Meer: Jobs, housing still top priorities
MICHIGAN CITY — Mayor Ron Meer announced on Wednesday that he will be seeking a third term, and said it was not a tough call.
“It was an easy decision to make because I believe there is a lot of good momentum going in Michigan CIty right now with economic development and redevelopment,” Meer said.
“We’ve accomplished a lot in seven years and did some things that a very few people thought we could get done, like the new police station and lakeshore work.”
And he said he wants to continue, with a couple of definite goals in mind.
“Job creation is always a priority of mine, and we want to double down on that in the coming years, even though unemployment in La Porte County is at a 20-year low.”
But while the jobs are there, skilled workers are not always available.
“The focus will be on job training,” he said. “It seems there are more jobs than there are people qualified for them. That’s a problem all over La Porte County and across the nation. We definitely need more people with higher skill levels.”
He pointed out a $615,000 grant from the state and partnerships with Ivy Tech and Purdue Northwest as good starts to getting more people the training they need. We will keep an emphasis on workforce development because there are hundreds of open jobs in La Porte County.”
The other big issue Meer wants to tackle, or continue tackling, is housing availability in the city, “all over the city,” he emphasized.
“We have a lot of aging homes and abandoned homes in the neighborhoods; and we also need to bring in some new neighborhoods with middle- to upper-class homes in undeveloped area of the city. When the South Shore Double Track project is done, there are going to be a lot of people looking for houses in the $150,000 to $250,000 range.”
He said refurbishing or demolishing existing abandoned homes, and building new homes will be keys for growth in the city.
Abandoned homes, he said, are not unique to Michigan City, and more than 20 have been demolished every year he’s been in office, a pace he hopes to increase.
“There are an estimated 450,000 abandoned homes in Indiana, and many communities are in way worse shape. We need to demolish more and refurbish more – it’s a quality of life thing.”
Meer, a Democrat, was an employee with the city Sanitary District for about 20 years before being elected to his first term in 2011. He beat Republican Keith Harris by taking about 58 percent of the vote. He won re-election in 2015 in a closer race, defeating Republican Ken Behrendt with just over 52 percent of the vote.
Meer said his favorite part of the job is when things get accomplished.
“Seeing projects completed – things people tell you they want and you get it done for them.”
He said everything that gets done – from road paving to new fire stations to lakefront development – is a benefit for everyone.
In fact, he said people not always understanding that might be his least favorite part of the job.
“It’s all for everyone,” he said. “It bothers me when people get discouraged, when they don’t think we do projects for them.
“But a thriving downtown is a benefit for the entire city. When you develop the lakefront, that is something everyone can use. When you pave a street, everyone can drive on it.”
Meer and Larry Silvestri, campaign manager for Citizens to Elect Meer, both complimented the city’s team of “top-notch” department heads.
“Crime in Michigan City hit a 20-year low in 2016 and remains near those numbers,” Silvestri said. “Streets are cleared of snow, and trash is removed. The city parks are clean and safe. The Sanitary District is setting a high standard.”
The mayor and his team “see city services as a top priority and have provided them. He has accomplished all this while balancing the budget every year, even through the uncertainty of provisional tax bills.”
They are also “aggressively making Michigan City more environmentally sustainable,” Silvestri said, “... cleaning up contamination and brownfields. He has reduced flooding by improving storm drains and adding new lift stations. Wabash Street rain gardens are a model of storm water management, and the mayor will expand this concept throughout the city.”
Asked what he would say to voters, Meer said he never takes the job for granted.
“I take this job extremely seriously,” he said. “It’s a great responsibility and privilege that residents have given me.”