With one year under his belt and now operating on his own budget, Mayor Harold Gordon is looking to make improvements in the city of Connersville while facing limited revenue.
Gordon reflected on his first complete year as mayor with the News-Examiner.
After his election to the office in November 2015, he attended the newly elected officials school put on by the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, now Accelerate Indiana Municipalities. He likened that experience to his first night at basic training after enlisting, “What did I get myself into?”
“The first thing I did was travel around to other communities to find out what they were doing that we were not doing and I’ve brought some of those ideas back,” he said. “We’re implementing some of them.”
Other mayors have been very willing to offer advice and answer questions, he said.
Last year, the state legislature created the Community Crossroads fund to add funding for local roads and streets. That allowed the city to pave streets that were in need of new asphalt, particularly Industrial Avenue North, he said.
The Street Department bought a grinder attachment for a Bobcat and milled the railroad crossing at West 30th Street and smoothed the crossing. In 2017, more milling will be done as needed.
In addition, the streets the city paved in 2015 were sealed in 2016 to help add life to the pavement.
The Street Department helped the Parks Department with its trail project.
The Street Department’s equipment is getting old and so some of the equipment needs to be updated. Even the new automated trash truck has had issues as the lifting arm works five-days a week, nearly a 1,000 times a day, he said.
For 2017, the salt barn needs work and at the present time the city has contracted for 440 tons of salt that were not used due to the mild winter. That has to be stored somewhere.
He said INDOT is continuing with the match program for 2017 with the city again providing a 50 percent match.
Gordon mentioned one of the things learned from his visits to other cities was the importance of keeping the weeds killed on city properties. One city had summer employees who walked the streets spraying for weeds and looking for issues that might not be seen driving the streets.
“We want to hire two to do that,” he said. “If the city takes the initiative to start cleaning up our stuff, as people see these employees spraying sidewalks, curbs and along streets, maybe that will encourage people to do more around their homes. It’s hard for any city government to cite anyone for a violation when we have grass growing that we’re suppose to maintain.”
TV 3 is expanding it’s local programming with On The Spot shows at places like the House of Ruth and the Hope Center, the Fayette County Line bluegrass show and live sporting events.
The station is also working to put ordinances online.
Connersville Utilities will continue to upgrade facilities and equipment, Gordon said. The wastewater treatment plant is under continual upgrade.
The water storage tanks have been cleaned and painted,
The water plants have had repairs at both the Park Road facility as well as the backup facility on East 9th Street.
“There are not too many cities our size have two water plants, so we’re going to update that one (9th Street) to bring it up to standards,” he said. “We don’t want to tear it down so they’re looking at pumps and motors.”
The Grand Avenue sewer separation project from 24th Street to 30th Street and on 24th Street to the Whitewater River should be bid this fall or winter for construction in 2018.
The Fayette County Emergency Medical Services, a joint venture with the county but operated by the city, began in late 2015 operating the medical transfer service previously operated by Fayette Regional Health System. That has required the department to take on the personnel and equipment from the hospital.
The service is more than paying its way but the goal is to find a new location to keep all the ambulances under roof and give the technicians more room, he said. The structure of the current building does not allow the service to purchase regular-sized ambulances. New ambulances must be custom built, which raises the cost.
When the labor contracts were negotiated in 2016, he said some savings on health insurance policies were realized by using the union’s insurance.
The city police officers all received new handguns last year.
The police department received a narcotics intervention grant which allowed for officers to spend additional time working on drug crimes as well as receiving three mobile radar units, he said.
Last year the department purchased a Dodge Charger, which is on the street, and three Dodge Dakotas, which have just arrived.
The goal in 2017 is to replace five police vehicles.
The fire stations have been upgraded with new exhaust systems for the trucks to keep the atmosphere healthier. The city is allowing the firefighters to go back to physical fitness training with the city paying the bulk of the fees. The fitness makes them better at the job, he said.
In the new firefighters contract, the number of firefighters was increased to 27.
The city of Connersville needs to have its own comprehensive plan. The county has an overall plan but it is not specific enough for the city. The city plan needs to define specific plans, he said. When it is written, it needs to be followed.
The Economic Development Group has been meeting with existing industries and businesses to determine what the city can do to assist in job creation, he said.
“We met with Ivy Tech and made arrangements to keep them, which we worried about losing them,” he said. “The goal is to continue to work with existing employers, retain businesses and attract new business.
“Some people say ‘There are no new businesses in Connersville,’ but what I’m encouraged by, they are using existing buildings for their workforce. Even though you don’t see new buildings, our workforce is increasing.”
Gordon’s administration inherited a budget of nearly $13 million. The 2017 budget that he, Clerk-Treasurer Rosemary Brown and the Council Finance Committee put together was more than $13 million but most of the increase reflected the additional cost associated with the extra EMS operations.
The administration also inherited a financial emergency put into place in March 2014.
“I think at some point in time we should be able to lift it but I have talked with Rosemary about it,” Gordon said. “She is closer to the money than I am. We have given some of it back to the the employees but I don’t know how soon to lift it.”
Having a financial emergency in place can hinder the city’s ability to attract new business because it gives the wrong impression of the city’s financial condition, he said. Even though local companies are doing well, new companies might see as a deterrent.
“We’ve been working with the Farmers Market better, the Whitewater Valley Railroad better and the museum is moving downtown and the art gallery is moving downtown and we had a new shop go in,” he said. “A lot of industry in Connersville is increasing employment.
“I hated to lose JC Penneys.”
Gordon said any progress that has been made is due to the hard work of the city employees and the efforts of the department heads and he gave them thanks.