City's come a long way, says Carter

CHAMPAIGN — With just more than two months remaining before his retirement day, City Manager Steve Carter on Thursday reflected on his time as the city's top administrative official and what his successor might have on her plate.

He delivered his speech during a Kiwanis Club luncheon and noted how much the city of Champaign has changed since he was hired in 1985.

Some of the changes he noted include:

— The city's population has increased 23,000 since 1985. It is now up to about 81,000, making it the 10th largest city in the state.

But particularly notable about that number, Carter said, is that 18,000 of those people are non-white individuals. It reflects the changing makeup of the country, he said, and that leaders will need to make diversity a priority as the trend continues.

"Our country is changing, and our community is changing. And as public officials, we need to be prepared to respond to that as well," Carter said.

— Since 1985, the total area of the city has increased from 9 square miles to 21 square miles, he said. That, among other factors, has precipitated a more than fourfold increase in the city's total property value — from about $1 billion in 1985 to $4.6 billion this year. The city owns $348 million worth of streets and sewers.

— Police activity has increased, from 46,000 calls for service in 1985 to 72,000 calls last year.

"When I came, and I had my police radio or a scanner on, we never caught anyone in a race," Carter said.

But since then, Carter said, emergency service personnel like police and fire are noticeably better conditioned.

"Now, I can't remember the last time we didn't catch a person in a foot chase," Carter said.

— Technology has changed the way the city does business, Carter said. In 1985, the city had one personal computer (at the public works department) and no website. Today, it has 350 workstations in offices and police cars, and a website that attracts 450,000 visitors per year.

— Property tax rates have dropped, from $1.54 per $100 of equalized assessed value in 1985 to $1.32 today.

Carter admitted that does not necessarily mean residents are paying less, as the city continues to institute fees like an extra cent on its sales tax, a food-and-beverage tax, a 4-cent gas tax and a storm water utility fee the city will start billing this year.

"The trend has been away from broader taxes to more of a user tax here and across the country," Carter said.

Assistant City Manager Dorothy David will take over for Carter on his last day, March 29. Carter said that, while the city has made a lot of progress since 1985, there are still some challenges ahead.

That includes shrinking financial support from the federal government as it deals with its own fiscal problems. Local officials are going to have to start looking for ways to pick up Washington's slack.

"They're just not going to be active players at the local level in the future," Carter said. "We just have to be self-sufficient as a community."

He also said protecting the Mahomet Aquifer as a source of drinking water will continue to be a crucial project as he finishes out his final two months and beyond.

At-risk youth also need more attention, he said.

"I think it's getting more serious," Carter said.

Carter plans to stay in Champaign after his retirement.

"I'll be part of it, but from the back seat, not the front," Carter said.

Carter said the transition of duties to David is beginning as his retirement nears. The Mahomet Aquifer project is one that he plans to focus on during the final two months.

"My successor says I have to work until the last day," Carter said.

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SaintClarence27 wrote on January 25, 2013 at 12:01 pm

The diversity issue is the primary concern I have for Champaign heading forward. We're still an extraordinarily segregated community.