Elgin mayor: City is safe, must work on mental health, homelessness
Elgin Mayor David Kaptain wants people to know the city is a safe place to live and is doing well in terms of finances and economic development.
"The naysayers can stop talking about us as being unsafe," Kaptain said Thursday during his annual "state of the city" address. "I've heard that for decades, and those days are past."
However, the city needs to tackle long-term solutions related to mental health, opioid addiction and homelessness, Kaptain said. The police department is taking a more active role in these areas, he said, including with the upcoming creation of a mental health unit.
Elgin had its first fatal police shooting in 19 years in March, when resident Decynthia Clements was killed by a police lieutenant during what her family said was a mental health crisis. She was holding a knife and had an hourlong standoff with police.
A total of 160 people attended Kaptain's address, which was organized by the Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce at Elgin Community College. The annual address started in 2010 and Thursday's attendance was the largest in five years, said Carol Gieske, the chamber's president and CEO.
The city's finances "could not be any stronger," Kaptain said. The city maintains a AAA bond rating from Fitch Ratings and projects a flat property tax levy through 2021, for what will be seven consecutive years.
Crime in Elgin is at historic lows since it started tracking data in 1972. Industrial and retail vacancy rates are at 20-year lows, and unemployment is at 3.7 percent.
Business growth is apparent around Randall Road, where longtime vacant spaces have been filling up lately, Kaptain said. One of the largest industrial buildings in town is being built by Peak Construction Corp. at 1451 Sheldon Drive off Shales Parkway.
Elgin has increased the number of women in leadership roles, Kaptain said, pointing to the police chief, assistant city manager, chief financial officer, three city council women, and more. "Things have changed dramatically in this community in the last few years," he said.
The city needs to continue investing in streets and infrastructure and in new technology to increase efficiency, including for the fire department, which now primarily addresses emergency medical services, Kaptain said.
Employers in Elgin have a greater demand for workers than the local supply, so it's important to continue encouraging students to look at local job opportunities via job fairs, internships and apprenticeships, he said. "The quickest way to get a raise is don't commute 35 miles for work," he said.