As we look back on 2020, I am encouraged by what we have accomplished as a community in the face of a global pandemic. At the beginning of the year, Rockford was very dynamic with positive economic and public safety metrics. Our unemployment rate was the lowest in Rockford history, and we had seen violent crime fall by 30% over the past three years. Then COVID-19 changed our lives in ways we couldn’t possibly have imagined.
Looking ahead to 2021, however, it is important to take note of Rockford’s accomplishments despite all the challenges we have faced. While I am fortunate enough to work with 1,000 talented professionals and the dedicated members of the Rockford City Council, I know that our success comes only when we work together as a community:
- We partnered with Northern Illinois University, Rockford Promise, and Rockford Public Schools 205 to create the Rockford Promise-NIU Scholarship, which offers free tuition at the NIU to eligible RPS 205 students living in Rockford. This is a transformation initiative that invests in our young people and helps increase property values, population and overall performance.
- We have passed a balanced city budget for 2021 that provides the necessary programs and services while further reducing the property tax burden on our residents.
- We have taken up long overdue conversations about social justice, justice and inequality and taken action as a result of those discussions. Our police officers will be equipped with body-worn cameras in 2021. Our Community Relations Commission has made important recommendations on the use of force by the police, and we are working with a number of organizations to review the creation of a citizens’ council.
- We began working with the new Winnebago County Attorney J Hanley to advocate greater transparency, better communication, and process improvement for the Winnebago-Boone Integrity Task Force, and to work together to expand diversion programs and other initiatives to combat those at risk before they go to the criminal justice system enter.
- We have teamed up with Winnebago County and Rosecrance to launch a co-responder pilot program where law enforcement and clinicians work together to respond to calls involving someone in a behavioral crisis.
- We have introduced laws that strategically and purposefully invest in underserved and historically sold parts of our city.
- We opened the Rockford Family Peace Center, the first of its kind in Illinois, to provide support and service coordination to survivors of domestic violence, human trafficking, child abuse, elder abuse, and sexual assault. To date, we have received more than $ 4.2 million in grants and donations that will help us grow these important programs and services.
- We continued our aggressive work to combat residential and commercial accidents in Rockford and demolished numerous properties that negatively impacted the community, including the former Magna supermarket on East State Street.
- Thanks to the strong partnership between the city, RFD leaders, and our state and federal lawmakers, we have seen further expansion at Chicago Rockford International Airport. There are now more than 8,000 employees on the 3,000 hectare RFD campus. Further growth is planned for this engine of the main economic development.
- We have invested more than $ 31 million in our urban infrastructure to improve our roads, bridges, and water systems.
The city team has adapted its work and carried it out with skill, commitment and professionalism. We will continue to focus on improving public safety, building an economy that benefits all, and strengthening our neighborhoods.
It is truly an honor to serve Rockford every day and I am confident that the New Year will bring a new sense of how we will build a stronger and better Rockford. I wish you and your family all the best for a safe and successful 2021.
Tom McNamara is Mayor of Rockford.