Combating the opioid related crisis, increasing the local income tax rate, road construction updates, city salary increase and riverfront development progress.
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: I understand the local income tax rate passed another county council vote which sets it up for a final vote next week, but $6.2 million would be the city’s part with $4.8 million for the county, what would that part of the money be used for by the city?
Lienhoop: We’ve waited to see what the result of the vote is going to before we start dividing the pie, so to speak. We’ve had some preliminary conversations with the folks at the county and indicated to them that we view this opioid issues as crises number one. We want to take a good portion of this money and direct it to this issue.
Hren: City budget update for 2018?
Lienhoop: It’s pretty much business as usual, although we have provided for the addition of some staff. We’re going to add one officer in the metropolitan planning organization. Eighty percent of that will be paid for by the federal government.
We have a couple of public safety positions, one in fire and one in police we really don’t anticipate fully funding, but one of the things we noticed is that it can be difficult to remain fully staffed when there are retirements. Generally firefighters or police retire with a fair amount of vacation pay and so we want to be able to start the replacement process a little bit sooner.
Hren: I see where city council approved a two percent salary raise after saying they wouldn’t a couple weeks ago, what changed?
Lienhoop: Some of the discussion was if it should apply to elected officials. There are nine elected officials in the city. In the first reading, the council approved two percent raises for the mayor and clerk treasurer, but no raise for the council members. They came back two weeks later for the final reading and approved two percent all across the board.
Two percent is pretty close to the rate of inflation is going to be for this year. I feel pretty good about it. There’s always the concern the effect it might have on those with fixed income. But there are other provisions in the law that protect those folks. Fairly generous exemptions on the property taxes or the circuit breaker which limits their tax to one percent of the assessed value of their home.
Hren: Is this a good time for an across the board salary increase knowing we talked about a year or so ago a study you wanted to do on city employee compensation. Does that mix in with this at all?
Lienhoop: The salary study is a great idea, and the result of the great idea is that other departments wanted in on it. We have about 425 full time employees. Probably 125 different positions. To study those in an appropriate format is difficult because one of the things you find is you go from one city to the next is that job titles are not indicative of what the job description is. So it’s just taking a whole lot longer than we wanted, so we anticipate having it done by the end of this year.
Hren: The governor says the future success of the state is threatened by opioid related addiction. This is an ongoing issue in Columbus too, how do these plans collaborate with the city’s?
Lienhoop: We’ve got our own program, we’ll tag along, we’re not going to try to charter our own course, but we’ll work with what the state of Indiana is going to provide. Our next report to the community is scheduled for October 24. We’ll outline some of the programs we’re going to pursue.
We talk a lot about supply and demand. And a lot of the programs the state will want to work on that we’re going to work on locally will be demand driven because the supply side is just insidious. Those folks will find us no matter where we are or what we do. I’m disappointed but not surprised that we’d have gang activity anywhere in Indiana related to this because there’s money to made and that’s what those folks do.