It is hard to believe that I have already completed six years as Mayor. When I first ran in 2017, I was committed to serve three terms, or 12 years, because I knew that what my team and I wanted to accomplish was going to take that long. We are midway through that commitment. I am still as passionate about serving you as I was that first day, back on January 2, 2018.
As your Mayor, I am committed to always being Open, Honest, Transparent, and Accessible in everything I say and do. That remains my approach and will never change.
Our Mission and Vision drive everything my Team and I do.
Our 6-word Mission is:
- Build Opportunity.
- Restore Hope.
- Transform Erie.
Our 2-sentence Vision is:
Erie is a Community of Choice.
We Celebrate Our:
- Rich Cultural Diversity
- Welcoming, Vibrant Neighborhoods
- World-class Downtown & Bayfront
- Excellent Education for Everyone, and
- Abundance of Family-sustaining Jobs.
Everything my amazing team and I do focuses on achieving this Mission and Vision for Erie.
But government cannot do it alone. Private sector, non-profit, and philanthropic leaders all play a role in transformational change. One example I am especially proud of is our collaboration with Infinite Erie. Only by working together can we successfully resolve today’s complex challenges. We are putting plans into action, leveraging resources, and securing new funding opportunities. Our focus is on priorities that include inclusive entrepreneurship, neighborhood revitalization, workforce development, industry clusters, anchor investments, and permanent supportive housing. I am excited about what this partnership will accomplish.
Now, I want to share with you some of my Team’s major accomplishments during 2023.
Department of Economic and Community Development
First, under Chris Groner’s leadership as Economic Development Specialist, we have grown the city’s revolving loan funds from $6.25 million in 2018 to $22 million today.
In 2023, through our economic development initiatives, we disbursed more than $7 million in low interest loans that leveraged and supported $20 million in projects.
Since 2018, our Department of Economic and Community Development has provided city businesses with nearly $20 million in financing, which has leveraged more than $90 million in investments.
Created in 2018, the Flagship Micro-grant Program for businesses is fully funded and sustainable through interest from our revolving loan funds. We have given 141 Flagship grants since 2018 for a total of $346,000. In 2023, there were 19 Flagship grants totaling $69,000.
The Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance Program, or LERTA, passed in July 2019, has helped to spur 555 projects totaling $304.6 million in investment in Commercial & Residential Projects. Of this, $252.8 million was for Commercial Projects and $51.8 million for Residential Projects.
We are working with State Representatives Merski and Harkins and State Senator Dan Laughlin to apply for a City Revitalization and Improvement Zone, or CRIZ. If approved, this would bring millions of dollars in sustainable funding for economic development back to the city every year.
We are creating sustainable long-term tools with our $76 million in American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding. We have responsibly invested just over half of those dollars since 2022. In collaboration with our ARP Advisory Council and the ARP Project Review Team of volunteers who helped review applications, we allocated the following funds:
$20.15 million for Economic and Community Development Projects, including funding for small businesses and the redevelopment of EMI, Quin-T, Berry Plastics, and Savocchio Opportunity Park.
$15.1 million for housing grants and loans, being disbursed by the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Erie. To date, more than $1 million has funded 73 housing rehabilitation projects.
$12 million to shore up our over 100-year-old decaying stormwater infrastructure.
$9.2 million for improvements to parks and public spaces, including: the East Bayfront Greenway Trail, the former Quin-T site, Groundwork Erie, and to provide Love Your Block grants to homeowners for small home repair projects.
$14.1 million for public safety enabled us to use $2.7 million to purchase the Miller Brothers property to create a public safety complex. We also added 15 officers to reinstate the Juvenile Unit & the Crisis Unit which can respond in crisis situations 24/7.
All of this ARP Funding MUST be spent by December 31, 2026. We file quarterly ARP reports with the U.S. Treasury. We are on track and monitoring spending closely to ensure the funding is used appropriately and we will not need to send any of this funding back to the federal government. To date, about half of the $76M has been spent or put into sustainable tools that will last long after 2026.
I am also very proud that Debra Smith, our Director of DECD has led her team to disburse HUD allocations into projects and programs to serve residents, including:
Nearly $3.1 million in Community Development Block Grants for economic and community development, community centers, youth programming, park and playground improvements, tree removal and replacement, and curb cuts;
About $950,000 via HOME Investment Partnership for housing rehabilitation, first-time homebuyers, and affordable rental housing rehabilitation;
$270,000 via Emergency Solutions Grants for rapid rehousing and operational costs for 6 Emergency Shelters and 3 transitional living facilities; and
The City also secured $100,000 in funding from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to assist homeowners with mini-grants of up to $4,000 for home repairs.
In 2023, HUD approved the City’s plan to disburse $2.9 million in HOME-ARP funding for the development of a permanent supportive housing complex. The City has been working closely with Infinite Erie and our community partners for over a year on developing housing and providing services to the 150 individuals in Erie County who are chronically unhoused and have the deepest service needs. This important work will continue in 2024.
Department of Planning and Neighborhood Resources
Next, we have built our grant writing capabilities to support transformational projects throughout Erie. Since 2018, the City has brought in more than $90 million in grants for exciting projects and initiatives. Grant writing, administration, and management is an enormous amount of extra work on top of daily responsibilities, but we have a city team committed to finding funding to improve the quality of life for residents and businesses.
In 2023, we were awarded $15.1 million in grant funds with an additional $19.7 million in requests still pending.
Under the Direction of Jackie Spry, our Department of Planning and Neighborhood Resources has worked hard to implement the Erie Refocused Comprehensive Plan.
To eliminate blight, increase quality affordable housing, and connect residents to resources, we are hiring 3 additional Property Maintenance Inspectors and expanding our Love Your Block initiative.
Love Your Block engages residents to address blight. In 2023, we assisted 52 homeowners with mini grants for façade improvements, paint, removal of 114,000 pounds of junk and debris, landscaping, handrails, new mailboxes, house numbers, and storm doors. As a result, residents saved almost $131,000 in labor costs; completed by 103 volunteers who donated over 2,700 hours. In 2024, Love Your Block plans to conduct 100 small home-repair projects, 8 community clean-ups in collaboration with Public Works, and multiple outreach events about funding and services.
In 2023, our GIS Team created a blight dashboard to enable our Property Maintenance Inspectors to proactively address blight. Of the 470 properties identified in the last 5 years, 88 now have a blight designation, 77 have been demolished, 81 have received updated notices of violation or citations, and 133 are already repaired or are being monitored while under repair. In addition, the Erie Land Bank acquired 25 properties, demolished 28 Properties, and transferred 7 Properties for development for a total investment of $631,000.
In 2023, we partnered with the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Erie (RACE) on a plan to develop the East Bayfront Greenway Trail initiative which will replace blighted properties and vacant lots with public greenspace between Parade and Wayne, 10th to 6th streets. Once approved, RACE will use grants and ARP funds to complete this project.
The Erie Neighborhood Growth Partnership received a $100,000 grant through the PA Council on the Arts Creative Communities Initiative that will allow us to partner with Groundwork Erie’s Green Team of high school aged youth from Erie neighborhoods to do environmental work on the East Bayfront Greenway Trail this summer.
The City was awarded a $50,000 planning grant from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Community Conservation Partnerships Program to fund a Comprehensive Recreation, Park, and Open-space Plan for all city-owned parks. This plan will include recommendations for improvements, obtain resident input, and identify potential funding programs to implement the plan.
The City received a $200,000 Federal Planning Grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation called Safe Streets and Roads for All. This grant will help us create a comprehensive Safety Plan to reduce accidents.
The 12th Street Re-Imagined initiative is being funded through a $125,000 Keystone Communities Grant to find ways to make the corridor between I-79 and Cherry Street more inviting and functional.
The City received a $10,000 grant to engage local environmental partners as well as community groups to set an agenda for Erie’s sustainable future. This initiative will focus on climate action, racial justice, and equity.
Since 2018, planning department staff have compiled 3 Neighborhood Strategic Plans: East Bayfront, Academy Marvintown, and Buffalo Road. Each plan provides recommendations based on data and resident input regarding properties, blight, infrastructure, safety, and community building.
Over the last year, thanks to a Keystone Historic Preservation Planning Grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, the City developed a draft of our first-ever Historic Preservation Plan.
Cultures, Arts, Festivals and Events of Erie (CAFE)
Thanks to the CAFE Board and Volunteers under the direction of Adrienne Nannen, residents and visitors were treated to 16 days of free events. These include Lights Over Lake Erie, the 814 Concert Series, Sounds of Summer, and 3 days of the biggest CelebrateErie yet. CAFE’s mission is to bring the City’s Vision to life through fun, engaging events that celebrate our diverse cultures and welcoming, vibrant neighborhoods.
Department of Public Works
Under the leadership of Director Chuck Zysk and Assistant Director A.J. Antolik, 2023 was an extremely busy year for the Department of Public Works.
Public Works affects the daily lives of all city residents. This department oversees Engineering, Streets, Parks, Building Maintenance, Municipal Garage, Special Events, the Wastewater Treatment Plant, Sewer Collections, Refuse, Recycling, Golf, and Stormwater.
In 2023, Public Works:
- Broke ground on the $7 million Downtown Streetscape Master Plan,
- Led the efforts to purchase the former Miller Brother’s Property,
- Implemented the Stormwater Fee, collecting $1.5 million to make improvements to our aging infrastructure,
- Spent $10 million in ARP funding on stormwater improvement projects,
- Received a $3.12 million DEP grant for 5 heavy-duty Electric Vehicle Refuse Trucks,
- Oversaw the redesign of the Kahkwa Avenue Bridge Project, to be built in 2024,
- Spent $4 million in street paving,
- Worked with PennDOT on the West 12th Street signal project,
- Worked on implementation of the Active Erie Transportation Plan,
- Maintained the City’s 45 parks and greenspaces,
- Collected input from residents on their priorities for City-owned parks,
- Completed installation of Baldwin Park Pickleball Courts for $245,000,
- Renovated Martin Luther King Park at a cost of $225,000,
- Upgraded/replaced playground equipment at Lighthouse Park,
- Installed fencing upgrades at Pulaski, Rodger Young, and Lighthouse Park,
- Built picnic pavilions at McClelland and Glenwood Parks,
- Provided opportunities for residents by establishing baseball agreements with organizations that require open-play access for residents and youth across the city,
- Worked with Erie Arts and Culture to continue to install public art,
- Saw record youth participation in the Summer Rec program,
- Over 130 children took part in the Footlights Theater Program. There was also great participation in the Spoons Summer Basketball League for boys and girls.
- Dedicated $600,000 of ARP Funding to remove dead or hazardous trees and improve lighting, safety, and access,
- Offered the May Electronics-and-Tire event which served 700 residents,
- Developed the Compost program,
- Collected 55 tons of glass that would been thrown away as trash without the City’s partnership with Prism recycling,
- Partnered with IRG to place 90 plastic recycling containers in various Erie parks,
- Received $2.6 million from the PA Liquid Fuels fund to maintain streetlights, traffic signals, and crosswalk signs and purchase Public Works equipment,
- And Public Works invested in and operated Downing and J. C. Martin Golf Courses with a profit.
While we will miss Chuck and A.J. who retired from the City at the end of the year, we are grateful for their service and commitment. We are very pleased to welcome Jason Sayers and LeAnn Parmenter as the new Director and Assistant Director of Public Works. Jason has been with the City since 1998, and LeAnn since 2006.
Erie Police Department
Under the leadership of Chief Dan Spizarny, the Erie Police Department responded to 59,399 calls for service in 2023. That is an average of 1,142 calls per week. This is up from 45,000 calls in 2020.
The department complement is set at 194, but with long term injuries, illnesses, and military service, the department is operating with 175 healthy officers.
Crime Trends for 2023 show decreases in aggravated assaults, persons shot, shots fired, firearms stolen, thefts, forgery, fraud, and criminal mischief. We did have a spike in homicides from 6 to 14; 5 of those are attributed to domestic homicides, 2 have suspected ties to gang violence. Overall, our crime numbers are on a downward trend.
In the last 2 years, detectives have cleared 100% of homicide cases for a total of 20 cases (6 in 2022 and 14 in 2023). The Police Department is solving 8 out of the 9 major crimes at rates well above the national average.
A joint investigation by EPD, PA State Police, and the FBI Eagle Task Force led to the arrest of 58 drug dealers in Erie, 22 of whom were charged under RICO for their involvement in “Four Nation”, a violent Erie gang which was involved in many crimes to support their drug-dealing operation.
Last year, our two detectives working at the Children’s Advocacy Center saw an increase in child-abuse reports from 457 in 2022 to 536 in 2023.
Our Body-Worn and Car-Camera system has been very successful. We had no sustained use-of-force complaints and have recorded over 131,000 incidents since we started in October 2022.
In 2023, we implemented Shot Spotter technology, which has been integral in multiple gun investigations and homicide cases. It has immediately directed officers to exact scene locations and helped catch individuals leaving shooting scenes with weapons, including one person who possessed two illegal fully automatic weapons.
Our Juvenile Unit was restarted in January 2023 with four detectives. They have handled over 268 juvenile cases that involved diverting many youth into programs to put them on a positive path and keep them out of the criminal justice system.
Our specially trained Crisis Unit restarted in May 2023 with 10 officers working around the clock to answer domestic related calls, help people in crisis with mental and behavioral health issues, and connect residents to services. The unit handles over 162 incidents per month.
The department created its first Critical Incident Stress Management Team last year and developed a confidential PEER-to-PEER counseling service for officers. These programs help officers deal with the daily stress of the job and the critical incidents that they regularly encounter. These teams were extremely helpful last year when the department experienced a critical incident involving the shooting of one of our officers.
Our Traffic Unit reports 2,799 traffic accidents in 2023 which is down from 2,836 in 2022. There were four fatal accidents in 2023 which is down from nine the previous year. We dealt with 1,017 reports of abandoned vehicles. And Traffic Court collected over $1.2 million in parking fines.
Our Warrant office dealt with 3,586 prisoners brought in and processed. We investigated 97 Megan’s Law offenders in the city who failed to register their address. That number is down from 104 the previous year.
Our SWAT team was activated 70 times in 2023 compared to only 39 times in 2022. They tracked down and arrested multiple wanted homicide suspects, served drug search warrants, and were part of the Joint Federal, State, and Local Task Force that arrested those 58 drug suspects I mentioned.
We are especially proud of the continued success of our community policing initiatives. Thanks to the leadership of Lieutenant Jamie Russo and Lieutenant Tom Lenox, our COP initiative and the Police Athletic League, or PAL, have grown exponentially. When I first took office in 2018, we had 53 students and 6 officers meeting in one location. Today, PAL now has more than 1,200 youth in the program and over 103 officers committed to building the cop-kid relationship in 19 locations throughout the city!
The biggest story of the Police department in 2023 is the amount of grants and reimbursements that we applied for and secured. These grants and reimbursements total $8.1 million. This funding enabled us to purchase e-bikes, vehicles, technology, training, and vital equipment so our police officers can protect and serve our community. This also included funding to expand the PAL program, implement crisis teams in collaboration with counselors, and reimburse salary, benefits, and overtime.
Erie Fire Department
Under the leadership of Chief Joe Walko and Assistant Chief Len Trott, in 2023, the Erie Fire Department responded to 8,890 calls for service, which was up 3,000/year from pre-COVID. This includes 5,068 Emergency Medical Calls, 490 Motor Vehicle Accidents, 122 Structure Fires, 38 Vehicle Fires, 362 Outside Fires, and 134 Hazardous Material Calls.
We are very happy that Horus joined us in 2023. Horus is our new Accelerant Detection Canine funded by the ATF. Horus and his Handler, Captain Adam Gatti, were instrumental in investigating fires last year which led to 5 arson arrests with 1 conviction. The other 4 convictions are pending.
In 2023, we obtained $800,000 in grants for fire trucks and equipment and spent $413,000 making much-needed improvements to firehouses. We also installed solar panels at Central Fire Station, making it the first solar-powered fire station of its kind in PA and the fifth in the nation.
In 2023, due to space limitations, we purchased the former Miller Brothers/Erie Brewing Company property on State Street to develop a Joint Public Safety Complex for our Police and Fire Departments. This will provide space to house evidence, equipment, administration, and many operations critical to the safety of residents.
Department of Human Resources
For the second straight year, we achieved a perfect score of 100 points on the Municipal Equality Index which is an assessment of LGBTQ-inclusive municipal laws, policies, and services.
Under HR Director Eunice Moore, we continued to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion at City Hall, implementing the City’s DEI report, increasing diversity hiring, and improving policies and processes.
Department of Communications
In 2023, the Citizen Response Center addressed and resolved 3,494 calls. Mas Sala handles a wide variety of issues from refuse collections to large item pick-up to blight to potholes. Whatever the challenge, Mas does a great job of ensuring that calls are resolved as quickly as possible.
We have a lot of exciting stories to tell this year! So, I am especially pleased to have our Communications Director Rob Lee and our Digital Media and Design Specialist Monica Gustin on board to help keep you informed about City services, resources, projects, initiatives, and events. In addition to our weekly news conferences, our social media posts, our summer parks and recreation guide, and our annual calendar and recycling guide, we will be launching a new website and are in the process of hiring two liaisons to help with community outreach and engagement.
While the City of Erie does not have the capacity to accommodate or place migrant workers, over the last three years, our three refugee resettlement agencies have relocated about 2,000 people to Erie County.
Legally documented immigrants and refugees have found Erie to be a safe, welcoming city and an easy place to start over. Our local organizations do amazing work each day to connect refugees to services, resources, housing, jobs, training, and schools. Their involvement enriches our community as we can learn from and experience the tastes, sights, and sounds of so many diverse cultures.
I am proud to report that our new Immigrant and Refugee Liaison, Saeed Taraky will be starting at the City next week. Saeed will help our new residents to understand how to relate to Police officers and Firefighters, abide by City laws, and access City services and resources.
Department of Finance
Since 2018, my team and I have been working to solve three of the city’s greatest financial challenges resulting from our shrinking tax base. Those challenges are the long-term debt, the structural deficit, and the pension. Due to several creative solutions, I am pleased that we have had a significant positive impact on all three. In 2023, under the leadership of Director Lisa Gomersall, we were approximately $2.5 million under budget. And, this was the fifth straight year without an increase in the city’s property taxes.
Thanks to our City Employees
That concludes a high-level summary of some of our 2023 accomplishments. I could not do it without my incredible team. As we have navigated various challenges, the counsel and guidance of City Solicitor Ed Betza has been invaluable. I also give special thanks to Chief of Staff Renée Lamis, Executive Assistants Marjorie Bruce and Katherine Blair, and all 650 City of Erie employees who work so hard day-in and day-out in dedicated service to the community, often with little thanks or recognition.
They serve and protect us, pave the roads, clear snow, pick up refuse, clean our water, manage stormwater, maintain parks, revitalize neighborhoods, and help businesses, entrepreneurs, and community organizations every day. Through city grants, youth from all over the City enjoy year-round programming at our community centers and through our summer rec program. Your City employees are passionate and committed to providing quality service and making data-informed, values-driven decisions that will leave a lasting legacy.
On to 2024 and Beyond!
As you can see, we have many significant projects underway! In for 2024 and beyond, we will:
- Launch a new City of Erie website
- Expand our Love Your Block Initiative
- Build a comprehensive housing strategy to add affordable, workforce, market-rate, and permanent supportive housing
- Embark on a Street Light Assessment
- Design and begin to renovate the former Miller Bros property into a Joint Public Safety Complex
- Work with PennDOT on the Bayfront Parkway Central Corridor Project
- Renew our Welcoming Erie certification
- Submit our CRIZ application to the Commonwealth.
We will create four plans:
- A Comprehensive, city-wide parks and recreation plan
- A Safe-Streets-for-All Plan
- A Local Climate Action Plan
- And the 12th Street Reimagined Plan
And, we will implement the:
- Historic Preservation Plan
- Downtown Streetscape Master Plan
- Active Erie Transportation Plan
- East Bayfront Greenway Trail
- Byrne Grant in the East Bayfront Neighborhood.
As we move forward with these exciting projects, I look forward to seeing you around town and hearing your feedback. Thank you for your faith and trust in me and my team as we all work together to ensure Erie is the best place to live, work, and raise a family.
– Joseph Schember, Mayor