Bryan Tanner Platform for Mishawaka
Public Service Should Be Personal
People are my purpose and my reason for serving. That is why the theme of my campaign platform is “Public Service Should Be Personal.”
When we put our people first, our families thrive and our neighborhoods prosper. When we put our people first, small and local businesses grow. When we put our people first, our infrastructure and public amenities reflect a community which supports access to those with all varieties of abilities. When we put our people first, public health and safety is at the forefront of every decision we make in the development of our community. And, lastly, when we put our people first, we care for our current needs while staking out a bold direction for the future.
The newsworthy issues we’ve seen in communities around the country, and even the issues we face right here in Mishawaka, could be prevented and resolved if only we had put people first in every plan, budget, and project we undertake. It takes time, energy, and dedication to govern this way, but that is what I signed up for 4 years ago when running for office. That is my commitment to you once re-elected in 2019.
Transportation and Development
We are incredibly lucky in Mishawaka to have dedicated professionals within the Planning, Engineering, and Streets/Central Services departments. It shows in the quality of development and maintenance of our roadway infrastructure. These city employees clearly take pride in their work and it shows.
Mishawaka has also been economically strong for several decades due to some forward-thinking leadership which attracted and established the regional retail hub on the north side of the city. This success cannot be overstated, as it has afforded the development of our downtown parks and trail system, major roadway projects, and financial solvency of the community through the recession recovery. This vision began roughly 40 years ago under Mayor Margaret Prickett to annex and develop the land where University Park Mall and surrounding retail developments currently sit.
Photo of Mayor Margaret Prickett in The South Bend Tribune supplied by The History Museum
Parking and Development Patterns
That said, so much has changed since then. We have seen the erosion of major retailers, the growth of online shopping, and the demands of shoppers shift tremendously. While the economy recovered from ten years ago and many of the once-vacant shops are now occupied, we cannot continue to depend entirely on business as usual. There are some simple changes we can make as a city which create a more viable business model for these retail centers and generate even more revenue for local government, while also reducing the burden on taxpayers.
One of the most profound changes I believe we can make is to reduce the required minimum parking spaces for commercial retail establishments. Even on the busiest shopping days of the year, these retail parking lots go mostly unused or underutilized. This is unproductive space which costs us an incredible amount of money through hidden costs. They exist, though, because our current development code for commercial retail zoning requires these oversized parking lots.
What are the “hidden costs” of these seas of asphalt? It costs developers more money to build oversized parking lots. It costs property managers and store operators more to patch, re-pave, snow plow, and maintain them. It requires larger drainage basins and storm sewers to handle rainwater. These costs are passed on to you as consumers.
Image from Google Earth of underutilized retail parking in Mishawaka’s north commercial area
However, there are additional “hidden costs” we are all burdened by as taxpayers and utility rate payers. The larger parking lots and drainage basins push stores farther apart from each other. This increases the distance our roadways must span to provide transportation around the retail area. Roads cost a lot of money to build, patch, re-pave, snow plow, and maintain. That is just what we see on the surface, though. Larger sewers, longer spans of underground utilities such as water, sewer, electric, and fiber optic communication lines are also a detrimental result of these oversized parking areas. We all pay these expenses through taxes and utility rates.
On top of costing everyone involved more money, these underutilized parking areas provide virtually no assessed value or revenue to the city. By reducing the minimum parking spaces required for our retail areas, we provide the option to developers and operators to build additional outlots and expansions, reduce their costs, and improve their potential business model. It reduces the tax burden on everyone in the city as it makes this land more productive without requiring any additional infrastructure investment. It also does so without mandating any business owner or tax payer to do anything, while providing more flexibility to do what is best for both their bottom line and the environment.
Safer Streets in Neighborhoods
We could take these development pattern changes a step further and reduce the lane widths on our roadways. Many of our residential neighborhoods have wide driving lanes and are used as cut-thru’s for drivers. 4-Way stop signs are not appropriate for every intersection and it is not feasible to have officers patrol every street in every neighborhood for speeding vehicles. There are also issues with the established 30 MPH speed limit in these residential neighborhoods. This is not a safe speed near our schools or near our homes, especially with vehicles regularly disregarding the posted speed limit.
Photo from Streetsblog as an example rendering of narrowed roadways for pedestrian safety
All of these problems are a result of our travel lanes being too wide. I don’t want parked cars getting hit or side mirrors getting knocked off. However, I do want to slow cars down where people, especially kids, are present. The most effective way to do that isn’t police enforcement. It isn’t posted speed limit signs, either. It is designing our roads for speeds which are safer and that requires narrower driving lanes. The current standard is between 11′-12′ wide, but according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials, “Lane widths of 10 feet are appropriate in urban areas and have a positive impact on a street’s safety without impacting traffic operations.”
The added benefit of narrower and safer lane widths is less pavement to replace, less to snow plow, and less rainwater to collect in our sewer system. I’m not suggesting we dig up every street in our city to make these changes, but as we undertake projects to separate our sanitary and storm sewers or repave damaged roads, we should consider lowering the cost of construction and maintenance while improving safety by reducing lane widths where appropriate.
No matter what we do with parking lots or driving lanes in Mishawaka, our current and future development must be done with accessibility in mind. While the city currently takes an active role in budgeting for the reconstruction of curb ramps and replacing substandard sidewalks, there are important advocacy roles we can play, as well. Federal CDBG funding that our municipal government assigns to various projects could be tied to accessibility guidelines. And, it is important to note that accessibility planning isn’t limited to new developments, but existing facilities, and should be inclusive of a variety of abilities possessed by the public we serve. These details are important, people-focused, and come down to minutiae such as the timing of crosswalk signals for those who have limited mobility and tactile indicators for those with vision impairments.
Public Health and Safety
Police, Fire, and Emergency Services
We have a dedicated and professional police force, fire department, and emergency response team in Mishawaka. This has been made possible through great leadership, a commitment to training, and continuing investment in quality. There is always room for improvement, more officers, additional fire fighters, and emergency response staff, but we should consider ourselves lucky in the City of Mishawaka to have the staff and departments protecting us every day.
I support budgeting for continuing education, leadership development training, and capital improvement plans for all of our public safety departments. There is no paycheck large enough to give adequate recognition for the work these professionals do in our community. However, what we can do beyond a supportive salary is ensure we have enough staffing to cover our growing and aging population, provide specialty units, fight the opioid epidemic, and ensure a strong presence in our neighborhoods. We must also ensure these professionals have the individual and departmental equipment necessary to carry out their jobs safely. Facilities and apparatus investments should also be accounted for in these plans.
Our public safety departments are already tackling most, if not all, of these items. I am underscoring the need to continue doing so, the Council’s responsibility to establish a budget which supports these needs, and being a strong advocate for planning around our community’s growth and changing needs.
The health of our community is also critically important to me. There are three areas of health I believe are worth stressing – environmental health, promoting an active community, and reducing smoking.
As it is a major topic for discussion in every election, I’ll start with smoking. I have publicly favored the elimination of smoking in bars. That said, I have also been conscientious of business owners and the uniqueness of our neighborhood bars in Mishawaka. While I have advocated within the Council to establish an expanded smoking ban, I have also insisted on a grandfather clause for existing establishments, exempting tobacco-specific businesses, and providing tax incentives for businesses which voluntarily went non-smoking within a set time period. (Please note the Council has thus far not taken any formal action regarding smoking bans, and no public hearings or ordinances have been introduced).
South Bend Tribune archive photo
In the past couple years, some interesting things have happened regarding smoking establishments in Mishawaka. By my count, we are down to 12 bars allowing smoking, with several voluntarily going smoke-free recently. We have also seen two private clubs go non-smoking. The Council also recently approved a new riverfront development district boundary to the maximum allowable limit by state statute. The Mayor’s administration is establishing guidelines for only non-smoking establishments to receive riverfront liquor licenses within this district. I believe this is a natural response by businesses to the wishes of the market and patrons, as well as reasonable government incentives to reduce public smoking.
An Active Community
Maintaining an active community is pertinent to our wellness. The Mishawaka Parks and Recreation Department has done a tremendous job of expanding youth sports and adult exercise opportunities. Our Riverwalk allows for year-round access by the support of our Central Services department plowing during winter months. There is also expanded programming at the Battell Center and new special events throughout the city. Many of these efforts have been made possible through partnerships, specifically a strong partnership with School City of Mishawaka.
South Bend Tribune archive photo
The Parks Department has also done a great job of opening up access to fitness and participation to so many people who weren’t served before. Multi-capable playground surfaces and equipment have been added to our parks through intentional investment toward inclusiveness. Also, a privately-funded outdoor fitness court was opened for use this past year. These efforts should continue, incrementally, throughout our community to increase accessibility and participation in outdoor activities – for everyone of every age with every capability in every neighborhood.
Trees and Our Environment
The last area of health I want to touch on is environmental. This topic could just as easily be coupled with transportation and development – trees and our urban forest. We have made necessary investments as a city in our sewer utility network, but one of the downfalls has been the loss of old growth tree canopy in our neighborhoods. Also, with the upgrades to some of our park facilities, we have lost some of our tree inventory in the process. This is in addition to the harm dealt by the Emerald Ash Borer destroying nearly all our elm trees throughout the city.
Photo from Strong Towns illustrating ideal lane widths and the tunnel effect of street trees to calm traffic speeds
Trees, especially along the frontage of our streets, do a great deal of good for neighborhoods. Trees stabilize property values. Old growth tree canopies calm traffic and slow cars down, making neighborhoods safer for everyone. Trees also improve water quality and reduce drainage infrastructure costs by absorbing stormwater runoff. Trees also alleviate health effects from urban pollution. Lastly, that cleaner air is also accompanied by cooler temperatures. Trees lower the overall urban temperature during hot summer months, lengthen the expected lifespan of the roadways they shade, makes outdoor activities more bearable, and reduce utility costs.
Transparency and Fiscal Responsibility
First and foremost, our city staff and elected officials have done a tremendous job of following all open door policies, submitting public notices, and providing required reporting. The city has also maintained a great reputation for clean audits by the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance, receiving awards for this work. We don’t have a transparency issue in our community, but we sometimes lack an adequate communication plan.
With technology getting incorporated into everything from our phones, thermostats, and even refrigerators these days, there is no reason for our city government to be limited to one-way communication. Updating a Facebook Page, sending out a press release to local media, and a message from the Mayor in our utility bills are all great ways for the city to communicate with our residents. However, the methods for residents to provide input, suggestions, ideas, criticisms, or report problems are all limited.
We have contact information available on our website, including for most department heads and superintendents. We also have a way to report neighborhood and community issues on the website. However, I have consistently received feedback that residents struggle to find what they are looking for, who the correct person to contact is, or what they need to report is both untimely and inconvenient to report on our website. There are means to provide better two-way communication with our residents and business owners. The technology has existed for a number of years, and it is time we make reasonable investments to enable this public service.
We in Mishawaka have benefited from being an early adopter of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts and utilizing TIF revenues for both critical infrastructure and quality of life projects. TIF revenues help fund utility projects, which lessens the burden on the municipal utility, meaning these project costs do not get passed on as higher rates. Our downtown parks and trail system were largely funded by TIF monies and supplemented through federal grants. Project Lead The Way programs for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics training in our schools were also partly funded through TIF revenues.
These are all wonderful uses of Tax Increment Financing. However, TIF is very limiting and has detrimental impacts which may outweigh the benefits. TIF dollars come from incremental growth in assessed value of the properties within the TIF district. This means that those tax dollars, which would have gone to the municipal general fund, the school districts, the library, and even the township are diverted. TIF also is limited in use, as the revenues generated can only be put toward economic development purposes. Our city has been creative with that constraint, but TIF dollars are also limited to being spent geographically within the TIF district, meaning anyone who lives or has a business outside of this district will not substantively benefit from the revenues generated.
Lastly, the revenues from the TIF district can be and have been utilized to provide tax incentives for developers and businesses. These have tended to be large businesses and profitable endeavors. I only agree with the utilization of tax incentives when the project or investment benefits greatly outweigh the cost of the incentive AND the project or investment couldn’t have possibly been achieved without the incentive. I also believe the emphasis for the use of these funds should be on small and local businesses who have had a longstanding history of investing in our community.
Ultimately, the TIF district redirects funds from our police and fire departments, as these public safety divisions depend on the municipal general fund and that fund is artificially depressed. Operating the TIF district is also essentially a method to take loans out against ourselves. We must create TIF bond debt against the perceived future growth in assessed value to eventually pay off that debt. It is an effective tool to finance major projects, but it could also be described as a shell game for general bond debt in the city.
(More to come…This section still in development)
Advocacy is a major part of everything an elected official is responsible for. Everything said, done, or represented has a reflection on our city. As one of these elected officials, I take this responsibility seriously. What a candidate stands for is important, which is why I included such a detailed platform above. However, I also believe the where, when, and how we represent is equally important.
Community festivals, non-profit events, neighborhood meetings, art exhibits, school sports, and academic competitions are all essential components to engaging with and serving the Princess City. Mishawaka is made up of all these wonderful people, unique stories, rich traditions, and cultural influence. Good representation is more than just saying “aye” or “nay” during government meetings – I stand for participation, fully and completely, in all things our community has to offer.
That said, I ask that you “stand up” for all these great activities around our community. We get what we put into our career, family, home, neighborhood, and city. Nothing just happens, and there are usually dozens of people working behind the scenes to ensure these events and opportunities are available for everyone. Please do your part to support them, and maybe even take it a step further by volunteering for something you are passionate about.
Learn more about Bryan Tanner and consider making a donation to the campaign (every dollar really does count in local races). Also, don’t forget to sign-up as a volunteer or request a campaign yard sign!