Population decline, neighborhood revitalization, and video gambling
Decatur’s greatest challenge is its population decline. Since 2010, our population has decreased over 5% and the city is one of the ten fastest shrinking cities in the U.S. Population decline leads to reduced economic growth, labor shortages, and decreased revenue to provide public services. To reverse population decline it will take: high-paying jobs, a skilled labor force, and housing. City government can play a substantial role in housing and neighborhood revitalization to increase our population.
The city’s neighborhood revitalization efforts to date have been underwhelming relative to the magnitude of the challenge ahead of us. In fall 2018, the city had over 300 houses that were unfit for human habitation, and the number of vacant housing units was nearly 4,500. Our property values have fallen as some neighborhoods decline and houses fall into disrepair. Furthermore, the city has seen a significant rise in video gambling, and in 2018 there were over 416 video gaming terminals in 87 establishments throughout Decatur. Our main thoroughfares contain large signs and flags in front of establishments welcoming guests to play slots while collectively diminishing one’s impression of our city.
I am opposed to video gambling. The current mayor argues that video gambling in the city is needed to fund police officers and firefighters, and supports non-profit organizations. The city does not nor should it ever rely on our citizens’ gambling losses to support public services. Gambling revenue constitutes less than 3% of the city’s general fund revenue, and the city currently does not account for the negative societal costs it incurs from video gambling including crime, bankruptcy, and addiction.
Our city may have entered a pattern in which our population declines, we embrace revenue sources with significant societal costs, our neighborhoods decline, resulting in further population loss. A better approach is to create a more livable, vibrant, and healthy city. The city of Decatur’s best asset is the people who live here. It is time to put the people of Decatur first and restore our city’s identity as a place that all 72,000 of our residents are proud to call home.