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Ask The Mayor: Columbus Lienhoop On Early Voting, Overpass Opening, Halloween

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Unknown Speaker
All right, it is asked the mayor, we begin a new month, October 2020. And we're with Columbus mayor, Jim Lynam. Thank you so much for starting off the month with us here on Ask the mayor.

Unknown Speaker
You're welcome. It's hard to believe it's October already.

Unknown Speaker
I know.

Unknown Speaker
It's been a long six months. I'll tell you that.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, yeah. We'll get into some of the Coronavirus stuff here in a little bit. But I think the kind of the headliner would be early voting has started voters lining up I heard they were three blocks deep in Bloomington. I know there was a line there in Columbus. Last time, we talked about voting during a pandemic, and officials were thinking about using fairoaks Mall. What's the setup like and what's the situation there?

Unknown Speaker
Well, I've not been out to the mall. But I'm told that we've, we've taken pretty much the whole Penny, excuse me Carson space. And it's it was the biggest store out there and used a good portion of it to, to provide for sufficient building machines. And for sufficient spacing, you know, so the people who do come in to vote will, will be able to maintain the adequate spacing that we all ask the 60 that you're familiar with. But I didn't ternoon today, and we're doing this one on Tuesday, the sixth, we had about 250 people who had already voted, and the lines were steady. I mean, you know, people were interested in doing the site, really happy that we were able to provide that venue because as we looked around town, there were other places where we had done early voting before but there were none that were as centrally located, or as large as Fair Oaks to provide for the the distancing that we're all we're all seeking these days.

Unknown Speaker
I assume your messages vote it.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, absolutely. Get out vote. I mean, you know, it's, you know, when you're in the business, I'm enemy, you'll get a lot of complaints. But they don't the way you deal with that if you're a citizen, is go vote and make your make choices known. So my wife and I will get out there sometime. I don't think we'll wait to Election Day vote. But we'll get out there someday and soon and and register our choices. But Fair Oaks mall is the only place in Bartholomew county to vote early. There will be several voting places on election day. But but it's the place you need to go if you want to vote early and and hopefully most many people will.

Unknown Speaker
I talked to some election officials in Monroe County have the it was a seventh I believe 17 step mail and voting process for them to get ballots out to those who need them and back safely. So in the background, you have all the mail and voting process going on too. Right?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, we did the mail payment on my wife and I did the mail and voting back to primary. And, and yeah, it was a little bit more cumbersome than I thought it would be or should be. But at the end of the day, I mean, that's the process we have to follow. And, and, you know, although there are several steps, none of them are really, you know, technically involved, you know, people can get through it. But, but yeah, it's just a whole lot easier to show up, walk in, register your vote and move on.

Unknown Speaker
You know, of course election in full swing, though, in some ways maybe doesn't feel like it. A lot of things don't feel the same because of the pandemic. But it's also been quite a news week. I just wanted to get your reaction to President Trump contracting Coronavirus. Now he's back at the White House. What was your thoughts? What were you thought your thoughts when you heard that news?

Unknown Speaker
You know, I just following along as best I can. But I will share with everybody that the single most effective tool we have to combat the spread of this virus is a mask. And we should wear them all the time when we are outside our houses when we're outside our private offices. Anytime when we're we're inclined to encounter others say we should just simply wear the mask and no questions asked. The second most important thing you can do is maintain your distance. You know, mom always said keep your hands to yourself. I mean, it's, it's a little bit of an extension of that. And just be smart about crowds. You know, if you, if you see a bunch of people, you know, just take your time steer around or what have you. Because the one thing we've learned about this disease over the last six months is that it is an airborne pathogen. And the most effective way for us to mitigate its transmission is to wear a mask. And so I do that when I leave the house and do that when I get to City Hall. I take it off when I'm in my office by myself. Because no i don't care to where it's it's, it's cumbersome. But but it is, as I said, the single most effective thing we can do to control the virus and I encourage everybody, you know, to have one handy at all times.

Unknown Speaker
Has the President and Vice President Mike Pence, do you think they've been taking this seriously enough? Well,

Unknown Speaker
it is a bit of a loaded question. My sense is that you know they have to take it seriously. Because they're trying to guide the country's response to it, and, and obviously we've had a couple hundred thousand people die as a result of this thing. But I do wish that they, you know would perhaps exhibit the behaviors they want us to to, to use themselves. And then I suspect we'll get a little bit more adherence to that going forward.

Unknown Speaker
The rolling average of Indiana cases has grown 30% since since September 24. ap reports. So that could take weeks though before the state sees any possible impact from Governor Holcomb his decision to lift most of the restrictions that was about 10 days ago, are your thoughts on lifting those restrictions, and is Bartholomew county and Columbus had any additional restrictions,

Unknown Speaker
we have no additional restrictions, you know, we wanted to follow the governors guidance, because I think it's easier for people to understand one set of rules. And so we wanted to be able to provide those rules. And it as long as we think they'll work. As I said earlier, the single most effective thing to do is to wear a mask. And the governor has left that part in place. In fact, we're going to issue a letter to him today really either route today or tomorrow and ask him to continue to mask mandate beyond October 17, when it's presently scheduled to expire. But as I said, the mask is the most important part. And as long as we keep that remind people to adequately distance and to be smart about crowds, I think we'll we'll be most of the plate most of where we need to be with respect to trying to control the transmission of this virus. You know this, there's a still I think a 500 person rule in place. If you're if you're gathering exceeds that you're asked to get permission from the health department, and they have a little protocol, or at least the one of our following the county has a little protocol to go through to determine whether or not you know you'll have adequate ventilation and, you know, opportunities to to distance if if you want to exceed that number. But But yeah, I think it's still a long way before we encourage the schools to open up, you know, seating at football games or basketball games. And then we still want to keep the crowds low. Because we understand that it's an airborne pathogen and the more more people you get together in a closer space, the more likely to transmission will be

Unknown Speaker
latest number I see the state below or 8.8% would be the state's unique positivity seven day positivity raid, Bartholomew county 6.9%. And but I know you also follow the hospital reports every day. Are things still pretty steady there? Or is it seeing an uptick? Like the state?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, it's it's up a tad. I mean, a tad as in from one to five. I mean, the number of people hospitalized that Columbus Regional is the number of people hospitalized for COVID. at Columbus Regional is a statistic that I watched most closely, because number one, I think it tells us the people who are most seriously affected by this, we want to have a handle on that. I think it gives us a good read on what kind of capacity is remaining at the hospital. And we are in pretty good shape. You know, I mean, obviously, if you're one of the five I mean, that's it's not a real good place to be. But from the community's perspective, for us to be able to only have five who are in need of hospitalization. That's a good number. So yeah, a

Unknown Speaker
few projects that we kind of keep on here. One we haven't talked about lately, the riverfront project, but I see that the city receiving a grant, do you have any update on that project?

Unknown Speaker
No, I really don't have anything new to offer. We did get a grant very small, I think I think it was 5000 bucks. But nonetheless, I mean it forget the numbers for a second or the math. I mean, it's just happy to have somebody else see the value of the project and, you know, step forward to help with it. But But no, we're still in negotiations with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources in terms of, you know, what they'll what, how the finished product will look, you know, and how we get to there from here.

Unknown Speaker
big moment last week ribbon cutting ceremony for the new railroad overpass, we've talked a lot about big news for those traveling with a State Road 46 Columbus from the Nashville area, but it really it over eliminates a very busy railroad crossing into Columbus. And that's really the safety and that's really the number one thing, isn't it?

Unknown Speaker
Right, ease of transportation and then safety for those who do travel. That crossing held. We had about 40,000 vehicles a day that crossed the railroad tracks there at State Road 46. And just keep in mind, the population of the county is 80,000. So again, that's two way traffic 40,000 going you know both ways, but it gives you the impression or at least gives you the sense of what we've talked about internally. there being a traffic funnel at State Route 46, there were they were the railroad crosses it. And so we had a ribbon cutting, and it was kind of fun. You know, we we had everybody we're outside, we're properly distanced. And we, you know, we handed out masks that were emblazoned with, you know, milestones logo that, you know, the contractor, and the the event and the purpose and all that. But the funny part was, we actually had a train, you know, that came by while we were there holding our event, and the train stopped. So, it gave us a rather poignant display of why we, why we needed to have the overpass in the first place.

Unknown Speaker
You know, I think what's important to note, too, I was reading a little bit about it, the work started only 11 months ago, this is a repeat project, if you look at some of the photos on that I've seen on line and we typically think of road construction, maybe it's just never ending, it just keeps going on and on. How did this project get by so quickly?

Unknown Speaker
Well, you know, we were able to get to the governor's attention, which is always helpful in terms of, you know, providing direction to the Indiana Department of Transportation. And and they took it on, I mean, they've got a number of different projects. I mean, it's this is just one of, and so they wanted to get this started and get it finished. I will tell you that. You know, we take a professionalism, oftentimes in context of professionals and the professions, attorneys or doctors, accountants, whatnot. But the guys at milestone, I mean, they really do know how to build a bridge, how to move dirt, how to pour asphalt and to do so efficiently and safely. And so, yeah, I mean, from design to finish was right around three years. And that's a process that normally takes five to seven. And then you're right, milestone began to move dirt in November of 2019. So here we are in October of 2020. And we're driving on it. There's a little bit of work left to do, but it's all landscaping. And that will drag out into the least the second quarter of 2020. But but it's just fun, you know, to be able to go out there, and you don't realize how flat The ground is around here. I mean, over there where you are in Bloomington or through Brown County, you know, you get lots of hills. And sometimes your sightlines are limited, but you get up on top of that thing, you get a pretty good view, if you're headed west get a pretty good view out towards the interstate. If you're headed east, you get a pretty good view of the cities you entered. It's kind of fun.

Unknown Speaker
I didn't know in the Republic notice about a utility rate increase being studied. And I know most cities have been doing this. We've talked a lot in Nashville, too, about this. Bloomington talks about the aging 7080 year old aging infrastructure growth has costs. Is that what Columbus is looking at two?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, we're looking at a combination of factors. One is the you know, what's this, some of this infrastructure, we've got 100 years old, you know, you think back to 1920. And, and the materials that they use then, and the construction techniques are not nearly as capable as you know what we have today. But yet nonetheless, some of the stuffs lasted 100 years, we've had in one area of the city over near I want to say third and California streets. I think we've had three sinkholes developed over the last two year, year and a half. And it just is an indication of the the infrastructure wearing out on us. And so these are things we have to do. I mean, we really don't have much choice, nobody wants to pay more for what they've got today, we get that. But, but if we don't deal with these injuries in an ordered fashion, you know, with ordered rates and in order to construction schedule, then we'll deal with him on an emergency basis. And that won't be fun at all. So So yeah, the utilities department has come forward with really a multi year plan to phase in some rate increases and then to put that money right into the infrastructure. We've got a project coming along on Fourth Street that will be funded by this. I think we've got some other projects around town we just completed a sewer improvement project on eighth Street. And once again, the numbers give you a bit of a story I mean we're talking Fourth Street and eighth street that's the old part of town and and that's the area that's most in need of of work you know most of the expansion that we have the increased property taxes that come from that expansion pay for the the infrastructure improvements that have to go service that so know what we're talking about here pretty much is the the old stuff, and as you can well imagine we were going to have something turn 100 every year. So there will always be something that we need to use to repair fix.

Unknown Speaker
And October's usually budget approval and lots going on with city budgets for next year. Can you walk us just a few a little bit Maybe some of the especially with the pandemic, are there any major changes or things that you're struggling with right now?

Unknown Speaker
Well, I mean, we commented earlier today that ethnic Expo would have been this coming week, you know, that's a, something that we've been doing for about 30 years. And then we'll miss that. But it's, yeah, it's something that we had to give up for the pandemic. But yeah, the first reading of our budget is this evening. And there's really not a lot in there that that relates to COVID. And and the problem for that the issue we face is that, in Indiana, municipal revenues run about a year behind I mean, in terms of the manner in which they're calculated. And so our revenue expectations for 2021 are really pretty good. I mean, compared to what we had for 2020. We anticipate though, that there's going to be a real issue a serious issue for us in 2022. So part of what we're trying to do is to get some of the capital projects in the budget this year and out of the way, we have addressed salaries, or wages for our employees, you may recall, we started about three years ago with what we call the salary study. And the whole notion was to hire a consultant who would help us take a look at what the fair market value is, so to speak of our employees. And what we found was that wages at the city had not kept pace with other communities or with the private sector. And so you know, we have as much of a demand for talent as anybody else does. And and what we've again, what we found was we were a little bit behind, not only with respect to compensation, but a little bit with perspective benefits. And so we embarked upon a three year plan to try to rectify that we brought in the first two years, we brought to the public safety employees police in the fire up to what we call the midpoint, or the fair market numbers for their professions, for the rest of the city, just to find a way to make it palatable for the budget, we brought them up to a midpoint after a three year cycle. And when I say after three years, I get turned around here on my my prepositions, but the third year will be 2021. So in 2021, we anticipate implementing the last year of our salary study. And at the same time, you know, we recognize that it's been three years now, since we had these numbers. And so we've inflated The, the midpoint or the fair market number, by one percentage point, at least, that's what we hope that council will approve this evening, that's that'll be the presentation that we make. Inflation is running a little bit above that. And we try as best we can to benchmark against, you know, the inflation that we see consumer price index across the country. And so we feel like, you know, 1% for for employees plus, so as I said, the third year implementation phase for the salary study makes sense. And, and we'll just take care of that. And that should, that should do us for 2021. And then, as I said, we anticipate having some reduced revenues in 2022. But we don't yet know, you know, whether we're talking a million or two or what the number is. So, we'll deal with that next year. Hopefully, we'll have our big capital needs out of the way. And, you know, we can we can get through 22 without those and get back to normal normalcy in 2023.

Unknown Speaker
I know we're getting ready to wrap up here. But I did have to ask you about trick or treating. I know Halloween is coming up and be something on every city's mind coming up is and move forward on that. And it's so how to do that safely. What's Columbus coming up with? Well,

Unknown Speaker
you know, obviously, it's kind of funny. I mean, one of the things we get more calls about it at my office than almost anything else is trigger treat. Typically, we're talking about the hours starting or stopping hours, or sometimes the weather, you know, if there's expectations lousy weather people get concerned about that. But, but the point is, with respect to a trick or treat, you know, we don't want to spread the coronavirus. We don't want to add anything that will you know, increase its likelihood of transmission that said, gets really hard to you know, outlawed trick or treating, right. I mean, if an eight year old shows up at your front door, we're not gonna you know, we're not gonna haul them off to the to the who scout. But what would so what we believe is that if we can give some guidelines that makes some sense, you know, people can use those to, to go ahead and engage and Trick or treat and, and those guidelines would be to mask up as I said earlier, I think both the the trick or treater and the homeowner need to be wearing masks. So, if you're a ticker trader, just make it part of your costume. You know, have some fun with it, put some sharp teeth on there or some blood coming out the side you know, whatever, whatever your imagination yields and keep in mind that the average Trick or Treat transaction Is there like 30 seconds, I mean, people knock on your door and you give them some, usually pre wrapped candy. And so it would make sense to wear gloves, just to, you know, make sure that you don't inadvertently transmit the virus through the through what your hand up, if you don't want to open your door, but you still like to participate, you can put a bowl out there with some treats in it, or, you know, little packages with the roll ready made up with with goodies in there. And you know, the kids can take those when they stop by. So, you know, we're thinking that we can go ahead and do the trick or treat as long as we pay attention to some simple rules. But I will tell you, I mean, one big caveat is that, as I said, before we pay attention to the metrics here in Bartholomew County. And if, if those numbers were to take off on us, say a week before, we might come out with some different guidance, and so, you know, we will be paying attention to those, and we will make another announcement, probably the Friday ending the week before Trick or treat to, you know, give some final recommendations with respect to how we proceed. And it's an it's possible, you know, that we could ask people to forego a trick or treating, but the right now, you know, if the numbers hang into where they are today, then we would go forward, like I said, with a little bit of guidance.

Unknown Speaker
I know we're out of time, but I always like to leave you with the last minute or so do you have any announcements or anything you'd like to say?

Unknown Speaker
No, we we continue to, you know, move some of our projects forward. I mean, obviously, everything seems to be a little bit slow due to COVID. But we've had some good meetings recently, with respect to our multifamily development downtown. This is ground the South a second Street and east of the jail, bout 200 apartments a modest sized grocery store, and maybe some other light retail, this will be again built east of the jail. And I think that's going to move forward. We've got, you know, some further discussions to take with flirty, and Collins, who are the developers that we've whose request for proposal, we says we selected. And hopefully, we're still on track to break ground in March of next year. So so I feel like we're moving forward. And that too, is going to be an exciting project for our city.

Unknown Speaker
Great. And I know, we always get you at the beginning of the month, so we probably won't get you next month because that'll be election day. So we'll catch up with you in December. And good luck. And hopefully things have at least on the epidemic level have changed enough that maybe I can actually make it down there again, but it'd be good to say we'll just have to wait and see. I can't wait to see that bypass.

Unknown Speaker
Labor believer. Hard to believe I gotta wish you Merry Christmas.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay.

Unknown Speaker
Thank you very much. You're welcome. Take care. All right. Bye. Bye.
Jim Lienhoop

Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop (Zoom)

A steady line of Columbus voters cast their ballot at FairOaks Mall Tuesday, the city celebrated the opening of the railroad overpass, and Halloween should go on as scheduled with extra precautions.

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: Early voting begins and voters are lining up – I heard three blocks in line in Bloomington – I know we talked last month about voting during a pandemic and using FairOaks Mall. What’s the set-up like?

Lienhoop: Well, I've not been out to the mall. But I'm told that we've taken pretty much the whole Carson space. And it was the biggest store out there and used a good portion of it to provide for sufficient voting machines and for sufficient spacing, so the people who do come in to vote will be able to maintain the adequate spacing.

On Tuesday, October 6 we had about 250 people who had already voted, and the lines were steady. People were really happy that we were able to provide that venue because as we looked around town, there were other places where we had done early voting before, but there were none that were as centrally located, or as large as FairOaks.

Hren: I just wanted to get your reaction to President Trump contracting coronavirus. Now he's back at the White House. What are your thoughts?

Lienhoop: You know, I just follow along as best I can. But I will share with everybody that the single most effective tool we have to combat the spread of this virus is a mask. And we should wear them all the time when we are outside our houses when we're outside our private offices. The second most important thing you can do is maintain your distance. You know, mom always said keep your hands to yourself. I mean, it's a little bit of an extension of that. And just be smart about crowds.

Hren: Has the President and Vice President, Mike Pence, taking this seriously enough?

Lienhoop: It is a bit of a loaded question. My sense is that you know they have to take it seriously. Because they're trying to guide the country's response to it, and obviously we've had a couple hundred thousand people die as a result of this thing. But I do wish that they, would perhaps exhibit the behaviors they want us to use themselves. And then I suspect we'll get a little bit more adherence to that going forward.

Hren: A big moment last week, the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new railroad overpass on State Road 46, and it even hasn't been a year since construction started?

Lienhoop: That crossing held about 40,000 vehicles a day both ways. And just keep in mind, the population of the county is 80,000. So again, it gives you the impression there of a traffic funnel at State Route 46.

We were able to get to the governor's attention, which is always helpful in terms of, providing direction to the Indiana Department of Transportation. And and they took it on, I mean, they've got a number of different projects. It's just one of, and so they wanted to get this started and get it finished.

We think of professionalism oftentimes in context of professionals, attorneys or doctors, accountants, whatnot. But the guys at Milestone, they really do know how to build a bridge, how to move dirt, how to pour asphalt and to do so efficiently and safely. And so, yeah, from design to finish was right around three years.

Hren: I know Halloween is coming up and something every city is figuring out how to move forward safely. What's Columbus doing?

Lienhoop: With respect to trick or treat, we don't want to spread the coronavirus. That said, gets really hard to outlaw trick or treating, right? I mean, if an eight year old shows up at your front door, we're not gonna haul them off. But what we believe is that if we can give some guidelines that makes some sense, people can use those to go ahead and engage and trick or treat.

I think both the the trick or treater and the homeowner need to be wearing masks. Make it part of your costume, have some fun with it. Keep in mind that the average Trick or Treat transaction is like 30 seconds, and so it would make sense to wear gloves. If you don't want to open your door, but you still like to participate, you can put a bowl out there with some treats in it, or little packages ready made up with goodies in there. And the kids can take those when they stop by.

But I will tell you, one big caveat is that we pay attention to the metrics here in Bartholomew County. And if, those numbers were to take off on us, say a week before, we might come out with some different guidance.

For the latest news and resources about COVID-19, bookmark our Coronavirus In Indiana page here.

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