HENDERSON, Ky (WEHT) – The elections for Evansville’s City Council elections are fast approaching, and in the 3rd Ward, Joe Kratochvil is looking to unseat Zac Heronemus, who is seeking a second term on the council.
Both candidates answered a variety of questions, and one area of concern has been the Ford Center. Opened in 2011, officials have said it needs millions of dollars in repairs. A question proposed was how it was going to be paid. The current administration says “selling streets” is one way. Kratochvil stated while it is important to keep amenities upgraded and current, he does not think creative financing options for selling streets is the right way to do it, but a bigger problem lies deeper.
“The biggest problem we are having is a lack of continuity. There are a ton of options in the public/private partnership arena that they should have explored before selling streets,” he said.
Heronemus had a different take and mentioned how much the Ford Center does for the city.
“I would not call it “selling streets.” It is leasing streets to the redevelopment corporation as a mechanism for leveraging assets for raising capital,” he said. “The Ford Center is a quality-of-life amenity in our community. It has done a tremendous amount for Evansville and especially downtown, and the economic impact the Ford Center brings is tremendous. We have sporting events, conferences, concerts and people that come to the region to spend their dollars here and making sure the Ford Center is a top-notch arena should be everybody’s high priority.”
Another area of concern is city parks. Many have said Evansville’s city parks are in poor shape. Kratochvil stated he feels the parks have been neglected but not intentionally.
“We came out of the pandemic with lot of focus around applying resources and economic dollars to help us through that turbulent time, however, our city parks are our legacy assets for the city,” he said. “We need to create space for neighborhoods, for families, for our citizens to engage with one another. We need to take care of what we have. We need to improve those.”
He goes on to further explain how to do that.
“We need to source dollars from our corporate partnerships,” he started. “People want to be part of the solution; we just need to form a dialogue at the city level with these individuals that are tasked with making Evansville better, and I think we’re going to be very surprised when we work in conjunction with the neighborhoods and the community that surround these parks.”
Heronemus said the Park’s Department has been significantly underfunded, which contributed to the complaints.
“If you look at the parks within the 3rd Ward, we are pretty blessed with having really good parks. There is a lot of space that our park’s department is responsible for maintenance, upkeep and development,” he said. “What I have done is work with council members and the administration to put into the budget to add another maintenance crew, but we need to invest more. There is no doubt we want to ensure our parks system is top notch as it plays a significant role in attracting and retaining businesses and talent. Moving forward with the new administration, myself and other council members that are currently serving have parks as a main priority.”
Roberts Park was one of Mayor Lloyd Winnecke’s main areas of focus since first taking office, and officials have said there is a Master Plan for the area. Kratochvil says Roberts Park is an underutilized area but believes there needs to be more local involvement.
“I believe development is a key element to quality of place, however, I think what we need to do is engage the local community and source ideas from the individuals that are directly impacted by whatever we put in place. In order for collaboration to occur, you have to have participation.”
He explains further elected officials have not done the best job of representing the people and having a better relationship between the community and officials is crucial to having the best impact.
“Sometimes you get into a vacuum chamber where all your hearing are the echoes of the ideas that people with the best intentions want to put amenities in Evansville, but they have not done a great job of listening to the people who are directly impacted by it. By sitting down with neighborhood association meetings, by putting together specific task forces to address concerns, source great ideas and foster a relationship between the community and the elected officials, that is the best way to create neighborhood ownership, meaningful impact.”
Heronemus commented that previous city councils not moving the project forward has been a detriment to Evansville and is also thinking of a bigger picture.
“I think the plan that is in place for Roberts Park is a really good plan. When we think of what Evansville needs to do to attract and retain talent, attract business, quality of place, is top of mind for employers, and is top of mind for families when they think of relocating. Building Roberts Park and making it a piece of all the green space and opportunity for active spaces in our community and more trails is a priority of mine,” he said.
Hartke Pool was also on both candidates’ minds. Kratochvil thinks Hartke Pool is in a state of extreme disrepair and if a return on investment will be possible.
“We need to look what it is going to take to repair it and bring it back, but there needs to be a return on investment. If we put x amount of dollars into that pool, what is the return of the investment for the city? If the return does not make sense for the neighborhood and community, then we need to look at alternative uses for that space,” he said.
Heronemus says there have been issues with insurance and trying to get repairs made from past damages.
With inflation and prices going up, another concern was utilities and fee increases.
Kratochvil states he believes utilities should not cost more than one’s mortgage or rent and there are opportunities to incentivize people to offset rising energy costs.
Heronemus says he believes the city is operating under some funds left over from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) and is important to market those dollars.
“I think it is important for council and the administration as well as the water and sewer utility market the dollars for relief that is currently available and sit down and talk what is appropriate moving forward once these funds are exhausted,” he said. “Moving forward, we need to make sure that we are being mindful of what our obligations are and doing our best meeting those and keeping costs in line and looking at who needs the most help, what income threshold that needs to be per household and how we can do a better job at effectively administering a program rather than having no one use it as it currently stands.”
With all the challenges public safety has been facing in recent times, this is an issue that Kratochvil sees from a couple points of view and says keeping pace with fellow counties is critical.
“I know we are in the middle of a personnel shortage,” he starts. “Without the proper personnel, we cannot even address the cases that are cropping up the second that our officers log on. They are behind the eight ball right off the bat. Getting that proper personnel, creating an effective pay grade that keeps us competitive with our county neighbors, with other agencies is absolutely critical. We cannot attract or retain quality, passionate, talent in our law enforcement community. We are going to be constantly working from behind the eight ball to keep our citizens safe and increase public safety in our neighborhoods.”
Kratochvil also says mental health awareness is just as important.
“When an officer shows up to a site, once the scene is stabilized, I think there’s an absolute opportunity at the county level where we can work in conjunction with county to put together mental awareness strategies and resources to help our citizens.”
Heronemus commented he and the council wants to make sure public safety officials are best equipped to keep residents and themselves safe. He pointed to a recent incident where an Evansville detective collapsed after making an arrest and two other AED devices administered by Evansville Police did not deliver a shock. He was able to be saved by a third device that did work.
“If that is what EPD feels needs to get done, then we need to be proactive and not reactive,” he said.
One of the most controversial votes a city council representative makes is on zoning. Kratochvil admits striking a balance between corporate growth and homeowners rights can be tough and while according to him, neighborhoods are the heart and soul of a city, he proposed needing to look at a purpose-built plan.
Heronemus commented it is often a case-by-case basis on what is considered appropriate.
Each candidate also supplied where they stand on the budget and possible budget cuts.
“Looking at what we can streamline within the city budget is a critical issue,” Kratochvil said. “I believe in a limited government approach. I think government needs to get out of the way of good business, good citizen ownership of our city. I think by taking a look at each of our city units, we can look at what is working and what needs to be retooled.”
Heronemus says he is comfortable with where the budget is but can always look for improvements.
“Having a new administration is going to open up new conversations on how we can do things better and spending all of our tax dollars to the best of our ability,” he said. “We know we have needs and paying fair wages across the board. We do know there are probably some technologies that could be better for businesses, being responsive to complaints and making sure we are communicating what resolutions are on the horizon.”
Each candidate closed by making their stance for why they deserve to be on the council. Kratochvil highlighted working on public safety and the importance of local parks.
“My concerns with Evansville are going by all the residents I have spoken with; I want our streets to be very safe,” he said. “I am going to work with the police, new police chief, the mayor’s office, and my fellow city council, to try and put together packages that do attract and retain good talent. That we do fund the police with the necessary tools, resources and training to make sure our neighborhoods and our parks are protected. Our parks are critical centers for community engagement. They are the hubs of our neighborhood and attractions for our city, and we need to do better. I think if we put together a proper maintenance, conservation plan, maintaining what we have before we build new, it is going to put us on an excellent platform for growth. We have an opportunity that is explosive, we just need to ignite the fuse. I want Evansville to be a safe, inclusive place.”
Heronemus again pointed to the need for improvement for the last term he has been on the council, taking care of day-by-day obligations and making sure Evansville has quality housing.
“There are a lot of things that have been going great for the past 10-12 years, but there’s always room for improvement,” he said. “Priorities for me is building Evansville’s quality of place. We need to work effectively to reduce crime, especially violent crime. We need to do a better job of taking care of our day-to-day obligations like maintenance and repair of our streets, but thinking about how we can also build our streets better. The other side of that is our parks, and we have to do a better job at building our neighborhoods. We have a lot of unsanitary and unsafe housing conditions for our residents that they are being subjected to, so we have to do a good job of holding landlords and property management companies accountable for degrading our neighborhoods by providing subpar housing. We also have to work with our developers locally and out of town to figure ways for field development that serves our low to moderate income families that need quality, safe, sanitary and secure affordable housing. That is why it is vital for the next city council, mayor and their administration have the tools and understanding and experience necessary to handle these challenges that will ensure Evansville is going to be a great place to live five, ten, 20 years down the road, so we are building it for generations.”