Continuing a “Madison on the Move” theme from the past couple of years, Mayor Bob Courtney presented his third State of City address Thursday evening in a year in which he is seeking reelection to a second term.
“When I first ran for mayor, I promised you a bold approach to improving our community,” said Courtney. “With leadership and vision, we created a strategy to bring more investment to our community and we developed a plan that brought new solutions to old problems. Pick an issue such as blight, unsafe buildings, bad sidewalks, speeding, poor roads, outdated infrastructure, lack of housing, outdated policies, flooding, economic development and many others. We have tackled them all head-on. We have done so while generating record investment, maintaining a low property tax rate, generating millions of new grant dollars for our community, and keeping a balanced budget every year.”
Courtney, a Republican, was elected in the 2019 general election but has served as Mayor since Oct. 14, 2019, after being appointed by a Republican party caucus following the unexpected death of Mayor Damon Welch. Courtney will compete in this year’s general election against Dan Dattilo, a Democrat currently serving as a council member at-large. Dattilo, a counselor at Southwestern High School, was unable to attend Thursday’s State of City address because he is currently in Washington D.C., leading Southwestern eighth grade students on an educational trip of the nation’s capital.
Courtney’s 50-minute address was preceded by introductions by Mindy McGee, the deputy mayor and chief of staff, and John Wallace, the city’s chief of police. The Mayor’s Eagles, fourth graders from Lydia Middleton Elementary School with Mason James as its president, led the Pledge of Allegiance to open the event.
“Madison has never been stronger,” Courtney said. “Our financial strength is our currency toward the future. Our unemployment rate at 2.8% is lower than the state and national averages. Our county-wide GDP is up 10% in the past three years, a record number of new businesses have opened, our region is the fastest growing in the state; a record level of new investment is happening and Madison’s fiscal strength has never been better.
“Revenues to invest in our redevelopment commission are up 42% over 2019, the city has zero general obligation debt, our revenue bond obligations are supported by strong debt service coverage ratios, and the city ended 2022 with $19 million in cash and investments, up 16% from year-end 2019’s $16.6 million. We have recovered from COVID and the 2021 flooding and we did that while maintaining a balanced budget.”
Courtney cited three initiatives of his administration: Community safety, economic opportunity and quality of life.
In community safety, Courtney cited growing investment in the police department and an all-volunteer fire department that accumulated 2,477 training hours last year and has “one of the best PPC (Public Protection Classification) ratings in the state.”
He also cited investment in roads and sidewalks for impacting community safety. With the creation of a sidewalk rating system to assess the condition of more than 40 miles of sidewalks and almost 800 curb ramps that were analyzed throughout the city, allowing work to focus on 9 miles of fair to poor sidewalks and more than 40 curb ramps needing immediate attention.
Courtney also talked about updating the city’s drinking water infrastructure. “We will make every effort to protect our water supply and build capacity for the future,” something he said is being achieved by embarking on a $13 million clean water improvement project “that will address issues regarding the treatment, storage and distribution of our water. Madison provides nearly 800 million gallons of clean drinking water to nearly 70% of city and county residents and this project will prepare us for growth and more future capacity,” he said.
Courtney cited flood mitigation efforts, a priority since flash flooding on June 18, 2021 flooded the Crooked Creek Watershed and nearby North Walnut Street neighborhood. “This neighborhood has seen repeated flooding over the past 150 years,” he said. “But I believe we can significantly reduce the risk of flooding in that area with the right plan and the right investment. This investment won’t be cheap but it will save lives. We have already appropriated over $1 million toward solving this century old problem.”
In terms of economic opportunity and planning, Courtney cited more than $600 million in new investment taking place in Madison. One of the bigger projects will resurrect property that was once the site of the Madison Plaza shopping center. With a $55 million investment, the Shoppes at Sunrise Crossing will bring new retail businesses to Madison while the Residences of Sunrise Crossing will bring new housing to the hilltop with 183 units.
“Last year ushered in so much economic development activity from the prior two years of planning,” Courtney said. “Every pocket of our city is experiencing new investment. From Sunrise Crossing to our beautiful riverfront, from Oak Hill Drive to Main Street, from Clifty Drive to Walnut Street, and from the roads that bring people here to the sidewalks that connect us all, working together, we are elevating Madison to new heights.” He said the investment happening across the community is expected to create more than 500 new good paying jobs.
Courtney also cited the Destination Madison projects that are being funded through the county’s participation with the Our Southern Indiana Regional Development Authority to share $50 million in READI grant dollars among the region’s five counties. “These plans will produce almost a quarter-billion dollar economic impact to our community making Madison the regional destination that it deserves to be,” he said.
Courtney emphasized the importance of quality of life, and said in Madison that is “second to none,” adding he is “a firm believer that strong neighborhoods where the people come first are critical to a vibrant community. Our neighborhood revitalization efforts in downtown and on the hilltop are resulting in lower crime, higher assessed property values, fewer unsafe structures, and a great place to raise your family.”
In the Oak Hill neighborhood, $1.7 million was invested with streets re-paved and sidewalks, curbs and gutters replaced. Additionally, Oak Hill Park renovations are underway and due to be completed by Memorial Day weekend.
Improvements are also planned to be completed at Gaines Park in downtown Madison by Labor Day weekend and construction has been announced for a new Crystal Beach Aquatic Park that Courtney said will be “a modern facility that will be fully accessible for all ages and abilities and with amenities that will make it a regional recreational destination and a vital part of our community’s health and wellness.”
Courtney said last year public-private partnerships for historic preservation resulted in more than $3.5 million PACE-related investments. He added there has also been an effort to address nuisances and unsafe structures. “In our first year of investing in a code enforcement officer, in 2022 we managed 448 nuisance cases and are dealing with a universe of over 100 unsafe structures. Our goal is that owners of every unsafe structure partner with the city to develop a plan to safely abate the issue and that too is working,” Courtney said.
He also cited the creation of a public arts commission that is working on a public arts master plan “that incorporates art into public spaces in a creative and thoughtful way.”
Calling 2022 a “banner year,” Courtney said “the best is yet to come. In 2023, we will have new groundbreakings and ribbon cuttings on major initiatives like Crystal Beach Aquatic Park, the Shoppes and Residences at Sunrise Crossing, our neighborhood grocery store project, a new housing subdivision in partnership with Habitat for Humanity, and three more Destination Madison initiatives, to name a few.
“There is a tremendous amount going on” in Madison, and “it’s because of all the hard work” of many people “who are making a tremendous investment of time and money in Madison,” he said.
Following the organization’s theme of “She Knows Where She’s Going,” Girls Inc. of Jefferson County honored four women for their contributions to the community including three who were on hand at Tuesday’s 20th annual luncheon.
The women, all Madison natives, include Elizabeth Auxier, Shelly Hamilton, Betsey Vonderheide and the late Mary G. Clashman.
Auxier is the owner and operator of Auxier Marketing. In 2016, she partnered with her husband, Charles Requet III, to create the nonprofit Friends of the Ohio Theatre to acquire the iconic Main Street theater and preserve Madison’s cinematic heritage, and has partnered with volunteers and community groups to provide movies, concerts, plays and other events. Auxier was a Girls Inc. member and is a long-time supporter of the organization. She is a three-time Girl of the Year and former director of development.
Hamilton is the only certified water safety Instructor in the region, and has made it her lifelong passion to teach swimming lessons and lifeguarding classes to ensure area pools are safe recreational choices with qualified lifeguards. A teacher and swim coach with Southwestern Schools, she is also actively involved with youth programs and mission work at Trinity United Methodist Church.
Vonderheide was community relations director at King’s Daughters’ Health, followed by 13 years working as special projects director at the City of Madison for Mayor Al Huntington. She also worked as an environmental educator for seven counties in the Southeastern Indiana Solid Waste District. Vonderheide and her late husband formerly owned and operated 411 Flowers on Main Street in Madison. Early in her career, she was a news writer for WORX radio in Madison and promotion director for WKRC radio in Cincinnati.
Clashman, who died on Oct. 17, 2022, was a memorial honoree. Clashman, 94, was founder of Madison’s Riverfront Development committee as well as founder and president of the Jefferson County Animal Welfare Fund. She was a life member of both the Madison Salvation Army Advisory and the Nature Conservancy.
Proceeds from the luncheon benefit local Girls Inc. The nonprofit provides after-school, outreach, and summer programming for girls ages 5 to 18. The organization offers members a variety of activities, from science experiments and homework assistance to cooking and economic literacy. There is a focus on its core essential services of academic enrichment and support, healthy living, and life skills, and a mission of inspiring all girls to be strong, smart and bold.
Madison City Council approved a resolution on Tuesday to accept the right of way that will provide highway access into the Sunrise Crossings shopping and housing development on Madison’s hilltop and name that street Sunrise Crossing Boulevard.
The action was taken at a somewhat light city council meeting that also included an ordinance to vacate an alley in downtown Madison and establish a fund to better account for fuel sales at Madison Municipal Airport. Police Chief John Wallace also introduced two new officers for that department who were sworn in by Mayor Bob Courtney.
The resolution related to the Sunrise Crossing development follows through on an agreement the city reached with developers to build an access road into that development and align the new Sunrise Crossings Boulevard with Crestwood Drive and Michigan Road at an intersection on the south side of the property.
The street will serve as access to the Shoppes at Sunrise Crossing commercial development scheduled to open later this year and the Residences at Sunrise Crossing to be developed in the future. The city will provide the intersection and traffic control device and add Sunrise Crossing Boulevard to its road inventory for maintenance and upkeep moving forward.
The other action related to city streets involved the first reading of an ordinance to vacant an alley in the 900 block of East Vaughn Drive essentially in the parking lot of the former Key West Shrimp House. The alley has not been used as such for decades — the shrimp house has had parking on the area for at least 60 years — and while the alley was most likely vacated long ago, no official action to that affect can be found in city records.
The Key West building is in the process of being sold — the iconic riverfront eatery has been closed since May 2021 — and the new owners want the alley officially vacated prior to their purchase. The issue came before the city’s Board of Public Works and Safety recently and advanced to council with that board’s recommendation as long as the city reserves utility easements.
Tuesday’s other ordinance on first reading was to establish an Aviation Rotary Fund that will track and account for fuel deliveries and sales at Madison Municipal Airport with any profits from the sales turned over to the city’s Clerk-Treasurer for use by the city’s Board of Aviation at the airport.
The fund will provide a better tracking of fuel sales and a way to determine profits from those sales as the airport undergoes some changes in the way it operates and manages financially.
Near the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting, Wallace introduced Madison Police Department’s two newest officers including one who is returning to the department after resigning in 2021 to deal with family issues.
Officer Brad Demaree originally joined the department in March 2019 and was a decorated patrolman and K-9 officer before leaving those positions. He lives in Jefferson county with his wife and two children.
The other new officer, Ryen Ware, has served with the Floyd County Sheriff’s Office and Scottsburg Police Department plus six years in the Army National Guard. He currently resides in Scott County.
Courtney welcomed the two officers after completing their oaths of office and noted that by hiring veteran officers who have already completed the law enforcement academy and other training, Madison can put the new hires to work immediately.
“They are already officers and can begin their duties right away,” he said.
“It’s a real benefit to have guys come in with their experience,” Wallace added.
In other topics, Charles Gaddie of the Unified Senior Citizens of Jefferson County addressed the council about work his group is trying to do for those age 55 and older in the county.
Gaddie said the organization is looking to bring back programs like Meals on Wheels and ride sharing to medical appointments for seniors and hopes to establish a center where other services can be offered to senior citizens. He said the group wants to coordinate with senior centers in Madison and Hanover to provide a central facility that can serve both in addition to the facilities the municipalities currently offer.
“We’re just trying to slowly get the word out,” Gaddie said. “It’s been real slow.”
The day after an active shooter emergency at Madison Junior High School — an incident that proved to be a hoax but led to the arrest of two juveniles —Madison Consolidated Schools Superintendent Dr. Teresa Brown addressed the seriousness of that situation at Wednesday’s board of trustees meeting.
“It was a TikTok challenge designed to get kids out of school. It was a prank. Somebody thought it was going to be funny,” she told the board. “We don’t think it is funny and we won’t treat it as a joke. It was very serious to us. Student safety is always our priority and it turned our district and our community upside down yesterday. It was certainly no laughing matter.”
Brown said Tuesday’s incident is a reminder for parents to talk to their children about what they’re seeing and participating in on social media.
“It’s a good opportunity to remind your kids at home that stuff that they see, that kids are seeing and think is funny, it’s not funny today,” Brown said. “Two young men have seen what happens when we respond accordingly, and we will every time.”
Brown said she appreciated the support the school received from Madison Police Chief John Wallace, Jefferson County Sheriff Ben Flint and the Indiana State Police. “It just was so powerful to see how quickly and swiftly our emergency responders were on site, and we were truly surrounded by support and protected. It was actually probably the safest day in Madison school history. It truly was. We had everyone here watching out for our kids.”
Brown said the incident “did give us a chance to practice for real things that we have put in place.” She commended Officer Jacob McVey, the School Resource Officer, who Brown said “does a fabulous job” in leading a monthly district safety meeting. “We were able to put those things in place yesterday and try them out, and make sure we are ready. It was a good opportunity (for practice) even though we don’t want to ever have to do those things.”
Brown also noted the leadership of Madison Junior High School Principal Dan Grill and Madison Consolidated High School Interim Principal Ronnie Lawhead for maintaining the calm and the teachers “for how they responded and worked to keep our kids safe.”
Wallace, who is also an elected member of the school board, noted the efforts of Ashley Schutte, MCS communication coordinator, in keeping the community informed about the incident and “how well the school corporation communicated with the families and the children to know exactly what was going on. That was extremely important. Of course, I am very proud of the law enforcement. I am very proud of the school corporation. I’ll tell you what, I’m really proud of our students and our parents. They were very understanding and stayed remarkably calm.”
The incident was first reported in a phone call to the junior high at 7:58 a.m. Police had identified two suspects and made arrests by early afternoon with a 15-year-old from Austin and a 14-year old from Madison charged as juveniles and detained at a juvenile detention center.
“Two young men right now are realizing this was not just a prank or a joke,” Wallace said, adding that law enforcement will take it serious and utilize “all resources to bring to a successful conclusion.”
In other business, the board:
• Accepted the resignation of Whitney Mathews as Cub Enterprises coordinator, a position that she’s held since July 2021. Her last day is March 10 and Brown said the position has been posted and the program will continue on until the right person is found as coordinator.
In other personnel moves, Kyle Boekeloo was hired as a math teacher at MCHS.
• Approved the purchase of 750 Chromebooks and cases for $344,752.50 from Electronic Strategies Inc. to be used for fifth grade and ninth grade students. Additionally, permission was granted to declare obsolete 500 devices and non-usable technology equipment at E.O. Muncie Elementary School in which a quote was received for $35,000 to sell the decommissioned iPads. The remainder of the E.O. Muncie non-usable tech equipment was declared as surplus and recyclable.
Board member Michael Scott said recent action to bring in-house the school corporation’s information technology will prevent having that amount of surplus in the future.
“This is why it is so good for the corporation that we’ve hired our own IT folks because we shouldn’t have this kind of issue in the future,” Scott said. At the end of last year, the school corporation canceled its contract with Five Star Technology Services, thus discontinuing out-sourcing of information technology services. In January the board hired three technology staff members to work directly for the school corporation.
• Approved an agreement with Schmidt Associates Inc. to do a facilities study in preparation for a new strategic plan that will be implemented next year. “We’re just getting a feel for where we should put our resources down the road” in properly maintaining all the facilities with the school corporation, said Kevin Yancey, director of facilities and operations for Madison Consolidated Schools.
• An update on Lydia Middleton Elementary in a presentation led by its principal, Trent Whaley. “We are a family-like environment, and our staff enjoys coming to work each day, and our students enjoy being there, so we are continuing to build on the strong cultural foundational that has already been established at Lydia Middleton.”
During the 2023-2024 school year, the elementary will achieve its 100th anniversary, and will be planning celebration events with the theme, “Rich History, Bright Future.” With a goal of a 97% attendance rate, Whaley said the school is currently at 96.5%. He said there has been a focus on improving reading and language arts especially with the school’s students being stronger in mathematics. Counselor Amy Hoskins told about the effort to encourage positive behaviors and teaching students valuable life skills.
• Approved replacing three boilers at MJHS for $156,998 with a contract from Dunlap General and Mechanical Contractors.