Updated: Feb 1
Progressive Democrats of LaPorte County held a Zoom forum on January 20th on "Building a Progressive Michigan City." It focused on opportunities to improve quality of life for all residents, but especially low- and moderate-income families.
Three Michigan City Council members presented proposals that could have a big impact on the community, but which have not gotten the attention and consideration that they deserve.
The context of these proposals it that the City has an unusual level of available resources; the Riverboat Fund has in balance of $4.8 million, even after $1 million was transferred to the Rainy-Day Fund, and approximately $13.3 million is available from the ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) -- Federal funds to mitigate the impacts of the Pandemic.
The proposed projects are in four clusters: public safety, human and economic development, housing and environment.
First Ward Councilman Bryant Dabney proposes that the City adopt three new technologies that have been effective in other cities in reducing crime and violence:
1. License plate scanners/readers
2. Ring Doorbell/Alarms for the city residents
3. Shot Spotter Technology – (https://www.eagltechnology.com/)
Human and Economic Development
3rd Ward Councilman Michael Mack supports the conversion of the former Elston High School into the Elston Community Center as a hub of many different programs. The facility is in good condition and can lend itself to many new purposes, all of which can combine to uplift residents. The possibilities include:
· A co-working space,
· An entrepreneurship center,
· A shared commercial kitchen for start-up food businesses,
· A childcare center, and
· A professional theater company.
The next step for this proposal is a feasibility study that addresses the physical, financial and organizational aspects of repurposing the facility.
Councilwoman Zygas brought up the need for high quality, 24/7-day care (to include our shift workers and hospital employees.) Quality child care is necessary for families and attractive to businesses considering locating in Michigan City.
Councilman Dabney described how a small investment in housing assistance can bring great benefits to our most economically challenged homeowners. This can be combined with a Weatherization Program that brings homes up to a basic level of health and safety. With the availability of a matching Federal funds for Weatherization, a limited investment of City resources can impact many homes.
Councilwoman Zygas recommended a program to incentivize development of infill housing: remodel or rebuild in the city, where utilities are already in place. This can lower costs and provide highly desirable walkable communities.
Councilwoman Zygas also mentioned the importance of Michigan City's natural environment. Top priorities:
· Safeguarding the beach and dunes
· Improving the parks
· Protecting Trail Creek
· Enhancing the urban tree canopy
· Continue development of walking/bike trails.
Don Briggs then made the case for the importance of a robust Democratic Precinct Chair network. Precinct Chairs, who are elected in every precinct, provide local leadership for canvassing and voter outreach. But in many precincts no one runs. He encouraged everyone to consider playing this critical role for our democracy. The filing deadline is February 4th.
Increasing Citizen Engagement
For these and other innovative proposals to move forward -- indeed to make Michigan City a progressive city -- residents need to attend City Council meetings and voice their priorities. Citizen task forces need to provide leadership and expertise to move projects forward. Council Citizen Comment Periods has to be much more than gripe sessions.
To encourage more citizen participation, Progressive Democrats will begin sending out Citizen Engagement Advisories so that residents can know when issues that concern them are up for discussion and especially track innovative proposals like those presented at this forum.