FORTVILLE — The town council crest in Fortville’s municipal building reads, “Elected by the people, for the people.”
It loomed on a wall in the meeting room over the shoulders of five Republicans vying to do just that as they answered questions on an array of town topics at a forum Tuesday night.
About 40 people filled the municipal building for the forum, which the League of Women Voters Hancock County sponsored. Betty Tonsing, one of the local league’s founding members, moderated the event and asked audience-submitted questions addressing issues like changes slated for a major thoroughfare and localizing economic development efforts along with new resources for planning and public safety.
Lifelong Fortville resident Tonya Drake Davis; incumbent Michael Frischkorn; and downtown business owner Libby Wyatt are running for the town council’s two seats for District 1 on the south and east sides of town. Former Fortville utilities employee Becky Davis and incumbent Tim Hexamer are up for District 2 on the town’s north side. No Democrats filed in Fortville for the May 7 primary.
Coming to Broadway
Fortville plans to cut down the four-lane Broadway/State Road 67 through the center of town to one lane each way with a middle turn lane while adding sidewalks and crosswalks.
Frischkorn said decreasing lanes will increase safety by slowing down traffic. Adding sidewalks will make it safer for pedestrians as well while boosting walkability between the town’s north and south sides, he added.
Hexamer supports the road narrowing and sidewalks, too, and said he’s especially looking forward to the increased safety created by the crosswalks.
Tonya Drake Davis and Wyatt said they welcome the changes as well.
Becky Davis said while she understands the need to slow down traffic, removing a lane from each direction may lead to congestion. She said she welcomes the sidewalks, however.
“I do see a lot of people walking down the highway,” she said. “Sidewalks would be safer for them.”
Localizing economic development
The candidates were asked if the Hancock Economic Development Council was doing enough to meet Fortville’s needs and if a town council committee should be added to work on attracting businesses.
Tonya Drake Davis said the town could benefit from taking on economic development efforts locally.
“At the county level I think sometimes we get left out and they’re not here so they don’t see things the way we see it, so I think it’d be a great idea to bring somebody in here to promote new businesses in the town,” she said.
Hexamer said he, too, sees advantages to localizing economic development, as did Wyatt, who added she’d also like to see improvements made on that front through landlords being more considerate of startups and smaller businesses.
Frischkorn agreed Hancock County’s small towns have been overlooked in the past, but recalled how the economic development council is now under new leadership. Randy Sorrell, who is from Fortville, took over as executive director at the beginning of the year.
“I think we ought to give him an opportunity to figure out a different way of doing things,” Frischkorn said. “I think for too long the smaller towns have kind of been left out of the conversation when economic development opportunities come to the county. Hopefully that will change.”
Frischkorn added he thinks that having something at the town level regarding economic development would be effective too, but cautioned a town council committee could lead to companies receiving multiple messages and creating confusion.
Becky Davis said the town might one day find it beneficial to hire someone to take on economic development efforts for the town.
New plan for planning
Fortville is on its way to taking control of planning and zoning within its boundaries from Hancock County officials. Candidates were asked how the town will cover the extra expenses associated with those new duties.
Frischkorn said funding them with a new tax would require a lengthy process that he does not foresee happening. Instead, permits and fees will likely cover those new costs, he added. Tonya Drake Davis agreed.
Hexamer also dismissed the possibility of a tax. He echoed Frischkorn’s comments on permits and fees and said existing staff will be able to handle many of the duties but that extra part-time help might be necessary.
Becky Davis referred to permits and fees as well but was skeptical they’d be enough if a new full-time worker was necessary, especially in the beginning. Part-time help might be the best starting point, she added.
Wyatt said taking on the new duties will require responsible planning and budgeting.
Growing public safety with population
All candidates agreed that Fortville’s police force will have to grow as the town’s population does.
“I do think that should be a priority for the next four years — to try to find a way to increase our police officers,” Hexamer said.
It will come with its challenges, Frischkorn said, adding tax revenue lags behind growth. But good planning can help the town avoid playing catch-up, he continued.
Fire protection in Fortville is covered by Vernon Township, which contracts with volunteer departments in Fortville and McCordsville. Township officials are approaching the growth issue by centralizing fire operations and adding paid part-time staff.
Many of the candidates agreed on several issues, including using Fortville’s comprehensive plan as a guide for ensuring the town evolves responsibly as its population swells.
“The change is coming at us pretty quickly, but the comprehensive plan is keeping it at a nice pace,” Wyatt said.
Tonsing was pleased with the event’s turnout and audience participation.
“You came in the door either with your questions or started writing them right away,” she told the crowd. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that.”