Taking the Pulse of a City: Mayor Jessup Reflects on 2014

Writer / Neal G. Moore

Last month, Dean Jessup completed his third year serving as mayor of Lawrence. It is expected this month that Jessup will announce his intention to run for a second term. “Let’s just say I think we have more things to do,” Jessup said. He and the city have faced major financial challenges since his election in November 2011. “We started 2012 in a horrible economy with some holes in our budget that we didn’t anticipate, and we had to do some very difficult things,” explained the mayor during a conversation with Lawrence Community Newsletter. “I said then that I wanted to be fiscally responsible and get our finances under control. By 2014 we had made up for some of the tough things we had to do in 2012. We’re not done yet, but we have become fiscally stable.”

15856341748_36cfd7f8e6_zAs evidence, Jessup points to the city’s move from “an A-“ bond rating to an “A stable” rating, calling it a huge accomplishment. The mayor also said progress is being made on re-establishing the city’s Rainy Day Fund, 10% of the annual budget that’s set aside to cover unanticipated expenditures. While conceding that the city is less than half the way there, Jessup said Lawrence is seeing some successes. “It’s a lot easier to spend money than it is to save money. That’s why it takes longer to put it back then to take it out.” The hope is to hit the 10% set-aside by the end of this year, an accomplishment entirely dependent upon state property tax revenues. “Some times it’s just a big guessing game,” Jessup said.

The mayor calls passage of an ordinance creating the Lawrence storm water district (the first step toward a break from Marion County’s sewer district) another important development. “We can keep our taxes right where they belong. We have 260 projects that we need to do. Marion County projects score much higher [than ours] so we’re always going to be left out. To us, those are major problems. The big win for Lawrence is that we satisfy some businesses that are sandbagging every time it rains. This problem has existed for years. We can’t keep kicking it down the road,” Jessup said.

Lawrence was in a $2 million hole—not entirely of its own making—and no magic wand was in sight. ”What got us out was the cooperation of the Council, the Re-use Authority, the Community Development Corporation, the Chamber of Commerce, and, every employee of the city of Lawrence did their part by kicking in their 3% (a reduction in pay). I’m so proud of them for that,” noted the mayor. Other notable accomplishments cited by Jessup include restoration of some of monies taken from public safety; finding the money to hire four new police officers in 2015; and establishment of Teen Court.

Economic development achievements were also on the mayor’s mind, notably demolition of the Village Pantry eyesore and construction of Doctor’s Express Urgent Care on the site.“We chose not to let the economy stop the work that was needed for the future. We came in [to office] saying we wanted to create jobs and businesses because that’s what we needed. When we came in, we were calling developers. Now, they’re calling us.” Jessup maintains that about 1,000 new jobs have been created during his term in office.

A key component of the Lawrence story is the quality of its schools. Mayor Jessup spoke fondly about Superintendent Shawn Smith and his staff. “Our economic development is so dependent upon the school corporation and it’s been such a pleasure to be able to brag on our schools, especially since they just received an “A” grade from the state.”

In 2015 the mayor expects to re-establish civilian EMS and return Lawrence firefighters to fire trucks on their runs. Ground is likely to be broken in September on the Oaklandon Trail—a walking path running from Fox Road to 75th Street along Oaklandon Road. The planned makeover of Franklin Road into a more pedestrian-friendly thoroughfare may finally be completed, talks continue about the expected construction of a new library branch in Lawrence, and improvements along Pendleton Pike are on the wish list. So, does Jessup believe Lawrence residents are better off now? “I believe we are much better than we were in 2013.”

When asked what word best sums up 2014 Jessup said it would be pride. “I’m proud of the citizens; I’m proud of my snow fighters because they fought a really tough battle; I’m proud of my public safety people; I’m proud of every employee that works for the city of Lawrence because they do work hard all the time; and, I’m proud of the community because we all work together to reach a goal. And, we’re getting there.”

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