Bearrows, Fiegenschuh make 2023 State of the Community address

On Thursday evening, City of Rochelle Mayor John Bearrows and City Manager Jeff Fiegenschuh made their annual State of the Community address for 2023.

'We're in very good shape financially'

ROCHELLE — On Thursday evening, City of Rochelle Mayor John Bearrows and City Manager Jeff Fiegenschuh made their annual State of the Community address for 2023. 

Bearrows and Fiegenschuh outlined the city's priorities, financial standing, where residents' property taxes go and recent and upcoming projects. 

The city's six strategic plan goal priorities include core service delivery, fiscal management & stability, economic & business development, community inclusivity & engagement, infrastructure effectiveness & improvement, and quality of life. The plan underwent an update recently.

"Everything comes back to these strategic plan priorities," Fiegenschuh said. "And everything we do has to in some way tie back to this. These are large, broad categories, but if it can't fit within these six, then staff doesn't work on it."

Fiegenschuh detailed the city's $106.6 million budget for those in attendance and watching online, including the makeup of the city's and Rochelle Municipal Utilities' expenditures and general fund expenses broken down by department. 

The city's top two expenditures by percentage are contractual (37 percent) and capital outlay (27 percent). Capital outlay expenditures have been related to infrastructure reinvestments and a vast majority of contractual expenditures are power purchases by the RMU electric utility. 

Sixty seven percent of the city's expenses by department are made up of its police department (32 percent), fire department (21 percent) and street department (14 percent). 

"That means we're spending dollars and reinvesting back into keeping our residents safe and our streets plowed," Fiegenschuh said. 

The city's general fund currently has over $10 million in it. 

"We're in very good shape financially," Fiegenschuh said. "That's the thing I'm most proud of at the city. We've really turned the city around financially. Not just the general fund, but the utility side as well."

Bearrows detailed how the city's portion of residents' property tax bills is spent, which includes police officers, firefighter/EMTs, police cars, ambulance, dispatchers, school crossing guards, engineering, economic development, community development and street department operators. Approximately 10 cents of every dollar goes to the city from residents' property tax bills. 

Due to increases in Rochelle's equalized assessed value and how it has levied, the city's portion of residents' property tax bills has decreased for the past three years. 

"That shows some really good fiscal responsibility on behalf of the city," Bearrows said. "There's not a lot of taxing bodies that can tell you they've had a reduction in their rate for the last three years. We've been very fortunate."

The mayor and city manager talked about recent city accomplishments including breaking ground on the Rochelle Intermodal Transload Center, the demolition of Hickory Grove, the construction of RMU's new Ritchie Road substation, 14th Street and 2nd Avenue improvements and approximately 75 ribbon cuttings over the past four years at new businesses and city projects.

Upcoming projects mentioned during the State of the Community address include expanding the city's renewable energy portfolio, recruiting for public safety positions, a remodel of the fire station's dorm area, the development of a fire training facility, another new electric substation, competing construction of the RITC and opening it this summer, finding a development project for the former Hickory Grove site, installing cameras downtown and beginning the engineering phase of improvements to Illinois Route 251 on the north side of town with the state.

Bearrows thanked staff for its work over the past year.

"You all working the way that you do and working together makes everybody's jobs so much easier,” Bearrows said. “All of these projects don't just happen by chance. There are many hands that get involved."