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February 27, 2014

Bennett: City plans waiting on Statehouse

Mayor gives State of City address, says some investment waiting on Indiana Lawmakers

TERRE HAUTE — Terre Haute can expect more downtown and east-side investment, but some is contingent on lawmakers in Indianapolis, said Mayor Duke Bennett in his seventh State of the City address Thursday at the Vigo County Public Library.

More than 100 people crowded the library’s lobby to hear the mayor, who is midway through his second term.

Bennett said an assisted care facility is among the possible new investments for the city’s east-side Tax Increment Finance (TIF) district, which includes the east-side Walmart. However, lawmakers in the state capitol are considering a moratorium on new nursing home construction, which would put the brakes on that plan, he said.

Since Meijer, a retail grocery, announced plans for a new store on Indiana 46 last year, “five or six” other entities have approached the city for possible investment in that area, Bennett said. The mayor also hinted at one or two new big private investments downtown, but he could not elaborate at this time, he said.

One potential city-funded project downtown, a new police station, is also on hold pending possible action by the Indiana General Assembly, Bennett said. Lawmakers are considering changes to the state’s TIF laws that could put funding for the station in jeopardy, he said.

Hoosier lawmakers are considering a bill that would make spending public money by Redevelopment Commissions – which oversee TIF districts – subject to approval by the fiscal body that established the commission – the City Council in the case of Terre Haute. The same bill would also cap the geographic size of TIFs, establish a 2025 expiration date for those without termination dates and prohibit the use of eminent domain in TIF districts.

Bennett also used his address to continue lobbying against another measure in the General Assembly that would reduce the state’s business personal property taxes. The mayor has testified six times before Indiana House and Senate committees on the matter, he said. Along with more than a dozen organizations and mayors from the around the state, the lobbying has paid off, he said. Bills before the House and Senate this session would make eliminating the tax optional (House version) or eliminate the tax only for the smallest businesses (Senate version). “What I’m scared of though is next year or the following year,” Bennett said.

Concerning upcoming projects, Bennett said former plans for a wastewater storage lagoon near the Wabash River have dramatically changed. Instead of using a open-air pond to store excess storm and wastewater, a totally new design has emerged. Speaking after his address, Bennett said an underground stormwater system will be used, including ultraviolet light, that would clean combined storm and wastewater, allowing it to then drain into the river.

Instead of a storage lagoon, the area, which is near Interstate 70, is now expected to contain a 30-acre lake surrounded by trails, Bennett said, adding that the new solution would save money compared to expected costs of a storage lagoon.

Bennett also talked about plans to clean up the Toney Petroleum site near Indiana State University. That’s awaiting approval from the Environmental Protection Agency, he said. He also applauded plans by the Vigo County School Corp. to build a new aquatic center in Voorhees Park. That will convert Voorhees from one of the least used parks in the city to one of the busiest, he said.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com

 

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