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Southwestern’s Riley Scroggins (left) and Madison’s Kallie Eder (right) battle at the net during Tuesday’s annual Dig Pink Volleyball Breast Cancer Awareness game in Hanover.

Courtney announces Blight Elimination Plan
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Citing the safety of citizens and the beauty of the community, Madison Mayor Bob Courtney made his case for a citywide blight elimination strategy in meetings this week with the Board of Public Works and Safety on Monday and City Council on Tuesday.

Courtney announced a 10-point plan targeting blight elimination and said his administration will be focusing on identifying “how can we create an even greater effort toward blight elimination throughout the community.”

He noted the city’s Preservation and Community Enhancement Program (PACE) has proven successful in providing incentives for property owners to rehabilitate and preserve buildings — spurring about $3.5 million in private investment so far — but the city also needs policies and code enforcement for use when incentives fall short of addressing blighted properties.

“Incentives and enforcement have to work together,” the mayor said. “We are going to attack blight more aggressively in the coming months and year.

“Creating an accountability partnership between the city’s code enforcement efforts and property owners is an important step in eliminating blighted properties,” Courtney said. “Code enforcement is necessary when all other efforts have failed. We won’t have the targeted outcomes we want if we are passive in our approaches.”

He said blighted property — often occurring after a disaster such as a fire — can leave a structure in a situation of decay for decades if left up to some property owners to rebuild or clear what’s left. He said that not only devalues that property and the neighborhood, it also attracts elements that make neighborhoods and entire communities less safe.

Courtney cited a structure in the 700 block of North Walnut Street as an example. The home, damaged by fire many years ago, has sat abandoned for at least 15 years and been a hangout for homeless people and drug users. More recently it was the site of a homicide in August prompting at least one neighbor to plead for the city to address the problem.

“It has been boarded up, abandoned, uninhabitable, gone through several fires and is an unsafe structure,” Courtney said, noting that meanwhile much of the rest of the neighborhood has worked to renovate and beautify despite setbacks by flooding. “And the issue with blight across the community is that it generally attracts other negative behavior, whether it be people camping there, living there, or committing crimes in the area.”

Courtney said city officials want to do all they can to preserve and protect Madison’s historic structures and district but blighted and unsafe structures are a problem in a number of neighborhoods in the city.

“A property that is blighted has lost its value as a social good or an economic commodity or its functional status as a livable space,” Courtney said. “Blight is a stage of depreciation; not an objective condition which conveys the idea that blight is created over time through neglect or damaging actions.”

The mayor laid out a 10-point strategy to — a Blight Elimination Plan — to address the problems. The BPWS unanimously endorsed the plan Monday and the council was receptive on Tuesday. The plan includes:

1) Create an accountability partnership between the property owner, residents and the city. Courtney explained that the city must be “accountable to enforcing our ordinances. The property owner is accountable for maintaining the property.”

2) Evaluate ordinances for effectiveness. “We have lots of governing ordinances in regards to blight,” said Courtney, who expressed there is a need to be “more assertive” in cleaning up properties with blight.

3) Invest in training and additional resources.

4) Implement a code enforcement platform for better management and community engagement.

5) Educate the community about property maintenance and benefits.

6) Create an inventory of unsafe properties and log nuisances.

7) Establish a plan with property owners on abatement strategies with timetables.

8) Make code enforcement a priority when other methods have failed.

9) Use PACE and other grant programs to provide financial support and incentives for property owners.

10) Report progress to Board of Public Works and Safety.

Courtney said he wants the community to understand that “we want to do something about this, and we are going to invest in full-time code enforcement resources ... We want this to be positive and work with the homeowners.”

He said Madison is considering buying software to help better track such issues in the future. Both Jefferson County and the town of Hanover have moved forward with iWorQ software, designed for governmental agencies to track building permits, planning, zoning and more and Madison could follow the same route.

“We’re looking at the same one,” Courtney said, adding “there’s benefits to that when we’re using the same platform.”

He said a lot of the emphasis in the city has been placed on nuisance issues related to trash and weeds in the past while incentives like PACE have targeted deterioration of historic structures. The Blight Elimination Plan, Courtney said, is “a natural evolution” that the emphasis now needs to be on the “enforcement side of things, which has been lagging.”

Courtney said the city also needs to continue to find ways to engage property owners in the process with information and education.

“It’s a lot about engagement, and letting people know there are options that they have,” he said. “Even properties that are in really deteriorated states, there’s options that they have, but one option that is not acceptable as a community policy is doing nothing. And that has happened all too frequently across town for a very long time, and we’re going to add this into the things we’re doing. It just makes Madison cleaner, safer, beautiful.”

50th Chautauqua this weekend
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With a history dating back decades, the Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art has become part of the Madison community fabric as thousands of visitors attend annually packing the event area and spilling over onto the streets of downtown Madison.

After being canceled by COVID last year, the Chautauqua is back this year to celebrate its 50th anniversary on Saturday and Sunday.

“To hit a milestone like the 50th anniversary is pretty exciting,” said Chautauqua coordinator Kara Hinze. “We were disappointed we couldn’t celebrate it last year, but we’re happy to do it this year, and celebrate our 50th anniversary.”

The annual juried fine arts and crafts festival began in the fall of 1970, that initial year on the first weekend in October to coincide with the Tri Kappa Tour of Homes and Court Days flea markets on the courthouse square. The first event had 56 entries set up on the sidewalks of Madison’s business district.

The Chautauqua name didn’t come until 1973 but over the years, Madison Chautauqua has grown and gained respect. Hinze noted that Sunshine Artist magazine, the nation’s premier art and craft show magazine, has ranked the Madison Chautauqua in its top 100 best classic and contemporary art shows in the United States for the last decade as voted on by the artists.

Hinze said it’s gratifying for the Chautauqua committee to “know we’re doing what the artists want to see.”

The event brings thousands of people to Madison annually on the last weekend of September flooding the downtown area for the festival’s arts, crafts, food and entertainment and everything else Madison has to offer.

“It’s fun to be downtown and see the excitement,” Hinze said. “They can see the different medias of art, and see how creative people can be.”

She noted many people love to shop and experience the food from vendors and local restaurants as well as the enjoyment of hearing the live music.

“There’s a fun ambiance to hang out and be a part of it,” she said.

Hinze said since it is the 50th anniversary, there will be additional music by the Doctors’ Band on Saturday from 6 to 8 p.m. that is free and open to the public on the north lawn of the Lanier Mansion. “We’re doing it this year as part of the special celebration,” she said.

This year’s Chautauqua is also bringing back the Chalk Walk to be located on the southern part of Elm Street where artists can create artwork in a designated square. Individuals and families with no training are especially encouraged to participate.

Hinze said Chautauqua has commitments from approximately 150 exhibitors this year — down from the 200 typically expected in most years — but some exhibitors were committed to spring festivals that were then rescheduled for the fall, creating scheduling conflicts with Madison. She also said that due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic some artists have retired from public exhibiting while others are “just leery” about getting out with the public.

However, the Chautauqua will have a “decently full footprint” Hinze said with artists on Vine Street from Vaughn Drive to Main Street and Broadway Street from Vaughn Drive to First Street.

“We have lots of diversity and 50 plus new artists coming,” she noted.

Hinze, a graphic designer, has been involved in the Chautauqua for six years, joining the committee after moving to Madison from Louisville. “I was looking for a way to meet people and give back to the city,” she said, noting that started with agreeing to design the Chautauqua poster and T-shirt for a couple of years and slowly evolved with her becoming involved in many other ways. “All of us that had put together the festival have become a tight knit group of friends.”

Hinze said when last year’s Chautauqua was canceled by COVID it was “apparent that was what we needed to do.” And while the show will go on this year, precautions are still being taken with hand sanitizers and hand-washing stations as well as more space where patrons can socially distance. Additionally, the committee has prepared signs for artists to place in their booths instructing visitors to not touch the artist’s work to avoid frequent sanitizing. Another challenge related to COVID-19 — providing shuttle bus transportation for overflow parking at the high school to the festival site — is a service that will not be available this year.

Still, Hinze said festival organizers and fans are excited to have Chautauqua back this year even with some the extra precautions.

“People are looking forward it,” she said, noting Chautauqua is a relaxing event for visitors to enjoy.

“They can wander at their leisure and focus on what they want to do,” she said. “If you want food, you can head straight to the food. If you’re a music junkie, you can hang out and listen to some music. We have the kids area, so there a place where the kids can be. The goal, as far as the committee, is to bring a lot of diversity as far as the artwork and what’s available. And make sure we have a little something for everyone.”

She noted that the bonus for visitors and the city is that there is plenty to do and see in Madison on the first fall weekend of the year.

“Madison is such a beautiful town that people come and make a weekend of it. They can do the art festival for a little while. They can go to Main Street to shop. They can head down to Old Court Days. There’s a lot to do around the city and fall is a beautiful time to be in Madison,” she said.

Old Court Days, sponsored by the Madison Pilot Club, surrounds the Jefferson County Courthouse, along with the city parking lot at Jefferson and Second streets, on Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Friends of the Library also will be hosting its Fall Book Sale from noon to 5 p.m. on Friday and Sunday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.

Inside today: The Madison Courier’s guide to this weekend’s 50th Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art is inserted in today’s edition.

Charlie’s Beat
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I’ve long maintained that any music happening within a half hour drive of Madison is worthy of mention in this column. That’s why I always include the music out at Stream Cliff Farm, and also anything of note happening up the way in Vevay.

So when my friend Julie Perkins tipped me off about the upcoming “VV JamFest” taking place at Cuzz’s Bar in Vevay, I wanted to share it. It’s next weekend, Oct. 2, and the music starts at 1:30 p.m. and goes all day. The musicians read like a veritable Who’s Who of Madison’s most entertaining performers.

It starts with Amy Noel at 1:30, then Darryl Hewitt, followed by the Vaguely Familiar Band, and finishes the evening with the Anthony Ray Wright Band. (Anthony actually lives in Vevay.)

Julie Perkins, for those of you who don’t know her, is half of the dynamic duo “Mark & Julie”. They own a glorious old Victorian in Vevay they have dubbed Big Blue, and host regular music events in their home. Mark and Julie spend many weekends in Madison partaking of our nightlife, but they sometimes want to stay closer to home.

“We love coming to Madison,” Julie explains, “but we also sometimes enjoy staying in Vevay. We see the musical magic happening in Madison, and we’d like to foster just a little bit of that in our hometown. That’s why we do the Big Blue shows, and why we are getting behind the music at Cuzz’s Bar.

“As of right now, Cuzz’s is the only place in Vevay that hosts live music. The proprietor, Rhonda Brooks, is trying to make music more central to the Cuzz’s experience, and we thought this all-day JamFest would help kick start the effort. I should mention a couple of other sponsors who are supporting this event, including Tricia Smith and John Kniola. Big thanks to both of them.

“Speaking of the Cuzz’s experience, it also has another interesting claim to fame. It has one of the largest urinals that you’ll ever see anywhere in the world. Seriously. It’s like a walk-in urinal, which is gross, but that’s how big it is!”

Never having been to Cuzz’s myself (soon to remedy that) I had to fact check this urinal claim. Plus, it’s in the Men’s Restroom … how do you know, Julie? But sure enough, if you Google the words “urinal Cuzz’s bar” and do an image search, it pops up as the first entry, in all its glory.

Is it worth the trip to Vevay just to see the famous urinal? Probably. But when you add a full day of great music, it’s kind of a no brainer. Mark your calendar for Oct. 2 and take a little drive. You won’t be disappointed.

Hot Tip of the Week

The big news on the music scene this week is that the Rivertown Grill finally got its liquor license and will be having live music. For those not familiar, The Grill is right across the street from the courthouse on Jefferson Street. It promises to fill the late night niche, with bands playing typically until 1 a.m. or so. The band this Friday is Cold Steel, featuring the owner of The Grill, Joe Breeck, on guitar, and including Madison music stalwarts Danny Cook and Brandon Griffin. The other show that merits special attention is the madESSENCE band playing at Mad Paddle on Saturday. This is another one of those all-star collaborations put together by owner Jerry Wade, and it promises to be a classic rockin’ good time.

Charlie Rohlfing is a retired advertising man and partner in The Red Bicycle Hall music venue. Look for his distinctive fedora bobbing above the crowd, anywhere live local music is happening.

This Week in Music

Thursday, September 23

The Broadway Hotel — Joe Perkinson & Deano Crafton

Mad Paddle Brewery — Singo (musical bingo)

Sallie’s Alley — Madison Made Songwriter showcase

Friday, September 24

Central Hotel — Chuck Barnes & Danny Anderson

Off Broadway Taproom — Robert Reynolds & Darryl Hewitt

Mad Paddle — Con Conner

Moose Lodge — Ladds Last Exit Band (open to public)

Riverboat Inn — Doctor’s Band

Rivertown Grill — Cold Steel (until 1 a.m.)

Lytle Park — Live Lunch (11:30 a.m.)

Saturday, September 25

Farmer’s Market — Bee Camp Bottom Boys

Central Hotel — Bobby Robbins & Ronnie Green

Off Broadway Taproom — Vaguely Familiar Band

Thomas Family Winery — Slick River Rockets

Riverboat Inn — Amy Noel

Lighthouse — Jimmy Davis

Mad Paddle — madESSENCE

VFW — Memphis Reigns (open to public)

Sunday, September 26

Stream Cliff Farm — Robby Cox

Mad Paddle — Jordan Tyler

Monday, September 27

Crafted Coffee — Open Mic Night

Tuesday, September 28

Off-Broadway Taproom — Open Mic Night

Madison misses on grants for water, storm water
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Madison’s hopes of landing state grants to help fund millions of dollars in proposed improvements to drinking water and storm water mitigation were dashed recently when the city was notified that both projects will not be funded.

Madison had applied for a grant to help pay part of a $15 million drinking water improvement project and another to fund the estimated $425,000 cost of studying and developing a storm water mitigation plan. Both projects faced strong competition with 500 applications for $100 million in drinking water funding and 61 applications totaling $140 million for $60 million in storm water funding.

“There are no funds for drinking water or storm water,” Mayor Bob Courtney said at Tuesday’s city council meeting. “We’re disappointed by that news ... the second round of funding is in the spring but we can’t wait until the spring.”

He said the city now plans to move forward with the project — Madison’s first drinking water improvement project in 20 years — by passing the costs on to customers both in the city and in the county in the form of rate increases. What that rate will be could depend on how much support the project receives from the county when a decision is expected later this month.

Since Madison provides drinking water to a majority of the homes and businesses in the county — and Madison residents are county residents, too — the city has asked the Jefferson County Commissioners for county funds to support the improvement project. He said the Commissioners pledged $100,000 to the project but he hopes they will consider upping that contribution now that the grant was rejected.

“We’re still trying to work through the process with the County Commissioners,” Courtney said. “This benefits the entire county in that it provides clean drinking water to two-thirds of the county ... we collaborated with them on the new jail so we’d like to see them work with us on this.”

In other business

• New Second District Madison City Council member Karla Eades-Krebs took the oath of office and served her first meeting since being elected by a Republican caucus to fill the unexpired term of Amanda Creech.

• The council held third readings and adopted ordinances establishing an Indiana Humanities Grant Fund and a National Trust Grant Fund and held second readings of the 2022 budget ordinance as well as ordinances to fix salaries of officers and employees, elected officials and to establish a Historic Preservation Grant Nonreverting Fund.

• Agreed to reschedule the council’s next meeting for 5:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 4, due to a conflict with a statewide municipal conference.

Jefferson COVID death toll now 92
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Jefferson County’s COVID-related deaths increased by one on Wednesday as the Indiana Department of Health upped the county’s death toll to 92 during the pandemic.

Jefferson County remains in the “Orange” metric for medium to high spread with a positivity rate of 13.5%. The county has recorded 41 new positive cases since Monday, increasing the total number of infections during the pandemic to 4,700 on 20,484 COVID-19 tests. To date 52.3% of Jefferson County’s residents have been vaccinated.

A drive through COVID-19 testing and vaccination site will be held by the Indiana Department of Health on Friday and Saturday from noon to 8 p.m. at the King’s Daughters’ Hospital main campus parking lot, 1373 E State Road 62, Madison.

Switzerland County remains in the “Red” metric for high spread with a 15% positivity rate. Trimble and Carroll counties in Kentucky are “Red” for high spread in Kentucky with Trimble’s positivity rate at 15.42% and Carroll’s positivity rate at 16.13.