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Ask The Mayor: Terre Haute's Bennett Doesn't Believe Census Numbers, Police Station Move Date

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Unknown Speaker
Hello and welcome to Ask the mayor on WFIU, I'm Joe Hren. This week we're joined by Terre Haute, Mayor Duke Bennett. Hello, and welcome, Mr. Mayor.

Unknown Speaker
Hello to you do Joe and I'm glad to be here again.

Unknown Speaker
Good, good. Just want everyone to know who's listening or watching this, you can ask a question submit to news at Indiana public media.org for any of our guests or Mayor throughout the month. Let's just start. Mayor better if you don't mind, as always with the COVID-19 update. Course lots to talk about. I know Vigo county is in the orange state metric. Now, this was Friday. I know Monday was Labor Day. So there was no dashboard. I don't today's hasn't come out yet. This airs on Wednesdays. So things are always changing. But we're still seeing the state averaging about 4300 cases, you know, a day kind of numbers that seemed like it was after Christmas with the hospitalizations. What's the situation there in Vigo county right now?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, I just got an update today for over the weekend, basically, and we had been running about close to 100. Like one day, it was at a one day it was a little over 100. And then a couple of 90s. A couple of days were down a little bit. So that's encouraging. But it's the weekend and you never know the timing of when those test results come back. So it's hard to say which Days Are you know what's going on there. But it's not growing. But it's got up to that 100, which is a lot bigger than what it was we were in single digits for many weeks there. So the numbers continue to be up there. Hi, I know that I talked to a doctor yesterday that I ran into. And he said that union hospital had 57 patients in about 17 of them on ventilators which is that's back to those old numbers, you know, when we had the original peak last year. So my guess is and My take is that we're kind of in the middle or somewhere close to the middle of the peak here. You know, a lot of people have told me an eight to nine week peak is something we should expect for sure, based on what's happened in other states and other countries. And so looking at when our numbers started going up, I'm hopeful that that's really true that we're kind of halfway through that. And I hope that in the next couple of weeks, we'll start seeing those numbers go down, I'd love to see, you know, 10 or 20 a day versus 100 a day. Our health care workers already stressed out and you know, overworked the way it is they have been this whole time nothing really changed for them. And now this peak is just a terrible thing. And so when we get to the point where more people either got it, you know, got the COVID and have antibodies, or people get their vaccinations. You know, we just got to keep squeezing those numbers to shrink them. And so I'm hopeful that we'll start to see, you know, a downturn in those numbers here in the next couple of weeks.

Unknown Speaker
Some of the some of the reporting we've done has confirmed cases are 60% less likely to result in death 72% less likely, like less likely to result in hospitalization if the person is fully vaccinated, and then just seems like you know, kind of reached this point and then just stop maybe the states about half vaccinated Why? Why that stop?

Unknown Speaker
You know, I, when we talked about this here, before I get asked by the media, this a lot I get out by ask people on the streets, and what do you think it is? I think it's a combination of things. I think there's some people that are skeptical, putting something in their body like that. I mean, they've kind of like that across the board. They don't do any vaccinations. That I think there's the politics of it. Some people are scared of just what they hear or what they read on the internet or on a social media site. And that's why I always tell people, talk to your doctor, don't listen to all that national news. Don't listen to all the things you read on social media, Facebook or wherever else. Ask your doctor about, you know, get over your fears with that. I mean, I you know, people should get vaccinations like they do any other kind of vaccinations. But there's just seems to be a big segment of our society that's either for political reasons or for this concerns out of the medical side of it hasn't been out there long enough. You know, it's not been FDA approved very long, those kind of things. There's just a large group of people like that that are just kind of waiting and hope they don't get COVID I guess, and waiting till more data comes out about you know, the safety How many are going to have to have? You know, it's another question I'm hearing from people 345? You know, how many? How many doses are you going to have to pay? And so people, I think a lot of them thought one and done. And now they're hearing it's not. And so that's the Karen, a few more out there who were thinking about getting a vaccination, and or choosing not to do it yet. I don't know. You know, I hear a lot of things out there. But it falls into those two camps primarily.

Unknown Speaker
You know, we were under much stricter restrictions, you know, last year, is the governor doing what he can do? I mean, I know, it's, uh, you know, it's a tough situation, but is how, I guess how would you say the governor's doing in the situation right now?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, I think I think he's still doing well, you know what I appreciate it, what he's done all along, I understand why we had more restrictions. Last year, there were so many more unknowns, and try not to overwhelm the systems all that made perfect sense. Now, here in round two, if you will, with the big peak, he's decided to let local municipalities make those decisions. So instead of having just come from above, knowing that rural counties weren't hit as hard as the metropolitan areas, or at different times, they were hit that way, it took a while for it to get to those more rural areas. So it doesn't make sense to me to leave it up to county commissioners, health department, school corporations, I mean, mayors are pretty limited in their power on, I know, I've talked about this on here, too, I can only do a short term thing for the city only, well, we can't have that doesn't do me any good to put some mandates in place just for the city, and not be in the county. And so I really think the commissioners in every county are the key players in that along with the health department. And so the governors given that power up to the 92 counties to make those local decisions. And some counties are all over it, and other counties are saying No way, not us. And so there's good and bad in both ways that it's been approached, you know, with the top down, or the local effect, if like, some places are just don't want to push back, other places are going to the extreme. And so that was expected. I don't think anybody's surprised by that. But I really appreciate the governor giving that power up to the counties, because then you can deal with local, you can have your meetings, have your public meetings and and listen to the feedback you get and make the best decision for the community. I think it's good. And it keeps us out of that. One thing for everybody that typically doesn't always work.

Unknown Speaker
There was a local decision made about the Labor Day Parade, do you want to tell us a little bit about the decision making that went into that, and the cancellation of that

Unknown Speaker
they spent a lot of time trying to decide, and we're really worried about kids who can't be vaccinated yet. And just older people, you know, coming out for retirees and other people who come out to the parade. And so they reached out to me and asked me my opinion, and I said, Well, you know, people understand being outdoors that's much safer than being indoors, obviously. But you're gonna have 1000s of people lining a parade route. And, you know, a couple 1000 people in the brain itself, it's one of the largest grades in Indiana. And it's like, you know, it just wasn't a good environment with the numbers going up to be going up the way they were. And so they made the decision and Wolf building trades unions to say, you know what, let's hold off for another year to not put people in a bad spot by gathering in a very large group like that. So, you know, I understand it. They had a parade up a Little Italy festival in Clinton on Friday night. There were other braids going on in the state. And I know some places have canceled or delayed there. So once again, local decision, the local laborers decided they didn't think it was a good thing to do. And you know, and I support that.

Unknown Speaker
You know, we had a good talk last week, we always do with Columbus Mayor Jim lit up on the this was not about the 5000 Afghan refugees coming to Camp atterbury. You know, he saw as well as an opportunity as business leaders were coming to Him To talk about helping to fill the job void. So a week later here talking with you Just curious, your take on the Afghan refugees coming to Indiana, what's the job market? Like they're in Terre Haute and with the city welcome immigrants once they're free to go?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, you know, I'm all about immigration and that all along. Once that's done legally, I'm fine with all that. I didn't know anything about these Afghan refugees to last week and have seen several reports about that since I've not had an opportunity to reach out to the governor's office or anybody else to say, what's the vetting process? How's this Got to work, you know what, how are these people just here temporarily, and then they're going to move on out of state? Are they going to stay in Indiana? I just don't have all those answers. I've heard things, but I don't know what's true and what's not. But for people that, you know, have been vetted through the normal immigration process, and they're available to, you know, move into a community, you know, I have no problem with that at all, we have plenty of jobs that are open for all the people that are already here plus anybody else that might come in, because we're having a difficult time our employers fill these jobs. And so I want the pool to be bigger our overall statewide pool and our Terre Haute pool. And so whatever mechanisms we can use to make the pool bigger, I am good with I just, you know, I just don't know enough about the process here. And how this is going to play out. And what the vetting process is, as long as it's done the right way. You know, I'm, I'm fine with that.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, I'm from what I understand from Mayor Lin up, most of these who have come here have visas. And it's basically would be the same way if they took a commercial airline, you know, his the way he described it, and came to the US.

Unknown Speaker
And if that's the case, which, you know, I've not once again had time to do any research in that yet. But that's exactly right. We have people coming here from lots of countries to do the same thing. And there's plenty of jobs available. So you know, more power to them if they're going to stay in Indiana. And that's kind of the way this is going to play out, then, you know, happily welcome anybody, any immigrants, but you know, some something will have to happen, those folks are not going to stay on that base. And so it'll just be interesting to see how quickly the system works quickly. Government can process that.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah. I don't think we had a chance to talk about the US Census numbers that came out since the last time we talked. I know. Mayor Hamilton in Bloomington, just told us that he didn't believe they were they were true that they were taken during a pandemic, they were taken during a town that is known at for university that told that entire population to leave, and then start counting people in that city. And I've got, of course, Terre Haute has Indiana State University and I just wanted to get your take on Terre Haute census numbers that came out.

Unknown Speaker
So I don't believe them. You know, I kind of expected I didn't expect any big increase, I expected it to be pretty flat is what I thought would be. And so having since thought about it more and kind of looked in a little deeper dive as far as you can go. One, I would agree that it was happened during the pandemic. So I don't think the door to door activity was and counting on everybody to mail remand was what we normally go through every 10 years. Number two, I guarantee you our university population didn't get counted properly. I mean, we have ISU that has, you know, 14,000 students give or take, and rose Holman that has a couple of 1000 St. Mary the woods. I know we're talking about, you know, a lot of folks that weren't here, and so couldn't have participated in that. I think they're always under counted a bit Anyway, there's no doubt about that. But even more under counted in this census, when I look at our sewer bills, just as a good example for me for a residential, our numbers are actually up a little bit as in a few more accounts and more usage. So that tells me we didn't have we didn't go from a lot of four person households or whatever to one person households, or household number stayed about the same with a slight increase. And our usage is up. And so those people are still here, they just didn't get counted. So the difficulty is fixing that because it's nearly impossible. I guess you could sue the United States government. But that's not be effective. I don't know what the answer is, but I definitely believe we were undercounted, I think that we are pretty small growth flatline situation and not a drop.

Unknown Speaker
And if I have these numbers, right, it looks like in the past decade, it went down about 100 and 150 or so.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, and that's pretty flatline. I know that I know, no one that that's the number they came up with. I think it's better than that. And so I don't know. Well, I

Unknown Speaker
mean, that's the follow up question to that. I asked Mayor Hamilton. He said not the same as as you did. I mean, he i think i think they want to try to do an appeals process of of somewhat, but because this the numbers affect federal funding. I mean, they, they do so much more than just say, this is how many people we have in the city.

Unknown Speaker
Right? I think that's some people forget that sometimes that there's a whole bunch of formulas out there. And it's all based on population and even losing 150 people, you're gonna lose some revenue that we get in for the herd for housing for the US population for a lot of disbursement of mbh funds, and LRS funds and a variety of other things. And so the ovals are part of the local state formulas and federal formulas. And so, you know, you want it to be accurate, that's all and if the numbers went down, and so big, that I just don't believe they did, I'm not seeing any signs out here. Other than, you know, people point to the school corporation or numbers are down in schools, but a lot of those kids are going to surrounding counties, they make decisions to go to smaller schools, or be homeschooled, and COVID had a lot to do with that. And so I think those numbers are going to come back later. And then we'll look two or three years from now and say, well, boy, look at that all these numbers are up, but the population is dropping, you know, it just, they're they're still out there. They just didn't get counted as what I believe.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah. I just wanted to ask, I don't know if you have much information. But when we get a little casino update, Lucy luck gaming, from what I reporting, seeking an appeal to the open the casino license there. And I know September 22, you said last month is the deadline. So there's still a few weeks left, but are you have any updates? Are you hearing any other applicant

Unknown Speaker
I'm the only two updates I would give is that there is a hearing this week for lucila, an administrator in front of the administrative law judge on kind of like an arbitration or whatever you might call it, I don't think they're gonna solve it on Friday, but they'll have a chance to present their cases. And so I don't think it will be my name of this week, I'm not going to say that everything is going to be figured out. But at least that will occur this week, then there'll be whatever the next step is, and then with the everybody who wants to, you know, put in for the license, then on the 22nd, the Gaming Commission will have both of these things going on at the same time, what's going to happen with Lucy luck, what's going to happen with these people who are then putting a bid in that I don't know how that process will shake out. My guess is and kind of what I've heard behind the scenes, they'll have to resolve the Lucy luck thing before they're going to award a new license. That doesn't mean they can't move down the path parallel. But there's not going to be a final decision made until we see what happens with Greg Gibson's proposal. And what they're going to do with that before they award somebody else something, and that's the way it should be, they need to get that resolved. Yeah, moving along, we had a little bit of a delay on carpet, you know, we're, you know how that market is out there when you order things right now, and sometimes it takes a while to get it. And so we're going to move in on October 18. That's our date right now. And that's I think that's a firm day, we're going to actually have some people in and out of the building prior to that, but we're going to move in on that day. So a little over a month from now, we'll be in there, it looks great, I'm very happy with it, I get a lot of positive feedback from the public, they love the deal that we were able to make on that and get more space for less cost than what we were going to have to pay to build something bigger. And just that it's going to be a state of the art facility with everything brand new, and all new furniture in all new technology. Really happy for the police departments that are going to get this and just it's a great asset to downtown to so I'm really excited about that project. And we're closing in on that movement. They

Unknown Speaker
talking, of course, with everybody about budgets, where's Terre Haute in the budget has this as your administration presented budget to city council yet,

Unknown Speaker
we have submitted it and thought in gateway like, you know, we would normally do to advertise that we have the public hearing last week with no discussion. And then we'll have a couple of meetings here later this month where we'll go through the entire budget with the council, and then they will vote on it in the October meeting. I don't anticipate any big pushback of any kind. It's the seventh straight year of a balanced budget that we proposed and follow through with so I'm excited about that. We were able to spend a little bit more in a few areas, we had to be a little cautious in some revenues. We've been told been state that, you know there's a delay on some of the local option income tax money that will hit us next year. So we were cautious with that. But it's a good budget. It's balanced. And we're not going to have you know, have to have any cutbacks of any kind and just continue to move forward. So I'm very happy with the budget that we proposed to the council and should get it passed with no issues.

Unknown Speaker
I hope we're done in just a couple minutes. I always like to leave The last few minutes with you with any special announcements or things that you'd like to let everybody in on.

Unknown Speaker
Know, we're reaching that full time of the year. So a lot of festivals and things going on. So I, you know, I love being outdoors in the fall, and hopefully other people will too. Just going back to the COVID thing I you know, consult your doctor in order to get your vaccination make sure that's what you need to do in your family. And that's a good decision that you can make, because the more people that we can get vaccinated obviously will help to bring those numbers down. That's a big thing for me. I just I you know, I'm not I don't know what happens we've reached that plateau, as you mentioned, so somehow we got to kind of move it up even if it's a handful of people that's better than nobody else going through the process. Hopefully more information will come out so that's really going into the fall here with all these outdoor Vance's want people to be cautious, have fun, enjoy life, you know, but use common sense with these kind of things. I think that we're wrapping up our construction projects, or we're already starting to plan for next year, put my list together and excited about that. We're gonna have a big list for next year again. So get the budget approved to be able to start implementing things after the first of the year. It just everything goes through cycles like that with us as mayor. We're kind of in that planning stage again now. And I really looking forward to the convention center opening next year we'll be in the police station, we're going to find a new home for our police and fire museum. And there's just so many exciting things going on. And I'm really bullish on Terre Haute right now. And I'm very happy about where we're at. And so, you know, looking forward to enjoying the fall as we gear up for a busy 2022.

Unknown Speaker
All right, again for your time, appreciate it and boy, hard to believe but I guess I'll see you in October. It goes way too fast. It doesn't go Thank you.
Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett

Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett on the Zoom interview Tuesday morning. (Zoom)

Bennett says the state is doing the best it can do despite rising COVID numbers, the city would welcome any Afghan refugees to live and find work, and he doesn't believe the census numbers are correct.

On this week’s installment of Ask The Mayor, Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett 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: We were under much stricter restrictions last year, is the governor doing what he can do to keep the spread of COVID down? It's a tough situation, how would you say the governor is doing right now?

Bennett: I think he's still doing well, you know what I appreciate it, what he's done all along, I understand why we had more restrictions. Last year, there were so many more unknowns, and try not to overwhelm the systems all that made perfect sense. Now, here in round two, with the big peak, he's decided to let local municipalities make those decisions.

READ MORE: Hospitalizations Surpass 2,500 Tuesday For First Time Since Jan. 11

So instead of having just come from above, knowing that rural counties weren't hit as hard as the metropolitan areas, or at different times, they were hit that way, it took a while for it to get to those more rural areas. So it does make sense to me to leave it up to county commissioners, health department, school corporations, I mean, mayors are pretty limited in their power. I can only do a short term thing for the city, that doesn't do me any good to put some mandates in place just for the city, and not be in the county.

One thing for everybody that typically doesn't always work.

Hren: We had a good talk last week with Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop on the 5,000 Afghan refugees coming to Camp Atterbury. He saw this as an opportunity as business leaders asking about helping to fill jobs. Your take on the Afghan refugees coming to Indiana, and would the city welcome them once they're free to go?

Bennett: I'm all about immigration once that's done legally, I'm fine with all that. I didn't know anything about these Afghan refugees until last week and have seen several reports about that since I've not had an opportunity to reach out to the governor's office or anybody else to say, what's the vetting process?

We have plenty of jobs that are open for all the people that are already here plus anybody else that might come in, because we're having a difficult time our employers fill these jobs. And so I want the pool to be bigger our overall statewide pool and our Terre Haute pool. And so whatever mechanisms we can use to make the pool bigger, I am good with.

Hren: Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton told us that he didn't believe the U.S. census numbers were true - that they were taken during a pandemic, in a college town that told that population to leave. What's your take?

Bennett: I don't believe them. I didn't expect any big increase, I expected it to be pretty flat. I would agree that it happened during the pandemic. So I don't think the door to door activity and counting on everybody to mail it in was what we normally go through every 10 years.

I guarantee you our university population didn't get counted properly. I mean, we have ISU that has 14,000 students give or take, and Rose-Hulman that has a couple of thousands, St. Mary of the Woods. I know we're talking about a lot of folks that weren't here, and so couldn't have participated in that.

When I look at our sewer bills our numbers are actually up a little bit as in a few more accounts and more usage. So that tells me we didn't go from a lot of four person households or whatever to one person households, the household number stayed about the same with a slight increase. And our usage is up. And so those people are still here, they just didn't get counted. So the difficulty is fixing that because it's nearly impossible. I guess you could sue the United States government. But that's not effective. I don't know what the answer is, but I definitely believe we were undercounted, I think that we are pretty small growth flat-line situation and not a drop.

Hren: How about a casino update? Lucy Luck Gaming is seeking an appeal to the open the casino license there. And I know September 22 is the deadline. Do you have any updates? Are you hearing any other applicants?

Rocksino Terre Haute exterior
Courtesy photo: Proposed Rocksino

Bennett: The only two updates I would give is that there is a hearing this week for Lucy Luck, kind of like an arbitration, I don't think they're gonna solve it on Friday, but they'll have a chance to present their cases. Then on the 22nd, the Gaming Commission will have both of these things going on at the same time, what's going to happen with Lucy luck, what's going to happen with these people who are then putting a bid in - I don't know how that process will shake out.

My guess is and kind of what I've heard behind the scenes, they'll have to resolve the Lucy Luck thing before they're going to award a new license. That doesn't mean they can't move down the path parallel. But there's not going to be a final decision made until we see what happens with Greg Gibson's proposal. And what they're going to do with that before they award somebody else something, and that's the way it should be, they need to get that resolved.

Former Tribune-Star building
Former Tribune-Star building will be the new Terre Haute police station (Joe Hren, WFIU/WTIU News)

Hren: When will the new police station be ready?

Bennett: Moving along, we had a little bit of a delay on carpet, you know how that market is out there when you order things right now, and sometimes it takes a while to get it. And so we're going to move in on October 18. That's our date right now. And I think that's a firm day, we're going to actually have some people in and out of the building prior to that, but we're going to move in on that day.

It looks great, I'm very happy with it, I get a lot of positive feedback from the public, they love the deal that we were able to make on that and get more space for less cost than what we were going to have to pay to build something bigger. And just that it's going to be a state of the art facility with everything brand new, and all new furniture and all new technology.

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