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Ask The Mayor: Terre Haute's Bennett on winter storm cleanup, neighborhood forums

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Unknown Speaker
Hello and welcome to ask the mayor on WFIU I'm Joe Hren with WFIU and WTIU news this week as always, we're joined by Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett we are doing this on a Monday, not on a Tuesday. So our schedules can line up. So Mayor Bennett really appreciate you taking the time to still do this today. I

Unknown Speaker
have no problem at all. I enjoy this. And sometimes schedules just change. So it worked out fine.

Unknown Speaker
So let's start with our first winter storm of the season. I heard I think what Terre Haute got between about six and eight inches of snow and I think there was some ice and sleet too.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, you know, it rained quite a bit first and it changed the ice and sleet. Luckily, that didn't last a long time, it was only about an hour and a half to two hours. And then it moved into snow. And we you know, it's been several years since we've had a good snowfall we've had a few little two and three inch, you know, storms. But we haven't had a big one in a while. And so this one, it kept smelling you know, all day last week on Thursday and into Friday morning. And, you know, it was one of those things that it wasn't as bad as it could have been. But it was still pretty bad. The roads were very difficult to navigate, especially later in the day. And our crews did a great job. But there was a lot of blowing and it just kept snowing, you know, and you get a little bit of work cleaned up, and then it would just get covered up again. That's that's the frustrating part of those kind of storms that lasts so long, you know, as many hours worth of snow.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah. And I know we reported on the Vigo county travel status was up to the red level emergency level on Thursday. What's the plan of attack for a city you know, like Terre Haute, when you know there there's this winter storm approaching and then it happens it was drawn out like you said for a full day in terms of dealing with the roads and conditions how what's the strategy? And did it work?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, I think so. And I think the key was, it was interesting. You know, I was posting some stuff on social media and I had a few people push back Thursday morning groves were not that bad. They just weren't you know, we had some snow overnight started about three o'clock in the morning, a couple of inches, maybe three at the most in some places, and the roads were okay. But I knew as the day wore on with the wind and the additional snowfall, it would get more difficult. And I think that's what the commissioners recognize over talking to each other and with emergency management, about going into that next level of travel warning on Thursday night because the roads deteriorated later in the day on Thursday. So I think our conversations were pretty on target the predictions of the smell, and the timing was pretty much on target. And, you know, we responded to that and got information at the public as quick as we could, you know, a lot of these snowstorms only last a few hours, you know, they come in and they hit you up. And then you begin the cleanup work. But this one was just a little bit different because of that ice underlaying and then the snow on top. And you know, the roads got worse really, versus being bad and then getting better. And, you know, people are always gonna second guess but I think all the professionals were around the table and make good decisions about getting information out to the public. And anytime you stay off the road and stay on the way the snowplows that makes our job easier. So you know that was something that I was communicating to just stay home if you can I understand people have to go to work. But if you stay off the roads, we can get a cleaner faster.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, absolutely. Let's you know, there were there were a lot of closings and things now I believe are back to normal in terms of trash or recycling or mail all that stuff by today. I know a lot of vaccination sites, testing sites were closed on Friday, Thursday, perhaps even on Saturday. COVID numbers seem to be plateauing. At least that's what I'm getting the feel for at least not rising as they were before. So I think we're all looking for some positive news. Do you have anything to report there and Vigo county Terre Haute?

Unknown Speaker
You know, I've not received any reports yet this week, I think because people were dealing with the snowstorm. But numbers were going down last week and I I'm certain they will again this week. I just don't know how much of a drop not been able to find that data yet today on even on the state website. So it'll probably be on there by the time we're down here with this conversation. But yeah, the things I'm hearing is it's definitely you know, falling off, which is good. The vaccine sites I just got a message about that. I did hurt it here. They're going to be opening back up this week. So there's going to be plenty of opportunity to still get your vaccinations. The hospitals are, you know, standing down a little bit now, and I'm not hearing anything from there that they're overwhelmed like they were a few weeks ago. And so everything seems to be trending in the right way. And that's kind of what they told us. You know, back at the end of December, beginning of January, I said this on the last, you know, four to six weeks. And so we seem to be right on that based on other states and other countries, kind of what they experience seems to be right on target for here. So good news. There's no worry about the next burying, you hope it continues to water itself down. But right now I'm feeling pretty good about the direction of Vigo County, Terre Haute is head.

Unknown Speaker
Let's move to some local areas. I was reading about a neighborhood planning forum that was scheduled at the Vigo County Library. I believe it's postponed, but I haven't heard what that is. Can you explain what it is? Or the aim of the goal?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, so this particular one is related to the 12 points neighborhood. And you know, there's been a revitalization project going on up there for the last couple of years. And so what we wanted to do was just kind of not pause with what what's going on up there. But to really just pause long enough to get some other community input. Now that they've seen some improvements, what's your vision for that neighborhood. And so they had a first meeting at a church, Marilyn Community Church up in the 12 points area, week before last. And then the second meeting was supposed to happen last week when the storm hit. And so there'll be an additional meeting. And there's actually a meeting and there's a virtual meeting to kind of wrap this up, where we'll get people come share their ideas, their concerns, anything. So the end of this planning process outcomes and document that will give us some guidance about, here's the target areas, you know, here's the issues, here's the pros and the cons, here's some statistical information, to really look at that 12 points area, and see how the city can partner with the private sector to advance that area and build that retail back out and provide a lot of entertainment and just a variety of things. So, you know, I've wanted to do a more formal planning process for a while. So we kicked that off. Now, we hope to have that back very soon. And then we're beginning to look at some other neighborhoods in our community go through this same formal process. So we get good feedback from the residents who live there, but also from the community at large of you know how we can make improvements in somebody's neighborhood. So over the coming years or so, next year or two, we're going to do more and more of those planning sessions for particular neighborhood.

Unknown Speaker
And when you say 12 points, I don't know that being there. What does that mean? Okay,

Unknown Speaker
well, it's It's the intersection of 13th Street, Lafayette Avenue and Maple Avenue, which creates 12 points up there with roads intersect with each other. There's north south road, and then an angle road. And it was named that, you know, many years ago, because there's 12 points that were the roads converge together up there. And it's always been a retail area and kind of died off over the years, you know, like a lot of downtown's that it was like a smaller version of downtown. And now there's a lot of people in our community that are trying to revive that and they've had quite a bit of success so far.

Unknown Speaker
And anybody can get involved with this.

Unknown Speaker
Yes, we want it to be broader than just 12 points. If you, you know, have ideas of what you think might make. Make it a draw for you. What would cause you to drive across town and go there. What What would you like to see as you pass through that area, just really getting community input as a whole, beyond the 12 points, people who live and work there. Okay.

Unknown Speaker
I'm anxious to

Unknown Speaker
share that. And we'll share that publicly. As soon as we get that hold together.

Unknown Speaker
I'm anxious to get any updates on the proposed when we talked about last month business, personal property tax cuts, coming from the General Assembly. I know they're at the halfway mark. You along with Malin up and Hamilton asked just for replacement funds if the state's going to take away funding. It's been a month what's the latest?

Unknown Speaker
So the latest is you know, the house moved along to the Senate. And so my connections in the Senate side are saying slow down here a little bit. Not a budget here. We typically don't deal with, you know, revenues or replacement revenues and an off year in a non budget year. So I'm confident I'm not overly confident, but I'm confident that the Senate is going to slow this down a little bit. I think they'll do something. But I don't think it'll be as aggressive as the House version of this. And I applaud that I think it needs to be done strategically. And more research needs to be done about the impacts locally. Because the problem is you can kind of come up with his grand numbers, they will the state's going to be impacted by a billion dollars. Okay. But how does it really go down to the municipal government and county government and their board in the library and all these other taxing entities, school corporations, they'll all be affected by this, but they've not done that research down to that level. So community like Taro, you know, Muncie, Kokomo, the highly industrialized, you know, more industrialized communities are going to suffer more than a bedroom community might who don't have the industry that are paying business personal property tax. So it's not only looking at it from way up here and the big number, it's it being able to drill it down and say, Well, look how it's impacting, you know, Terre Haute versus pharma, or you name another community, I'm not picking on Carmel, just saying that there's a lot more, you know, there's a differences between our communities, and the numbers are going to be different. And, you know, we don't have the ability to recover from that. I mean, it's, we've we've dealt with the the tax caps, the regular property tax caps, now you got business personal property in the mix. If we lose another 5 million, which is a rough estimate, you know, that's 20% of our revenue. I mean, that's that's a significant amount of money. We've already lost a lot. And so I need him to be strategic about that in the in the state house and just make sure we don't get over penalized because the kind of community and the kind of business we have. Well, Mayor, Linda,

Unknown Speaker
agrees, I think he worded it cooler heads might prevail in the Senate. And that's what he's hoping for as well.

Unknown Speaker
Something along those lines, I really believe that and I've talked with several senators in key positions, and I really believe that's what's going to happen. So we'll say, we're halfway through. So let's get to the second half.

Unknown Speaker
Well, and then just to kind of take what you just said a step further to I was looking into this Senate bill that sunsets, the food and beverage tax and 20 years, there are some other provisions is of course, a Senate bill that's moving along. How much does Terre Haute and Vigo county rely on that tax?

Unknown Speaker
Well, you know, it's it's strictly goes to support the CIB activities, which right now is our convention center. But we have ideas beyond the convention center to be the next project or two down the road that will bring tourists bring people to our community, who then pay food and beverage tax that goes to help support the operations and additional capital projects down the road. So we don't rely on it from our budget perspectives, you know, city or county or anybody else the money goes in is available to the CIB, which are only project to this point is our convention center. So it's very helpful. It's an important revenue source. And that's why we were, you know, took it in Annapolis and got the legislature to approve it. But we have we want to do more things down the road. And so we don't want that to go away. I mean, I I will have to have that argument another day about what that really means. It, I think they need to look at this, you know, I can see where a city maybe 20 years ago created it for something. And then the time of it is maybe sunsetted. You know, we're getting to the point of sunsetting. I get that. But we don't we intend to do this and long haul. We want that revenue source to be available to do other projects. Yeah, and

Unknown Speaker
Mr. Great point that municipal consultant tax Norton was concerned about this, because Nashville and Brown County relies so much on tourism, but like you were saying he wasn't that concerned about the business personal property tax because they don't have industry there. So there are a lot of different tax cuts right now moving through the system that affects cities and counties in different ways is, is this just an overall way for the General Assembly to try to control taxes?

Unknown Speaker
You know, I think anybody who's in an elected position, you try to do things that, you know, are good for the taxpayer. I don't want to raise taxes. But when you cut our taxes, you cut our revenue, you have to make it up somewhere. And when we've already got we're already bare bones, we really are. And we made those cuts back in 2009 2010 2011. And continue to look at ways to reduce our expenses all of the time, but costs go up. And so if you're going to come in and take another piece of Ramadan away, we have to figure out a way to make it up because we can't just go lay off, you know, 55 minute 50 policeman and say, Okay, now we're even, that'll never fly. There's just no way we you know, Public Safety's number one anyway, and we've already got all the other areas barebones. We've done everything we can to police the fire to keep our costs down. And I don't have anything else left to work with.

Unknown Speaker
Experts have been saying, you know, college enrollment has been declining, it's all over the country. But recently a news article came up that with the Associated Press about the trend happening at ISU, and I assume that's, that's also concerning for you.

Unknown Speaker
Absolutely. You know, I knew it was down. But you know, the most recent data was, you know, kind of shocking to me. So, I have not had an opportunity to sit on talk with him yet. But I want to very soon, just to help understand helped me to understand what that what's going on and what the plan is to address that, you know, Rose homina, Sainte Marie in the woods, both had record enrollment this year. So, you know, it's kind of like, there are kids going to college, they're just going to certain places, and I need to figure out, you know, kind of what's going on with ASU. And if there's any way the city can partner to help them be more successful, we need to turn that and start heading the other direction, that that just has a huge impact. I mean, you're such an economic engine for us in our community. And I love seeing lots and lots of students and visiting our small businesses and just the vibrancy of the university. And, you know, it's it's down, it's going down for the last several years, and it needs to start moving the other direction. And we I think we all agree with, with that.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, just seeing that quickly here on a report, it was about 3000 less than 2017. That

Unknown Speaker
adds a significant amount. Yeah, yeah.

Unknown Speaker
I know you're gonna get a get a city update. A week or so ago, but I believe that got postponed, right. Yeah,

Unknown Speaker
we moved it back. February 24. I had an illness there, Hearn, right. Right before that, and I just, it didn't work out very well, it was just one of those things popped up and needed to deal with that. So we moved it back. And the numbers were still kind of high, we were a little bit concerned about having a large group of people together. Anyway, a little skittish about that. And so I thought, you know, we'll just move it back a month get get through this COVID numbers are going down. And, and so that's what we did. That's that's why that change was made.

Unknown Speaker
Before we go, could you give us a little bit of preview about what you'll be talking February 24.

Unknown Speaker
So really, what I typically do, it's a city update, where we talk about the finances. So we'll look back just a little bit and 20, that kind of look at 21, kind of how we've been trending the last couple of years. And then what 22 looks like and beyond be talking about infrastructure projects, the ones that we've just finished, and the ones that we're going to be picking up in the next couple of years, want to talk a lot about our neighborhood planning process that we're doing multiple, as I mentioned earlier, there's going to be probably two or three more of those rollout later this year. Talking about just improvements to our parks. And I'm really excited about there's some very specific things we're going to do using some of our AARP funds to do that. So just economic development opportunities that are right in front of us. And so it'll be a little bit of everything. But to kind of recap last year, and how we've been trending, and then what this year appears to be, which I'm excited about this year, I think the COVID has been our biggest issue. And we've done really well in spite of COVID. And I just really see some big things happening in 22 and 23 levels.

Unknown Speaker
While we're about out of time, is there any other announcements or things you'd like to let everybody know about before we go? Oh,

Unknown Speaker
I don't think so. I'm just you know, I asked for patience with people when we have these snowstorms. You know, people get a little bit antsy sometimes. And I think our crews did a great job. It was a pretty significant snowstorm. And so we're still dealing with some residual effects this week, but that's okay. And I think that are just overall things are going well, you know, I know I've said that before on airs, we kind of end this show. But I continue to feel very strongly about the direction of arrows moving in people working together better than they have been many, many years. And it's just an exciting time and I'm, I'm very happy and excited about what we're doing in terror.

Unknown Speaker
Alright, thanks so much. And we'll see you next month. And if those of you listening watching, please feel free to comment at Ask the mayor on Twitter or you can email us news at Indiana public media.org. Thanks again, Mayor.

Unknown Speaker
Thank you, Joe.
Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett

Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett (Zoom)

The city is cleaning up from last week's winter storm, neighborhood planning forums aim to revitalize the 12 Points area, and the city update is rescheduled for February 24.

On this week’s installment of Ask The Mayor, Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett addresses these issues and more on a Zoom interview. 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: Let’s start with our first winter storm of the season, I hear Terre Haute got about 8 inches of snow and we reported Vigo County under a travel emergency for a day or so - how are things now and how did it go?

Bennett: I was posting some stuff on social media and I had a few people push back. Thursday morning the roads were not that bad. But I knew as the day wore on with the wind and the additional snowfall, it would get more difficult.

And I think that's what the commissioners recognize talking to each other and with emergency management, about going into that next level of travel warning on Thursday night because the roads deteriorated later in the day on Thursday.

So I think our conversations were on target - the predictions of the storm, and the timing was pretty much on target. And, we responded to that and got information at the public as quick as we could. But this one was just a little bit different because of that ice underlying and then the snow on top. And if you stay off the roads, we can get a cleaner faster.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Winter storm shuts down testing sites, IDOE launches pandemic relief dashboard

Hren: COVID numbers seem to be plateauing. Do you have anything to report there from Vigo County and Terre Haute?

Bennett: I've not received any reports yet this week, I think because people were dealing with the snowstorm. But numbers were going down last week and I'm certain they will again this week.

The vaccine sites I just got a message about that. They're going to be opening back up this week. So there's going to be plenty of opportunity to still get your vaccinations. The hospitals are standing down a little bit now, and I'm not hearing anything from there that they're overwhelmed like they were a few weeks ago. And so everything seems to be trending in the right way.

Back at the end of December, beginning of January, I said this ought to last four to six weeks. And so we seem to be right on that based on other states and other countries. I worry about the next variant, you hope it continues to water itself down.

Churchill Downs proposed rendering of Terre Haute casino
Churchill Downs proposed rendering of Terre Haute casino, The Queen of Terre Haute. (Courtesy photo)

READ MORE: Churchill Downs files for Terre Haute's new casino hotel site

Hren: I was reading about a neighborhood planning forum that was scheduled at the Vigo County Library. I believe it's postponed, can you explain what it is?

Bennett: So this particular one is related to the 12 Points neighborhood. There's been a revitalization project going on up there for the last couple of years. And we wanted to pause long enough to get some other community input. Now that they've seen some improvements, what's your vision for that neighborhood?

And so they had a first meeting at a church, Maryland Community Church, week before last. And then the second meeting was supposed to happen last week when the storm hit. And there's actually a virtual meeting to kind of wrap this up, where we'll get people come share their ideas, their concerns, anything.

So the end of this planning process outcomes and document that will give us some guidance about, here's the target areas, here's the issues, here's the pros and the cons, here's some statistical information, to really see how the city can partner with the private sector to advance that area and build that retail back out and provide a lot of entertainment and just a variety of things.

Over the coming years, we're going to do more of those planning sessions for particular neighborhoods.

statehouse-winter2-lc.jpg
Indiana Statehouse

Hren: I'm anxious to get any updates on the proposed business personal property tax cuts coming from the General Assembly. I know they're at the halfway mark. You along with Mayor Lienhoop and Hamilton asked for replacement funds if the state's going to cut taxes. It's been a month what's the latest?

READ MORE: Indiana Senate braces for contentious second half

Bennett: So the house moved it along to the Senate. And so my connections in the Senate side are saying slow down here a little bit. Not a budget year. We typically don't deal with revenues or replacement revenues on a non-budget year. So I'm confident, I'm not overly confident, but I'm confident that the Senate is going to slow this down a little bit. I think they'll do something.

And I applaud that I think it needs to be done strategically. Because the problem is you can kind of come up with grand numbers, they say the state's going to be impacted by a billion dollars. Okay. But how does it really go down to the municipal government and county government and the library and all these other taxing entities, school corporations, they'll all be affected by this.

So community like Muncie, Kokomo, the highly industrialized, are going to suffer more than a bedroom community. I'm not picking on Carmel, just saying that there's differences between our communities, and the numbers are going to be different. And, we don't have the ability to recover from that. If we lose another $5 million, which is a rough estimate, that's 20% of our revenue. I mean, that's that's a significant amount of money.

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