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Mayoral candidates discuss past decisions, future plans

Brad Ridgeway, right, city councilman and republican candidate for mayor, responds to a question while incumbent Shelbyville Mayor Tom DeBaun listens during Tuesday’s Candidates Forumat Shelbyville Middle School.

By ROSS FLINT - rflint@shelbynews.com

With the future of what direction Shelbyville takes over the next four years at stake, incumbent Shelbyville Mayor Tom DeBaun, the Democratic candidate, and his Republican challenger, city councilman Brad Ridgeway, squared off for an hour-long question-and-answer session Tuesday night on the Shelbyville Middle School cafetorium stage.

With Johnny McCrory of Giant FM and Jeff Brown, editor of the Shelbyville News, moderating, both had the opportunity to answer a series of questions and provide rebuttals to their opponent’s statements.

DeBaun cited the accomplishments of his administration over the past eight years while defending the decisions made and actions taken, particularly with regard to the downtown redevelopment project and tax abatements negotiated with foreign companies.

“The typical question in an election year is, ‘Are we better off than we were four or eight years ago?’” he said. “I stand here tonight and say to you yes. Without reservation or hesitation, I believe Shelbyville and Shelby County stands stronger today than it did four or eight years ago.”

Ridgeway, who has expressed opposition to the expense of projects that DeBaun has supported and has voted against tax abatements as a member of the City Council, said he loved hearing a nickname created by DeBaun’s supporters, “Dr. No.”

“You know what a doctor does?” he said. “He heals. That’s what I’ve tried to do, heal the finances of this city, so that when the recession hits, we can make it through.”

As a councilman, one of his priorities has been tax abatement reform, he said. He helped form the tax abatement committee, which was supposed to reform tax abatements, but instead he resigned because he said it didn’t meet for almost a year.

He added that the budget was the most important part of his job.

“I don’t think it’s ever been effectively done,” he said. “There needs to be a separation of powers there, so we can make sure our money is spent wisely.”

DeBaun responded by saying that as mayor, he has never voted on tax abatement.

“For anyone to suggest I have this overlording authority over abatement is an interesting concept that I’ll have to digest,” he said.

The two also disagreed on the downtown redevelopment project.

The initial price tag of $39 million, as well as its followup of $19 million, is more than the city can afford, Ridgeway said.

“We just simply can’t afford that kind of spending and get a return on that investment,” he said in reference to the original cost. “I will vote no when it’s not feasible, it’s not affordable and it’s not in the best interest. Everybody wants the downtown to look nice, okay? We are missing a unique opportunity with that circle. For eight years, it’s been doing nothing. We can make it the centerpiece of downtown and invest in the small businesses.”

DeBaun said the administration re-visited the original plan after not receiving a Stellar Communities Project designation and came up with the current one, which he said was the most agreeable.

There is no impact on the general fund tax levy to the city, he said.

“The reason we do this is because the downtown is the heart of our community,” he said before using Franklin, Lebanon and a recently-revealed project in Martinsville as examples of other communities pursuing and completing downtown projects.

“This is not a unique concept for the City of Shelbyville,” he said. “We do this because we need to be an attractive place to live. We need to grow the community. Our heart of downtown has not been positively impacted in the last several years, but now, we are starting to see activity. East Washington Street set the tone for that expectation.”

One of Ridgeway’s greatest focuses in his campaign is the opioid epidemic. He noted that it is the most common topic discussed during town halls that he has held over the last four years.

He said it needed to be the top priority but the current administration has not come up with a plan.

DeBaun noted that the administration has coordinated with MHP Medical Center, treatment providers, Jane Pauley Community Health Center, Drug Free Coalition and local law enforcement in an effort to provide assistance to those battling addiction.