Editor's note: Will County Executive Joseph Mikan gave his State of the County address Thursday. Here's the edited text:
Ladies and gentlemen, I stand before you today confident that Will County is heading in the right direction.
We remain the fastest-growing county in Illinois, and the 10th- fastest in the United States.
Through it all, we are cutting taxes, cutting crime rates and increasing county government services.
And while in Springfield they struggle with a financial mess, here in Will County your government is fiscally sound.
Will County government is living within its means. We're not over-borrowing, we're not overspending, and we're doing more with less.
This year alone, we cut Will County real estate taxes 3.8 percent.
We're successful because we don't just talk about what needs to be done, we do it.
We identify problems and we solve them.
On education, our booming communities were outgrowing their schools. Cash-strapped Will County school districts were serving more students each year while getting less and less money from the state. They couldn't keep up.
So, we worked with local builders, businesses, municipalities and educators themselves to find a funding solution that worked. The result was the school facilities impact fee which helps new subdivisions afford new, quality community schools of their own.
On our environment, when I took office, Will County quite frankly had a garbage problem. We had nowhere to put it.
Last January, we opened Prairie View, a state-of-the-art recycling facility and landfill that will handle Will County's trash for the next 25 years.
On safety, it's no secret that all Illinois counties were unprepared to deal with terrorism before 9/11. Today, your first responders - police, firefighters, paramedics - have a plan to work together in the case of a Will County terrorist attack.
Our plan was so good, the state recommended it as a model to be followed by all other counties in Illinois.
Good government requires the same type of coordination and cooperation that produces a championship team. This is a winning team I am proud to lead.
Will County is the envy of Chicagoland. Our population has grown to nearly 600,000. People are moving to Will County for its strong communities, local pride and quality schools.
But as your county executive, I believe there is nothing more important than public safety.
I'm proud to announce that, thanks to the efforts of Sheriff Paul Kaupas and our local police chiefs, Will County's crime rate fell again in 2003 - this time by 5.5 percent. We're safer than DuPage County, safer than Kane County, safer than Lake County and safer than suburban Cook County.
In Will County, we're investing in both law enforcement and crime prevention.
That means more police and police stations closer to our new neighborhoods, more courtrooms and more capacity to house criminals in our Adult Detention Facility. It means more mental health services for our juvenile criminals, helping them turn their lives around while they still can.
State's Attorney Jeff Tomczak is working hard to fight crime as well.
He is prosecuting criminals who prey on the elderly in their homes and our children on the Internet.
His office negotiated a $3 million settlement for the victims of a Romeoville company accused of sports and trademark infringement. It was the largest such settlement in Illinois history.
Public health is another Will County priority.
We're expanding local health care to reach more of our friends and neighbors who need it. The Will County Community Health Center will open in 2005, acting as a medical safety net for tens of thousands of our uninsured and underinsured.
We're also improving infrastructure. Some of our poorest communities have water system problems few of us would accept. Our county engineers are working to ensure that sewage no longer runs in the streets of our neighborhoods like Clearview and Ridgewood.
Illinois' public health problem grabbing the most headlines - the West Nile virus -has plagued Will County to be sure. We're taking on West Nile with the most innovative approach in the state.
The county health department is using satellite technology to track the virus and anticipate exactly where it could become a threat to Will County residents.
Sometimes, our investment in public health not only helps Will County, but also benefits worthy neighbors.
The new county morgue -built under the leadership of Coroner Pat O'Neal - is saving money for Will County taxpayers. It also proved a godsend to the devastated residents of tiny Utica in LaSalle County who used our facility while recovering from a tornado in April.
Under this administration, our Information, Communication and Technology Department has evolved from a map storehouse to a data center.
With a few keystrokes, workers in many departments can get the information they need to effectively serve our constituents.
After the April 20 tornado, our ICT Director Mike Shay and Supervisor of Assessments Rhonda Novak used hand-held technology to reassess damaged property.
The supervisor's office then took the information, filled out the reassessment forms, and mailed them to the taxpayers for their signature.
The significance? It saved beleaguered homeowners from having to make a trip to the county office building to ask for a reassessment.
The result will be a break on their taxes for the time when their homes were not whole.
Making life easier for our residents and businesses has been key for this administration. We changed the building inspectors' hours to begin at 7 a.m. -when contractors are already on the job - instead of making the contractors wait until 9 a.m.
We've streamlined building permit processes, so a request doesn't sit on a back burner while contractors and builders sit idle.
New development means new business and new business means new jobs for both new residents and those who have spent their whole lives here. Our county - Will County - creates more jobs than 98 percent of the counties in America.
In January, we were honored with the Will County Center for Economic Development's Salute to Industry award.
As we listened to the accolades being heaped upon us, I was proud of all of us who have worked hard to make the county prosper. We know the gains we have made didn't just appear, but are the result of untold hours of hard work.
In May, we celebrated with the county highway department at an open house for the department's new subdivision engineering building.
With that move, all of our engineers are now at one place, making it easier for those who need their services.
We will continue to make the 35-acre Laraway Road location a county campus. In the fall, we plan to break ground for a 10,000- square-foot animal-control building.
We are making better use of what we have.
Grant funds helped us install a fire alarm and sprinkler system and complete asbestos abatement in the Emco building.
Needed renovations were completed, and so far the building is home to the Children's Advocacy Center, coroner's office, merit commission, and probation department.
For the first time in more than two decades, the probation department is not paying rent.
The Workforce Investment Board and Public Building Commission now rent space in the Emco building from us. In addition, we save $192,000 annually in rent.
The coroner's move freed up space for the circuit court clerk and courtrooms at the courthouse.
The designs for courtrooms and related space have been finalized for three floors of the building, including space for the arbitration center which will also provide rent money to the county from the state. We hope to begin construction later this year.
The moves allowed for much needed expansion of the circuit court clerk's office at the courthouse, and provided additional space for the state's attorney's office - which was split in two locations - and consolidated their offices into one building.
Will County is the home of choice for many businesses.
CenterPoint Intermodal and Cherry Hill business parks are world- class developments. Sanyo Logistics Corporation, TNT Logistics, IMPO Glaztile, American Container, Mack Truck, Home Depot, tool manufacturer SENCO, IKEA -all these businesses have chosen to open shop or expand their operations in Will County in recent months.
In fact, if you enjoyed a pastry at any Dunkin' Donuts this morning, you should know it came from a new distribution center in Mokena.
The Workforce Services Division, overhauled under my administration, stands ready to help both job-seekers and businesses. The renovated Plainfield Road site includes a resources room, job-seeking skills workshops, career planning assistance and job search assistance.
Businesses can call on Workforce Services for pre-screening potential applicants, interview facilities and a mobile unit that provides on-site services.
While we are the envy of Chicagoland, we have not always gotten our due in Springfield and Washington. Working with the legislative committee, I have carried Will County's message to those two seats of government, aggressively lobbying for an extension to Interstate 355, widening of I-55 between Weber Road and I-80, and other road projects.
We led the charge to keep the RTA formula in place instead of watching as Chicago grabbed the biggest piece of the pie.
I believe - and history has shown - that with persistence we will succeed. In the last three years, the amount of federal grants received by Will County has increased from $3.4 million to $16 million annually. Those millions have been used to improve our infrastructure, purchase new equipment and support new programs for the sheriff's department, health department, and emergency management agency.
Together, we will continue to fight unfunded mandates at both the federal and state levels.
Together, we will continue to fight moves to reduce our authority and proposals that erode the county's revenue base because they are the right things for us to do for the people and government of Will County.
This year has brought us a lot closer to the construction of an airport in eastern Will County. I recognize that there are many in Will County who do not want an airport, and I respect their views. But I think we all agree that if this project is to be, we must be sure it is built with the best interests of our residents at the forefront.
We have the only feasible plan for building and operating an airport in Will County. We are the only ones who have listened to all of the stakeholders - not only listened, but used their input to come up with a viable plan.
While some may want to build an airport with press releases and empty promises, we will build an airport with hard work and integrity.
We will continue to work in lockstep with the Federal Aviation Administration and IDOT to build the Will County Regional Airport.
Our proposal would create a Department of Aviation and a 13- member board accountable to the people of Will County. As long as I am county executive, there will be local control of the Will County Regional airport that will include the surrounding communities.
Let me say that again - as long as I am the county executive, we will have local control of the Will County Regional Airport. We will not let outsiders come in and take over. We will control our own destiny. When there is local control, there will be fair treatment of property owners.
I want to thank county board leadership for all their hard work: Jim Moustis, chairman of the executive committee; Majority Leader Dick Brandolino; and Minority Leader Margie Woods. Without your efforts and those of your fellow board members, we could not move forward.
I also want to thank all of the other elected officials, department heads and staff members for giving 100 percent every day in order to make Will County the envy of Northern Illinois.
I am proud to welcome all of our new residents knowing they will find opportunity, beautiful parks, nice homes and all the amenities requisite to the lives they want to lead.
I promise them and you that we will continue to work together to forge a future in which we all will thrive.…