Q&A with Brett Weddell from The Goshen News/Chamber Forum

The Goshen News and Goshen Chamber of Commerce hosted an at-large council candidates forum on Tuesday night at the Goshen Theater. For those of you who missed the forum, I have written the questions along with my answers, below. ~Brett Weddell

The Weddell Family: Brett, Robin, Lleyton and Merrill.

The Weddell Family: Brett, Robin, Lleyton and Merrill.

Introduction/Opening remarks

I am Dr. Brett Weddell. I am currently finishing my first term as Goshen City Council representative At-Large. I am a lifelong Goshen resident. My wife Robin and I both graduated from Goshen High School. We have two children, Lleyton & Merrill, who attend Chandler & Waterford Elementary Schools respectfully. I co-own Wellington & Weddell Eye Care, a downtown fixture since 1926. We are members of New Paris Missionary Church. I enjoy attending our high school sporting events, having served as the official timer for both basketball and football for 14 years. I volunteer as an assistant basketball coach for our son's travel basketball teams. I have been a member of the Goshen Woodworkers Guild for approximately 10 years. I enjoy hobby woodworking and wish there were more hours each week to enjoy that hobby. 

Question 1: How do you define quality of place, how important do you see it in relation to Goshen’s future and are there quality of place projects you feel should be considered?

Quality of place encompasses a wide variety of players. Infrastructure, parks, trails, quality jobs, vibrant downtown and public safety all go into the "quality of place." Without the proper interplay between each of these, our city will survive but won't thrive. We will need all of these disciplines to come together for current residents, future residents we are competing for and the many visitor attracted to our community as Goshen is becoming a tourist destination. 

One important quality of place initiative I would like to see is the connectivity of the Fidler Pond with our current trail system. Fidler Pond becoming a part of the city's park department was the brainchild of my business partner Jim Wellington. Without his negotiations and persistence we may not have that jewel in our city park portfolio. He and I felt so strongly about Fidler Pond that we gave a very sizable financial donation to help make sure it happened. There are some current council members to who were very unhappy with Park Superintendent Sherri Howland for spending city money developing Fidler Pond. I bet they feel pretty foolish now. 

Question 2: Redevelopment in Goshen has become a priority in Goshen the past two decades. What do you feel the role of redevelopment should be in the community and what do you see as the top redevelopment priorities in the next 10 years?

As a member of the Elkhart County Redevelopment Commission (RDC) for 2 years, and now a member of the Goshen Redevelopment Commission (RDC), I have witnessed two very different approaches in regards to redevelopment. I believe the city has been very proactive in acquiring brownfield properties, derelict properties and old industrial properties. It is through the leadership of past Goshen City Councilman and current County RDC president, Tom Stump, that the RDC has been very aggressive in acquiring most of these properties. The RDC has the capabilities to market many of these properties in a fashion that ensures that the property can be redeveloped for the betterment of the community.

A few significant examples recently are the sale of he Hawks building to LaCasa, the upcoming residential properties on the east side of the canal, the redevelopment of both the old Street Department property and the Western Rubber property into green space. The RDC hopes to find new uses for these properties, but want to remain selective in what will go into these places to compliment the surrounding areas. A few of the top redevelopment initiatives for the future will be the old Holiday Inn property, the Johnson Control site, and the salvage yard along Lincoln Ave. This last example is vitally important as the location falls within the 5 year capture zone where potential contaminants could find their way into our water system within 5 years if not found and dealt with properly. 

Question 3: What can we do to make Goshen more business friendly?

I have heard from too many business owners that there is an appearance of preferential treatment for individuals/businesses with certain connections or for certain not for profit organizations. Whether this is true or not, the perception needs to be addressed so that all businesses feel like they have equal standing in our city. 

One way to improve efficiencies is to stream line the application and permitting process, including providing online submission of required documents and tracking of applications so that developers can have instant access to the standing of their projects. I think it would also be beneficial for coordination between the chamber of commerce, local business leaders and the mayor's office to discuss issues pertaining to the business community. This could occur quarterly or semi-annually. It could function along the same lines as many of our neighborhood associations do. 

Question 4: Transportation issues continue to be a concern in Goshen. How high of a priority do you place on the extension of Waterford Parkway from Ind. 15 to the C.R. 40 Bridge, as well as the U.S. 33 connector route bypassing downtown Goshen? Do you feel these are good projects for the city?

I feel that ultimately connecting Waterford Mills Parkway from SR 15 to the CR 17 corridor is very important if we want to effectively move traffic. I have served on a joint task force of city and county officials looking at the south Goshen traffic issues for the past 2 years. Prior to my being on council and being on this task force, the county and city had no common ground for decades. Now we have shown great progress on joint projects such as the SR 15/Kercher Road intersection improvement and the upgrade of CR 38 up to and including the bridge crossing the Elkhart River. We have also agreed connectivity of Waterford Mills Parkway to CR 17 is important. The exact location and funding of such a connection has not been finalized, but discussions are definitely occurring concerning both issues. 

The US 33 connector route is also vital for our community as a whole. Anyone who has lived in Goshen for any time at all knows that traffic transversing through town to and from Lincolnway East is a major issue. These are traffic issues that needed to be resolved years ago, but only recently are coming to fruition thanks in large part to Mary Cripe's ability to bring INDOT back to the table. Once this particular project is completed, not only will we have improved traffic flow around our city center, but we will also be allowed to take over Main Street from the State, allowing us control of how to further develop our downtown. As with any major road project, there will be individuals and neighborhoods affected. It is easy to say that it is for the betterment of the city, but when it is your property or neighborhood being affected it is hard to accept. The city needs to continue to make every effort to communicate with these groups and where possible help with accommodations that make sense. 

Question 5: The city of Carmel is the latest Indiana municipality to add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” protections into its city code. Do you feel Goshen should amend its civil rights ordinance with such protections, why or why not?

I feel that all individuals deserve to be treated equally without fear of discrimination. According to the EEOC rulings in 2012 and more recently in 2015 the, the word "sex" in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has been determined to include gender identity and sexual orientation. I have stated from the very beginning of this conversation earlier in the summer that this is an issue that our Indiana Stare Legislature needs to resolve. Creating new protected classes is a very important responsibility and I feel that the State Legislature along with their vast network of legal experts are in the best position of making this determination. I am wanting to serve our community to provide sound decisions on basic effective management of basic city functions. If I wanted to legislate social issues I would be running for state office. 

Question 6: There has been concern regarding historically declining wages in Elkhart County. Is there anything the City of Goshen can do or should to address this issue?

A lot of this returns to the very first question from tonight, "what encompasses quality of place?" Continuing of the progresses we have been making, we will continue to attract more diverse job opportunities that hopefully will come with higher wages. The city council can make sure we do not inhibit the initiatives that contribute to quality of place by cutting necessary funding. We need to continue to encourage our schools, high schools, trade schools and colleges to continue producing high caliber individuals as they are the future of our city. One example would be partnerships with Horizon 2.0. Manufacturing has been, and will remain a huge portion of our workforce. We need to continue encouraging the development of skilled workers that typically demand higher salaries. 

Question 7: Local municipal revenue has been greatly reduced by property tax caps added several years ago to the Indiana Constitution by public referendum. How can Goshen continue to provide its current level of services with continued declining property tax revenue? Should new taxes or fees be considered?

First of all, our property tax revenues are not continuing to fall. Per the most recent analysis by Umbaugh & Associates just last week, it is predicted that our property tax revenue should increase by approximately $700K in 2016. This does not include the Public Safety LOIT and the Property Tax Relief Option Tax enacted by the county. Those two revenue streams will account for an additional $1.5M and $650K respectfully. All this combined, in addition to previous years of thoughtful savings in our Rainy Day Fund, along with efficient government have allowed us to maintain current services. 

Again, per Umbaugh, the 2016 assessed valuation, although not yet certified, is trending upward. As this continues to occur, the tax rate will decline, and therefore we will have less property tax revenue lost to the property tax caps. Through continued prudent spending, we should diligently replenish both operating cash balances and the Rainy Day Fund. This should not occur at the expense of city services. As far as new fees or taxes, as I have already mention the county has passed two Optional Income Taxes. I would be in favor of a food and beverage tax which I will address in the next question. I would not be in favor of a fee for trash service as I believe strongly that trash removal is a basic public safety service which the city should provide through property tax collection. 

Question 8: Would you support efforts to have the state General Assembly grant authority to all cities to consider adoption of a food and beverage tax, as is currently allowed in Marian County (Indianapolis), its neighboring counties and select communities throughout the state?

Yes, I would support efforts to have the General Assembly grant the authority to all cities to consider adoption of a food and beverage tax. One such community that has benefitted from such a user tax is our neighbor, Shipshewana. It was estimated that such a tax would have the potential revenue of nearly $700K annually. This tax would only affect those who choose to eat out and would affect everyone equally: property tax payers, non property tax payers and visitors to our community as well. The tax would be a maximum of 1%, that is $1 on a $100 meal or $0.50 on a $50 meal. If we had this additional revenue, we could utilize it to supplement infrastructure projects, sidewalks or the potential renovation of the Goshen Theater where we are meeting this evening. 

Question 9: What is your understanding and position on Tax Increment Financing districts (TIFs) and tax phase-ins/abatements?

As I stated previously, I have served on the Elkhart County Redevelopment Commission and more recently the Goshen City Redevelopment Commission (RDC). I have a full understanding of TIF districts and the revenue streams created by TIF districts. I fully support TIF districts. Without their presence in the city of Goshen we would be unable to complete many of the significant infrastructure projects done in the past and planned for the near future. TIF districts capture only the new increment above the base. This allows economic development without dipping into the base tax pool and creating peripheral increases in the tax base as well as increased purchasing power of new employees created by the new development. 

Tax phase ins became the norm during the economic downturn as communities struggled to keep employers in town and incentivize others to come to town. At the time it was a necessary evil to try and combat the risk of further job loss and increased unemployment. Out plan commission created grade sheets to score phase in requests to help assist council on determining the merits of each request. Businesses must come before council each year of the phase in to outline their progress. It is our job to determine whether they are meeting expectations, not meeting expectations due to factors out of their control, or not meeting expectations under their control. Unfortunately, many businesses have not met expectations, but it has been determined factors out of their control has led to this. 

Going forward, due to the slow but steady improvement in the economy and the decreased unemployment numbers, we can become much more stingy and selective in our issuance of phase ins, reserving phase ins for industry that offers diversified jobs and higher pay rates. As a side note, phase ins do not apply in TIF districts unless the project falls in a brownfield.

Question 10: Immigration is a contentious issue both nationally and locally. Goshen has seen its Latino population grow considerably the past two decades. How would you propose improving racial and cultural relations in Goshen?

I don't know that I believe immigration is a contentious issue in the city of Goshen. Locally we do not create policy on immigration. There is no doubt that the Latino population has grown significantly in the city. With any growth and change there are growing pains and lessons learned. At the end of the day, the Latino population is a benefit to community by making us socially, economically and culturally stronger. 

I would recommend continued outreach by following the example created by Goshen Police Chief Branson where police officers and Latino community leaders met with the Latino residents to better understand one another's concerns to gain a better understanding of one another. I would also encourage our Community Relations Commission to refocus itself to perform that part of their mission statement, "Our mission is to foster a climate of positive community relationships and non-discrimination...." More recently they have been focusing more on areas of potential discrimination. I would hope that positive community relationships would have a secondary effect of reduced discrimination. 

Question 11/Closing comments: What makes you the best At-Large candidate to serve the citizens of Goshen?

My wife and I are lifelong residents of Goshen. We choose to make Goshen our home, the location of my optometry practice and the place to raise our children. When discussing reasons to become active in city council, the decision was obvious as we wanted to help influence the trajectory of Goshen's future. In doing so, Goshen can be successful, we can be successful and hopefully our children will decide to be successful in Goshen as well. 

I have developed a reputation during my first term as a thoughtful council representative that any city resident can discuss any issue with, knowing that I will consider all points of view prior to making an informed decision in the best interest of Goshen. I have fully committed to the responsibilities of council as evident by the multiple commissions I serve in, attendance at commission meetings I don't serve on and participation in various task forces. My background as a successful business owner demonstrates my ability to manage a budget, manage a staff and deal effectively with the public. I doubt you would find a more dedicated, informed and up-to-speed candidate. Because of this, I respectfully ask for your vote either on November 3rd or during early voting beforehand.

News Coverage

Read coverage of the forum in the Elkhart Truth and Goshen News.

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Brett Weddell

I have lived in Goshen my entire life, 39 years this May. I married my high school sweetheart, Robin, and we will be celebrating our 17th anniversary this August. We have two energetic sons, Lleyton and Merrill, along with two border collies, Lex and Frannie. I attended Waterford Elementary School, Towncrest Junior High School and Goshen High School. The same schools my father attended and the same schools my children currently attend. Post high school, I received a Bachelor's in Optometry from Indiana University, Bloomington, followed by my Doctor of Optometry in 2001. Robin graduated from Goshen High School and is a Goshen College alum. I am co-owner of Wellington & Weddell Eye Care located in downtown Goshen. WWEC was founded in 1926 and has been a part of downtown Goshen since its beginning. As a small business owner, I bring to the table my experience with creating and meeting budgets and the ability to make difficult decisions required of leaders. As a healthcare provider, I exhibit compassion and empathy towards everyone. I am able to listen, and make decisions that directly affect my patients. I am always looking out for my patient’s best interests, just as I am serving my community.