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Madison Mayor Armstrong
reflects on first year in office

Budget constraints to
dominate city’s agenda in 2009

By Don Ward
Editor

Madison Mayor Tim Armstrong

Madison Mayor Tim Armstrong

(February 2009) – Madison Mayor Tim Armstrong says his first year in office was busy and enjoyable, but he never counted on facing two of his biggest challenges – the remnants of Hurricane Ike that struck the city on Sept. 14 and the recent downturn in the nation’s economy.
Armstrong defeated 13-year incumbent Republican Mayor Al Huntington in November 2007. As he enters 2009, the first-term mayor took time out in January to evaluate his successes and discuss his goals for the new year. Some of those goals reflect unfinished business from last year, and others are altogether new.
“We did pretty well on the whole, but there are always new challenges,” said Armstrong, 48, a former high school baseball coach and police detective captain. “Despite the economic downturn, we are going into this year with a positive outlook because there is much to be done.”
Following is a list of Armstrong’s finished and unfinished business:

• A Merit Board for the city’s police department was created to manage all affairs and functions. The police department also filled several vacancies.
• Armstrong lists the riverfront sidewalk, the Michigan Road sidewalk and the Heritage Trail among the items that did not get finished in 2008. A funding request the city recently submitted to the Indiana Department of Transportation for 2009 included money to pay for a gazebo and overlook that was recently removed from the riverfront sidewalk plan. Those items pushed the cost beyond reach for this year, Armstrong said.
Bids will be accepted in a few months for a scaled back riverfront sidewalk plan, he said. The project is due to be finished in fall 2009. He said the Michigan Road sidewalk project, meanwhile, should get under way in 2009 in part with money from the Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, funds. This fund is business property tax money collected from businesses in the hilltop zone to pay for infrastructure improvements in that zone. The Redevelopment Commission oversees the TIF zone and its funding initiatives.

• The city put considerable effort into grading the “shovel ready” site at the Madison Business Park on Hutchinson Lane “to make it even more shovel ready,” Armstrong said. The excavation done there improved the drainage by creating a retention pond. The plan is for Hutchinson Lane to be widened soon, and as part of that project, a wide entrance into the Business Park will be created, he said. So far, no business has located there. Meanwhile, city officials are considering a plan to extend Hutchinson Lane all the way to Hwy. 7 to help alleviate semi-truck traffic on Clifty Drive.

• Perhaps one of the biggest challenges in the next few years will be the projected shortfall in revenue, in part due to the recent cuts in property taxes. Budget projections show that the city will experience a revenue shortfall of about $21,000 in 2009, $330,000 in 2010 and more than $400,000 in 2011.
“That’s a significant problem that we will have to deal with,” Armstrong said. “We don’t want to cut services, and we don’t want to lay off employees.”
Several cost-cutting measures in ordering supplies and general operations already have been initiated, but it will take more sacrifices, he said.
For one, the city has decided to not lease and operate River Chase Golf Course in 2009. The city spent $140,000 from its Economic Development Income Tax, or EDIT, fund last year to upgrade the course, buy 20 new golf carts and lawn chemicals, lease mowers and maintain the course. The carts will be taken to Sunrise Golf Course, which the city “subsidized” at a cost of about $100,000 last year.
“Golf play is down nationally, but even so, we have to take a more business-like approach to how we manage our golf course,” Armstrong said. But even if it must operate at a loss, Armstrong said, “It is a city’s responsibility to provide recreational opportunities for its citizens.”
Golf cart and green fees have been increased for the upcoming season. Fees also have been increased for storing privately owned carts at the course.

• Armstrong said he hopes to get the public restrooms built at the riverfront this year, continue to develop the Madison Bicentennial Park and initiate some of the recommendations in the “Branding Project” set forth by Seattle consultant Roger Brooks. Brooks is due to return to Madison in March or April to present his final Branding plan to better market the city and downtown retail district to tourists. A group of local government, business and nonprofit agencies paid Brooks $50,000 to develop a brand for Madison.

• Armstrong said the $800,000 roof recently installed at City Hall was a necessary expense to keep the ceiling from falling in. Water damage was evident throughout the building. He is hoping money will soon become available to renovate the interior of the upstairs floors and possibly move the police department from the basement into one of the floors in the future.

• The city recently condemned the charred remains of the Elks Club on West Street so the group could collect on its insurance and move forward with building or renting another place. Arsonists burned the building in August 2006. Rather than demolish the building, city officials hope to find someone to take over the property for $1 and restore it to some useful purpose. A preservationist from Cannelton, Ind., has expressed interest in it, but negotiations with her recently stalled because Elks Club members say they want to be paid for the property. The issue has yet to be resolved.

• The city is trying to decide what to do about building a new, or renovating the existing, Senior Citizens Center. A grant totaling $30,000 was obtained to pay a consultant to study the issue and make a recommendation. The study is to be completed in 2009, and once a decision is made, the city can apply for a state grant totaling $500,000 to proceed with the project, Armstrong said.

• Armstrong said the recent monthly meetings on the future construction of a new Ohio River Bridge have been a helpful in keeping the pressure on state and federal governments to pursue the project. “The bridge is a critical economic crossing for our community, our local industries and our downtown, and we must keep working on this with our friends in Kentucky. We must stay positive and not lose our focus.”
Corey Murphy, executive director of the county’s Economic Development Partners, has worked closely with Armstrong over the past year and even accompanied him on a business trip to Japan. “Although I don’t work for the city, the relationship between the city and economic development is very important, and we work well together,” Murphy said.

Murphy said the biggest challenge ahead is to continue to pursue infrastructure improvements and economic development initiatives in the face of declining revenues. “People don’t want a decline in services, but we are experiencing a significant decline in revenues, so managing that will be a challenge, and I think Tim has a keen awareness of the tensions that exists there.”
For his part, Armstrong said he has been in City Hall almost every day since becoming mayor on Jan. 1, 2008. He enjoys the job and says he is committed to “doing whatever is necessary to make Madison a great place to live and work.”

Back to February 2009 Articles.

 

 

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