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Ask The Mayor: Columbus Lienhoop On Opioid Epidemic, City Budget

Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop

Photo: Joe Hren

Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop

The Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress initiative drew near 250 people, the mystery behind white supremacist posters in town and city budget proceedings include $10 million for capital spending.

On this week’s installment of Ask The Mayor, Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop 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: You were part of a joint press conference with the Consul-General of Japan Chicago on the occasion of his first visit to Columbus. No doubt this is part of the economic development of this area.

Lienhoop: We try to have very close relationships with our friends in Japan being governmental or corporate. So we hosted him for lunch, gave him a brief walking tour, it was a pretty quick trip, but I intend to have him back next spring time at the annual economic development corporation meeting and hopefully he can be our keynote speaker for that day.

I wanted him to understand the degree to which we go to be welcoming, not only to the Japanese but to other ethnicities as well. And he seemed to be heartfelt in his praise for Columbus and I was happy to see that.

Hren: An affordable housing development was given a tax abatement for a near downtown project… does this fill a need for a variety of housing options in Columbus?

Lienhoop: This is the old St. Bartholomew Church. That property has sat vacant for quite a while so there’s a desire for us to redevelop that property. At the same time, we do have a definite need for housing in Columbus. One of the problems we deal with is the rental rate for housing here is higher than we would like for it to be.

This is I think maybe the third time this property has come up for some kind of development. And what it hinges on is whether it gets approval at the state level for the tax credit program. At the local level, we’re able to grant an abatement to facilitate that development, but what they really need are handed out by the state of Indiana. That application is pending, we should know by the end of January.

Hren: The Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress, or ASAP, was enacted about six months ago as a community partnership between the county and other organizations to confront the county’s opioid epidemic. A meeting drew near 250 people, so this is definitely something that’s on the minds of residents here.

Lienhoop: Some people have told me the epicenter for opioid abuse is southern Indiana, southern Ohio, northern Kentucky and West Virginia. We estimate in Bartholomew County there are a thousand people who are addicted or highly dependent on opioids and their ramifications are significant. I think we see higher property crime rate, I think we see issues with unemployment, the jail is full, so we put together quite an alliance.

The outline is almost overwhelming, but 50 different educational prevention initiatives, trying to use part of the jail as a rehabilitation center, we talked about creating a drug court, reducing recidivism… the one take away I want people to understand, this really is different than other types of addictions. Many other substances will kill you, but it will take a while. Heroin can kill you tonight.

Hren: The Republic reported on city budget approvals including $10 million for capital spending, is the city behind in updating infrastructure?

Lienhoop: There’s no shortage for a need of asphalt. Part of what we’re trying to do is stay up or ahead on some of what our capital needs are going to be. Included in that are a lot of repairs and maintenance. Maybe one garbage truck a few police cruisers, that kind of thing. But most of it is just trying to take care of the things we have.

One of the things I inherited were some fire stations in a little bit of disrepair, so we’ve tried to identify one or two each year that just gets fixed. This year we’re looking at fire stations two and five.

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