Terre Haute News
Indiana Central News
Terre Haute, Indiana
Terre Haute, Indiana
Duke Bennett -- now in his third term -- said that after eight - plus years as mayor of the City of Terre Haute -- not any one day has been like another. He meets the challenges of running the city as they come.
In his annual State of the City Address, Bennett said he'd like to see a community-wide effort to strive to stand apart from others in enhancing overall quality of life locally. His goal is to continue improving the look of the city with many projects in the works in attempt to create a welcoming atmosphere.
"We want our front door to look good, and be inviting. When people hit the Terre Haute city limits, we want them to say, 'there's something going on in this community,' " he told an audience at the Vigo County Library this morning.
In hopes of creating a more positive focus, he'd like to project a positive image. He boasted about local schools, museums and businesses He talked about his hopes to draw more people and business to the city.
"We've got to make Terre Haute stand out," he said, noting a top goal for the next four years will be to improve quality of life, accentuating the city's current attractive features.
Highlighting projects in the works for this year, he said citizens can look forward to construction of a new $10 million police station, a much anticipated $15 million overpass at South 19th Street and Margaret Avenue and an updated Hulman Center.
Bennett said residents can expect to see riverfront development, in a "renewed focus for us."
"We are going to see, very soon, opportunities for retail, residential -- those kinds of things are going to crop up at certain places along the (Wabash) river," he said. "Big area for us."
In looking back to 2015, he admitted the year involved some financial challenges. He added that reports have often been exaggerated as to the extent of those challenges. The overall picture is fine, with "very little debt" he said, noting that the budget is $32 million positive, with the general fund being around $8 million negative due to property taxes.
This year, there is a financial need to meet a $10.3 million shortfall in the budget, with $4.5 million specifically for the general fund. Bennett said that is why new revenue sources are imperative at this point.
"I can't overemphasize this enough, that we have to have some new revenue," he said.
In considering implementing new revenue options, he listed three: 1)Solid waste fee, 2)storm water fee and a 3)Public Safety Local Option Income Tax (LOIT.)
Confronting negative community response to a proposed solid waste -- or trash user fee --which the City Council will consider next month, he said the public should be reminded that they're no longer paying enough property taxes to cover the contract, with 12 years remaining. He said 80 percent of cities and towns in the state have a trash fee. The fee would apply to 22,700 households.
Looking forward, Bennett said he is hoping to find management solution for the gold courses because of the costs to the city to operate them.
"If I could stop the bleeding of $400,000 per year, that would be a significant amount of money," he said, adding his goal is to keep them open while continuing to offer the service to the community.
Before he spoke about upcoming projects, Bennett reflected on a productive year. He mentioned downtown residential and business projects, and said developers continue to look into the area. Additional retail development is also expects on SR 46 after the recent construction of the Meijer store and apartments in the area.
"We had a great year in our community last year," Bennett said regarding economic development. "The downtown area has become such a selling tool, when people come to our community."
Bennett reviewed public safety, saying he couldn't be more happy with the accomplishments of the Terre Haute Police Department. He gave a snapshot of crime in the area, adding that there was a 40 percent reduction in the rate from 2008 and that the rate is one of the lowest in similar- sized cities.
"Public safety is extremely important in what we try to do from a community perspective, he said. "The Fire Department, I'm also extremely proud of."
He said that the Fire Department now has quality equipment and training to meet the community needs. He discussed calls for service and noted that recently adding 10 new firefighters should enable the city to cut between $300,000 -$400,000 in overtime hours.
He highlighted projects and events for the Parks and Engineering Departments and reviewed onging Wastewater Treatment Plant projects, totaling $100 million in the next 15 years. He noted that the Citizen's Contact Center (311) netted more than 10,000 calls for large item pick up requests and local concerns such as weeds and grass, accumulated limb and litter debris, stay animals, trees and sidewalk evaluation.
Bennett also discussed potential for development at Terre Haute International Airport, describing activity there as "bustling and thriving" compared to just a few years ago.
Blight elimination efforts are ongoing for the year as well ,with 27 abandoned homes slated for demolition. Also, the Keep Terre Haute Beautiful campaign held two times each year has been successful in cleaning up the city.
© Indiana Central News. All rights reserved. Terre Haute, Indiana
News Writer: Lucy Perry