By Dan Spalding
WARSAW – As mayors often do, Joe Thallemer met with the local Rotary Club on Friday.
But like much of what he’s been doing during the national health emergency, he did it online with Zoom from his office at City Hall where a skeletal crew of about four continue to work during the pandemic.
Thallemer, who entered his third term as mayor this year, said he’s participating in about three to four teleconference meetings each day and estimates 90 percent of his job right now involves addressing the coronavirus crisis.
But he still found time for the Rotary Club.
Despite not being able to mingle and meet with residents, Thallemer said it’s important he keep the public abreast of what’s happening locally while at the same time, serving as president of AIM – Accelerate Indiana Municipalities, a statewide group formerly known as Indiana Association of Cities and Towns.
Thallemer’s day on Friday, April 17, included a Board of Works meeting (streamed online) and then an online conversation with about 20 Rotarians via Zoom in which he talked about the impact of the pandemic and how people are working to overcome the many difficulties it is causing.
He told Rotarians that the economic crisis caused by the pandemic – with its many business closures – will take years to recover from and that it is worse than the 2008 recession.
After watching the governor’s daily press conference, which has become a daily practice, he was scheduled to moderate an AIM webinar with the governor’s office.
The governor’s updates serve as a barometer of where we’re heading, he said. “I rely on that.”
As part of his role with AIM, Thallemer said he’s been working to assist about 50 mayors who took office in January.
AIM is providing resources for mayors and maintaining a sense of continuity with the state.
“The strength of the organization has never been more apparent than during all of this,” he said.
He said he’s grateful for the contacts and connections he’s built up over the years that have put him into a position where he can try to make a difference.
“I feel like the relationships I built in city government since 1995 have been really helpful. If there’s a concern, I’m not afraid to pick up the phone and talk about that concern,” he said.
“I’m not afraid to defend what we’re doing to try and slow this down,” he said, also acknowledging how difficult it is to strike the right balance.
“The community gets it. They understand why we’re doing this.”
Thallemer recalls everything seemed to shift soon after he delivered his State of the City speech on March 12 to several hundred people at Center Lake Pavilion – four days before the statewide stay-at-home directive was announced.
Much of the speech focused on an aggressive agenda for the upcoming year that included more progress on the longterm development of a revamped US 30, the long-awaited release of recommendations for affordable housing, construction of a senior housing complex, development of another industrial park, completion of a new sewer treatment plant and more work on the Buffalo Street redevelopment project.
But priorities changed in a heartbeat for families, he said, and it’s been the same with the city.
While some of the projects have been slowed during a period of uncertainty, others are continuing. The senior housing project on Market Street is moving ahead with construction this summer.
Conversations are continuing on US 30, but plans for a public meeting are on hold.
Thallemer and all mayors are now facing significant cuts in revenues as a result of the economic downturn. The city relies on two option income taxes for about 35 percent of the money used to operate the city. A recent study from Ball State University predicts those funds could come up short by upward of 20 percent for next year.
That could mean as much as a $700,000 cut in revenues to the city from the county option income tax and the economic development income tax.
“That will certainly impact the speed at which we can do things,” he said. “And that’s assuming that it’s not worse than that.”
Thallemer said he’s especially pleased with how the city’s online services, including streaming of all city meetings and broadcasting of virus-related news conferences, has allowed the city to better communicate with the public.
He said he’s hearing from many who want to know how they can help. One man emailed him and said he wanted to donate his federal relief check.
Thallemer suggested people consider donating to the rapid response fund set up by the Kosciusko County Community Foundation or to a specific agency that is assisting those in need due to the crisis.