STATE OF THE CITY: Mayor highlights economic development, public safety in address to residents

·5 min read

Jul. 19—In his third State of the City address, Kokomo Mayor Tyler Moore reiterated his commitment to the priorities he announced last year — making the city a "safe, stable and healthy" community.

Moore gave his third State of the City speech as mayor Monday in the Council Chambers at City Hall to an audience of family members, department heads, City Council members, business leaders and more.

In his 30-minute speech, Moore stated he will continue to pursue bolstering public safety staffing, and he congratulated officials from both county and city government and economic development for their work and help to land a $2.5 billion investment in the Stellantis and Samsung SDI battery plant. He also vowed to the continue the city's efforts to grow its quality of life amenities.

BREAKING GROUND

The reality of the recently announced multi-million square foot Stellantis and Samsung SDI battery plant set to be located on the city's northeast side near the Kokomo Engine Plant is about to become tangible.

Next month, upward of 2,000 construction workers are set to descend on Howard County to begin construction on the plant, according to Moore, who added that the influx of construction workers will amount to a "shot in the arm" for the local economy.

"Having these workers in our community will create numerous economic opportunities for our local businesses as they eat in our restaurants, shop in our stores and stay in our hotels during the construction of the plant," Moore said.

The plant is expected to be completed in 2025 and create 1,400 new jobs. According to The Detroit News, Kokomo beat out a handful of potential sites for the battery plant, including Dundee, Michigan, where Stellantis also has an engine plant.

Moore credited local officials, including Howard County Commissioner Paul Wyman, Greater Kokomo Economic Development Alliance President and CEO Charlie Sparks, City Attorney TJ Rethlake, city Development Director Jennifer Jordan and former city engineer Carey Stranahan for their work over a seven-month time period to entice the $2.5 billion investment from the auto giant.

"It was literally a seven-month economic roller coaster ride as our local team navigated the late-night email exchanges, the weekend phone conferences and early morning updates in order to land this development," Moore said. "It was incredible to watch the details unfold and even sweeter to witness the announcement of the selection."

The new investment from Stellantis and Samsung is already attracting additional suppliers looking to possibly open operations near the battery plant, Moore said without going into details.

"As these ripple effects become available, our team is dedicated to ensuring that we maximize this investment to make our Kokomo economy even stronger," the mayor said.

KOKOMO GREEN

While Moore's speech was largely devoid of new information or announcements, there was one: a partnership with local biosolids management company Merrell Brothers.

Dubbed Kokomo Green, the city is partnering with the company to turn the city's biosolid waste into pelletized fertilizer that can be used on lawns and gardens. The product will be very similar and compete with the popular Milorganite, which is manufactured by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District.

"We think ours will be better," Terry Merell, co-owner and chief financial officer of Merrell Brothers, said.

Merrell said the company hopes to begin production next spring with bags hitting local shelves next year. He said the company expects to produce 120,000 bags a year, with the city and company splitting the revenues.

For the city, the benefit of such a partnership is clear.

"This process allows the city to avoid sending our waste to landfills and provides a more sustainable and environmentally friendly means of disposal through yet another form of economic diversification," Moore said.

PUBLIC SAFETY

Moore also placed an emphasis on public safety in his address.

The topic was highlighted in Moore's first and second address as well. That was no different Monday night when Moore reemphasized his commitment to hire more police officers and firefighters.

"We realize we've had some ground to make up, so I appreciate the community's patience and understanding as we strive to get to where we need to be," he said. "This has always been a top priority of this administration, and it will continue to remain a top priority."

When Moore took office in 2020, the Kokomo Police and Fire departments both had around 80 employees staffed. That number is now 89 for both departments, according to City Controller Wes Reed. The city's 2022 budget staffs 96 police officers and 89 firefighters.

The city will need to continue to hire more as it expects around a dozen or more retirements in both departments over the next couple of years.

Outside of staffing, the city has brought back a crime analyst position, increased patrols at city parks and Kokomo Beach, installed security cameras along parts of the city's trails and increased lighting at Jackson Morrow and Northwest parks.

Last year, the city agreed to provide fire protection service to the unincorporated parts of Center Township. In return, the township agreed to purchase a new fire engine for the city and pay $80,000 a year to the city, roughly the cost of one firefighter. The $80,000 will be used to make payments on an additional fire engine the city purchased in 2021.

Moore said the city hopes the engine purchased by Center Township will arrive "soon." The city-purchased engine is expected to be in service by the year's end.

Tyler Juranovich can be reached at 765-454-8577, by email at tyler.juranovich@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at @tylerjuranovich.