State of The City - 2010

The Honorable Brad Cole, Mayor
City of Carbondale, Illinois
Eighth Annual State of the City Address

Carbondale Chamber of Commerce Luncheon
December 14, 2010; 12:00 Noon
Carbondale City Hall / Civic Center

Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us today in what will be my final State of the City Address.

I have said almost every year, it hardly seems like the time of year to be giving this address, since the preceding time has gone by so quickly. This year, it is hard to imagine that eight years have almost passed since I started the practice of offering this annual speech to the community, and so we are about to come to the end of another chapter.

Getting some matters of protocol out of the way, I want to recognize the Members of the City Council who have joined us today. I also want to recognize City staff, especially City Manager Allen Gill.

I see several faces in the crowd that have been to each of these events and I want to thank you for being steadily involved over the years. In some cases this is the only time I see you throughout the year. Whether you are here as friends or otherwise, your presence is appreciated and it has been an honor to stand before you in this capacity.

I should also point-out that several area college administrators are here, John A. Logan College President Robert Mees and Southern Illinois University Chancellor Rita Cheng. I would especially like to welcome and congratulate Dr. Gary Minish, who has recently been named Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor at SIUC. The university has many issues that it must tackle to reestablish itself, to stabilize its enrollment and to affirm its place in higher education, and I am certain that Dr. Minish is the right person to take charge of the academic house on campus to make those things happen.

I would also like to recognize and introduce Mr. Steve Murphy, who has been named the new superintendent of Carbondale Community High School District #165, taking the office in July of this coming year. He replaces Steve Sabens, who announced his retirement effective at the same time. I think it is fair to say that the City´s relationship with the high school district has been unique and perhaps one of the most connected of any city-school relationship in the state.

One example of that relationship is the Mayoral Scholarship that my office supports. This year, as in previous years, each of you has helped by contributing a portion of your luncheon fee toward a scholarship fund that is awarded to students from Carbondale Community High School who choose to attend Southern Illinois University. Based on last year´s luncheon, two $500 individual scholarships were awarded. In the short time since we began this practice, nine students have received the Mayoral Scholarship and a total of $5,500 has been awarded. There was some initial push-back (by a few people on the Chamber board) to us starting this, mainly because it tacked-on an extra $5 to your lunch bill at this event, but look how positive and successful it has become. Each of you should be thanked for the small contribution that you make once a year, but which results in having a large impact on the life of a college-bound student in our community.

Faith Johnson. If you don´t know her, Faith is my assistant. Imagine, if you will, having to spend all day, every week day, with me. Right now, I´m not going to get too deep into the topic of my term ending in a few months, but Faith and I have been having those obvious conversations lately and to one degree or another we have each been establishing how we will manage this separation. She and I come from clearly different backgrounds and have been subjected to equally different environmental factors that formed who we are today. But I would say that we are also much more alike than either of us can admit. We have been together in these jobs longer, and more dependent on each other in them, than a lot of married couples have stayed together. That is no small accomplishment. To Faith Johnson, I say thank you.

As in the past, I am pleased to announce that this presentation is being broadcast live on CityVision 16, the City´s cable television channel, and will be replayed later at various times. A text copy of my remarks is also now available on our website,

2010 is now almost a memory. Let´s look now at where we´ve been over the past year and take a peek at where I think we´re headed for 2011.

Nationally, the economy is still faltering but there are signs of improvement in many of the trends that we watch as indicators of what might be coming next. There can be no argument that people are still suffering from both unemployment and underemployment, and that the job climate is depressing both spirits and spending. At the same time, almost surprisingly, 2010 has not been a totally terrible year for local businesses. Yes, many have seen better days, but for some, 2010 has had some of their best days. More than one local retailer has come to me and told about how they have had the best year ever, and that relates to periods of over ten and twenty years. Just look at the parking lots in front of our new TJMaxx or Chili´s and you´ll see that people are out and about, and the cash registers are ringing.

The stability of the local economy has always been tied to the presence of SIU. However, SIU hasn´t exactly been the most stable itself, so we have to see that our efforts as a municipality to strengthen and expand our base of support in other places have been working. We have become a broader draw for the regional community. We are bringing-in more people to Carbondale than would otherwise have been coming here on their own just a few years ago. Our unemployment numbers for October 2010 (the most current) show an unemployment rate of 6.5%. This compares to 9.2% for the State of Illinois. If one looks back to 2009, the comparable rate of unemployment at this time was 6.6% and in 2008 it was 5.2%.

In the last handful of years, we have had unemployment as high as 8.0% and as low as 3.8%. To be, now, in the middle of that range with a rather steady 6.5% is reassuring for the forecast of things to come. We are improving, we are adding jobs and we are successfully fighting off the near-double-digit jobless rate that has plagued the greater part of our state for more than a year.

Much of the conversation today will center on the financial condition of the City and on where we´ll be headed both in the near- and long-term, but let me start with a look at what we have been able to get done since we last met in this setting.

Unlike other communities, Carbondale has been on an aggressive schedule with several major construction projects. We began building our much-needed new Public Safety Center earlier this year and it is promised (by the contractors) to be finished and turned-over to the City by March 25, 2011. The new, $7+ million building will double the floor space available for use by our police department and it will provide an accessible and presentable workplace for the officers and the community as a whole. We have been operating out of old dormitories for so long, and the hope for a new building has been floating around for so many years, I think there are still people who don´t believe it´s happening. But drive down South Washington Street and take a look; it is happening and it will be finished on time.

When we were going out to issue bonds for the cost of this project, we were quite pleased to receive an upgrade in our bond rating. A “AA-“ rating was assigned to the City of Carbondale from Standard & Poor´s rating services, which reflects highly on our stable service-based economy, our below average unemployment rate, our positive financial operations internally, and what they call a “moderate” debt burden.

In 2007, the City Council took a bold step forward in approving a “Proposal to Invest in the Future of Carbondale.” That plan included a funding mechanism to support the construction of this Public Safety Center and a new fire station. The fire station, to be built on land that we have already acquired behind the new Walgreen´s on our west side, is almost done in the architect´s design phase and will be ready to move forward (hopefully) in the near future. That plan also included landmark support for Southern Illinois University and provided for a multi-year partnership investment in tourism-related construction projects on campus. The Saluki Way project has seen the completion and opening of the new Saluki Stadium and a renovated Arena. There is simply no way either of those projects would have happened, at least not in this decade, without the substantial help from the City of Carbondale.

The genesis of our involvement in Saluki Way essentially began with our own self invitation to be part of the program. We invited ourselves in, offered $20 million, and then got out of the way to let it happen. I doubt very much if that ever occurs again, given the magnitude of what we offered, but it is now a model for other communities and campuses across the nation to study and duplicate for their own efforts. On behalf of the hundreds of people and the businesses who were employed in the construction phases of both projects, I want to again thank the City Council members who supported that proposal.

In addition to those high profile items, we have also been involved in other construction projects this year. We completed the widening and total reconstruction of Reed Station Road, between New and Old Routes 13. We also just finished building a new right-in, right-out access off west-bound New Route 13 into the Hampton Inn area. The new street, which we will name Veterans Parkway, will connect Route 13 with Reed Station Parkway and will make it easier for travelers to access the Reed Station Crossing development if they miss the initial turn-off at Reed Station Road. And we extended Marion Street, between College Street and Mill Street, to serve as an additional access point for the Public Safety Center.

Aside from transportation, work has been completed on the Cedar Lake Shoreline Stabilization and Erosion Control project, which will protect the long range water quality of the lake. A new equalization basin has also been completed at the Northwest Waste Water Treatment Plant, in addition to numerous other plant repairs and wetland recovery measures that have been implemented there.

A future construction project that will have to be on hold until funding is available will be a new intermodal transportation center that is planned for the old Merlin´s or Animal Cracker´s lot just down the street from here. As I put forward in my 2007 campaign position paper, the increased frequency of passenger rail service provided by Amtrak is quickly outgrowing the existing, sub-standard rail station on South Illinois Avenue. We were able to purchase the land for this new development earlier this year, and I hope the project stays on target for completion within the next few years. I had originally called on the center to be completed by the end of 2012, but that will soon become someone else´s priority to see finalized. This remains a viable goal and is even more important now, as we see Carbondale´s rail station already exceeding 100,000 passengers in this calendar year. As the fourth busiest passenger rail station in Illinois, excluding Chicago´s Union Station, we are on track to potentially reach 125,000 riders this year. I think that´s something to be excited about.

Continuing our role as a leader in the region, state and nation, Carbondale was recognized with numerous awards this year. We received an award for the development of our new Comprehensive Plan, from the American Planning Association – Illinois Chapter. Our web site,, was recognized again this year for meeting the transparency criteria requirements established by the Sunshine Review, a project of the Sam Adams Alliance to bring openness and information to the public through various technologies. We received special recognition from the U.S. Department of Defense for support of military personnel that are currently enlisted in the armed services and stationed away on active duty, while still being employed by the City of Carbondale. This award was given through ESGR, the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve unit of the Department of Defense. Despite the tremendous loss of trees in last year´s storm, which we don´t talk about anymore, we were named a Tree City USA for the 29th consecutive year by the National Arbor Day Foundation. And we received the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award for our fiscal year 2011 annual budget, our 24th year to receive the honor, and we received a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting by the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States, this being the 17th consecutive year we have received that award for our Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, this time for the 2010 fiscal year.

We have also been well-represented in regional, state and national professional associations, both as a staff and as elected officials. Many of our staff are involved with their colleagues on professional boards, which gives us a good perspective on best practices and allows us to see what´s happening in other communities. I have just completed a two year term on the board of directors for the National League of Cities and I continue as a Vice President of the Illinois Municipal League. My work with the Illinois Municipal League (IML) was most beneficial this year as I served as the lead negotiator for all cities, towns and villages in Illinois on the recently adopted public pension reform legislation that now awaits the Governor´s signature. Not only does the City of Carbondale deserve a spot at the table in these important conversations and when critical issues are being discussed, but we have also earned our right to be front and center. We do not and cannot operate in a vacuum in southern Illinois and it will take a continued, concerted effort to make sure the progress we have gained is not lost to disinterest or disregard.

One of the absolute most important things we were involved with in 2010 was the national census. We do not yet have our population numbers in the new census count, but hopefully they will be positive and show stability and growth. As I also pointed out in my 2007 position paper, for too long our population has hovered around 25,000 residents. The trend must be reversed and the community must look to all possible ways to increase its population. This is one reason why I have been a steady and strong supporter of almost all new development projects and efforts to attract both part-time and permanent residents. When we sat still in the 1990´s while housing and retail growth were happening all around us, we also sat still in our population growth. We have started to change that cycle and I urge the future leaders of this community to stay focused on our stated goal of reaching a population of more than 30,000 by the year 2020. It can be done, and it can be done in terms of smart growth that respects the environment and the sustainability of such an increase, but it must be done.

When we talk about population growth we have to simultaneously talk about housing. The issue of quality housing has been on our minds for the duration of my two terms in this office, both in our efforts to improve the rental housing stock and in developing new single-family homes. Several years ago, we were very successful in implementing an incentive program to offset some of the costs to developing new homes and new neighborhoods, and we saw several hundred new homes built in just a couple of years, where before we would have only seen a couple of dozen new homes built. That program was a terrific success, but it cost us financially and those dollars just aren´t there today to be able to do the same thing again. Compliment the end of that locally funded incentive program with the onset of the national mortgage crisis and things came to a rather abrupt halt around here in the new housing market.

Even so, when considering single-family homes and multi-family structures, new and remodeled homes altogether, in the first ten months of 2010 we have had $7,297,183 in housing building permits issued. We are also participating in or coordinating several grant-funded housing programs that will infuse $881,500 into the housing market. Combined, that brings us to a total of $8,178,683 (nearly eight-and-a-quarter million dollars) that has been invested in housing this year. Add that to the $18,270,624 in commercial building permits issued so far and our $25.5 million year doesn´t look as bad as it could have, especially if it was solely based on everything that is going on around us in the national recession and very slow recovery.

One bright star on the housing front is the new senior living development that is currently under construction on New Era Road. The project will be completed this spring and will have 50 units of townhomes and duplexes when finished. This is the first major housing development that fills in our effort to attract new living opportunities for senior citizens who either want to move to southern Illinois or want to stay in the area during their retirement. I have been talking for several years about our need to fill the retirement housing niche and this is a good start in that direction. Access to recreational opportunities, medical facilities, social and cultural venues are all readily available to individuals and couples that want to relocate to or in Carbondale, and we have to keep marketing ourselves to attract developments that will accommodate that clientele.

Housing will likely be one of the hot topics in the next few months, and it should rightly stay a topic of conversation as we implement the newly adopted Comprehensive Plan. The plan, however, is not an absolute or a dictate on how the community should grow and develop. It is a guidepost that needs to be monitored, updated, reviewed and consulted on issues of land use and rezoning when necessary for the City Council to make prudent decisions. The Comprehensive Plan identifies the forces that have and will influence relative policies for the city, as it focuses on current strengths and future trends. The plan was approved at the culmination of an 18-month long process that had a great deal of public input and involvement. Hopefully, our plan will prove its usefulness and it will serve as a catalyst to initiate appropriate development and growth, while protecting the general concepts and confines of the community. It is certainly an important document that has a role in what we do and I hope it will serve the City Council and others for many years to come, in particular as it relates to housing growth and redevelopment of both individual properties and entire neighborhoods.

A lot of our financial issues would be resolved if we could see noticeable increases in our full-time residential population. You can clearly see why the census count is so important. But there are other issues that are also important and that relate consequences upon our growth. Enrollment on the SIU campus is one of those issues and Gary Minish is going to take care of that; so, problem solved. The perception and appreciation for our K-12 school systems is also important. We have to work together to inform the public about the good things happening in our schools and we have to work together to break the chains of matters that are holding us down and pushing us back. And we have to face the reality of our county´s property tax addiction, which leaves far too many people wondering how our rates are so much higher than other communities in the area and around the state.

Simply put, a lot of home owners feel that they are taxed out. Since I have been mayor, we have not collected one penny in property taxes for the operation of our general government. When we dropped our tax, everyone else raised theirs. That didn´t help much. Instead, we focused on sales tax and have increased the tax on purchased goods and services to the extent that we reasonably can without seeing a negative reaction from people.

As we look ahead to the upcoming budget year and begin the critical discussions on how we will meet expenditure projections, I must say that I have never been favorable to reinstating the property tax; I have been consistent on this issue since my initial service on the City Council. Even though we have not collected a property tax for almost eight years, and although this may be the best option for the City Council to support, we will still be the ones blamed for burdening property owners with high taxes. Rental property owners are already grousing about it, as they seem to have forgotten about the decrease they received from us when I was first elected. That´s fine, that´s human nature.

At the same time and having said that, I am not inclined to support an increase in the sales tax. Such a proposal would only be politically expedient in the face of staff´s thoughtful and well-considered recommendation for a property tax increase, and it would place us on the edge of losing our competitiveness with other nearby cities. So then, what do we do? Well, the collective body of the City Council will have a tough decision to make next week when the matter of our tax levies is brought before the Council for a vote.

I am ready to work with the City Manager to implement whatever is adopted, but everyone should realize there are only two ways for government to balance its budget: increased revenues or decreased expenditures. I have just stated my position on the idea of increasing revenues. We have done almost all we can in the area of decreasing expenditures, but that option is still on the table and we will do what must be done.

One of the reasons we are having these financial discussions is because we continue to deal with the mismanagement of the State of Illinois. There have been no long term decisions on how to address the state´s budget deficit, no plans on how to pay the state´s backlog of bills to private companies and social service providers, and no answer to our call for getting up to date on payments that are due to municipalities. To date, we have not received our share of Local Government Distributive Fund revenues from the state since May. That means we are basically six months behind, where we are supposed to be only one month behind in the receipt of funds that are collected and scheduled to be transmitted to us. The total that is due to the City of Carbondale right now is $765,957. That´s not much when compared to what schools and universities might be waiting on, but all things are relative and relatively speaking that´s a lot of money to us. It is not only impacting our budget planning, but more so impacting our cash flow and our ability to stay current on our own bills and expenses. Something must be done from Springfield and hopefully it will be done soon.

If you have never believed in trickle-down economics, all you have to do is look at the growing number of unfunded mandates that are being passed down to local governments, and see how many agencies, service providers, physicians and others are not being paid by the state, to understand that the direct result is a trickle-down of budget cuts and job losses. A lot of people say it can´t get much worse, but that´s what they´ve been saying for the last couple of years and so I would rather not jinx it anymore.

As an update on a few items I brought forward last year at this time, I am very pleased to report that we launched the “Bank on Carbondale” program earlier this year. The program is designed to help distressed and previously unbankable individuals and families with opening a bank account, so they can begin saving, build a credit history and invest in their future. Hundreds of Carbondale households currently rely on check-cashers, payday lenders and pawn shops to cash checks, to pay bills and borrow money. Bank on Carbondale provides free financial education courses, money management tools and other resources to help people make the most out of their accounts. On your table is a piggy bank and I encourage someone at your table to take the bank and share it with a person who can benefit from being in the program, or perhaps give it to a child who can start saving now.

Perhaps the biggest item from last year´s address was my challenge to the community to look at ways to take-on private ownership of the Eurma C. Hayes Center. This community center, located in our northeast neighborhood, has been the focal point of a number of issues during its 36 year life as a city facility. Last year, I indicated that we needed to find new ways to address old issues. Every year in the twelve years I have been on the City Council, there has been discussion about how the City is going to fund or manage or utilize the Hayes Center. I am pleased to report that, after widely soliciting proposals from interested parties, we are ready to finalize an agreement that will transfer ownership of the property to a group of local volunteers. The group, the Eurma C. Hayes Center Corporation, will take charge of the property by the end of this month and will have full equity in the future of the center. This will come before the City Council at our next meeting, one week from today, and I look forward to unanimous support to accept the proposal and move forward.

I believe this will be a transformative undertaking in many ways. First, the City will no longer be the distant or detached overseer that must be dealt with and consulted on everything. Second, by transferring ownership to a group of neighborhood residents and dedicated community leaders, the building will become a true community center, with all of the possibilities that can be dreamt of and acted upon. And third, we will have shown that we are capable of recognizing what a local government´s place is in providing programs and services and, in the face of the reality that we are no longer providing any programs or services there, that we can step aside and engage and empower others to take an independent lead without us.

As we change course with that facility and carry-on with the Council´s decision to eliminate our subsidies of the groups located at the Hayes Center, I think now is a good time to look at the relationship we have with education in Carbondale. I mentioned earlier that we have apparent relationships with both SIU and Carbondale Community High School. Our funding of the Saluki Way project and our support to pay for the construction of the new high school building (which it´s hard to believe is now eight years old) were groundbreaking in their concept and are still unique in their application. Even with those relationships, I have always felt there has been something missing from our clear and obvious focus on education.

Several months ago, I began meeting with the superintendent of Carbondale Elementary School District #95, Linda Meredith. We have been talking about ways we can provide support to the elementary district, not in the form of constructing new buildings, but in a manner to help get and keep the youngest of our school children on the right track. There is a disparity in test scores between some demographics within the district and there are a lot of issues that surround the success of some of the neediest of our grade school students. Getting a handle on all of that is outside the scope of what I can do as mayor, but I think now is the time for us to partner with District 95 and try to support their efforts.

Specifically, with the savings we will realize from not subsidizing community organizations at the Hayes Center, I would like to see us work together to fund a summer math and reading camp that will strategically target students who need focused and intense tutoring that will allow them to stay with their respective grade´s curriculum and bridge the gap that summer vacation often creates. If we can enlist these young students in a boot camp for school, with math and reading challenges instead of push-ups and marching drills, then I think we´ll see improvement in test scores and we´ll see less of a need to stigmatize young students with special education courses.

I´ll be putting together a recommendation for our upcoming budget that will apply those saved dollars into a multi-year pilot program to be developed by teachers with the absolute goal of having defined and realistic outcomes for student success. The cost for this will be in the $150,000 per year range, but we have to see it as an investment in our future. If we can´t graduate students from grade school and middle school, and then from high school and college, we will have failed to do our part for more than just our generation, we will have failed the future. There is still much to be done to put this together, and it will cost us what we had originally planned to save, but I think it´s the right thing to do and I hope the City Council will support it.

I would say that´s a fairly thorough look at what´s been happening in 2010. So, what will 2011 bring us? Unfortunately, we´ll be in more of a wait-and-see mode to answer that question than I would generally prefer.

The biggest thing we will face as a unit of government is the ongoing financial situation that I have already illustrated in adequate form. Financial good times will surely return to our economy and the result will bolster the City´s budget, but it may be a while before that happens in the kind of way we would like.

The next most significant and obvious event for the new year will be the election of a new mayor and three new City Council members. This has only happened once before in our recent history, which was in 2003 when the Council was expanded from five members to seven. In that election a new mayor and three new Council members were elected. The anticipated upcoming turnover has resulted in a somewhat large group of people vying for the seats, with five candidates for mayor and 16 candidates for City Council. My hope is that all of the candidates would start to actively focus on issues for our future and bring forth ideas and goals that can realistically be achieved in the type of group setting that will be formed by a new Council.

The mayor plays a major part in developing a structure of cohesion and a style and a sense of direction for the Council, but all of the members are important along the way to guarantee reaching the targeted objectives. It would be nice to start hearing from those candidates for mayor and see what their goals are for what could be a four year term in office. Just as an example, I produced a position paper for each of my campaigns and I have stuck to what I put forth in each of them. I wrote every word of them and they have been on my desk since day one. This type of process worked for me and it may not work for others, but this community deserves to understand where the candidates are coming from and to be able to have something that they can be held accountable to when one of them is elected. In fact, I keep my position papers, all of my annual State of the City addresses, my review of our first one hundred days, and other documents right here and available to look through on a regular basis.

I said it would be nice to start hearing from those candidates for mayor and to see what their goals are… it would also be nice to start seeing all of them attend City Council meetings. I realize our cable television audience is large and we might, some day, even win an Emmy Award for best tragic comedy, but watching on television isn´t the same as being in the room, especially if you want to be the person controlling the room.

I have been asked repeatedly two questions, over and over and over. One of them is, who will I support for mayor? There may be a lot of things that people comment on or issues people haven´t agreed with, but the one constant that no one can argue is that I have taken this job seriously for the time I have been its caretaker. That´s what I am looking for in the next mayor. I am looking for someone who will take the job seriously, someone who will give as much or all of themselves to the people of this community as they possibly can. That is what I have tried to do and that is what I think we (as residents) deserve. The politics and the issues and the personalities will sort themselves out as sideline issues, but the person who can prove that he will take the job seriously will rise above the others and should be a clear choice for the voters.

The second question is, what am I going to be doing next? I realize that mostly people are just curious, but then they are also hesitant to believe the answer I give them. The fact of the matter is that I do not have any post-mayoral plans right now. My only plan is to finish the term for which I was elected. I like what I do and I´m not looking to cut this assignment short, and I´m not looking to simply fall across the finish line. We have work to do here and it´s my job to see it done through and until May 3, 2011. Anything can happen and if something comes up before then, well, then we´ll deal with it at the time. But as I see it now, I´m focused on fulfilling my obligations here as your mayor and then, when my term is done, I´ll worry about what comes next. My guess is that, for those of you who keep asking, you´ll hear about it in a timely fashion or by then it won´t matter to you anymore.

As I prepared these remarks I consciously and deliberately decided to leave out too much prognosticating for the coming year. This is different than what I have previously done in these speeches, where I have put forth a solid agenda of issues, both policy and programmatic, for the City Council to consider or for City Hall to support. Instead, and as I mentioned just a few moments ago, this is really the time for those candidates who are seeking the office to put forth their ideas. I think it would be inappropriate for me to push an aggressive agenda that might not be too well-received by the person incoming into this office in less than five months. So this is more of a wrap-up of the current year and less of a build-up for the next year. As we get closer to the transition and are within sight of closing this Council´s and my tenure, I will be back before the community to summarize and review what we have accomplished over the past eight years. That´s not the purpose of today, so you´ll have to wait a little while for the farewells and goodbyes.

In conclusion, as I have said to many times before, this has been an interesting year.

The state of our city is in good condition and it continues to get better, gradually, even in these very difficult times for people.

Next year will be a time for us to move in a new direction as a municipal government and to bring together new ideas and a different approach to governing. It´ s a good thing and it´s what makes our system of government such a success. I look forward to it, both as someone who has spent a considerable amount of time in the system and as a student of political science. Transition is a positive thing and we will do our best to make sure it is a smooth and seamless process on May 3, 2011.

We have so much to be thankful for and I wish each of you and your families the best of all the holidays. Thank you for coming, thank you for your years of support, and good afternoon to each of you.



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