Mayor: No right side or wrong one

January 28, 2019

MT. VERNON — Mayor John Lewis said controversies between council members are because each is working for the people they represent.

“There should be no question that everyone on this council has the betterment of our community utmost on their minds,” Lewis said during the opening minutes of his State of the City address, given Jan. 17 at the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon at the DoubleTree. “Any controversies you hear happening in the council occur because we all have a different perspective on how to get there, but we are all trying to get to the same place.”

Lewis said recent discussions at council meetings have emphasized the elected city officials are “strong willed and votes his own beliefs or conscience.”

“I don’t like this game I see played in public that someone must be right and someone must be wrong,” Lewis continued. “That’s what we see at the State and Federal level, but as I hope you get from some of my comments, sometimes there are no right or wrong answers. Sometimes the difference in our perspectives are not that different and what we disagree on are small aspects of the issue. Again, we’re all trying to get to the same place but taking different paths.”

Among the areas of local interest Lewis discussed during his presentation were law enforcement, new business in the city, infrastructure, city services, natural disaster management, real estate taxes and future plans.
Lewis said statistics that are “out there” on law enforcement may not be giving the whole picture when it comes to the work local officers are doing to keep residents safe. As a retired law enforcement officer, Lewis said he has some inside perspective on the issue.

“All I want to stress to you is to be skeptical of any numbers you hear out there,” Lewis said. “Most numbers are out of context when given in a statement without explanation and actually drilling down into those numbers. … There are literally hundreds of reasons why the numbers may not be correct, from quality of departments, to what they report, and we cannot forget the political side possibilities.”

Active policing can cause numbers to rise, Lewis said, whereas another community may not be actively seeking suspects or being proactive.
When it comes to new business, Lewis said this year has been good in the city, citing the opening of Menards, Culvers, the future opening of Fujiyama’s, a new convenience store at 26th and Veterans Memorial Drive, the expansion of Phoenix Modular Elevator, the new Aldi’s, remodel of DoubleTree by Hilton.

“We also get questions constantly on the status of the Love’s Truck Stop,” Lewis said, on the project that was previously announced for Route 37 south and Interstate 64. “Our conversations with them a couple weeks ago lead us to believe that the project is still a go.”

Work has been ongoing for the water, sewer and streets, with Lewis complimenting Public Utilities Committee Chairman Ray Botch on his work.
“His dedication to this city and this project has been phenomenal,” Lewis said. “Mr. Botch has been at City Hall most days and spends hours each day crunching numbers. He has been diligently doing this for over 18 months with no pay. His expertise has been invaluable to the city and our staff.”
Lewis also commended Councilman Jeff May, who will not be running for re-election, but has agreed to continue as a member of the Public Utilities Committee.

“His financial expertise was invaluable and we were blessed to have him serving the citizens of Mt. Vernon,” Lewis said. “Although he is very busy, he is extremely dedicated to this city and has offered to stay on the (Committee) to assist them in our future decisions. I can’t thank him enough for his dedication.”

Taxes were a topic Lewis didn’t shrink from discussing. He said recent criticism of a 2.17 percent increase in the property tax levy from the previous year needs to be put in perspective.

“Now, we heard a lot of controversy on raising our levy 2.17 percent and crickets on the schools raising theirs 4.99 percent,” Lewis said. “So let’s try to put all this in perspective. About 75 percent of your property tax bill goes to our school system. Every one of the large districts raised their levy at least 4.99 percent. A 4.99 percent increase on 75 percent of a tax bill is astronomically larger than a 4.99 percent increase on just 10 percent of your tax bill. Now on my tax bill, 71 percent went to the school system, and they raised their levy 4.99 percent; 12 percent went to the City of Mt. Vernon and they raised theirs 2.17 percent. The 2.17 percent increase went on that 12 percent of my tax bill will result in an $8.50 increase per $100,000 of assessed valuation, which would raise my tax bill on my home by about $6.38.”

Lewis said with the median home value in the county at $86,000, the increase for most homes would be $2.50.

Lewis discussed the pension obligations and the pension crisis as a reason for higher levies, as well as the responsibility of maintaining the city’s assets.