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Davidson running for Fifth District seat

Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) engineer Allen R. Davidson is seeking the GOP nomination for Indiana’s Fifth Congressional District in the June 2 primary.

The Fifth District represents all of Grant, Madison, Tipton and Hamilton counties and portions of Marion, Blackford, Boone and Howard counties, and current Rep. Susan Brooks (R) is not seeking re-election.

Davidson previously ran for the Fifth District seat in 2014 and 2016 as a Democrat, and said he would’ve ran in 2018 if he didn’t have to vote in a Republican primary before running as a Republican. He said he found Fifth District voters were moderately conservative while campaigning, and he personally grew disenchanted with Democratic platforms and tactics, he said.

Following his time spent talking with voters during previous campaigns, Davidson said he developed four goals that would guide him if elected: voting as a conservative on partisan issues, upholding ethics, improving efficiency by cutting government waste and reducing bureaucracy for individuals and businesses.

Davidson said he believes the most important duty for legislators in the next Congress will be overseeing the various COVID-19 relief spending packages and the overall recovery of the economy.

“I was intending to run on the idea of fixing the student debt crisis, and I will still do that, but it will have to take a second priority to making sure that our economy rebounds properly from this virus,” he said.

While returning back to normal from coronavirus will take priority, Davidson said he would also work to cut spending and take a hard look at specific line items of the federal budget.

“We need to do more in order to cut waste, improve efficiency and do so in a manner that doesn’t have a significant negative impact on services,” he said. “And I believe that can be done, it’s just a matter that previous Congresses have not delved into the actual mechanics of the government. All it does is approve more funding or less funding, which leaves the agencies to almost regulate themselves.”

Davidson said he is in favor of repealing the Affordable Care Act and would advocate for more transparency in medical billing and prescription drug prices.

“What we need to do is set up something, set up a system of rating health care providers, rate them based on the quality of their health care as well as the affordability of their health care,” Davidson said. “Right now there is nothing there, there’s people show up to a hospital and just kind of hope they’ll get good care and hope that the cost of that care won’t bankrupt them.”

Another issue Davidson would focus on if elected is streamlining and simplifying environmental regulations, he said.

“They are very complicated, very complex and part of the reason is the federal regulations often require a state regulation that’s similar or more stringent to be in place in order for the state to receive federal funding,” he said. “By removing the ability of the EPA in order to clone itself in that manner, the regulations can be simplified.”

Davidson has spent nearly 28 years in state government between his time at INDOT and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, and he said that experience gives him a good base of knowing how government works well and how it can work better.

“I have hundreds of small stories that will never be known by Hoosiers about what I’ve done in order to improve government just one case at a time,” he said. “And I’m fine with that. I just need them to know that, you know, what I do for Hoosiers I’ve been doing since 1992 ... But I’ve reached a point where I now want to move on to Congress so that i can put my skills to good use there because I see the federal government being in much worse shape than the state government.”

Other Republicans vying for their party’s nomination for the seat include former Indiana BMV Commissioner Kent Abernathy, former public school teacher Andrew Bales, pastor and businessman Micah Beckwith, former Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi, Indiana Treasurer Kelly Mitchell, Timmy Global Health founder Chuck Dietzen, nurse and businesswoman Beth Henderson, retired CPA, lawyer and investment partner Matthew Hook, Matthew Hullinger, Mark Jay, investment accountant Danny Niederberger, attorney Mark Small, state Sen. Victoria Spartz, pizza dough maker Russell Stwalley and Save Our Veterans, Inc. executive director Victor Wakley.

Democratic candidates for the Fifth District seat include scientist and entrepreneur Jennifer Christie, former state representative Christina Hale, former business executive Dee Thornton, Marion County Deputy Prosecutor Andy Jacobs and Ralph Spelbring.

Others who have announced runs for the seat include Libertarian Ken Tucker and Independents Ellen Kizik and Vernon Moore.

Remembering without gathering

Memorial Day weekend at the Marion National Cemetery usually includes the placement of gravesite flags on Saturday and a public ceremony on Monday.

A choir sings the National Anthem, a battery fires a gun salute and a bugler plays Taps.

This year, Memorial Day will not be the same.

“VA made the difficult decision to not host public events for Memorial Day, including the placement and retrieval of gravesite flags by groups,” said Douglas Ledbetter, the director for the Dayton National Cemetery Complex which includes Marion National Cemetery.

On Memorial Day, cemetery staff will conduct wreath-laying ceremonies, observe a moment of silence and play Taps, but the public is not invited to attend, Ledbetter said.

“Every employee at the Marion National Cemetery is a veteran and understands the importance of honoring our veterans,” Ledbetter said. “As we continue to cope with the current COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to still recognize those that made the ultimate sacrifice.”

Charles Mohler bent down to clean the top of his brother’s tombstone at Marion National Cemetery Friday morning.

His brother, Ronald L. Mohler, who served with the U.S. Army in the Persian Gulf, is buried next to his father, Harlan L. Mohler, who served in Korea with the U.S. Army.

“Usually, they’ve got the flags out and everything,” Charles said.

Charles said he visits their graves multiple times a year to pay respect.

“Freedom is not cheap. They paid the price for freedom,” Charles said. “A lot of people don’t understand that (because) they’ve never served.”

His wife, Brenda Mohler, said she volunteers each year for Wreaths Across America during Christmas time.

“We both come from military families. Our fathers were both in, (Charles) was in, our son is in,” Brenda said. “The sacrifices they’ve made, the time they spent away from home, the danger that they’re in, a lot of people don’t realize.”

While many people pay respect on Memorial Day to those who have served, Brenda said people should remember them all year.

Kimberly Brown and her brother Jerry Coleman visited the Marion National Cemetery Friday morning to honor Robert Hollingsworth, their father’s cousin, who served in Korea with the U.S. Marine Corps.

“He was the life of the party,” Brown said. “He didn’t have any kids. Somebody has to show him some kind of respect.”

Coleman said he tries to come to the grave each year.

About the canceling of the annual Memorial Day ceremony, Coleman said, “It’s kind of sad because, you know, they did a lot for the United States and us.”

“You can still come out here and visit. You just have to keep your distance,” Brown said.

The Marion National Cemetery will remain open for visitation throughout the Memorial Day weekend.

Families and friends are welcome to place flowers or individual flags at veterans’ gravesites, so long as they adhere to CDC, state and local health and safety guidelines, Ledbetter said.

“As we move together as a country, we still have to remember those fallen brothers and sisters that made our freedoms possible, but we have to do so in a safe manner,” he said.

He also encouraged everyone to participate in the moment of silence at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day.

A tribute can be left for any veteran interred at a VA National Cemetery through the Veterans Legacy Memorial at https://www.va.gov/remember.

“From veteran to veteran, I would tell the families of veterans to continue to be strong, and honor their loved ones virtually using the Veterans Legacy Memorial site provided to pay personal tributes that will remain on the site, thus adding to their veteran’s legacy,” Ledbetter said.

VA will share pictures of the private ceremony on their Facebook and other social media.

Marion looking to limit projectiles at parks

Marion Common Council members are considering an update that would provide stricter language concerning projectiles in city parks.

Council unanimously passed a proposed update to the city’s park ordinance on first reading at its Tuesday meeting. Marion Police Department Chief Angela Haley said she received complaints last summer about children using BB guns at Barnes Park, and the proposed update will make the language stronger and more enforceable.

The ordinance states no one can discharge any firearms, fireworks, BB guns, pellet guns, sling shots, paintball guns or other projectile weapons within any city parks without a permit from the park board.

The proposed ordinance will move to a second reading and public hearing at a future council meeting.

Council also unanimously approved a five-year, 100 percent tax abatement for new equipment upgrades totaling $954,000 for JG Bowers, Inc., 1629 South Joaquin Drive. JG Bowers will save a total of $57,240 in property taxes on the new equipment over those five years, according to a statement of benefits.

The statement of benefits states JB Bowers is spending $853,000 in new manufacturing equipment and $101,000 in logistical equipment for the installation of a “new saw, dust collector, edge bender, conveyor and other supporting equipment for the manufacturing of laminate furniture.” The new investment is projected to create four new jobs and $175,000 of salary, and the work began Feb. 7 and is estimated to be complete by Dec. 31, 2021, according to the statement of benefits.

Grant County Economic Growth Council Executive Director Tim Eckerle said the city will not be receiving less tax money from JG Bowers than it already is since the abatement covers new equipment.

“This does not decrease the amount of property taxes being paid, it merely phases in the increase brought on by the new investment,” he said.

Councilman Don Batchelor said the abatement received a favorable recommendation from the Development Committee.

“We just want to continue to support what Phillip Bowers is doing out west there and we certainly are on board with granting this request,” he said.

Indiana eclipses 30,000 COVID-19 cases

Indiana eclipses 30,000 COVID-19 cases

The Grant County Health Department Friday reported 210 COVID-19 cases and 20 deaths in Grant County.

The Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) Friday announced 493 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number statewide to 30,409. A total of 1,791 Hoosiers have died, with another 150 probable deaths reported.

As of Friday, nearly 38 percent of ICU beds and more than 81 percent of ventilators were available. To date, 208,561 tests have been reported to ISDH, up from 202,995 on Thursday.

A complete list of cases by county is posted at www.coronavirus.in.gov, which is updated daily at noon. Cases are listed by county of residence.

County eyes bonds for senior living project

Grant County Council Wednesday approved the establishment of an Economic Development Commission (EDC) following a request from a private developer.

Zeke Turner of Vita Investment Holdings, LLC presented a proposal for a $40.2 million affordable senior living facility to be built on Adams Street directly across from the Indiana Wesleyan University entrance on land that was recently annexed into the City of Marion.

According to a project overview submitted to council, the mixed-use development would hold 80 assisted living apartments (70 affordable units and 10 market rate), 27 affordable independent living apartments and 32 market rate memory care units. Turner estimated the project would bring 300-350 temporary construction jobs and 60 full time equivalent permanent positions with an annual payroll of approximately $2 million.

Turner and his development team are seeking the issuance of $30 million in economic development revenue bonds to finance the construction of the project. These types of bonds are tax exempt and must be issued through a city, county or the state that acts as a pass-through conduit to the developer, and Turner is requesting that Grant County act as the issuing municipality for this project.

“The advantage there is by getting tax-exempt bonds we’re able to lower the cost of financing of the project and be able to pass those savings through in more affordable options to the residents that will live there,” Turner said. “As part of that then, we also commit for a 30-year period of time to keep that project affordable.”

State statute requires that any municipality that issues these bonds must have an EDC set up, and council approved the establishment of the EDC by a vote of 6-1, with Councilman Frank Hix voting against it.

Councilman Jonathan Perez said he thinks the county should have an EDC regardless of Turner’s specific request if council members mean it when they say they want to encourage business growth and development in the county.

“We’re not serious unless we have our own EDC as a tool and there are very few tools we have left as governmental entities to use for pass throughs for deals like this to be an incentive for business,” Perez said. “If we’re serious about these things that we want to champion we need our own EDC and we need it to keep it going and not just create EDCs for project-specific deals.”

According to the ordinance establishing the county’s EDC, the commission will be made up of three members, with one member each nominated by county council, county commissioners and Marion City Council. The commissioners will take the recommendations into consideration but have final say on the commission appointments.

Council considered making its recommendation for its EDC member Wednesday, but council attorney Phil Stephenson said it was unclear if a council member was eligible to serve and advised waiting until that issue was cleared up. Instead, council gave President Shane Middlesworth the authority to make the recommendation to the commissioners after making sure the person he has in mind for the position is willing to serve.

The EDC has the authority to meet and conduct business for any potential project that requires the use of the commission, but Stephenson said it will not have final authority but will rather make recommendations for council to act upon. The county uses a similar structure with the health board, board of zoning appeals and area plan commission making recommendations to the commissioners.

“The EDC then meets within 30 days and elects a President, Vice President and Secretary,” Stephenson said of next steps following the commissioners’ appointments to the EDC in an email to the Chronicle-Tribune Thursday. “Presuming there is a filing with them for a request for the issuance of bonds, the EDC must then hold a public hearing on the request. The EDC then must approve or reject the request. If it is approved, it is sent to the Council who would decide if the bonds are to be approved by ordinance.”

Turner’s bond counsel, Scott Krapf of Frost Brown Todd LLC, said the project would start the bond inducement process, which gets the bond issuance started, as soon as the EDC is able to hold meetings. Assuming the EDC and council approve those stages, the EDC and council would then be asked to approve the final bond ordinance and issuing documents at a later date.

Turner and Krapf said there is absolutely no risk to the county or its taxpayers for issuing this kind of bond, since the county is a pass through to make the bonds tax exempt.

Stephenson said state statute specifically states that the county would have no obligation to pay off the bond and that the bond is not able to be paid for by county tax revenue.

“Thus unless the council specifically looks to back them from other means beside taxation there is no responsibility to the county,” Stephenson said in the email. “So as long as the documents properly indicate all of this, the County has no liability.”

Turner said the county will encounter legal and issuing expenses of approximately $2,500, but he plans to sign an agreement to reimburse the county for any costs incurred.

County officials had mixed reactions to the proposed project. Councilman Mike Roorbach said he thinks the project is a win-win since it comes at no short or long term costs to the county and will provide a needed service to the community.

“This will generate jobs which is income for the county, taxes, and then this place will pay taxes as well,” he said. “Zeke, I want to thank you for coming to us. We need this in Grant County.”

Auditor Jim McWhirt asked why Turner did not seek Marion City Council’s approval for the issuance of a bond if there is no risk and they already have an EDC established since the property is within Marion city limits.

Turner said he had conversations with city administration and was met with hesitation due to the city’s prior negative experiences with bond issues.

Turner claimed Mayor Jess Alumbaugh requested he pay a $25,000 due diligence fee for the city’s consultants Ice Miller to review the proposal before moving forward with the city, a price he considered too high. Since the project is designed to serve the whole county and the bonds can be issued from a city, county or the state, the development team decided to avoid the $25,000 cost and pursue the bonds from the county, he said.

“I didn’t know what the amount was, I hadn’t heard from the mayor, but one reaction I guess I had when I heard that is if I’m speaking to someone that’s backing me and they want to do some review I would be willing to let them review whatever they wanted to review to make sure that they feel good about it,” McWhirt responded. “I was surprised to hear that you didn’t do that.”

When asked why he chose to pursue the bond issuance from the county rather than the state, Turner said the state typically prefers the bonds go through local municipalities and that going through the state would carry an additional $300,000 issuance cost.

Turner said, “It just makes the project less viable and potentially we haven’t run the numbers yet but potentially more difficult to get done. It’s a lot of cost for a project like this to bear,” Turner said.

Councilman Mark Leming questioned how a $300,000 additional cost would “make or break” a $40 million project, and Turner said while it would not make or break the project, it would make the process more difficult.

Councilman Mike Scott said he likes the idea of the project but is concerned that it may be too good to be true and echoed McWhirt’s concern of why this is not going through the city.

“I don’t know what our role in it is as a governmental entity.To me the red flag is if it’s so simple, why the city of Marion didn’t take it. I don’t see this as a gift to Grant County,” Scott said.

Scott asked if the county even had the authority to issue bonds for a property in city limits, and Stephenson explained the county has authority since Marion City Council approved a resolution on Tuesday ceding its jurisdiction and consenting to the county issuing the bonds.

McWhirt asked if Turner would be requesting a tax abatement from the city, and he responded that abatement “is still an open question” that would be based on other project costs. Turner did affirm that there are no plans to use Tax Increment Financing (TIF) for the project as it does not fit into the rest of the project’s financing plan.

McWhirt said he is concerned about the county getting involved with a project that they will not have total jurisdiction over when it comes to tax abatements. Because of this, he said he would prefer for the bonds to be issued by the city.

“I definitely don’t want to see the project receive property tax abatement,” McWhirt said in an email to the Chronicle-Tribune Thursday. “The tax abatement question, if presented, will be answered by the Marion City Council, not the Grant County Council.”

Scott said he believes the county and city need to be on the same page and communicating if the bond issuance is going to move forward.

“I know it’s a unique situation, but we are supporting something that’s not county property. It’s city property,” Scott said. “And in a way we’re kind of taking over what they should be doing. I just want to make sure those agreements are in place...I want to be forward thinking, make sure we have everything covered in front of us and we’re not going to be surprised by anything coming up.”

Turner said while Marion city council did not ever vote on approving the bonds itself, council members have spoken in support of the project and did approve the annexation and needed zoning.

Leming said in his experience businesses have a tendency to “overpromise and underdeliver” in terms of the projected number of employees and payroll and questioned the benefit to the county of being involved with this project.

“A $2 million payroll with 60 people is not a very high payroll,” Leming said. “I just don’t know if you’re really moving us forward...I understand it. It looks great, but it’s another pass through and we’re putting our name there. What do we get out of it?”

Perez noted the county is currently not receiving any property tax from the site, so any income and/or property tax received is a net positive.

“I mean even if they did the development and God forbid if it failed or if someone is going to own it, someone is going to be paying property taxes,” Perez said. “Right now, it’s a field with a church on it that we don’t get anything on.”

Turner and Krapf said if council decides to move forward they hope to get final bond approval in late June or July, with construction starting in September or October of this year and the facility opening to residents in January 2022.

Worker doing sign maintenance killed along Indiana highway

BURNS HARBOR (AP) — A worker doing construction sign maintenance along a northwestern Indiana interstate was killed early Friday when a semi truck collided with his vehicle, which then fatally struck him, police said.

Ryan E. Greer, 38, of Knox, Indiana, was killed just before 3 a.m. when a tractor-trailer traveling east on Interstate 94 drove onto the right shoulder and hit the truck Greer and another worker for Traffic Control Specialist, Inc., were using, Indiana State Police said.