TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — The primary race is set in Terre Haute for the two candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for mayor.
Pat Goodwin and Brandon Sakbun are on the ballot, and both said in sit-down interviews that they are suited for a leadership role in the city.
“I’m at a point in my life where I’m able to give back and to serve,” Goodwin said. “I feel like mayor is the best role for me to do that. We did come close four years ago, and I learned a lot through that process. This gives me the opportunity to reach a little bit deeper into the community – I’ve met a lot of new people and I’m hearing a lot of new concerns, frustrations and hopes for our community.””
“I did study finance in college and I served our nation as an Army Ranger,” Sakbun said. “I worked in some policy and some budgeting there. Those are really hard, technical skills that need to be applied here to Indiana. I’m confident I have the background needed to succeed on day one.”
Sakbun said he wants to focus on city budgeting to help lessen the burden on taxpayers.
“How do we create services that are truly efficient so that way we can look at our Terre Haute tax base and say ‘okay, this year I need 90 cents instead of $1. That’s how I view the city budget and tackling that line item by line item to create a growth plan and also an efficiency plan.”
Sakbun explained some of the line items he is particularly interested in evaluating within the city budget.
“Usage fees like sewage, obviously the electric bill’s a big one, and trash,” Sakbun said. “We’ve got a trashy problem in Terre Haute is what I like to say, and a big part of that is, one, do we have the right access to trash cans on some of our businesses, for example gas stations right next to intersections like 12th and Wabash, and who’s paying for the fees for folks to collect the trash, so trying to reach out to other sectors of the tax base instead of just the property owners.”
Goodwin said he’s focused on filling, and even creating, city government roles to help address services for people in Terre Haute who may feel forgotten.
“I’ve talked about establishing someone in city government to act as a sort of health officer,” Goodwin said. “To be trying to coordinate the efforts and provide support and assistance to the mental health community, to the recovery community and to the homeless outreach efforts.”
Goodwin said adult education is another way to help build up the workforce in Terre Haute.
“When we have the good news about businesses coming to Terre Haute, we have to make sure we are giving everybody the opportunity to capitalize on that,” Goodwin said. “We have over 10% of people in Terre Haute, adults, who do not have a high school diploma. I think that has got to change. We’ve got to remove the boundaries for people to get the education that they need and the training that they need for these jobs.”
Investing in affordable housing and helping eliminate blighted properties was mentioned by both candidates.
“It’s clear that we’ve got a blight housing problem,” Sakbun said. “To solve that, we can use federal and state grants to help cover some of the costs for developers. This is a proven strategy that other cities in Indiana have already done.”
“We have to remember that even if that’s an initial investment by city government, the payoff is we’re increasing our assessed value,” Goodwin said. “We’re improving those neighborhoods and the community so that we can be more successful in the future and hopefully have more tax revenue that would more than offset the cost.”
Goodwin brought up the central part of the city as a focus area.
“We know that we need to be very assertive about tearing down dangerous buildings, but what we haven’t done is give much attention to how we replace that missing housing stock,” Goodwin said. “I’d like to see us building affordable housing in the community, when I say ‘we’ I’d like the private sector to do that, but they’ve got to be incentivized to do that. The city owns a tremendous number of lots due to tax foreclosures and so forth, so there are lots that we can provide.”
Sakbun mentioned that it goes beyond housing to a bigger infrastructure plan.
“”For 30 years now, we’ve really failed to capitalize or create a long-term sewage renovation plan,” Sakbun said. “Folks, that’s gonna cost a lot of money and the taxpayers can’t afford that, so we’ve got to look to the federal and state government and create a partnership.”
Goodwin, who worked for the city as an engineer for most of his early career, pointed to the Wabash River development as a priority in his campaign and said city government must address the brownfield issues in certain locations along the riverfront.
“These are mostly old industrial sites, literally hundreds of acres along the riverfront that the private sector won’t take a chance on right now because of the environmental risk,” Goodwin said. “So the city is going to have to buy down that risk for private development.”
Sakbun, who works currently as a substitute teacher within the Vigo County School Corporation, said he wants to work with different organizations to create more opportunities for Terre Haute’s youth.
“I want a community that offers summer programs for our young students at all ages; the middle school, high school and elementary school level,” Sakbun said. “I want them to believe that the Terre Haute economy and the city of Terre Haute is a place that they can raise a family.”
Goodwin also said he’s committed to ridding Terre Haute of its negative reputation as a town where you’re likely to get railroaded.
“We have to put our money and efforts into building overpasses and doing other creative things so people aren’t stopped at railroad crossings as much,” Goodwin said.
Sakbun said he considers his campaign to be focused on the potential of the city where he grew up.
“We got out there energetically and we show the voters that this is the new direction and the new face of Terre Haute,” Sakbun said.
Both candidates mentioned an interest in partnering with Indiana State University to help with enrollment and higher education opportunities. They also both mentioned helping Terre Haute hone in on its place among the mid-sized cities in the state.
Goodwin and Sakbun face off in the primary on Tuesday, May 2.