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Monday, May 27, 2024
The Observer

SBT Forum

Local government officials discuss 2024 priorities in Tribune forum

The South Bend Tribune hosted an online forum Wednesday, Jan 24., featuring six panelists from the governments of South Bend, Mishawaka and St. Joseph County.

The forum was moderated by Cory Havens, the South Bend Tribune’s enterprise editor, and Alesia Redding, the audience engagement editor at the paper.

Sharon McBride, a councilwoman from South Bend’s 3rd district, said that due to the recent fires in South Bend that one of the city’s priorities is continuing to work with the fire department.

“One of the things that jumped to the top of our list is continuing to work with the fire department,“ McBride said. “Every year they have an initiative to make sure that every home has smoke and carbon monoxide detectors."

Gregg Hixenbaugh from the Mishawaka Common Council said Mishawaka wants to think about how to leverage economic development to benefit more neighborhoods.

“I think one of the points of emphasis this year will need to be a particular focus on how we can leverage that economic development to benefit even more of our neighborhoods throughout the city, so that everybody is benefiting from the economic development that’s taking place in Mishawaka,” Hixenbaugh said.

Redding asked the speakers about the importance of bipartisanship, considering the division in the U.S. capital.

Hixenbaugh answered optimistically based on his own career experience.

“One of the lessons that I learned then was that if people approach these roles from the standpoint of what’s best for the community and work together, listen to each other and come to the table with a spirit of compromise, the partisan element of what we do recedes into the background fairly quickly,” he said.

Kate Voelker, who represents the 4th district of the Mishawaka Common Council agreed that bipartisanship is strong in Mishawaka.

“I think that’s one of the real strengths of our community and our counsel,” she said. “I have never felt that we haven’t worked together.”

The officials also talked about South Bend and state-specific issues.

Diana Hess, the District E councilwoman on the St. Joseph County Council, said she noticed a proposed bill regarding public libraries in the Indiana statehouse. Hess said libraries should have independence from governing bodies.

“One bill that caught my eye, though, had to do with the public library, which is Senate Bill 32,” Hess said. “It would eliminate the ability for public libraries to impose property taxes. Instead libraries would need to submit their budgets for approval to their local city or county government. I don’t know if that’ll make it very far, but I do have some concerns about that because I am concerned about the public library having independence from a governmental body.”

St. Joseph County Council District F councilman Randy Figg said he remembers economic pain when the South Bend Studebaker plant closed down.

“That hurt a lot of smaller businesses in our community,” Figg said. “With a battery plant and data center coming in, you have small businesses that are going to come in. That’s also going to help the City of South Bend, Mishawaka and the county in general.”

McBride mentioned the new electric vehicle plant being built in New Carlisle, stating that it will bring additional taxes and other opportunities, including 1,700 new jobs.

“So we’ll give people an opportunity and help out with the automotive industries,” McBride said. “And they’re helping us in turn with jobs. With clean air, clean energy, and it definitely is a big win for us.”

McBride added that the city has also invested money for a new chocolate cafe and dinosaur museum.

Sheila Niezgodski, councilwoman of the 6th District in South Bend, said the city is also building up the housing stock for affordable housing in the city.

“We’re building up the housing stock for affordable and market rate housing here,” Niezgodski said. “So I think it's just a trickle-down effect of people perhaps moving here that could increase the amount of people that you have living in our community. As you know, South Bend did grow in the last census, and I think these big projects like this will affect all of our communities. I think we’re gonna see growth and prosperity.”