The $2.5 million budget reduction, the mayor’s accessibility to residents, job placement programs, progress on the county’s food and beverage tax proposal and reaction to the retirement of Dr. Danny Tanoos.
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: “Notice of Final Budget Recommendations” from the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance proposes more than $2.5 million in reductions from the city’s 2018 budget. The city had until Feb. 5th to respond, did you respond?
Bennett: Absolutely, and we’ll be just fine in our budget. What’s interesting is, the local print media ran with that it’s another bad scenario, when it never was. The problem is when you submit this to the state, some of this was from August so some of it has changed. You have ten days to update the information, make changes to what you’re doing and we did that.
So we’re waiting on the budget order from the entire county which includes our budgets, so I’m thinking we’re not going to have to cut anything. There’s no reason to rush to judgement on these things because that’s just the first step of a process. We go through this every year. The only thing different about last year was it was such a big number. This one was a more manageable number so we were able to deal with it internally.
Hren: So where does that money go?
Bennett: We divvy up the levy a little bit different. We have a lot of different funds that get property tax dollars. We divide the pie up a little bit differently. Take some from here and put it there because we’ve balanced all those other budgets we don’t need as much property tax dollars. It’s showing our year end revenues, that we came in under budget and we made these changes and we’re good to go.
Hren: Some city leaders hosted a forum a couple weeks ago and found out some city residents want more transparency and better working relationships between the mayor’s office and city council – would you agree? A group requested at a recent meeting as well, to meet with you – how do they contact you?
Bennett: We couldn’t be more transparent. I don’t really know what their need is. They never approached me, I was not invited. Sometimes I think people get confused the roles of all the pieces here. I’m not on city council. If there’s issues with transparency with me, bring it to my attention.
I have an open door policy. You can pick up the phone and call me, send me an email – you’ll get a response usually the same day. It’s absolutely absurd for somebody to say I’m not reachable.
Hren: The Sony layoffs here in Terre Haute came after our visit, 375 workers there will lose their jobs. Is the city working on any job placement programs for those employees?
Bennett: Absolutely, Work One folks are all over that. They’ll be doing it in phases over the next few months, so each of those groups will be addressed individually. Yes, it’s kind of some big numbers, but they’ve geared up. They’re working with Ivy Tech and other partners to provide them all kinds of plugging them in with opportunities here
Hren: The Vigo County food and beverage tax proposal on prepared food is still alive in the Indiana General Assembly, what happens next?
Bennett: It passed through the Senate so it’s in the House side right now. We want to build this convention center and need that funding. We appear to have widespread support, but we’re waiting to get a hearing in the House side right now.
I have gotten some push back saying some won’t be able to go out to eat anymore, it’s one percent. If you go to McDonald’s and spend $5, you’re going to pay a nickel. It’s a very small amount that goes into projects that lead to that quality of life.
Then the county council would hopefully adopt it and then it would begin to be collected which would go to the CIB, Community Investment Board, who would use it for a convention center and maybe some other projects down the road.