Gary Mayor details ‘Recovery Plan’ in state of the city

Gary, Indiana Lauren Cross February 22, 2019 Finance + Operation

Now in her seventh year as mayor, Karen Freeman-Wilson delivered her annual State of the City address with a promise she can get Gary back on track and balance the budget by 2021. Speaking to hundreds in the Genesis Center’s banquet hall, Freeman-Wilson touched on a wide range of challenges facing the economically depressed city of 76,000, while highlighting recent accomplishments like improvements in the homicide rate and demolitions of blighted homes.

With a crowded mayoral race around the corner, Freeman-Wilson spent much of her 38-minute address emphasizing how the city’s crushing $17 million structural deficit is no easy fix with a dwindling population, horribly low tax collections, along with declining property values and casino revenue.

“The good news is we have a plan,” said Freeman-Wilson, who is seeking a third term as mayor.

“Within the last year alone, the city has successfully attracted $1.5 billion in investments from big businesses like Amazon, Alliance Steel and Fulcrum Bioenergy and small businesses like All Pet Supplies, Onos Pizza and R&R Sports Bar and Grill near the U.S. Steel Yard stadium,” she said.

She was also optimistic about working closely with state lawmakers to move Majestic Star Casino from Buffington Harbor in hopes of pursuing new industrial development there.

“You can’t just cut your way out of a deficit. We’re going to grow our way out,” she said.

With a $17 million structural deficit, Freeman-Wilson said her financial recovery plan is underway with the switch to a less expensive health insurance provider, a hiring freeze and a laser-focus approach to improving internal fiscal controls.

Under her plan, the city would save more than $3 million annually as Gary would reduce professional service contracts, centralize the procurement and purchasing departments, consolidate other departments, reduce the footprint of city-owned buildings and change the city’s employee health care plan.

Without corrective action, the city is projected to end 2025 with a general fund deficit of $7.6 million, she said.