Tuesday’s thunderstorms knock out downtown power, Vigo County is proposing a 0.75 tax increase, an update on the city police pension fund, the county is getting a state drug treatment center and 7th Street construction is set to begin soon.
On this week’s installment of Ask The Mayor, Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett addresses these issues and more. Listen to the full conversation with Indiana Newsdesk anchor Joe Hren by clicking on the play button above, or read some of the questions and answers below. A portion of this segment airs 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. Wednesday on WFIU.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.
Hren: A few storms rolled through today. State Road 46 was closed for some time and the power is out in parts of downtown, is there significant damage?
Bennett: It did some damage to a Duke Energy substation on the east side that feeds the downtown area, so that’s a pretty critical area to lose power for almost four hours with stoplights, city hall, county annex and the courthouse all without power, so it’s been quite a crazy morning.
Hren: The proposed new Vigo County Jail spot was announced right after we were here last month. Now the commissioners are proposing a location near the federal prison – a little further away from the former proposed site, what are your thoughts on this location?
Bennett: We can live with it. Any farther away becomes very difficult for us because it’s increased cost for us. We’ll have to spend a lot more time driving prisoners and will tie up our officers for a longer period of time. The prison is in the city limits, but we typically don’t have to do much police work down that way.
Hren: Then they have to fund the jail, so I see the county wants to propose a 0.75 income tax increase. Would that go in part to fund the jail?
Bennett: Yes, and it would fund a variety of things really, because they need help with their general fund, 911 needs assistance and I think it’s the right amount, it seems they honed in on what’s needed and not too much. The city benefits too by getting a portion of that, so that will help our budget too. It’s an all across win, we’ve all been struggling with the tax caps and we don’t need to make all of it up, but we need a little bit of revenue.
Hren: Last month we talked about the police pension fund. Retired officers want the fund removed as part of the city’s general budget because, is that something you’re considering?
Bennett: It doesn’t need to be separated. The state reimburses us for the pension, so we have to front the money. The pensioners are going to get paid, I guarantee it. I think part of it is just getting people to understand how it works and the fact that if they did want to put it in a separate fund, we’d have to come up with $4 million of surplus cash to put in there to wait for our reimbursement and it’s just not feasible.
Hren: So why are the retirees upset the money is being used for other things then?
Bennett: The only thing it’s been used for is healthcare costs and once we found out we’re no longer allowed to do that, we’re shifting the costs back to the police and fire department budgets which means we reduce the amount of property tax going into the pension fund and so we’re still going to pay for the exact same expenses with the exact same dollars.