State of the City Address
2023 State of the City Address
Below is the 2023 State of the City address as prepared. The speech was delivered by Mayor Steve Chirico on March 9, 2023, at the Wentz Concert Hall on the campus of North Central College. This event is hosted annually by the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce and recorded by NCTV17.
Let’s have another round of applause for my daughters Lauren, Jenna, Dana, Tara, and Kayla. Your love and humor are the light of my life.
What does it mean to be a bright light? What does it mean to be a bright light as a person? As a business or organization? As a community?
For all three, it’s about being a source of strength in difficult times and a model of hope in the good times. It’s about showing what’s possible when you focus on improving a community through shared goals and values. Finally, it’s about consistent actions while maintaining your personal and professional mission and vision.
But it’s also about innovating and pushing boundaries.
In Naperville, being a bright light means being a place where people have big dreams and encouraging everyone to lend a helping hand.
It’s remembering past sacrifices and celebrating future potential.
This doesn’t require a bright blaze that happens all at once. Instead, it’s the tiny day-to-day sparks that add up over time.
Tonight is the last time I’ll give my annual State of the City address. As my eight years in the Mayor’s Office comes to a close, I’ve been thinking about what small actions really mean.
Small actions add up over time to create noticeable change. This idea has defined my past eight years, and this idea is what makes Naperville stand out.
All of you have played a role in this effort. We’ve walked together through life-changing events, including the pandemic, natural disasters, and calls for social justice. Each of these events could define a generation. For us, they took place within a few years.
We worked, hoped, healed, and discussed our way to a brighter future during that time, and tonight, we’ll look back together and explore how Naperville continues to be THE bright light in our state and country.
For me, looking back starts with my family. Having my daughters introduce me is symbolic because my family is the reason I ran for Mayor.
I want to thank Lauren and Dana, who became the next generation to run Great Western Flooring eight years ago. With them in charge, I had the opportunity to move on from running my family-owned business to running for Mayor, and I’m so proud of what they’ll continue to do with the company. Thank you both.
My wife Julie started this adventure with me 15 years ago when we blended our families. You’ve been by my side the entire time, and the community is better because of it, and I’m better because of it. Thank you for your love, your support, and your partnership.
To all our children and now eight grandchildren, thank you. The work that went into creating our big, blended family wasn’t easy. But the experience of blending our families made me believe I could lead this city.
Like the individuals that make up a family, each of our City Council members has different personalities, values, and backgrounds. It takes patience and skill to blend all of that into a group that makes a positive change.
One of the ways I did this was by asking our City Council and city directors to support my goals. I asked our directors in 2015 to re-commit to a customer-first model across our organization.
Naperville was already known for providing good customer service, but as a business owner myself, I knew we could do even more for our customers when they walked through our doors. Our work could help businesses open or expand more quickly.
Getting to the “Path to Yes” meant recommitting to simple acts and implementing new ones, like giving staff the ability to approve variances that used to have to come before City Council and the Planning and Zoning Commission and making sure that businesses have easy access to one contact who will facilitate their needs across different departments.
This year, we’ll launch new technology that will provide customers with online permitting abilities as well.
I’ve heard from plenty of developers at ribbon cuttings that our community is the easiest one to work with. That’s because everyone, from the permit counter to the dais, has you, our customers, in mind.
Putting the customer first – that’s how I would do it in my business. I’m proud to say that’s how we do it every day at City Hall.
Together with the City Council and staff, we implemented three financial principles I’ve mentioned each year:
- One: Passing a structurally balanced budget.
- Two: Continually improving our services in a cost-effective way.
- Three: Increasing our cash reserves to 25% and reducing our debt by 25% over eight years.
That third principle is the one I’m most excited about.
I advocated rebuilding our cash reserves after the Great Recession, and I am so proud to stand up here eight years and one major economic event later to say we exceeded our goals.
This is one of my proudest accomplishments as Mayor. We’ve reduced our debt by almost 36%, and our cash balances are back up to almost 37% of our 2022 General Fund expenses.
We also lowered the City’s property tax rate during my time in office. Our rate is at a historic 50-year low, which means the city tax on an average home valued at $425,000 is $17 less this year.
So, we increased savings, reduced debt, lowered the property tax rate, and never cut services during the last three years. I would say that’s a pretty bright move!
This financial strength is a major reason we continue to attract shoppers, diners, and visitors. It’s how we can afford to reinvest in our vital economic corridors to make us stand out and shine, and it’s that investment that pays off, even during challenging times. For example, in 2021, we were the top suburb for retail sales for the fifth year, besting Schaumburg by over $500 million.
Putting money into our community makes people want to come and spend their money here, and that’s how we recoup our infrastructure investments. The downtown streetscape work we finished last fall is a great example.
This type of planning makes businesses confident to call Naperville home. Here’s a look at businesses that said yes to Naperville and yes to Chamber membership over the past year.
(PAUSE FOR VIDEO: BUSINESS IS BRIGHT IN NAPERVILLE)
Changes in elected leadership require a continual re-blending of our City Council. Shared values help bridge that gap and create the stability we need to preserve our community’s strength.
An example is respect for diversity, equity, and inclusion. One of my proudest accomplishments has been increasing the diversity on our boards and commissions since 2015.
Today, almost a quarter of our board and commission members represent one of several ethnicities. 37% of appointees are women. Almost a quarter are in their mid-twenties to mid-forties, bringing a younger perspective to the table.
I’ve also focused on increasing geographic diversity. Our members live everywhere from far north to far south Naperville.
These efforts mean our Council now hears from boards that better reflect the community’s different viewpoints and experiences.
Our Council also shares the value of making Naperville a place where people can work and live.
Last year we selected a team to build affordable housing on city-owned land near 103rd Street and Route 59, and we approved an affordable housing incentive program.
All of this work takes place slowly over time. But, as I said earlier, these small sparks ultimately create a bright light in someone’s world.
I’d like to recognize the organizations that provide so much light to our community, just like I’ve done each year. You’ll see your logos on the screen behind me. Thank you all for making Naperville the premier location to work, be educated, receive quality medical care, and so much more. Let’s give everyone a big round of applause.
I’m also going to take a little extra time to thank some special people right now.
First, to my colleagues on the City Council, past and present, thank you for always putting Naperville first.
Thank you to all of the DuPage and Will County mayors, especially for your help supporting public health during the pandemic.
To City Manager Doug Krieger and all of the city’s directors, your dedication, passion, and innovation are what other communities can only dream of. Thank you.
To all the city employees who do everything from putting their life on the line to making things run behind the scenes every day – you are appreciated.
To everyone who served on a city board or commission during my term, thank you for volunteering to improve our city.
I’d like to give a very special thanks to everyone who served with me on the Liquor Commission. This is a demanding task to help balance safety with business growth and customer demand.
To Christine Jeffries and the entire Naperville Development Partnership board, you make commercial success happen. Thank you for making our business base strong.
On a personal level, I’d like to thank some great friends of mine, Anthony and Deanna Losurdo. They’ve helped Julie and me through the ups and downs of local politics. Thank you.
Finally, I want to give a special thanks to the two groups that make this event happen.
Moving business forward is what Kailyn Risvold and the Chamber’s Board of Directors and staff do every day. They’re so good at what they do that they were named the Illinois Chamber of the Year in 2022!
Congratulations. We literally wouldn’t be here today without you.
That leads me to NCTV’s Liz Spencer and her staff, who created all the videos for my speeches. Thank you.
Her team has made me take part in some interesting videos over the years. Some videos were funny, and some were serious, but all of them told Naperville’s story at that moment in time.
So, let’s laugh, smile for a minute, and look back at some of my not-so-Oscar-worthy performances.
(PAUSE FOR VIDEO: FROM RUNNING TO REASSURANCE: A LOOK BACK AT THE STATE OF OUR CITY)
Looking back can make us laugh, but it also serves a more serious purpose. It can be the light that leads the way forward.
It’s how we learn from our challenges so that we can embrace future opportunities.
No matter who the next Mayor is, our city will continue to focus on serving our customers. What the city is doing in 2023 aligns with that belief.
This year, we’re prioritizing efforts that make our community safe, effective, financially sound, sustainable, and attractive.
What does this look like?
It’s innovative and effective public safety led by two world-class police and fire departments.
Speaking of world-class, our Fire Department, led by Chief Mark Puknaitis, was reaccredited for a sixth time. They are one of only two departments in the world to do this. They also helped our global community last year by donating an ambulance to Ukraine.
Our Police Department, led by Chief Jason Arres, is also ahead of the curve with innovation and enhancing transparency. They fully implemented body-worn cameras, and 81% of sworn personnel are now trained in crisis intervention.
No wonder MoneyGeek named us the safest city in America for the second year in a row!
In addition to safety, we also want to provide effective services that meet your needs. To achieve this, we have to welcome input and feedback.
This year we’re conducting a Citizen Survey to evaluate what we’re doing well and what we can improve on. That’s essential to have as we update our city’s priorities and goals next year.
To be financially sound, we must look at how our policies attract new businesses and reinvest in the community that supports them. Part of that work is creating new financial principles to guide long-term investment.
This includes our utility infrastructure that delivers reliable service. Our Springbrook wastewater treatment plant is almost 50 years old. As our city has grown, so has the need for this facility to meet health, sanitation, and environmental requirements.
We are now at the point where significant upgrades and expansions need to be made. This means the city is about to start the largest capital improvement project in our history. Long-term principles will support this and other work so that we do not rely too heavily on one funding source.
Some of that other work is taking place just down the street over the next few years.
The first year of Washington Street bridge construction starts shortly.
We’ll keep updating our downtown streetscape, with Washington between Chicago and Benton planned for 2024, and further north, North Aurora Road underpass construction is also anticipated to start next year.
On a policy level, we’re exploring the right mix of how we can provide incentives to revitalize certain areas.
This includes creating business districts along Route 59 and Chicago Avenue that support reinvestment in these areas that need it.
Working towards being a more sustainable community also makes us a place where people want to live, work, and visit and spend their dollars.
In 2022, we achieved 21 sustainability goals, and our staff is now part of seven local and regional groups focusing on this topic.
We took part in District 203’s Career Motive-8 to show how sustainability is part of a public service career.
Working groups are studying biking and walking in Naperville and will launch a survey later this month to get public input, and we’re launching an electric lawn equipment rebate program after a successful pilot last year.
Finally, we’re continuing to make Naperville an attractive community.
We’re starting a pilot program to add native plantings to some city properties, and we’re planning new entrance signs along major roads.
The Eagle Street gateway will also be redone starting late this year. This will make the Riverwalk accessible west of Eagle Street and is partly due to an almost $1 million grant supported by Congressman Bill Foster.
These types of government partnerships are essential to get this work done. Funding from federal, state, and regional groups makes a difference in the quality of life for our community. It lessens the burden on our residents and businesses and lets us imagine a brighter future for all of Naperville.
Someone recently asked me to imagine that future.
They asked me to picture myself walking downtown in 20 years and describe what kind of community I see.
I said what I believe: we’ll see an even better Naperville.
I’ve lived in this city for six decades, and with each decade, it’s improved.
I’ve never looked around and wished Naperville had stayed the same. Because change is how we grow. It’s how we become a better version of ourselves.
No matter what, I’m confident we’ll always be known as that bright light in the State of Illinois.
Our work today – your work – will pay off in the future. We’ll still receive accolades, and we’ll still be the best place to live. That’s worth celebrating all day, every day.
It’s been a privilege to serve as your mayor and support not just the business community, but the entire community.
Thank you for believing in what Naperville is, what Naperville can be, and what Naperville will be. Thank you.