Outgoing Seymour Mayor Craig Luedeman laid out a laundry list of projects for the city’s next leader during the annual State of the City address Monday night.
Those projects include costly investments over the next two years that aren’t just hopes and dreams, Luedeman told members of the city council, public and several mayoral and council candidates who attended the meeting.
Some of the most immediate needs are at the Seymour Fire Department and at city hall, he said.
The city will have to build a new fire station on the west side to provide better fire protection to that area, remodel the aged Fire Station 1, which was built in the 1950s, and purchase a new aerial ladder truck, which is 24 years old, he said. He estimates those projects alone will cost nearly $10 million.
Another $2 million is needed for a new roof and heating, ventilation and air conditioning system for city hall, he said. Currently, the roof leaks, and its chillers are inoperable, leaving the building without air conditioning, he said.
Luedeman’s idea to fund that project is to use money the city will save on its electric bill by switching to solar power. It will cost up to $7 million to install the solar panels, which will be used to power city buildings and streetlights.
The city currently is waiting to receive proposals from solar companies to determine the actual cost and savings, Luedeman said.
Major road projects in the next five years include the construction of the Burkart Boulevard South Bypass, which includes an overpass over the Louisville & Indiana Railroad line on the south side of the city, which will start in 2020, and the reconstruction of Airport Road, expected to start later this year, a roundabout of Fourth and O’Brien streets in 2023 and the reconstruction of West Second Street from Lasher Drive to Pine Street in 2024.
All of those projects have received state and federal dollars but require local matching money to complete.
The condition of Seymour’s streets is at an all-time high thanks to the city’s asset management plan and the state’s Community Crossing grant program, which allowed the city to pave more than 6 miles of streets last year, Luedeman said.
But the paving work has not improved the condition of the city’s concrete roads, he said.
“We really haven’t attacked those, and that rating is way down,” he said. “That’s an area we really need to look at and really pump some money into those areas to make them better and have easier access.”
The problem is that concrete roads take two to three times more money than an asphalt road, but they last two to three times longer, he said.
Luedeman said the city needs to invest about $3 million a year in roadwork. It currently is spending around $2.5 million compared to the $250,000 that was being spent in 2012.
“If we don’t start looking at spending some more money on roads, we’re going to keep falling farther and farther and farther behind,” he said.
Other projects Luedeman said he would like to get started still this year are the installation of murals downtown, updating streetlights to LED lighting, constructing a new shop building for the parks and recreation department and adding new basketball courts at Shields Park.
Luedeman said he also would like to see the city add new baseball/softball fields and upgrade soccer fields to capture more tournament revenue.
One Chamber Square in downtown will be renovated this year, adding a pedestrian walkway over the railroad to access Crossroads Community Park, and in 2020, a sidewalk will be added along East Tipton Street as part of a larger state project to reconstruct U.S. 50 from Agrico Lane to U.S. 31.
Those projects carry a total price tag of around $3 million, Luedeman said.
Also in 2020, the city will need to invest in its aging sewer infrastructure by looking at increasing sewer bill rates, he said.
“We have pipes in the ground that are 100 years old,” he said. “We haven’t studied the rate since 2001. We’re going to have to look at possibly a rate increase next year or the next year.”
He also would like to see a project move forward to turn the Von Fange ditch into a walking trail.
To address housing, Luedeman proposed the city invest in some of the older neighborhoods by purchasing rundown and vacant homes, tearing them down and working with a contractor to build new, affordable homes to help revitalize some areas.
“A lot of investment needs to happen and is being put into place to happen,” he said. “We will never be in a position to not have a project ready to go when money is available.”
Financially, the city had a good year in 2018, Luedeman said, saving just more than $1 million and increasing cash on hand to nearly $3 million.
“The department heads have worked really hard to not spend money unless they absolutely have to,” he said.
But realistically, that $3 million should be twice as much, he said.
“It takes about a million to a million and a half a month to operate the city right now,” he said. “So it’s not where we would like it to be.”
It’s still a significant improvement from 2012, however, when the city had less than $500,000 in reserves.
In economic development, Luedeman said industrial employment is down slightly from 10,327 workers in 2017 to 10,158 in 2018, but wages in the manufacturing sector are steadily increasing.
“That is a good trend in our community,” he said. “It means our wages are going up the way they should in that sector.”
Promised investment also increased from $61 million in 2017 to $84 million in 2018, he said. The record year was 2013 with $177 million.
Right now, there has been $54 million in promised investment for 2019 with several more announcements to come, he said.
New home and business starts were down in 2018 with a total of around 30 new homes built and less than 10 businesses. It’s an area Luedeman said he wants to see improve in his final year in office and for the future.
“One of the things we’ve got to do better is get more people to build in Seymour,” he said. “Most of the investment is happening outside the city limits, so we’re going to have to look at how do we open up areas in town? Do we look at creating a housing tax increment finance district to encourage development in our community?”
The neighborhoods Luedeman wants to target are in a federally designated Opportunity Zone, which provides tax incentives to developers to encourage investment in the community.
“We need to light up the future of Seymour and make this a brighter community,” he said.