WARSAW — By Wednesday morning, either Mayor Joe Thallemer or City Councilman Ron Shoemaker will wake up and see their political career sidelined.
And the other will prepare for the fall election that is currently void of any opposition.
Thallemer faces Shoemaker in Tuesday’s Republican Primary for mayor of Warsaw.
In numerous ways, the two contestants have been marked by stark contrasts.
Thallemer, who owns an eye care business in Warsaw, served three terms on city council and is finishing his second term as mayor.
Shoemaker, retired after a career in orthopedic sales, was appointed by a GOP caucus to fill the vacancy left after the death of councilman Charlie Smith more than three years ago. He chose to give up that seat in his bid to become mayor.
Under Thallemer, the city has embraced a busy agenda aimed at addressing and spurring growth in a city that has seen its population rising roughly 8 percent since 2010.
In recent years, the city has embarked on two massive sewer projects, worked to establish two industrial parks, and annexed several areas in the midst of reconstructing East Market Street.
Meanwhile, on the all-Republican city council, Shoemaker has cast himself as a fiscal conservative and has stood out in opposition to a string of proposals sought by the Thallemer administration.
Thallemer said the city’s forward progress is at stake in the election and pointed to a crucial vote on sewer expansion plans involving a sewer rate hike used to finance an expansion of the sewer plant. The city is spending upward of $41 million to expand the capacity of the treatment plant and rehab crumbling underground sewer lines.
Shoemaker opposed the rate hike.
“The fact there was even a hesitancy to support that was troubling to me. That’s a public safety issue. That’s a public health issue,” Thallemer said. “You’re going to go backward if that sewer gets to the point where it’s at capacity.”
Thallemer also points out that prior to the vote, he invited Shoemaker to be part of a rate hike committee that explored how the rates should be most fairly structured. Shoemaker declined.
After the rate hike was approved, Shoemaker said the issue needed to be studied more.
“To me, that was a very disingenuous comment and it’s really been underscored by the fact I offered him the opportunity to be on the rate study committee and he declined, but in the end, he said we needed more time to study it,” Thallemer said.
InkFreeNews sought to schedule an interview with Shoemaker three times in the past week for this story but never heard back from him.
Thallemer defends the need for two rate hikes to pay for the sewer improvements and says local rates are still below state average when compared to cities of similar size.
Thallemer also claims that the city tax rate has remained flat over the past three years.
In an interview Thursday, Thallemer said he’s best suited to run the city because of his experience and the relationships he’s built within the city and with lawmakers in Indianapolis and Washington, D.C. He is touting support from U.S Rep. Jim Banks and endorsements from 14 mayors in the northern half of Indiana, two past Warsaw mayors, as well as numerous elected, community and business leaders.
Thallemer said the fact that Warsaw has received funding for four federal road projects during his tenure is evidence of his ability to get things done.
“Those things don’t just happen,” Thallemer said. “It really requires that leadership, those connections, those relationships and the work of all our departments to get us in position to be very favorable when we get those kinds of awards.”
Shoemaker has not spoken broadly in public about his vision for leading the city. He skipped a debate with Thallemer and held a separate event at the same time. At a Republican dinner last week in front of several hundred people, Shoemaker said he discarded a prepared speech, and instead spoke about his long interest in public service. He then promised to never allow city employees to harass or mistreat residents, a reference to Police Chief Scott Whitaker’s run-in with an elderly man who he suspected of driving while impaired on Jan. 25.
Shoemaker’s website has a list of issue positions that are broad in nature. Those include support for funding fire and police, more community investment and managing infrastructure, including sewer and roads.
Shoemaker has also proposed hiring somebody to focus on job retention and recruitment for the city. Thallemer said that needs to have a regional approach and says Kosciusko Economic Development Corporation already provides that role.
Shoemaker told InkFreeNews weeks ago that he supports community policing and more of a police presence in the downtown.
In votes on council, Shoemaker opposed the initial cost of the third fire station, changes in garbage collection policy and a more comprehensive approach to ensuring restaurants prevent grease from getting into city pipes.
Thallemer said his top priority, if re-elected, is addressing short-term and long-term issues involving traffic along US 30. He is overseeing a seven-county coalition that is assembling a plan to replace US 30 with a limited access highway. The exact path through Kosciusko County has not been determined. Meetings on that subject are expected to happen within the next few months.