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In the Driver’s Seat

New Madison mayor
wants to move quickly
on various fronts

Economic development,
grant wish list among his priorities


 
(March 2012)
Read previous Don Ward columns!
Don Ward

Newly elected Madison, Ind., Mayor Damon Welch says he is hoping to get off to a quick start to his four-year term in office by familiarizing himself with a number of ongoing projects taking place on many levels throughout the city.
Among these projects are planning for the grand re-opening of the Milton-Madison Bridge, tentatively scheduled for early 2013; continued development of the Madison riverfront and the Heritage Trail; ongoing efforts to market the city to visitors with a newly released logo, directional signage and banners; and evaluating the city’s progress and future direction in economic development initiatives. He has appointed a new economic development panel to explore ways to improve the city’s economic climate, and he considers this initiative as his top priority. This group plans to hold its first meeting sometime in March.
“I am not going to take credit for our successes because there are some great people working here on staff, and the people I have brought in and surrounded myself with are great,” said Welch, 58. “Together with their help, I want to get going and make things happen quickly.”

Damon Welch

Photo by Don Ward

After serving four
years on the City
Council, newly elected
Madison Mayor Damon
Welch now has a chance
to put his own mark
on his hometown.

Asked why he decided to run for mayor, he replied, “Except for going away to college and my time in the Air Force, I have lived in Madison all my life, and it is a special place for me. I wanted to make a difference in my community.”
Welch is a 1971 graduate of Madison Consolidated High School who earned a bachelor’s degree in 1975 at the University of Kentucky. He served in the U.S. Air Force, where he attained the rank of captain. He owned and operated Damon’s Restaurant for nine years in Madison and then worked in the hearing health industry for 20 years. He now serves as elder and worship leader at North Madison Christian Church. He and his wife, Ginny, have been married for 38 years and the couple have three children: Gaeli, Kirsty and Collin.
Welch outlined his plans as mayor during a Feb. 10 interview in his office at City Hall. Community Relations assistant Andrew Forrester also sat in on the interview. During the discussion, Welch said he was comfortable in his new role as mayor, having spent the previous four years as a member of the City Council. He is familiar with many of the issues but is now getting involved at a more detailed level to manage the city’s day-to-day affairs while also keeping an eye on a larger range of issues.
Forrester, 22, is working closely alongside Welch to help gather information and provide input by sitting in on various boards and meetings. He has a seat on the tourism board, the Milton-Madison Bridge Mitigation Committee and leads the Branding Leadership Team meetings, for instance. Welch and Forrester say they want these groups to work more closely together so that the city can put action to words and maintain more communication between them.

Madison Mayors

Damon Welch, 2012-present
Tim Armstrong, 2008-2011
Al Huntington, Dec. 1994-2007
#Morris Wooden, 1988-Dec. 1994
Markt L. Lytle, 1984-1987
Warren R. Rucker, 1976-1983
Brooks E. Davis, 1972-1975
+Donald J. Vaughn, 1966-1971
*Markt A. Lytle Sr., 1960-1965
+W.H. Wetzel, 1957-1959
*Charles H. Vaughn, 1952-1956
William Eckert, 1947-1951
Orris L. (Mickey) Head, 1943-1946
Frank Schnaitter, 1939-1942
Marcus R. Sulzer, 1934-1938
Frank J. Pritchard, 1930-1933
Marcus R. Sulzer, 1926-1929
Edward Eckert, 1922-1925
James (Boss) White, 1918-1921
James E. Crozier, 1914-1917
George F. Harper, 1910-1913
John M. Cisco, 1904-1909
John G. Moore, 1902-1903
Ellison D. McGuire, 1894-1901
John W. Linck, 1894-to end of Wagner's term
Isaac Wagner, 1892-Jan. 1894 (served as sheriff for four years during the Civil War)
Joseph T. Brashear, 1884-1891
Samuel J. Smith, 1882-1883
Joseph T. Brashear, 1876-1881
Alex White, 1874-1875
+John Marsh, 1872-1873 (finished Shrewsbury's term)
Charles L. Shrewsbury, 1870-April 1872
Ebenezer Rodgers, 1868-1869
Miles S. Burnes, 1865-1867
John Mulvey, 1856-1864
W.N. Taylor, 1853-1855
Milton Stapp, 1850-1852
Moody Park, 1838-1849

* = Died in office
+ = Named by council
# = Took job with state government

Source: Madison-Jefferson County Public Library

In addition to the learning curve that he has been on since taking office Jan. 1, Welch and his staff have submitted an application for an $11.6 million “Stellar Communities” grant from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs. The money would be used for a variety of projects.
Last year, in the grant program’s inaugural year, North Vernon and Greencastle were jointly awarded $31 million over a three-year period. Each town also is investing another $9 million each in local and private funds. North Vernon, just 20 miles north of Madison, is using its money for such things as downtown streetscaping, building facade improvements, a new events center, a pedestrian plaza and a mixed-used trail to connect North Vernon to Muscatatuck County Park.
Madison’s grant application requests money for projects that include:
• Heritage Trail extension, $2 million;
• Rehabilitation of upper floors of downtown commercial buildings for residential use, $600,000;
• Owner-occupied housing rehabilitation in impoverished neighborhoods, $500,000;
• Park and recreational enhancement in low income neighborhoods, $500,000;
• Commercial building facade improvement, $500,000;
• Senior Center development, $1.5 million;
• Broadway Street corridor and Jefferson Street development, $2.5 million;
• Sidewalk rehabilitation and construction, $500,000;
• Fire station construction near the new hospital site, $750,000;
• Drainage improvements, $2 million;
• Bicycle lane creation and improvement, $250,000.
The Stellar Communities grant application process began under Welch’s term. Patty Jackson and Susan Craig of the Southeastern Indiana Regional Planning Commission prepared the application letter. And Jenny Eggenspiller, working for then-mayor Tim Armstrong, also contributed by getting Ball State University students to come to Madison to conduct a study that resulted in a five-year, Comprehensive Strategic Plan, which was required to be eligible for this particular grant. The plan is still being finalized and should be available in March, according to Forrester.
“The Ball State students are working on some minor changes to the draft and then the City Council wants to review it before it is released as the city’s official plan,” Forrester said. “We hope that will be completed sometime in March.”
The grant application requires a timeline for completing the projects and an accounting of who or what organizations will be involved. Nearly every major organization is listed as partners in achieving these goals. Primary among these are the city, Economic Development Partners, the Madison Area Chamber of Commerce and the Southeastern Indiana Regional Commission.
Welch, meanwhile, writes in the grant application letter, “In Madison, we have big ideas. We have large goals. We have the citizens and organizations that are more than willing to work together to complete a task. The only thing we lack is the funds to complete these projects and fulfill our vision.”
Eight to 10 finalists are to be determined in early March from the 40-plus applicants for this year’s grant monies, Forrester said. Judging by what is taking place in nearby North Vernon, it would be a boon to Madison to receive a grant for these worthy causes. But Welch said he is determined to move forward on many fronts, with or without the grant.
“We have much to do and a lot going on already, so while it would be nice to have the grant money, we will just have to find it somewhere else,” he said.
In addition to these goals and his economic development initiative, Welch will face several other challenges in the coming months. These include the ongoing bridge construction project and the resulting traffic issues, and the economic impact that is expected to occur with King’s Daughters’ Hospital and Health Services move in 2013 from downtown to its new location on the hilltop.
Welch says he is in touch with hospital CEO Roger Allman about the search for a new tenant for those downtown buildings. And he already has met with Indiana transportation officials about the impending five-day closure of the bridge, scheduled for April 25-29, as well as other bridge-related issues.
Given these major economic issues, it won’t be long at all for Welch and his new team to be tested. Hopefully, for the city’s sake and his own legacy as mayor, Welch has done his homework.

• Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout. Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email: Don@RoundAbout.bz.

 

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