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Ask The Mayor: Terre Haute's Bennett On Casino And 2017 Outlook

Duke Bennett 01-10-2017

A quick look back at 2016 promises, current budget situation, legislative session preview, downtown student housing and your questions.

On this week's installment of Ask The Mayor, Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett addresses these issues and more. Listen to the full conversation with Indiana Newsdesk anchor Joe Hren by clicking on the play button above, or read some of the questions and answers below. A portion of this segment airs 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. Wednesday on WFIU.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Hren: A year ago you said you were excited to start the New Year off with a fresh start getting some new council members up to speed and then tackling the city’s budget deficit. Here it is a year later, how did you fare?

Bennett: Well, we did what we said we were going to do. We had a balanced budget for last year. We were able to get that trash fee implemented and we were able to get a sewer rate increase that will position us for 2017. Both critical things to keep us in line with compliance and standing and I feel really good about that.

Hren: What are those objectives to start 2017?

Bennett: One is we're wrapping up 2016. There's a tremendous amount of financial work to go back and make sure everything is 100% correct as we prepare for our state board of accounts audit. Then we know what kind of projects we're going to be rolling out this year so it's to ensure all our engineering work is done, all of our permitting is done and ready to roll it out to the contractor the shortest time that we can.

Hren: How does the budget look to get you through these next few months?

Bennett: Well, we don't have a lot of reserves. We have to position ourselves with a tax anticipation warrant again and we can do some internal borrowing to get us there. Each year over the last couple of years it's been a little bit less. With new laws with redevelopment funds, there's some things we need to do there to get a loan from the council in order to make that happen.

Hren: We do have an e-mail from 'Mac' who writes in: What is fiscally responsible, wise or fair about your administration taxing the people more and more thru various fees you have come up with and gotten imposed but not getting rid of two golf courses which operate deeply in the red year after year and could be turned back over to be run in the private sector?

Bennett: They can't be turned over to the private sector, if we don't operate them as the city, one goes back to Rose-Hulman and one goes back to the Hulman family. Yes it would help us by reducing draining some of the funds for those two things, but we made tremendous progress to that this year, if we can get a company to come in and manage them for us, than that's the perfect scenario.

I gave the parks department and golf courses three years to get things turned around, we just finished the third year and starting to look at it, but we're looking at a few hundred thousands of dollars as compared to losing $11 million a year and so even if you didn't have the golf courses, it would be a drop in the bucket to the rest of the budget because of property tax caps so people aren't being overtaxed, they're saving $11 million they're not paying in taxes yet people expect the same level of service.

Hren: There's been talk of a casino coming to Terre Haute though there are usually some negative connotations to a casino, perhaps even due to the fact of a major college campus downtown as well. Is there anything that might be a concern of having a casino here?

Bennett: I think the statistics don't bear that out. About one percent of gamblers are addicted to gambling. Gambling is legal in Indiana, people from Terre Haute are traveling to casinos all the time and these other communities benefit from our dollars. So when you reach out to other communities with casinos, crime doesn't go up.

You might have a few more people that might be addicted to gambling, but you have programs in place to not only identify people, but get them plugged into a program.

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