By DANIEL SUDDEATH
NEW ALBANY —
Whether you support the efforts or not, the first 24 months of Mayor Jeff Gahan’s administration have resulted in a new parks department, the promise of an outdoor aquatic center and the stabilization of New Albany’s sewer utility.
At the midway point of his first term, Gahan reflected on some of the prominent moments of his first two years in office, and he credited the New Albany City Council with helping his administration achieve some of his goals.
Gahan took office on Jan. 1, 2012, to the backdrop of disagreement over the joint parks department and consecutive years of budget shortfalls.
While a member of the city council, Gahan made no secret about his grievance with Floyd County over its failure to meet agreed upon funding levels for the New Albany-Floyd County Parks Department.
Though county officials vowed to honor funding pledges in the future, Gahan pushed for the parks to split, and 10 months after taking office he got his wish when the city council voted to end the joint department.
Last January, the city embarked on again operating its own parks department. Gahan said it was the right decision, as every other county in Indiana already has separate municipal and county parks departments.
The move showed that the city would not be responsible for funding county obligations, he said.
“By being clear about that, we now see that we have the money to make improvements in the city,” Gahan said during an interview with the News and Tribune about his first two years in office.
“I think time will tell this has been a good move for the city of New Albany.”
While the parks debate was ongoing, Gahan had placed himself on the New Albany Sewer Board to help usher the utility away from privatization.
In October 2012, the city announced it would not renew a contract with Environmental Management Corp., or EMC, to manage the utility.
“The easy thing to do would have been to sign the agreement with EMC, but the fees were exorbitant,” Gahan said.
“That move has literally saved millions of dollars.”
The utility has quit accepting subsides from the city council and the New Albany Redevelopment Commission. However sewer rates did rise through a previous council decision in January 2012, and that helped contribute to the fiscal soundness of the utility.
BIG PROJECTS APPROVED
With the approval of the council and redevelopment commission, the administration was able to secure a $19.6 million bond to construct an outdoor aquatic center, multiuse recreational facility and make improvements to Binford Park and Cannon Acres.
The aquatic center will be located at the former Camille Wright Pool site off Daisy Lane, and should be open in 2015.
Construction on the recreational center is scheduled to begin this spring, and it will be located at the former Hoosier Panel property off Silver Street.
“I feel really good about what that’s going to do to the property values in that area, and again it’s an improvement to the quality of life in New Albany,” Gahan said of the recreational center.
He emphasized the council has been critical in moving those projects along as well as other efforts to better the city such as paving and street improvements.
“The city council has been very support of the efforts to improve quality of life and to make the city more competitive,” Gahan said.
He has enjoyed a favorable relationship with the council, which he served on prior to being elected as mayor. Most initiatives proposed by the administration have been approved overwhelmingly by the council.
As was the case last year, the city should finish 2013 under budget.
The city has gained a funding boost since Gahan took office, as the state has approved more money for New Albany’s general fund over the past two years.
Privatizing municipal ambulance service was a move that helped bolster city finances as well, Gahan said.
“I think people need to understand the city of New Albany is on pretty strong financial footing,” he said.
The next two years will be busy in terms of projects and improvements to New Albany, Gahan said.
There’s a planned expansion of the downtown Farmers Market, the establishment of a dog park and a project slated for this summer to rebuild some of the city’s flood gates and controls for the first time in 60 years.
Gahan also hinted that the administration plans on working with the council to update zoning codes in 2014.
An estimated $1.8 million project to improve Main Street is also scheduled for this year. Gahan said the administration is also moving forward with design plans to upgrade McDonald Lane.
He credited city employees for being dedicated to their jobs, and thanked New Albany residents for giving him a chance to serve.
“New Albany is a really great place to live when you compare it to other communities,” Gahan said. “I think what really sets us apart is we have a strong mix of friendly people.”