Madison City Council on Tuesday heard the first reading of the city’s 2020-21 budget, a $12.5 million package that is about 2.4% higher than this year.

According to Mayor Bob Courtney, the allocation increased despite the city’s revenue projections decreasing in several areas this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that has shut down businesses and slowed industry and tourism.

He said revenue projections from riverboat gaming, motor vehicle highway funds and cigarette taxes have all dropped about 40% due to the COVID pandemic but that about a 4.2% increase in property taxes — higher evaluations in some cases and new construction in others — allowed the city to fund the budget with some growth.

Compensation for elected officials in 2021 will see the Mayor earn $71,389, Clerk Treasurer $62,446, Council members $6,969 and Board of Public Works members $1,500.

The budget now faces two more readings and it must clear council approval as well as the Indiana Department of Local Government and Finance. A copy of the budget was included in the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting and is available online at www.madison-in.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_08182020-639.

In addition to the budget, the council held several first readings of amendments including one refining the city’s flood control ordinance with regard to historic structures and another modifying a city traffic ordinance dating back to 1958.

The changes to the flood control ordinance essentially name the city’s building inspector as flood plain administrator and put him in a position to evaluate what improvements can be made to historic structures within the flood plain.

Building Inspector Brian Martin said the change is targeted to “allow people to still invest in their properties” while still complying with historic and flood control considerations.

The amendment to the city’s traffic ordinance follows through on a recent executive order to more severely limit weight restrictions on city streets.

Under terms of the new guidelines, there will be a 10-ton gross vehicle weight limit with a few exceptions. Single axle trucks are exempt as are trucks making deliveries, emergency vehicles, school vehicles and agricultural equipment. The change also prohibits the transport of hazardous materials on city streets.

Courtney also gave a report on the free COVID-19 testing clinic the city helped establish in a partnership with the Indiana State Department of Health at the Senior Citizens Center on Main Street.

He said 1,025 people have been tested to date — about 25% of those tested locally since the start of the pandemic — and the program has been extended to Oct. 2.

“This is one way to understand what the prevalence of coronavirus is in the community,” Courtney said, noting that Jefferson County continues to fare “extremely well” compared to rest of state. “Residents here are doing a very good job of being safe while trying to establish some level of normalcy.”

The downtown testing center, unlike other test sites locally, does not require any virus symptoms to be tested or a recommendation by a doctor or health care worker. Anyone, local resident or not, can be tested simply by scheduling an appointment and showing up.

Later in Tuesday’s meeting, the council provide a public comment period where members of the audience could bring matters of importance before the council. Some of the issues raised included:

• Mike Greco, a resident of East Street, asked the city to erect signs prohibiting vehicles from using “jake brakes” on the lower section of US 421 entering the city. He noted now that more heavy trucks are using US 421 due to weight limits, the noise from big diesel trucks early in the morning has become “quite disruptive” for people still trying to sleep.

A jake brake is an engine braking mechanism installed on some diesel engines that, when activated, opens exhaust valves to the cylinders to help slow the vehicle while causing a noise some describe as like hearing a machine gun

• Jarrett Boyd, a resident of East Third Street, reported an animal control incident involving two unrestrained dogs she encountered recently while walking her dog on Presbyterian Avenue. Boyd said dogs should not be allowed to run free even if their owner can command them through voice instructions. She also noted that city’s employees she encountered while filing a complaint and the animal control officer have been slow to respond to her concerns. 

Courtney said he would follow up on Boyd’s concerns with the police department and animal control officer to determine what has been done with the situation.

• Lisa Ferguson, a resident of East Second Street, passed out small flags to elected officials as part of her proposal that the city get behind a project to make Madison the “most patriotic town in America.” She said the city should have bigger American Flags on each utility pole on Main Street and smaller flags and poles on every utility pole in the city and proposed that with local fundraising and city cooperation the project could be accomplished this year.

Ferguson said she would also like to see a pole and flag near the city’s welcome sign at the new gateway off the Milton-Madison Bridge. Courtney said plans are in the works for such a flag.

Ferguson also asked the city to make improvement to the basketball court on Vaughn Drive, which currently has a damaged rim. Courtney said the replacement equipment has been ordered and will be installed once received. He noted that there are multiple basketball courts among the city’s 27 parks and all are scheduled for improvement over the next few years.

• Tonya Righthouse, a resident of Mouser Street, asked the city to clear debris from a city-owned lot near the intersection of Mouser and Blackmore streets. She said she has mowed the area off and on for many years so that it can be used by children playing but that cables and downed trees are making that impossible currently and that if the city will clear the debris she will continue to mow the area.

Courtney said the COVID crisis and the loss of Department of Correction inmate work details has put extra pressure on the city’s street department this summer but pledged to have the debris removed as soon as possible and to put the area on the city’s mowing schedule.

The council next meeting is Tuesday, Sept. 8.