On mayor’s to-do list: Fix roads, expand parks

Building a better and brighter Seymour is in the works, but it’s going to take money and public support to get there.

That was Mayor Craig Luedeman’s message to city council members, department heads and the public when he delivered the annual state of the city address Monday night.

After a better than anticipated year financially, Luedeman said he wants to spend more money in 2016 to improve streets, expand parks and rebuild blighted neighborhoods.

He plans to present a proposal to issue $3 million in bonds to council March 8. Much of that money would go to repave and maintain roads, he said, and to purchase needed equipment, including police cars, department of public works trucks, parks equipment and possibly completing the last phase of the city’s skate park.

A small portion, around $150,000, Luedeman would like to use to purchase and tear down 15 to 20 abandoned and vacant homes and create an incentive program for local contractors to build affordable, single-family residences to help revitalize those areas.

Luedeman said the last time the city issued a capital bond was in 2013 for $2 million. Those payments will be paid off this year, and the city wouldn’t have to begin making payments on the new bond until 2017. The bond would require a minute increase in the city’s property tax rate, Luedeman said.

“It puts us in a good position to be able to spend money on things we really need without spending our cash on hand,” he said.

Road funding

Luedeman said Seymour’s roads received an average rating of 4.5 on a scale of 10 for overall condition.Now that the city has implemented an asset management plan to track road conditions, Luedeman said more money must be invested to improve them.“We should be spending about $1.2 million a year on our roads just to maintain them,” he said. “That’s not adding anything new. That’s just physically maintaining what we have.”

The current budget allows for $120,000 to be spent on roads, he said.

A few roads are on schedule to be repaved this year, including West Second Street, Westgate Road and Burkart Boulevard. Those projects are being funded mainly through grant money from the Indiana Department of Transportation.

The Seymour Department of Public Works also will be doing a lot of crack sealing again this year to help prolong local streets and stretch available funding.

Revitalization

“Let’s go after some of these abandoned houses and really hold these landlords accountable,” Luedeman said of blighted properties. “Let’s be aggressive and make a stand that we are not going to put up with this anymore.”Some possible neighborhoods to target include East Second Street, Noble Street and Centennial Street.“If we can get some nice, new houses built there, then we can look at coming in and redoing the sidewalks and the streets as a possible incentive to get people to recreate these neighborhoods and take care of these properties, as opposed to stretching our city limits and our infrastructure,” he said.

Saving for a rainy day

The city under-spent its 2015 budget by around $460,000. Luedeman said he would like to see that amount grow to about 10 percent of the overall budget, or nearly $2 million.“We hit $1,162,000, so we’re still shy of that 10 percent goal for savings, but we’re slowly inching forward to that,” he said.But health insurance costs continue to be a big drain on the city’s budget, he said.

“Insurance is going to be our Achilles’ heel,” Luedeman said. “Our budget cannot raise fast enough to handle the increase in insurance costs.”

The city did ink a deal with Schneck Medical Center recently that will lower some costs for employees if they use the hospital.

Major investments

Another issue the city soon will be facing is the need to build a new fire station to replace Station 1 and purchase a new aerial ladder firetruck.Currently, the city’s aerial truck is nearing the end of its expected life span of 20 years. It will cost around $1.5 million to get a new one.Aging sewer infrastructure is another challenge the city must address, Luedeman said, as there are areas where the sewer system is more than 100 years old.

“It’s going to fail,” Luedeman said. “Those are issues we are going to have. It’s just a matter of when it’s going to fail, not if. When clay pipe is in the ground for 100 years, it’s going to break. We’ve got to figure out a way to do something about that.”

One possible solution may be to increase sewer utility rates.

“We have not looked at rates since 2001,” he said. “I know we put in place a storm sewer, but at the same time, our sewer infrastructure is aging. Everybody’s costs have gone up since 2001, including ours, and we have not incrementally looked at adjusting those rates at all.”

He also said the city needs to look at possibly adding soccer, baseball and softball fields at Kasting Park to attract bigger tournaments. Those kind of events bring people and tourism dollars to the city.

“That could be a huge asset to the community,” he said.

Work continues on funding the development of a trails system in the city, and Luedeman said he believes that project will move forward this year.

The design work is complete, and the trails committee has requested funding from the redevelopment commission.

“Hopefully, you’ll start seeing that get going,” he said. “It’s been in the process for about two years now.”

Luedeman also hopes to see more progress on a south extension of Burkart Boulevard that would connect it to Freeman Field.

He introduced the idea of naming the new road General Owens Parkway after Maj. Gen. John N. Owens, a former Seymour resident who died in 2006. Owens served in the U.S. Army during World War II and later commanded many units in the 38th Infantry Division. In 1969, Indiana Gov. Edgar Whitcomb appointed him adjutant general of Indiana.

The redevelopment commission is funding the design of that project, which is underway and has hired a private developer to work on obtaining property for the downtown trail head park Luedeman proposed in 2010.

“We did lose grant funding for the park because we weren’t able to get the property bought in time,” Luedeman said. “But we are working with a private developer to get that going again, too.”

As the city continues to grow, Luedeman said there is a need to bring more retail development here.

He presented an idea to look at creating a deputy mayor position to help in that area in 2017.

“We do a wonderful job with the industrial sector, but we don’t do enough on the retail side,” he said. “One thing we hear complaints about a lot in the community is we don’t have enough restaurants, we don’t have enough options when it comes to shopping. So we want to look at bringing in somebody extra to help with that.”

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January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.