Officer and City Councilman Art Elwood in the Republican primary. Even lifelong Republicans have had enough with the Good Old Boys Club.
Jon is only returning because he can sell all of this nonsense because he is a genuinely good listener and very well spoken. His charisma is off the charts. And those are all qualities we want in a Mayor. But, he’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing. This run for Mayor is about selling Valparaiso on mega-projects subsidized by Valpo residents for people who aren’t from Valpo to benefit the Good Old Boys Club. Jon is only here to run for Mayor because Ed Charbonneau didn’t cede his seat to Jon Costas’ ambition for something, somewhere else.
If we truly want to see long term success, we need to invest in ourselves. We need to invest in every single one of us in this City. We cannot afford to use the same old playbook of alcohol licenses and restaurants. We need high paying jobs. We need technology. We need a smarter city with its eyes on the future. We need a local government that supports local businesses, even if they aren’t friends with the owners. We need to fully re-engage our Disability Council, improve accessibility downtown, and focus on the cost of living by providing better public transit and infrastructure to encourage more people to move without automobiles. We need a re-invented and robust Human Relations Council to handle the hatred and racism that goes unbothered by Matt Murphy. We need to bring the ValpoNEXT vision plan back into the fold and fulfill the well-researched goals provided in its unifying vision for the future of the City. We need an RDC that is busy fueling business, not making speculative bets on mega-development housing projects. The RDC should do more than $15,000 neighborhood grants to fill gaps in city services. The RDC should be fueling our community’s needs and paying for the police, fire, and EMS services it gets from the rest of Valpo Taxpayers for free.
We should no longer have to suffer from crumbling streets, sidewalks that are either broken or head to nowhere, if you are lucky enough to have sidewalks at all, old playground equipment in our neighborhood parks, underpaid Firefighters, Police Officers and first responders. When our tax dollars go to a project, we should expect accountability, transparency and public updates, whether it’s the Brooks subdivision and its environmental damage, Journeyman, the LINC and any other investments of public dollars into private projects. We can’t afford to continue to subsidize city services to all of the land ruled by the RDC inside of TIF’s. While on the topic of city services, we are paying over 60% more in garbage taxes for less services. We should expect a local government that is honest and transparent, interactive with citizens, and holds itself accountable.
With Democratic leadership in the Mayor’s Office and City Council, we will have a city government focused on improving Valparaiso full-time. They won’t host a forum once every 4 years for a photo-op in the Times. They will roll up their sleeves to do the hard work of creating and implementing solutions to the problems of Valparaiso, not just focus on getting another liquor license into town. The democratic candidates up and down the ballot are running for office for the public good, for public service. They aren’t running to further their personal or business interests, their friends or the Good Old Boys Club. Democrats want better for all of us. We all do better when we all do better.
The Transformation we need isn’t for the downtown, the Transformation we need is in City Hall.