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Gottman delivers 'State of the City'

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By Dave Bell

Vandalia Mayor Rick Gottman reviewed the main accomplishments from the past year and laid out his goals for 2013 during his annual “State of the City” address at last Wednesday’s monthly meeting of the Vandalia Chamber of Commerce.

Before Gottman’s speech, the chamber held its business meeting, the first for 2013 president Greg Starnes.
Starnes reported that six candidates have been interviewed for the vacant executive director position. That position was vacated for the second time in the past six months when Tiffany Berry accepted another job in late January.
Starnes outlined his three primary goals for the year:
• Grow membership by 25 percent.
• Maintain financial viability by holding fund-raising events, selling advertising on the new Tourist Information Center sign, applying for grants and controlling expenses.
• Expand member benefits by enhancing the chamber’s website, promoting member-to-member discounts, increasing communication with members and providing one main educational event during the year.
Also at Wednesday’s meeting:
• Members approved a change in the chamber’s bylaws regarding its membership and dues structure. Now, each business will hold only one membership, and each of its employees will be considered members of the chamber. Dues will be determined by the number of employees in the business.
• Todd Stapleton announced that a candidates forum is being planned during March for candidates in the Vandalia mayoral race.
• The ways and means committee will hold a Nite at the Races on Friday, March 1. Tickets are $20 and are available at the chamber office.
• A business-after-hours social  will be held next Thursday, Feb. 21, at Midland States Bank. The event runs from 5-7 p.m.
• June Mahon gave the visitors report for the past two months. The Tourist Information Center hosted 36 people in December and 32 people in January.
In his address, Gottman listed the following as his goals for the coming year: To retain existing jobs, create new jobs, offer training opportunities to local workers, conduct beautification projects, promote tourism, attract businesses and stay fiscally responsible.
Gottman reviewed the city’s progress in the past year in the following categories:
• Infrastructure – He said that the state’s fiscal problems are having a “trickle-down effect” on the local level, with some work being hampered because state funds have been reduced or delayed. He did say, however, that work on two major projects will begin this summer – the Fourth Street streetscape work (which is being done with all grant money) and the bridge replacement project at the corner of Fifth and Randolph streets (which is being done with 80 percent state money).
• Public Safety – Gottman reported that the police department has been downsized by three positions by not replacing vacancies when they occurred. He said that police officers are working closely with school district officials to protect students. Lockdown drills are planned. He also noted that the Enhanced 911 office is located in the city’s public safety building (the old city hall). Radios for the police and fire departments were upgraded during the past year. And he said that the city was looking into helping improve fire protection coverage in the areas just outside the city limits, possibly through the formation of a fire protection district.
• Finances – Gottman cited two major accomplishments in the area of finances: the city is in the black and it did not raise taxes. He also cited work done with the Department of Corrections to ensure that the department pays its bills on time for water the city supplies to Vandalia Correctional Center.
• Economic Development – Though he admitted that it’s a tough environment in which to attract businesses, he said that several small businesses have opened in the past year. Gottman reported that about 60 employees remain on the job at Graham Packaging. He also said that there’s reason for hope that state funds will be released soon for phase two of the Kaskaskia College campus in Vandalia. Gottman also reported that the Octochem Inc. plant on Vandalia’s north side is expanding for the second time in the past several years. Vandalia native Mark Langston owns the company, which now has about 60 employees.
And finally, Gottman urged chamber members to shop in Vandalia whenever possible. “We can buy most things here in town, and we need to support our local businesses,” he said.