Seymour Republican mayoral candidates answer questions


For the upcoming May 2 primary election, city residents will find a contested race between two Republicans hoping to be mayor of Seymour for the next four years.

Early voting in Jackson County starts Tuesday, so The Tribune sent incumbent mayor Matt Nicholson, 45, and challenger Dan Robison, 50, director of the Jackson County Chamber, some questions to answer.

The Tribune also asked readers to submit questions to ask the mayoral candidates. Look for those responses in Monday’s edition.

Tell us about yourself.

Nicholson: Father, husband, mayor, business owner, nonprofit director, coach and many others are all titles I have gone by over the years. I am the proud father of three amazing daughters, who range in age from 15 to 21. Two are in college, and my youngest attends Seymour High School. In 2000, I married my high school sweetheart after dating through college. After serving four years as a member of the Seymour Common Council elected by the voters of District 3, I went on to serve as mayor starting in 2020. In 2003, we opened B2 Bikes & Boards, which we closed in 2019 just before I started serving as mayor. While we didn’t have to close our family business, I knew I would not be able to dedicate myself to our community trying to do both. I was the executive director of Read Jackson County/Plaza Latina for five years. For a decade, I coached rec league and travel fastpitch softball, working with many players and families from Seymour and beyond. Since then, I now volunteer to coach softball for Jackson County Special Olympics. All of these past experiences as well as the current ones add to and continue to add to the vast range of knowledge and skills that I have been lucky enough to develop over the years.

Robison: I was born and raised in Seymour, and I’ve had the distinct honor of serving as your Jackson County Chamber director for over three years. After graduating from Seymour High School in 1990, I worked as a retail store manager for 18 years. My wife, Tassenda, son, Owen, and stepson, Nolan, and I live on West Second Street, just a few blocks from the home where I grew up. My son, Chandler, and his wife, Bethany, live in Riverview, Florida. We are active members at The Point, serving as small group leaders. I am a 2021 graduate of Leadership Jackson County and have the privilege of serving on the Seymour Plan Commission as well as numerous community boards, including Jackson County Industrial Development Corp., Seymour Main Street economic vitality and Jackson County Education Coalition. I am an active member of Seymour Rotary.

Why did you decide to run for mayor of Seymour?

Nicholson: Since my teenage years, I have been involved with many great projects and organizations here in Seymour. In middle school, my interest to serve as mayor was sparked by a substitute teacher who shared stories of his time serving as mayor, and in high school, I can remember shaking hands with a city worker during Oktoberfest and saying “Nicholson for Mayor” on Third Street in the craft section. Fast forward to 2015, I decided to run for council to see how I liked serving our community as an elected official and not just a volunteer. After about a year, Mayor (Craig) Luedeman called to see what I thought of serving and if I had considered serving our community as mayor. I shared that I had considered it but didn’t wish to run against him as he was doing a good job. About a year after that conversation, he shared that he was done after 2019 and started including me in meetings to help prepare me to lead the future of our community. While volunteering since a teen and serving as a council member, I enjoyed my part-time role serving but was ready to focus my energies on serving full time, and here I am. Every day, I get to put my energies into not just what Seymour looks like today but what it will look like for many years to come.

Robison: The priorities that are important to the folks who call Seymour home aren’t the same priorities coming from city hall. We need big ideas and long-term solutions to address road maintenance, public safety and a desperate need for more housing options. I have the ability and the vision to map out a plan and the leadership skills and management experience to execute that plan.

What do you think you can bring to the city as mayor?

Nicholson: Since I started to serve as mayor in 2020, I feel I have brought positive energy to the city of Seymour. While we have had our ups and downs, we have managed to continue to grow and prosper even in some of the most uncertain times of our lives. With hard work and planning, my team and I have managed to set many practices in place that have improved our departments and our community little by little. Practices such as creating a vehicle rotation with the Seymour Police Department, encouraging the parks department program director to think outside bat and ball sports has led to over 100 program options for community members of all ages and interests to enjoy, listening to members of the staff as they made suggestions on new responsibilities that have led to improved morale and productivity. These are just a few of the things that I have brought to our city as mayor and plan to continue with for the next four years.

Robison: While serving as a leader in business, I had the opportunity to lead more employees than are currently employed by the city of Seymour and manage an operating budget that is larger than the current city budget. I have a proven track record of being able to lead a team and manage a complex organization successfully, and I will leverage that experience to better serve the city of Seymour.

What’s the most pressing issue facing the city at this time, and how do you plan to address it?

Nicholson: In 2019, I shared that there are no silver bullet projects that will make everyone happy. Much the same way, it is hard to pick what the most pressing issue is because everyone has their own view of what is the most pressing. In 2020 and 2021, I focused on housing and how we could help solve our shortage of homes. Since that time, we have had over 700 housing units make it through various boards and approvals. Of those, just shy of half have been permitted for construction. In 2022, my focus shifted to trying to see what we could do related to substance misuse and recovery. We were awarded a state grant to help all of Jackson County look into what we have currently related to recovery and what gaps we have and how we can fill them. That work is coming to an end next month, and we should have a report to help us identify those gaps and possible private partners to fill them in the future. Helping community members find success in recovery helps us fill another of our pressing issues, which is employees for area businesses. By helping someone find sobriety and stay sober, we can help businesses fill vacancies. While housing and recovery have been a focus each of these first three years, that doesn’t change the fact that we still have to work on all of the other areas around our community. Roads, sewers, parks and so much more are a part of our day-to-day work and I am sure are for some the most pressing issues.

Robison: I believe the most pressing issue currently facing Seymour is the need for bold, creative leadership. I could share about important issues, like taxes, crime, road improvements and quality of life needs, but all these issues demand an effective leader to facilitate solutions and move us forward. Seymour needs a strong, effective leader who can focus on the complex priorities facing our community and deliver real results.

How do you plan to address infrastructure in the city?

Nicholson: Since the start of 2020, we have worked on $42.3 million worth of road projects in the city of Seymour. Those projects are broken out into two funding sources. Federal aid projects are the majority of that work at over $36 million on roads such as Burkart Boulevard, O’Brien Street and Second Street, which are funded at an 80/20 match. While Phase 2 of Burkart Boulevard started construction last season, Phase 1 came in on time and under budget. O’Brien Street and Second Street are working their way through the design process now so that we can go out for bids and construction. On a federal aid project, you have a five-year project due to the detail that is put into the projects. The second funding source is Community Crossings Matching Grants, where we can apply for up to $1 million per year of matching funds at a 50/50 match. Since 2020, we have been able to secure just shy of 98% of our available funding from CCMG with four applications. CCMG has around an 18-month deadline for construction. During both of these processes, we are also looking at what is underneath to make sure we do needed sewer work when possible. Both of these processes also allow us to stretch $9 million into that $42.3 million worth of work even if we have to take a little longer to get them done. For the 2023 applications, we have applied for just shy of $14 million of additional work. We know we were not awarded all of our requests this year. We hope to hear soon that we have been awarded at least a portion. Now earlier, I mentioned sewers and would be remiss if I didn’t talk about that portion of our infrastructure, as well. Currently, Water Pollution Control has a force main project related to Mutton Creek under construction, which will solve problems there. It was also designed to allow new properties on the east end of Seymour to have access to sewer. WPC also recently presented the preliminary engineering report to the common council for their approval to get the process going on several projects both in the waste treatment plant and in several areas of the collections system outside the plant. As they look at those improvements, one is to provide sewer access to areas of Snyde Acres that have not had access before and to convert part of the system to gravity to reduce annual costs by removing a lift station that is in need of replacement in another area. All of the above takes a team of great employees to work through and find the best solutions as a group. I cannot thank our team enough for all they do while trying to find the best options on how to continue to tackle the issues under our control. I say this because not all infrastructure items located in city limits are under our control. Some roads and sewers are privately owned and maintained by the property owners. Some roads and sewers are owned and maintained by the state. Both of the before mentioned we cannot control the maintenance schedule, but we can and do encourage them when it is needed.

Robison: The city of Seymour has seen a 23% decrease in our road quality rating since 2020 (PASER rating). Our department of public works employees work very hard and do the best they can, but road maintenance has simply not been a priority of the current administration. I will develop a strategic plan to expedite the maintenance and replacement of our roads and provide our DPW employees with the tools they need to deliver what our residents have paid for and expect.

What would you do to try to continue to attract businesses and industries to Seymour?

Nicholson: Working in partnership with Jackson County Industrial Development Corp. and Seymour Main Street over the last few years has been and will continue to be a good resource for attracting new business investors to our community. With JCIDC, we have been able to work with the Indiana Economic Development Corp. to host several foreign and domestic companies looking to expand to the region. As far as industrial investment, 2022 was the second-best year in the 38-year history of JCIDC with almost $175 million of promised investment. Now stepping outside those partnership paths, I have taken on a goal of meeting with 52 builders and developers during 2023. To date, I have met with just shy of half. With each, I have shared what we have to offer in the way of our available grant funding we secured last year with the Environmental Protection Agency to help redevelop unused or underused properties. I share our award-winning Curb Appeal Program so that they know we are a community that cares and is looking for ways outside the usual channels to improve. I then share a few example properties around the area that I believe could be good projects to fill business, industry or housing needs. I have already heard back from a few who are exploring possible projects in our area.

Robison: To attract new businesses, we need low taxes and more housing. For those of us in Seymour who recently got our tax bills in the mail, we are seeing around a 19% increase in our property taxes. A 19% tax increase in one year is excessive and a burden on property and business owners. To expand housing options, I will proactively seek grants and help incentivize developments. In the first round of READI grants from the state of Indiana, many communities around us leveraged the available funding to develop infrastructure for housing projects; however, our current administration didn’t even submit an application to the READI grant process. Seymour needs a mayor who is prepared to capture funding sources when made available to our community.

Seymour is a diverse city and continues to get more diverse every day. How do you plan to integrate these communities into programs, projects, etc.?

Nicholson: Late in 2022, I joined Jim Plump and Jackie Hill from JCIDC and Dan Davis from the Community Foundation to work on the core team for a Brookings Institute Study. This study will help us lay the foundation for the next few years of how to help bring everyone that resides in our community to the table to help us better become one community. More recently, this work has taken us to expand out to a larger advisory team, and since then, meetings with several focus groups around the community on this topic. The results of this work should be reported later this year with a goal of three years worth of action items that can be tackled. While this work is headed toward the future, we have already been working with partners like Su Casa from Columbus to offer Latino programming in our parks. Most recently, they were able to offer “Encanto” in Spanish at Crossroads Community Park. Other ways we are already working on this area are having several items translated into Spanish and even identifying other languages that may cause barriers for members of the community. One of our interns has also worked with departments on phrases that may be common and used to help break down those barriers.

Robison: As mayor, I will work to bridge the gap that exists with our Latino neighbors and help us build upon common ground that works best for the community as a whole. In my work at the chamber, I launched our Christmas at Crossroads event in 2021 that embraces and celebrates the spirit of Christmas through the various cultures that make up the fabric of our community. It’s through events like this and real community conversations that we will find the path to a Seymour that works for everyone.

How would you help the city be fiscally responsible with taxpayers’ money?

Nicholson: When I took office in 2020, I had three goals related to cash on hand. The first one was to get all accounts to 180 days of COH. This is due to only receiving tax payments twice a year from the state. While getting all accounts to 180 days is good, it was just the first step. The general fund is the largest portion of our annual budget, and I wanted to get it to 180 days, as well. I am proud to say that with conservative practices, we have been able to get all funds combined to 180 days, and as of the end of 2022, we are now at 186 days of COH. Reaching that 180-day goal will allow us in the future to stop borrowing from Water Pollution Control. This will allow us to issue revenue bonds as opposed to the general obligation bonds we have utilized over the last several years. The last of the three goals is to get parks and recreation to 180 days of COH. If we are able to stick to our plan, we should reach that goal at the end of 2024. While there are many things that can slow that down, I believe we can reach it. Now the second piece of being fiscally responsible is the use of grants. While every grant may not be worth the time it takes to apply, we have to be on the lookout for those that are of value. Now before someone says, “But grants are tax dollars,” I will tell you that you are right. Many grants are some form of tax dollars that the state or federal organizations have decided to award to communities. Those awards will be made with or without Seymour being an option, and when we can land those dollars in Seymour, we are bringing our tax dollars back to stretch our local tax dollars farther on various projects. In 2022, the parks and recreation department were able to be a part of landing over $900,000 in grant dollars to work on several projects. That same year, we were able to turn $1.6 million in local tax increment funding dollars into just over $6 million in road work spread out between now and 2027. We also landed $500,000 in Environmental Protection dollars that we hope will lead to millions of dollars in private investment on vacant or underused properties around our area. Throw in our $100,000 award for working on recovery-related items and you have not only looked at roads, parks and economic development, but you have also worked on how we invest in our community members, as well. I said it years ago and just a few questions ago, and I can tell you we can’t believe that Seymour has one pressing issue. We have many, many pressing issues, and the role of the mayor is to care for them all while serving his or her community. All of the above we have managed to do while staying within our budget and lowering taxes for 2023 as assessments, which are out of our control, go up.

Robison: As a true fiscal conservative, I will be a great steward of taxpayer dollars by managing our city efficiently. Federal and state governments provide grant opportunities for communities to capture for improvement projects. To lessen the burden on local taxpayers, we should take full advantage of grant money when it’s available. In 2020, the city received a $100,000 developmental grant from the Jackson County Visitor Center. Instead of leveraging the grant funds that are generated by visitors traveling through our community paying innkeeper taxes, the decision was made by our current mayor to return the gifted funds and complete the project on the backs of our hardworking local taxpayers.

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