WASHINGTON — During his State of the City address Monday night, Washington Mayor Joe Wellman described a few projects on which his administration plans to focus.
A top priority for the new mayor is replacing a major water supply line that runs almost the length of the city under VanTrees Street. The line is 80 to 100 years old and supplies water to the east and northeast, as well as the Bedford Road water tower.
“A few years ago, this line was replaced to East Sixth Street and the high school water tower,” Wellman said. “The rest of it is a 16-inch main that continues eastward to 21st Street.”
Three breaks have occurred between 11th and 14th streets in the last 13 months, he pointed out. Continued deterioration and recurring breaks will only result in added overtime and repair costs, along with disruption of service to customers. Those customers could include the hospital, medical clinics and fire department, the mayor added.
“I believe you can see why replacing and upgrading this line is the number one priority right now for our water system,” Wellman said.
With grant-funded work about to begin on 17 owner-occupied homes in the city, and 13 more homes to receive work later, Wellman has made it an initiative to be sure local contractors are aware of these type of work opportunities.
“My office has given a list of local contractors to SIDC, and SIDC has placed public announcements about a meeting of contractors in March,” he said. “I hope that there will be several local contractors interested in bidding on these projects.”
Wellman also discussed the opportunities for Washington to capitalize on I-69 coming through the county once it’s opened at the end of the year.
“I can foresee, and sincerely hope, that we will witness development on our city’s east side due to this highway and its interchange with U.S. 50,” he said. “I hope for this because I believe it will provide a wonderful opportunity for expanded employment for our citizens and increased tax base for our city.
“I do believe it is up to private industry, individuals, and individual businesses and private investment to actually make development, but as city government it is our responsibility to facilitate that growth by providing infrastructure and an environment for development to flourish.”
That will involve expanding water, electricity, waste water and storm water utilities, according to Wellman, as well as fire and police protection and trash collection. Doing so will be challenging, he continued, because building infrastructure isn’t cheap. For that reason, the mayor said, he declared interest in this year’s Stellar Communities project through the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs.
He said he outlined $21 million in projects that would start Washington on the path to developing utility and street infrastructure on the east side and tying the east side in with the rest of the city. If selected for a Stellar Communities grant, the city will need to provide 20 percent of the project costs; if not selected, at least some of the projects still will need to be completed by the city without financial assistance.
“We’re already holding discussions with engineering firms and financial and legal experts to offer us their expertise and advice on financing needed improvements and expanding the city itself as we provide services to new areas,” Wellman said, adding that property tax caps have city finances.
“Utilities have the luxury of being paid for through user rates, but our fire, police and street departments, plus the majority of the budgets for administration, the clerk-treasurer’s office, legal, engineering, and parks and recreation are paid by property tax dollars. We will increasingly be faced with static or declining tax revenues and pressures on the cost of doing business.
“If we expect city government to continue to provide the services we’ve come to enjoy, we will have to be ready to look at new and expanded ways to design, pay for and manage services.”
The new mayor urged citizens and organizations to recycle and consider other ways to keep the city clean and save it money. Also, he said the council needs to review and update ordinances related to trash, animal and abandoned vehicle nuisances.