ISU officials are moving ahead on the Hulman Center renovations, but Mayor Bennett says there’s money on the table to fund a convention center there as well. And the mayor says the state’s expectations are on point with the city to trim the budget deficit by next year.
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: In all the hurricane aftermath I see some Indiana workers from Terre Haute will be offering relief.
Bennett: Yes, the local International Guard has a group here of communications experts, they can take mobile communications equipment and set it up to establish phone lines and internet to support the recovery efforts.
Hren: Indiana State University officials want to move ahead with the Hulman Center renovation – the building is rather old and needs updates. Local funding was targeted to also combine renovations with a convention center, but that’s on hold for now?
Bennett: Well we had the local funding in place, but ISU decided to move on ahead without us and we didn’t get a heads up on that. They were afraid they were going to lose the money from the state and I don’t believe that’s the case, but we were surprised by that. Our $25 million is still on the table. We are still looking at ways to move this project forward.
Hren: When you say there’s $25 million on the table, where is that from?
Bennett: $10 million from the city, $10 million from the county and $5 from the convention and visitor’s bureau. We all made that commitment, that never changed. ISU asked us to kick a little more in, we all agreed we weren’t going to do that, we were going to figure out that funding gap another way and they decided to move ahead with their portion of $37 million coming from the state.
We really can’t handle any conventions here. We don’t have any space in Terre Haute. We’re not trying to compete with Indianapolis, those smaller and mid-sized conferences that would love to come to Terre Haute, there’s no space for them.
Hren: You still have a couple months to finalize the budget, despite the fact the state wants the city to pay off the $8 million deficit, what progress have you made?
Bennett: We made tremendous progress. Last week we rolled out our plan, the council was very responsive to that. We’ll go through it the next few weeks to nail it down. But we will do the combination of an extension of a loan and moving some expenses from the general fund to other related areas in the budget that have healthy cash balances.
We’ll officially take care of half the deficit and the loan will take care of the other half and then next year we’ll be able to deal with that remaining half. But when we end the year, we’ll have a positive balance in the general fund so from the State Board of Accounts perspective, we’ve solved it, but we know permanently we have $4 million to go which we should be able to nail down next year.
Hren: That special council meeting discussed ways to generate more income such as a wheel tax for road funding, a fire territory was mentioned … will there be a new tax of some sort for this coming year?
Bennett: No, and I’m not pursuing any of them. Those options are just not real attractive to me. If there is no public safety LOIT then we might have to look at some things, but definitely not the wheel tax.