State of the City Address

2022 State of the City Address

Below is the 2022 State of the City address as prepared. The speech was delivered by Mayor Steve Chirico on March 24, 2022, at the Embassy Suites in Naperville. This event is hosted annually by the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce and recorded by NCTV17.


Can we start off by appreciating that we’re all together in person again? Let’s have a round of applause for that.  

Thank you to the Embassy Suites for hosting our first in-person State of the City since 2019. It’s all possible thanks to Kaylin Risvold and the Chamber’s hard work. Kaylin has been a phenomenal leader through a very tough two years. Thank you, Kaylin.

Congratulations to the new Chamber Board chair-elect, Adrian Aldrich. He’ll lead the board starting next year after Christina Caton Kitchel finishes her term in December. Our businesses are in good hands with both of them.

A special thank you to my production team for this year’s speech and videos. Last year I mentioned the word of 2020 was pivot, and this team has lived out that word for several years. Thanks to Liz Spencer and her crew at NCTV17, the Naperville Communications team, and Jaffe Films and Events.

Members of my family are here today as well, including my wife Julie and several of our children. They all bring color and light to my world. Now, I should say, my growing family, because in 2021, we welcomed two new grandbabies to the mix. Our grandson Griffin actually lives in Naperville in my old house – my old bedroom, to be exact. I like to think we’re just helping Naperville grow.

Indeed, Naperville is growing. Our new population after last year’s census is over 149,000. We’ve grown 5% over the past decade, and that’s pretty impressive in a state where the population is declining. As a result, Naperville will receive a larger portion of state shared revenues for the next 10 years. Finally, I’d like to thank all of you in this room. You keep reinvesting in the landscape of this community, even when it’s challenging.

What hasn’t been challenging since 2020? What hasn’t changed? Our job as a local government is to help you adapt to that change and to look beyond what’s happening right in front of us and create a clear picture of what Naperville should look like in the future.

This year, I want to remind us of the picture we created both before and during the pandemic. I also want to preview the new portrait that we’ll create.

You’ve probably guessed by my intro video and the words portrait, landscape, and picture that I’m weaving the concept of art into this year’s speech. It’s really fitting to describe where Naperville is now and what we’ve done to get to this point. Think about it. A painting captures the past while also sending a message to those who view it now. It shows what was important at that moment – what had meaning to the artist.

Our City Council has primed Naperville’s canvas by building our financial resources and setting priorities to succeed in a post-pandemic world.

Perhaps that’s why we were the only Illinois city on Money’s Best Places to Live list in 2021. It’s also why we received an award from the Better Business Bureau, and its why we were named the Safest City in America by Money Geek and the best city to raise a family by Niche.

All of these efforts take time, and we move forward in phases. It’s not always obvious or splashy, but we aren’t without a purpose or a plan.

Planning is critical, because sometimes life has a different picture in store for us.

Like on June 20th when an EF3 tornado touched down in southeast Naperville. Let’s look back at that night from the view of those who responded to it.

(BREAK FOR VIDEO ON TORNADO RESPONSE)

I’m proud of our response and how prepared we were. We restored services quickly and we improved them at the same time. 

Our partners at the state, including State Senator John Curran, have advocated for tornado victims since the storm. Thank you, Senator Curran, for your leadership.

Our staff is also still in touch to this day to help with the long-term recovery. Let’s have a round of applause for all of the City directors who led this incredible effort in 2021.

Preparedness isn’t just being ready for the worst-case scenario. It’s about clearly defining our priorities so we’re all working on common goals, even on our best days.

There’s a motto that our new Police Chief, Jason Arres, lives by: “A life without goals is an endless journey to nowhere.” That’s true for life and business, and it’s that mindset that helped Jason become Naperville’s 11th police chief last fall.

I wish we could applaud Chief Arres in person, but he’s in Seattle at a conference this week. He’s sharing the Police Department’s best practices, and there’s much to share. Naperville’s 2021 crime statistics show a reduction in major crime in almost every area. Let’s give him a round of applause anyway.

You see, you need to know where you’re going so you can plan your path there. That’s why we worked with the community to create the Bridge to 2023 Priorities Plan last year.

It puts on paper the work we’ve already started in five areas: infrastructure and utilities, sustainability, public safety, financial stability and economy, and affordable housing. Each of these areas gives us the color we need to create Naperville’s new portrait.

Now, infrastructure may not seem very colorful or exciting. You don’t always see this work taking place, and it can seem like more of an inconvenience than anything else, but it does make a difference.

It’s how we get reliable electricity and clean water with the flip of a switch or faucet, and it’s how we safely get from one place to another on our roads.

These are big projects that pay off over decades, and you can’t push this work off. Replacing your infrastructure is a whole lot easier and cheaper when you plan for it, instead of waiting until it breaks.

Even during a pandemic, we have to remember to invest in ourselves, and part of that is taking pride in how our community looks.

One of the most noticeable investments is in the downtown. The first phase of our streetscape project finally began earlier this month. We’ll refresh the look along Jefferson, Main, Jackson, and Webster this summer, and we’ll replace outdated utilities under these roads at the same time to minimize future disruptions to visitors and businesses.

We know this work is never going to be convenient, but we can look to the past to help us know we’re making the right move today.

Forty years ago our downtown revival took off when we built the Riverwalk, and after the Fox Valley Mall opened, the CANDO group worked hard to make downtown the place to come. The public and private sectors worked together, because they knew that reinvesting in Naperville’s core would keep people coming back to our City. 

Their actions were a leap of faith, and it paid off.

Across the City today, our utility crews are hard at work both above and below ground. Our Electric team is implementing a new outage management system, and they’re making sure we can support more electric vehicles and solar installations.

Over 95 percent of our water meters are now read wirelessly, and we are investing heavily in our water mains to help avoid future breaks.

All of this is possible through new utility rates that provide funds for this work. None of us like to pay more for anything, especially in today’s world, but even with all these investments, our average residential electric rates are still below ComEd’s.

Now let’s take a look at sustainability, which is our second priority. This is a major topic of interest to our community, but it’s certainly not a new one. Sustainability is personally something that I’ve invested in for years by adding solar panels on my business and driving electric vehicles.

On a City level, we saw huge success in 2021. We cut the ribbon on a 3,000-panel solar system last June, with these panels generating enough electricity to supply 180 customers for a year.

Our CNG station received a public-private partnership award from the Chicago Area Clean Cities Coalition, and our Electric Utility was named a Smart Energy Provider because of its leadership in energy efficiency.

We hired our first sustainability coordinator, Ben Mjolsness, and in August, the City Council held a workshop with the Naperville Environment and Sustainability Task Force, better known as NEST.

Their Sustainable Naperville 2036 plan outlined ways for us to be more environmentally friendly, and City staff and NEST came together to create a way to move forward in 2022 and beyond.

We’ll continue to invest in ways to reduce our energy use, and we’ll continue to invest in developing more renewable energy resources in our community.

You see, sustainability is a conversation that doesn’t have boundaries. We all share the same air, water, and climate, and we can’t tackle this topic alone. This year we’ll deepen our partnerships in Naperville and across the region, including collaborating with organizations and businesses like yours.

These first two priorities are only possible because of our third: public safety. We can’t focus on leading the way without having a safe community.

Former Police Chief Bob Marshall was a large part of our success in this area.

We said goodbye to him in 2021 after 44 years at both the Police Department and City Hall. Chief Marshall did everything from patrolling the streets to investigating crimes before becoming an assistant city manager in 2005.

When he returned to the Police Department in 2012, he revamped officer training to focus on de-escalating situations, making us a leader among police departments nationally.

He put our officers first by creating a peer support team and improving the culture on the force. With Bob, it was about accountability, responsibility, and transparency – and that led to a Safer Naper.

It was really fitting that he ended his career by bringing closure to the 49-year-old Julie Hanson case last June.

Bob is here today, and I want to give him a very special round of applause for all his years of public service.

I am confident that Chief Arres will carry on the Police Department’s legacy while painting a new portrait of his own.

The department is already finding new ways to innovate and connect with the community, like with the launch of our text-to-911 program in September. This is a new way for those who are deaf or have hearing loss or speech difficulties to connect with 911, or when speaking out loud would put a caller in danger.

It’s a great example of how we’re always expanding our capabilities to serve the community.

Another way to serve the City is having all of our sworn police officers wear body cameras by the end of 2022. This will help build even more community trust and transparency. It will also improve our investigations and increase officer safety.

Our Fire crews were busy responding to 16,000 calls last year. That’s the highest number of calls in the department’s history.

They continue to lead the way in saving lives, too. For example, the national cardiac arrest survival rate is only 13%, but Naperville’s is almost 30%.

The department’s strategic plan calls for continuing to develop community risk reduction programs. These provide resources to help the most vulnerable in our community, like seniors and those with functional and mental health needs.

The ultimate goal is to provide the right care to the right person. This helps residents lead healthier lives and reduces the need for traditional emergency services. Thank you, Chief Puknaitis, for your leadership.

Financial stability and the local economy are the primary colors of our community’s canvas. We cannot provide our services or build our infrastructure, much less improve them, without consistent funding. There’s good reason that this is our next priority I’ll discuss.

We get our revenue from many different sources, like taxes, fees, and utility charges, and we’ve kept these revenues very competitive. In fact, Naperville residents pay the second lowest cost regionally for their City services.

Nearly all of our revenue streams have recovered to pre-pandemic levels, and a few, like sales and income tax, grew beyond what was normal before the pandemic.

Think about that. During a pandemic, our businesses adapted so well that we actually brought in more dollars to the community.

We ended the year with our sales and income taxes 23 and 43% respectively above our projections.

All of you contribute to this tax base. Let’s pause to see who has joined us and who will shortly.

(BREAK FOR VIDEO ON NEW DEVELOPMENTS)

While many doors opened last year, we also said goodbye to several longtime favorites. It’s challenging to see these businesses end their run. While we can’t keep everything the same, we can keep our City growing.

Flexibility and working through issues that may stop development is what makes this happen. It’s how major developments like The District, Naper Commons, and a new mosque on 248th Avenue were approved last year, and it’s how we’ve filled empty buildings that will have an economic impact for the next decade or longer.

Christine Jeffries from the Naperville Development Partnership plays a big role in filling these spaces. Christine, thanks for all you do to keep our local economy moving forward.

Last year we accepted almost 6,000 building permit applications. That’s the most since the building boom of the 1990s.

2021 also showed us how more affordable development can meet the needs of residents and developers, a nod to our fifth priority of affordable housing.

The Vantage Naperville Apartments on Ogden Avenue were fully leased only three months after opening.

Late last year, we put out the call for developers to bid on City land in south Naperville. The goal is to build affordable housing for seniors and those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

All of this requires us to match the needs of the moment with appropriate financial resources. We can’t continue residential and business growth without making it affordable to live and do business here. However, we also need to invest in ourselves, and I believe we do a good job of balancing the two.

The City’s 2022 budget is more than last year’s by almost 8%. There’s a good reason for that: capital spending. I talked a lot about infrastructure earlier today, and that work costs money – a lot of money. Now we’re at a point financially where we can wisely invest in our utilities, roads, and technology using the dollars we have on hand.

We held off on many nice to have projects in these areas – or even “should-haves” – because we did not want to take on more debt. Our priority was to live within our means and not burden future generations with this kind of financial impact. Now we can – and must – move forward with some of the projects I mentioned earlier.

Our revenue recovery has really given us a boost of financial confidence. Our revenues in 2021 exceeded expenses by over $33 million. In our general fund alone, we had an estimated $13 million surplus, and our progress toward achieving our three financial principles helped end last year on a strong note.

Yes, that’s right. The financial management strategies we implemented in 2015 weathered one of the most unprecedented economic events in our lifetime.

We’ve passed structurally balanced budgets. We’ve invested money into our services and staffing in areas like public safety, diversity, and sustainability. By the end of 2021, our cash reserves in our general fund were at $38 million, or 29% of our operating expenses, and by the end of this year, we’ll have reduced our general-purpose debt by over 26%, which exceeds our goal. We’ll start looking at future financial principles with our volunteer financial advisory board this year as well.

I’m very proud that through this uncertainty, we’ve kept the City’s part of your property taxes in check. The City’s portion of the 2021 property tax bill for an average homeowner was $875. This is going to decrease by about $20 on average in 2022.

Now we have the chance to paint an even brighter picture thanks to receiving over $13 million in federal American Rescue Plan funding. We’re starting to talk about how that money may be invested in the coming years.

With all of that impressive news, it’s no surprise we received another AAA bond rating this year. That’s 25 years in a row!

All of this was achieved while navigating the pandemic and a natural disaster. I’d like to give a special thank you to the person whose expertise has kept us moving forward through not one, but two, economic downturns.

City Manager Doug Krieger did the work to put our financial principles in place and keep them on track. He came into his current position during the Great Recession, and he’s steadied the ship several times, to borrow a phrase from his Navy days. Under him, our city services continued with no interruption during the pandemic.

I think we need to recognize how Doug has kept us afloat during the last decade and more. However, he’s also hard at work today advocating for the City’s interests in Springfield along with several of my colleagues on the Council.

I still think we need to give Doug and all of the City Council members a special round of applause, because they make everything I’ve mentioned today happen. Thank you again to Doug and the City Council.

Serving our community is more than just meeting basic services, though. We also have to build a community of culture and compassion. It was great to see that community spirit come alive again at parades and festivals this year, and so is the work we’re doing in the area of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Dr. Geneace Williams has spent her first year as our DEI manager listening, learning, and engaging tomorrow’s leaders. She started by launching a Youth INclusion Ambassadors initiative. These are high school and college students who will spread the message about DEI. They’ll also model what an inclusive community should look like, and they’ll positively influence others through their work. In 2022, we have plans to partner with several organizations to hold educational events, and we’re also taking the time to learn from employees to help us improve internally.

We also looked at the future of art and culture in our community in 2021. Again, it’s easy to brush aside the so-called “nice-to-haves” like public art during times of crisis, but these amenities are what make our community stand apart. Having a plan and policy for that art moving forward will make sure it keeps bringing visitors back and brightens life for our residents.

The work of our community partners also makes a difference to everyone who lives here. They color our City’s world with fun, recreation, support, reassurance, and hope. Let’s take a minute to look back on what they’ve done in 2021.

(BREAK FOR VIDEO ON COMMUNITY PARTNER WORK)

As we step back and look at the year behind us and what’s ahead, one thing is clear: we persevered. But now is not the time to rest. Our strength comes from our ability to adapt.

Now is the time to be bold. To paint a picture so vivid and so colorful that everyone locally, regionally, and nationally will take notice.

We paint this picture by mixing and blending and creating something unique. Remember – we didn’t build our current foundation by shying away. We believed we could set the stage for something greater. So we painted a new picture and succeeded in our work.

But now it’s time to paint a new portrait. The canvas is primed, and it’s up to us now.

I can’t wait to see what we create. Naperville has never settled, and we’re not about to start now. Thank you.