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Ask The Mayor: Columbus Lienhoop on tax cuts, new grant money, Fair Oaks Mall

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Unknown Speaker
Hello and welcome to the first ask the mayor show of the year it's January 4 2022. And we have Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop. Happy New Year. Really hope you had a great holidays.

Unknown Speaker
Happy New Year. Joe. We had a wonderful holiday is I think I may have alluded to earlier. I've got a grandson now. And so he he made the trip home to Columbus, nine months old. And just a lot of fun. So it was we bought him several presents. I'm not sure he cared too much about the gifts but he was heck on wheels when it came to unrolling or unwrapping. I mean, he really went after the bows on the wrapping paper. He was a lot of fun to watch.

Unknown Speaker
And just wait till next year and the year after. To get better, right? Well, as always, we usually start this show no matter what city we're in. With COVID update. It's a new year, but it's still a lot of the same. And if not, we just got some numbers from the state yesterday, hospitalizations rose to more than 3100. The highest since December 2020. Went up about 100 from even Sunday's numbers just a day apart. Seven Day positivity rates state up to 18.2%. That's up from 14.9%. Thursday. One Point, Indiana was was the top of getting the vaccine out and was was even up there with New York City at one point when this first all came about. And now it's one of the last any insight to what happened? No,

Unknown Speaker
I just am a little bit at a loss, I guess really to understand me. I obviously am interested in the numbers. That's kind of my background. And and a couple of numbers that hit me are that we've had 18,000 people die from COVID Since the pandemic began. And those deaths, majority of the vast majority could have been avoided, you know, with vaccination program, or maybe a little bit more reliance on a mask protocol. And he had to that there have been over 3 million I want to say maybe 3.2 5 million Hoosiers have who have been vaccinated. And while I understand some people have a reluctance, you know, to pursue the vaccine. I think we've got enough been through the process now to know that there are no significant side effects. I mean, you know, that we everybody's Well, I've been vaccinated, I've been boosted. And I'm doing just fine, as has my wife and our kids. And, and so I think those folks who have reservations Well, you know, they may have been understandable at one point, we had to be able to move past that now. So, so I would hope that we can do that. And I try to talk about that every chance I get to remind people to get vaccinated. And in the meantime, wear your mask, practice, responsible social distancing, because this thing is real and our hospitals are filling up. Last I heard that Columbus Regional and the hospitals in our area are all on diversion, which means there's really no place for you to go. So So hopefully, you don't get in a car accident and need to get laid up for for a couple of weeks. So with some broken bones, because you really don't want you don't want to go to emergency room right now. You don't want to go to a place that suppose sick people so so just like I say, I asked him vaccinate.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah. Governor Holcomb, in his latest press briefing last week, said that he was told we're past the convincing stage and we're at the point that we need to get close friends and relatives of those who are unvaccinated to have them like they're the the next line of defense. Does that make sense?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, it does. And and I think that Governor Holcomb and his crew have done a remarkable job, you know, throughout this pandemic in terms of trying to push pull this Hoosiers to a good place and and like I say we've in Bartholomew county word about 57% vaccinated and and the number of ticks up weekly but it pretty slow. I mean, 100 people or more, but about that number who get vaccinated and and and it's just disappointing that we haven't been able to move a little more quickly than that. So So like I say offer the fact that we've got well over 3 million Hoosiers who have been vaccinated and and no noticeable side effects. So So I understand some of the reservations that people have I think, I think yeah, we're past the point of convincing and we just need to just need to move on.

Unknown Speaker
This is an email a couple months ago, we didn't get to it but Brad emailed in and wanted to know if the mayor of Columbus had an estimate of the number have residents there with natural immunity due to previous infection? So I guess I think we talked about this a while ago to I'm don't want to put words in his mouth. But I guess what he's trying to get to is, those numbers of this natural immunity usually are in along with the vaccinated. So he's probably trying to get to the point of is there a higher rate of not being able to, you know, get the virus from this natural immunity?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah. I don't know how you test for natural immunity. So I, I don't think we could answer that question. Yeah.

Unknown Speaker
Any mobile COVID testing or vaccination sites popping up? There?

Unknown Speaker
We have. Yes. Now, now that you mentioned that, I'm drawing a blank on where we will be one to four, I want to say sites throughout the state that water for sites, one of our communities that were selected to host a site for, for some testing. And I think that's going to start here within a week. But I'm drawing a blank on where I don't remember the location that was mentioned. But we we testing has become a bit of an issue of trying to procure the rapid tests is almost impossible here in Bartholomew County, you can still go to one of the healthcare providers and take the the protein based test. But But again, it's a little bit more involved. I mean, you can walk inside a building and sit still for a while and then wait for the response. So it's not quite as convenient as the rapid testing. But excuse me, but I think that the efforts underway to sort of ramp up accessibility to the rapid test, but we've just not been able to see it. Yeah, come on. This is all come on rather quickly. So we'll get there. But I think it's going to be at least another week, if not to

Unknown Speaker
the General Assembly, beginning the 2022 session, today, anything at the top of your list that you're keeping an eye on,

Unknown Speaker
but we pay a lot of attention to the tax issues, because they have a lot to do with, you know, our budgeting and our planning. And I understand that there is a move underway to adjust the property tax on business personal property. But I will share with you that kynos Couple of the articles that I've read in the media are just flat wrong in terms of suggesting that there's a 30% tax on new personal property, that's just not true. What they're talking about is the the formula that values personal property has a 30% floor, so 30% of cost. And that number, the answer to cost times 30% is then multiplied by the local tax rate. So you know, it's nowhere close to 30% of depth, excuse me, the tax is nowhere close to 30% of the cost. And candidly, I sorta understand your stuff. And I have trouble explaining it. Right, in terms of real quick answer to a fairly simple question that you asked. So I understand why the news media might get it wrong, because it's a complicated topic. So I would just caution everybody to, to sort of think twice, and, and realize, at least from our perspective, that we're not trying to impose an onerous tax on anybody. I mean, this has been around for decades. And it's not, in all the economic development efforts that I've participated in, it has never come up as an issue. I mean, nobody from California or Germany or Japan, or any, any place that's looking at Columbus, Indiana, has ever said, Well, you know, your business personal property taxes too high. I mean, that's just not become part of the conversation. They got other concerns, you know, you know, whether it's with respect to utility rates, or income tax rates, or, you know, transportation costs, because Indiana's, maybe not near where their customers ought to be, but but never, never this issue. Nonetheless, you know, there's a perception that this is an onerous business tax, and we need to address it, and I'm all for trying to fix whatever problems we have. But particularly with respect to local government, we can't do without the revenue. I mean, it's built into our, our, our budget that we have from year to year, and so if you want to take this away, and that's okay, but, you know, find some way to replace it. And again, we don't have the ability to make those decisions. Those are reserved for the state legislature. So if the legislature wants to take that revenue source away from us, that's okay. We just need to have some kind of replacement in the wings, because we can't just go without the revenue.

Unknown Speaker
So curious your thoughts on that? Build supporters maintain and protect individual rights by forcing businesses that require COVID-19 vaccinations to grant exceptions. Some businesses, medical groups oppose the proposal. Your take on that bill?

Unknown Speaker
Well, again, you know, the devils in the details, you know, in terms of trying to understand. And while I understand that there's a legitimate religious exceptions, you know, that people might want to take, it becomes hard for me to understand just how you prove that you really have the exception that that you claim to not everybody's as forthright as they ought to be. Right. And so folks who just don't want to do something, I'm not sure that we should be given them an easy out. On the other hand, it's a challenging question, because somebody does have a deep seated religious objection to something that, that not only is theirs, but is held by others. You know, we need we can't ignore that. So we have to be able to find a way to to accommodate those folks. But you think a little bit about conscientious objectors? You know, in the time of war time, there were folks who were able to make that kind of a religious exemption. And and so, but But it seemed to me that that was pretty limited. And so I would welcome you know, that kind of an option, but, but think that it would be fairly narrowly construed. So exactly how the legislature gets out that, you know, we have to leave it up to them.

Unknown Speaker
Is it fair to ask if Christmas came early with the ready grant proposals that were awarded last month? Because last time we talked, you were just preparing for your presentation that we?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, yeah, we went through the presentation. And you know, there was a fair amount of anxiety associated with that, because there's a lot of money at stake. And you're you felt like you were in competition with your fellow Hoosiers, which isn't necessarily what we want it, you know, we're all in the same in this thing together, right? Nonetheless, so you know, when there's an opportunity to get some money we want, we want to do well, and I felt like we did you know, Bartholomew County, where Columbus is located, partnered with Jackson County and Jennings County. And we received $30 million, which is less than we requested. I mean, we were told to request 50, which almost every group did, but on a per person basis, per capita basis, we did quite well, if you take $500 million, and divide by 6.7 million Hoosiers, that's about 75 bucks per person. But we got 187 50, you know, which was the second highest of any group, the group that got the highest was a little bit over $200 per person. And, and part of the reason they did because they they're very low population in those counties, and they got $20 million, I mean, which was less than us, but their population was so much less, that the math yield is a higher number. But nonetheless, we've got a little bit of a challenge now, you know, in terms of how we take the $50 million worth of projects that we identify, and how we sort of squeeze that into 30 million. And we've talked about a few ways that we might do that might make some selections, I don't think we're just going to multiply by point six, you know, which is the multiple to get you from 50, down to 30. But that's part of what we hope to learn from our discussions with the Indian Economic Development Corporation, we, we've got meeting scheduled with them on January 11. And then there's several in February. And what we hope to learn is really a couple of things, you know, whether or not they they have some suggestions, you know, on how how we make that squeeze, you know, from 50, down to 30. Now, no doubt they will want to help and, and we welcome their assistance, but we would like to find out just really what what criteria they want to use and, and what thoughts they may have on, on how we go forward. Because the impression that we've got is that even though they have approved our plan, you know, and they funded it to the extent of 30 million, they may want to help us choose which individual projects we do. And, you know, we'll just have to, you know, go through the process and, and see what they've got in mind. But, but nonetheless, it's all good. It's got to be a tremendous or have a tremendous impact on us here and in Bartholomew as well as Jackson and Julian's counties. And so I'm really pleased with what the state has come up with in terms of a framework. So the like I said earlier, the devils in the details and we'll, we'll work through that. And they'll give us plenty of talk about next month and the month after that.

Unknown Speaker
Quick update on I saw in the Republic, a transfer delayed for the mixed use to use development there downtown. Can we get a quick update on that?

Unknown Speaker
You know what we're We're talking about is the apartment complex and the urban grocery, that's to be built on the grassy area east of the jail. So this would be south a second street and east of Lafayette. And our partner, there is flirty and Collins, you know, some Indianapolis based developers, and sort of what happened was we talked about a timeline, where we would, you know, sell some bonds and create some funding, you know, that would be put into the project. And at the same time that we were preparing for that they were supposed to go out and get bids from their subcontractors or contractors and subcontractors to sort of build what they had they had designed. And the bids came in high, higher than what they would have hoped. And, you know, they've assured us that we're everything still going forward, I mean, this projects gonna happen, it's going to be built, the way we had discussed in terms of about 200 units, and an urban grocery that will be 12 to 15,000 square feet. But we really don't want to go borrow 11 $11.8 million, until we've got everything buttoned up. And so they asked for another month of proximately, I want to say until about January 24. Until, you know, they could sort of go back to their bidders, and hone in on what their their pricing is going to be. Now, because as you can well imagine, when you're going to build a project of that size, there's plenty of options to be had with respect to the type of construction and, you know, I I'm not I'm not a Contractor, but you know, where you where you put your doorways, how, how you fascia facet fashion, you know, the landscaping, and so on, so forth. And so, you know, they were going to look for some opportunity to save a little bit of money, and to make sure that their, their bidders had and understood correctly, you know, in the specifications that that flirty and Collins had given him. So, so they asked for a delay. And like I said, they gave us assurances that, you know, they intend to proceed with the project of importance to us was we had received some interest rate. Well, we have gone out and sought bids also with respect to the amount of borrowing and the interest rate on that borrowing. And we have a commitment from a lender that will run out for 60 days, so takes us out into somewhere in February. And we were we were concerned that we don't want to have to come back to the bond market a second time. And so we got that commitment. Excuse me, it felt like, you know, our interests were protected. And this was a reasonable request by a reasonable partner. And so we went ahead with it.

Unknown Speaker
And I know we're getting short on time, but I know and we've had people who have emailed in about the Fair Oaks mall. I did see in report that some interior demolition is starting to begin is that right?

Unknown Speaker
Right. Right. Yeah, we're hopeful that we can get our bids you know, for the mall and for the Fieldhouse, the at this first quarter, and then break ground star construction second quarter. But there are a few things that the hospital one that gets started on you, as you may recall, there are partners in that project. And, and so we we began to, to begin to work on some of those.

Unknown Speaker
That's all I had, but I always like to leave the last couple minutes to you do you have any special announcements or things you'd like to say?

Unknown Speaker
Well, I don't know if we've got anything special but we you know, 1821 was the year Columbus was founded. And so 2021 represented 200 years. And so we had several Bicentennial celebrations last year, they were all somewhat muted because of the pandemic and that's that's a shame but just before New Year's we broke ground on what we call the 1821 Trail and it's it's a project that's going to do a number of different things for us to rebuild first street you know behind city hall here from from the railroad tracks down to about Lafayette so it will tie into this new project that Florian Collins will be building will also provide an extension for an existing people trail program. And part of what what it'll do is it'll also rebuild the sewers and water lines that are underneath first street because you can well imagine this is the oldest part of the city and so those lines under there are themselves very old and need to be replaced. So even though we call it the trail and it's a you know, we've we've got a section for this for bit bicycles and pedestrians and there's a lot more going on. But But yeah, so we broke ground on that and, you know, that'll be one more project for us to to follow along as 2022 unfolds.

Unknown Speaker
Okay. And hopefully soon I'll be able to make my way back and be able to see it in action and get some good visuals of that process happening along with everything else that's going on there.

Unknown Speaker
We've got a lot going on in Columbus. That's Good place to be

Unknown Speaker
yeah won over thank you again so much and hope to see you next month

Unknown Speaker
take care bye
Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop

Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop on the Zoom interview Tuesday. (Zoom)

The first program of the year comes with Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop who reacts to the lag in COVID vaccinations, new READI grant money, demolition work at Fair Oaks Mall, and an update on the 1821 Trail.

On this week’s installment of Ask The Mayor, Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop addresses these issues and more on a Zoom conference call. 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: Governor Holcomb in his latest press briefing said he was told, we’re past the convincing stage, we need to get close friends and relatives to talk to unvaccinated people to get the shot and help keep from spreading this virus. Do you agree?

Lienhoop: Yeah, and and I think that Governor Holcomb and his crew have done a remarkable job throughout this pandemic in terms of trying to push Hoosiers to a good place. In Bartholomew county were about 57% vaccinated and the number ticks up weekly, but it's pretty slow. And it's just disappointing that we haven't been able to move a little more quickly than that.

So I offer the fact that we've got well over 3 million Hoosiers who have been vaccinated and no noticeable side effects. So I understand some of the reservations that people have, we're past the point of convincing and we just need to do it and move on.

READ MORE: Monroe County confirms 157 COVID-19 cases

Hren: Any more testing or vaccination sites popping up there?

Lienhoop: We have. We will be one of four communities throughout the state that were selected to host a site for some testing. And I think that's going to start here within a week. But testing has become a bit of an issue. Trying to procure the rapid tests is almost impossible here in Bartholomew County, you can still go to one of the healthcare providers and take the the protein based test. But, it's a little bit more involved.

READ MORE: IDOH announces new limitations for rapid COVID-19 tests at state sites

Hren: The General Assembly is beginning the 2022 session today, anything at the top of your list that you're keeping an eye on?

Lienhoop: We pay a lot of attention to the tax issues, because they have a lot to do with our budgeting and our planning. And I understand that there is a move underway to adjust the property tax on business personal property. But I will share with you that a couple of the articles that I've read in the media are just flat wrong in terms of suggesting that there's a 30% tax on new personal property, that's just not true.

What they're talking about is the formula that values personal property has a 30% floor, so 30% of cost. And that number, the answer to cost times 30% is then multiplied by the local tax rate. So, the tax is nowhere close to 30% of the cost.

I understand why the news media might get it wrong, because it's a complicated topic. So I would just caution everybody to realize, at least from our perspective, that we're not trying to impose an onerous tax on anybody. I mean, nobody from California or Germany or Japan, or any place that's looking at Columbus, Indiana, has ever said, well, your business personal property taxes are too high.

But particularly with respect to local government, we can't do without the revenue.

Columbus mixed-use development, urban grocer concept, 2nd Street North View
Columbus mixed-use development, urban grocer concept, 2nd Street North View (Courtesy photo)

Hren: I saw in The Republic, a transfer delayed for the mixed-use development there downtown. Can we get a quick update on that?

Lienhoop: What we're talking about is the apartment complex and the urban grocery that's to be built on the grassy area east of the jail. And our partner is Flaherty and Collins Indianapolis based developers, and sort of what happened was we talked about a timeline, where we would sell some bonds and create some funding that would be put into the project.

And at the same time that we were preparing for that they were supposed to go out and get bids from their contractors and subcontractors to sort of build what they had designed. And the bids came in higher than what they would have hoped. They've assured us that everything still going forward, but we really don't want to go borrow $11.8 million until we've got everything buttoned up. And so they asked for another month.

Empty parking lot at Fair Oaks Mall
Empty parking lot at Fair Oaks Mall (Joe Hren, WFIU/WTIU News)

Hren: We've had people who have emailed in about the Fair Oaks Mall project and I did see some interior demolition is starting to begin?

Lienhoop: Yeah, we're hopeful that we can get our bids for the mall and for the fieldhouse at this first quarter, and then break ground, start construction second quarter. But there are a few things that the hospital gets started on, as you may recall, they are partners in that project. And, so we we begin to work on some of those.

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

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