As Mayor of Rockford since May 1, 2017, Tom McNamara’s top priorities have been Public Safety, Neighborhoods and Economic Development. He’s also worked diligently to provide more educational opportunities for our young people and to strengthen our City’s finances.
There is nothing more important to our City than the health and safety of our citizens. To improve public safety, we need to be both creative and vigilant. At the same time, we need to address crime at its roots. We need to be proactive in preventing crime before it happens. There are new and innovative programs for our youth which deter and prevent criminal behavior. Mayor McNamara is committed to continue implementing and expanding proactive programs to reduce crime, along with bringing resources to our mental health crisis and drug abuse epidemic.
- Overall 16 percent reduction in violent crime in two years by implementing community engagement as the foundation of our efforts. This also resulted in an increase in homicide solve rates.
- Built relationships with residents through ROCK Houses, Strong Houses, events, and outreach activities
- Established the Mayor’s Office on Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking Prevention.
- Opened the Family Peace Center last July in downtown Rockford. The center is a one-stop location that gathers law enforcement, prosecutors, legal assistants, and social service providers together in one safe space to help survivors of domestic and sexual violence.
- Hosted the first Mayor’s March against Domestic Violence in October 2018, continuing the event in 2019.
- Worked with Winnebago County to consolidate emergency response personnel to save resources.
- Worked to respond to issues with rainfall and flooding in summer of 2017 and 2018.
- Worked to pass a County-wide referendum to establish a Mental Health Board, which passed with more than 60 percent of the vote in Spring 2020.
Policing Reforms and Initiatives
- Increased resources for Police training and technology.
- Established a Community Camera Network where Police are aware of the locations of private cameras within the City and ask businesses or residents for footage if needed.
- Developed and passed an amendment to the City’s Human Rights Ordinance and established a Community Relations Commission to advise the City Council on issues of discrimination, equal opportunity, equity and inclusion, fair housing and law enforcement policies.
- Police Vehicle Cameras and Body-Worn Cameras: In November 2017, 24 Rockford police squad cars were equipped with dashboard video cameras. Today, all front-line Rockford police squad cars have cameras. The City Council is currently reviewing proposals to also equip police with body cams, an initiative which should be implemented by mid-2021.
- Currently, the City team is researching various models of a Citizens’ Review Board that would investigate and monitor uses of force, recommend discipline and training, and advocate for systemic improvement in police departments.
- Implemented and currently piloting a new program where officers in Rockford and Winnebago County respond to mental health crisis calls using a co-responder model. This new approach emphasizes treatment over arrest when responding to mental health incidents.
- Coordinated meetings with the Black community about their interactions with law enforcement.
- Held Aldermen listening sessions for the public to discuss their concerns about policing issues.
Mayor McNamara worked to strengthen neighborhoods by reducing property taxes, investing in infrastructure, and tackling blight. The foundation of our community is our neighborhoods. We will continue to put more funding into neighborhood streets and use a data-driven approach to make better decisions.
- Used City funds to leverage State/Federal funding and implement the largest Capital Improvement Programs (CIP) in the City’s history:
- More money for streets/alleys
- Sidewalks and active transportation
- Stormwater and drainage improvements
- Launched a web-based tool on City of Rockford website to track projects
- Reduced blight - both commercial and residential; examples include: Magna property, Essex, North Main Street Nursing home; developed a decorated board-up program.
- Created Davis Park Task Force to consider next steps for park’s renovation.
- Launched new Residential Tree Removal Program to help address dead and dying trees on private property.
- Created a Vacant and Foreclosed Property Registry – Can now track vacant structures in process of foreclosure and address issues with properties before they drag down neighborhoods.
- Partnered to create a Land Bank to focus on clearing titles to vacant, abandoned, and blighted properties and return them to tax rolls generating additional revenue.
- Changes have helped improve housing marketing - sales are strong, sale prices up, inventory low, property values have climbed, projecting EAV up 5.6 percent for 2021.
Mayor McNamara and his team have worked to improve the entrepreneurial climate to stimulate small-business growth, providing assistance to local business and entrepreneurs that want to open or expand business in Rockford. Priorities have been providing economic development incentives to enhance business opportunities with long-term growth potential to create stable jobs with livable wages.
With the City Council’s support, we have implemented numerous programs that encourage job growth and retention including more public/private partnerships. The City has worked to foster business development, rather than impede it, by streamlining the permitting process and cutting bureaucratic red tape.
Partnerships, Programs, and Processes
- The City recapitalized the Northern Illinois Community Development Corporation (RLDC) partnership of 10 banks to provide $4 million to support small business owners who purchase and improve foreclosed, abandoned, and underutilized residential properties in at-risk neighborhoods. This program provides capital to small businesses that are looking to expand and cannot always access the capital they need.
- Our Business First and Community Development Block Grant Programs have helped small businesses launch into the marketplace. 80 percent of support in this program has gone to females and minority business owners, the fastest growing segment of entrepreneurs in the country.
- Enterprise Zone funding has helped businesses by providing cost-reduction tools from the City. Viking Chemical, Planterra Vertical Farms, and Precision Masters, to name just a few.
- Downtown continues to develop. More than $30 million in private development underway including the Talcott Building—a $21 million project with 63 high-end market rate apartments.
- The Hard Rock Casino Rockford project passed, and we are awaiting news from the Illinois Gaming Board. This $311 million project will bring much-needed jobs and tourism dollars to Rockford.
- Under Mayor McNamara’s leadership, the City now has an objective criterion for scoring TIF applications. In addition, developers using TIF funds are no longer able to contest their taxes. The guidelines also allow the City to prioritize developments it approves for TIF money.
Chicago Rockford International Airport Continues to Take Off
- RFD continues its role as regional economic engine for our community. We continued to advocate against the Peotone plan and lobbied for federal funding to fuel expansions. More than 4,100 employees work on the RFD campus, and our local airport is now in the nation’s Top 20 for cargo and continues to expand facilities including UPS, Amazon, and Pinnacle.
Other Local Business Expansions and Success Stories
- Ingersoll is now in line to help build the world’s largest telescope.
- Estwing is moving forward with a major expansion, investing $10 million and adding 30 jobs.
- Collins Aerospace is investing $50 million in its campus to build a research and testing lab.
- Specialty Screw opened a $2.5 million expansion, adding 10 employees to the company.
- Advanced Machine & Engineering has added a $3.5 million investment to its facility, creating 50 new jobs.
- By legalizing recreational cannabis, we will be able to generate additional revenue to invest in underinvested areas.
While schools are independent of City government, they are not independent of our community. The futures of our schools and our City are intricately tied together. Mayor McNamara has worked to increase collaboration between the City and schools to boost our number of college graduates.
We have worked with local private sector businesses to create partnerships with our college-bound students. We also need to invest in a vocational center to provide after-school training programs for those students who feel college is not the right fit for them. Investing in education is critical to our economic development.
- Restructured Head Start to serve more children.
- Worked with Rockford Public Schools to call for full funding of Rockford Promise by 2025.
- Working with a team of partners, led the effort to create the Rockford Promise Northern Illinois University Scholarship, which will provide tuition and general fees for all Rockford Public School graduates to earn a bachelor’s degree, beginning in 2021.
CITY BUDGET AND FINANCES
Stabilizing the City’s finances was a key accomplishment of the Mayor’s first term. While we are working to strengthen our City, we are also working to strengthen the finances of the City itself.
When he took office in 2017, the City faced a $23 million projected deficit through 2020. Input was sought from employees, union leaders, municipal finance experts, City Council, and a citizen-led Finance Task Force to reduce that deficit. One of our biggest accomplishments was being fiscally responsible and passing balanced budgets (two years with surplus) in 2018, 2019, and 2020. Since taking office, we have reduced the City’s tax rate 13 percent and the Mayor will continue to be fiscally responsible with your tax dollars.
- No more road debt—the City’s final debt from previous road-construction bonds was retired in 2019.
- Reduced our property tax levy. The City’s property tax rate is 2.92 and our projected rate for the 2020 property tax year and 2021 budget is 2.82—3.3 percent decrease from the previous tax year.
- Maintained an overall workforce that has one-third fewer non-public safety staff than our peer communities.
- Focused collection efforts, which generated nearly $200,000 in revenue in one year.
- Increased budget for snow and ice operations.
- We have done all this while living within our means and did not budget cannabis or casino revenue in the 2020 budget.
RECENT CHALLENGES: COVID 19
The COVID 19 pandemic and social unrest presented unprecedented challenges and hardships for our community. The health and safety of our citizens remains our top priority. The Mayor and his team have handled these recent issues similarly to other challenges – with collaboration.
This included working closely with the Winnebago County Health Department and in March 2020, establishing an Emergency Operations Center. We also launched Rebounding Rockford working groups, developed loan programs to aid small and medium-sized businesses, and advocated at the State/Federal level for additional dollars. We responded quickly and continue to address both the physical and financial health of our community.
ENGAGEMENT AND DIVERSITY
Mayor McNamara sees our challenges as a great opportunity for civic engagement, not just for elected officials but for all of Rockford’s citizens. We must work together to maximize our local resources—and Rockford’s best resource is its people. For Rockford to succeed, citizens must have access to quality education, good paying jobs, and safe neighborhoods.
Collaboration and community engagement has been a hallmark of Mayor McNamara’s administration. He holds quarterly meetings with the faith community; he or team members have spoken at dozens of neighborhood association meetings; he holds Coffee Talk with the Mayor and “Mayor’s Night Out” events; and in 2019 began Community Connection, a monthly e-newsletter to keep residents updated on City projects and initiatives. The Mayor has also improved the percentage of women and minorities appointed to City boards and commissions—increasing the percentage from 27 percent to 38 percent in the first two years in office.
In May 2020, our City was rocked with issues of social unrest and began to have long-overdue conversations about racism, equity, equality, as well as law enforcement policies and procedures. We have worked hard to listen and understand the systemic issues that have plagued our community for decades. Not only are we listening, we are taking action. At the Mayor’s request, the Community Relations Commission produced a report on and recommendations for changes to police use-of-force policies. We moved aggressively to issue both requests-for-information and then requests-for-proposals for body-worn cameras for front-line police officers; we expect to implement those by mid-2021.