Brief Retrospective of Additional Town Objectives and Projects
There have been several objectives met and projects launched by Mayor Styron’s administrative staff and the town’s departments throughout this year that may have been overshadowed by the pandemic, the presidential election and other pressing issues affecting our community, our state and our country.
In this segment, we’ve highlighted some of the many positive moments, achievements and projects that have and will continue to improve efficiencies within all of the town’s departments, services for the residents and businesses within our community and improvements that impact the overall quality of life for our community as a whole.
From the Deputy Mayor Julie Johns-Cole on Administrative Restructuring
The mayor and her staff have been proactively working within the administrative offices and the town’s departments to better improve its processes and to implement technologies where none were previously available or where upgrades were needed to improve efficiencies throughout the departments.
“After taking office, the mayor and her transition team spent the first several weeks learning more about each department, observing processes and daily tasks,” Johns-Cole stated. “It was clear that there was an abundance of opportunity to leverage technology and many of the town’s processes that still heavily relied on paper hard copies. And through learning more and understanding what opportunities existed for us to improve some of these processes and daily tasks, we’ve been making things more efficient.”
Johns-Cole mentioned that as part of their efforts, the mayor created the Mayor’s Action Center that combined many of the public processes and tasks into a one-stop-shop for constituents.
“This opportunity provides better time savings for the customer to get everything they need from one location, and it also offers us an opportunity to cross-train some of our staff so they can learn a little bit more about each of the departments and provide additional support.”
When asked how the pandemic has impacted the town’s level of service, Johns-Cole replied, “It’s quite clear that we’re still going to be working remotely and virtually into 2021. And people are still hungry for information and data, so with offices closed and people working remotely, we want to make sure that as much information as possible is easily accessible through our website and that it’s digestible for any resident. We haven’t missed a beat for one second, and it’s been pretty remarkable what all we have been able to accomplish this year. It’s a great honor to be part of this team, for sure.”
Tammy Havard on Fiscal Responsibility
The town hired its first chief financial officer this year, who happens to also be the first CFO for a town in the state of Indiana. Havard previously worked for the City of Westfield as a financial strategist. Havard has a master’s degree in public policy and management from Carnegie Mellon University, is an alumna of the Harvard Executive Education Program with coursework on Public Financial Management in a Changing World and is a nationally certified public manager.
“I started this position in June after working with the City of Westfield for the past 12 years when it became a city from a town,” Havard said. “It is my understanding that I am the first CFO of Zionsville and the only [town] CFO in the state due to the reorganization structure that Zionsville has done.”
When asked specifically about the goals set for her position this year and going forward, Havard replied, “My goals are much bigger than just processing the financial transactions. I’m excited for the opportunity to create value for the residents of Zionsville because we’re continually looking for the opportunities to create efficiencies for both the interactions with the residents and the public, as well as internally with the [town’s] employees.”
Havard has already implemented some initial plans within the first few months of her start date and has implemented some exciting programs, such as the Purchasing Card Program (P-Card)—offered by the State of Indiana—which is designed to assist in the management and payment of business-related purchases.
The program streamlines the procurement and payment processes from beginning to end. The use of the procurement and travel card will virtually eliminate the use of traditional SDO purchases, and in many circumstances, the need for check requests or petty cash.
“My office is able to set the limits and all sorts of controls on these cards,” Havard explained. “In addition, we receive an annual rebate, which adds to the revenue line for the town. So, by spending money and paying vendors that we already need to pay, we actually make money back because of this program.”
Another example of Havard’s efforts to streamline processes, improve accessibility to data and report the town’s financials to the town council and general public is the implementation of Opengov. During her time at Westfield, she provided financial, process and software-driven solutions in each of the departments. She recovered millions of dollars for the city and implemented the OpenGov Transparency Portal to allow citizens to better understand the city’s revenues and expenses.
“I’m really excited about that,” Havard expressed. “It is a user-friendly interface used for reporting municipal finance and information out to the public. It shows the cash balances for the government funds, and it puts everything into plain English to where people can understand it. In the last council meeting, I was able to present stories—which is part of the platform. So, instead of just showing the revenue and the expenses that the council is requested to approve, I can build a story around it and explain what the fund is, what the sources of revenue are, what types of expenditures they are and new expenditures that may be in the 2021 budget that maybe weren’t in the 2020 budget, etc.”
Havard continued, “That’s the level of transparency that I want to get to in 2021 so that people can understand more about the information and data that is reported. There is also a permitting system, which the city of Fishers uses, that we will be rolling out in the next few months. Having it all integrated will make it much more efficient so that we can better utilize the data and find other things to be innovative about.”
Additionally, Havard explained that another function of her office is the function of Township Trustee.
“Public assistance applications have increased [due to COVID-19], and we are able to use our partnerships with agencies like HAND, who received funding for those specifically affected by COVID-19, for rental and utility assistance. The town did receive the full distribution from the CARES Act and received $880,000 from the federal government for public safety personnel, PPE, telework, disinfection and for [COVID-19] testing. And we expect to submit for a second round of funding at the end of this year and are getting more information. The revenue would come in 2021.”
Carol Johnson on Zionsville’s Climate Action Plan
What is a Climate Action Plan? A climate action plan is a fundamental step for Indiana cities and towns committed to protecting their communities from heavier rainfalls in spring and winter, more river and flash floods and more freeze-thaw events that lead to potholes, among other impacts. A Climate Action Plan outlines steps to take to reduce the town’s contribution to climate change. Our Climate Action Plan will be a road map for the Town of Zionsville to implement changes that increase sustainability efforts and reduce GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions, lessening the impact we have on our environment.
The Town of Zionsville is one of 11 communities selected to be part of Indiana University’s Resilience Cohort. The town is excited to join with thousands of cities across the world to lower its greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for the effects of climate change. Leading this charge is Carol Johnson, who also is the executive assistant to Mayor Styron.
“Zionsville was selected to join the Indiana University Resilience Cohort in 2020, and as part of that, we get to have the technical expertise coming from IU’s Environmental Resilience Institute,” Johnson shared. “We meet every couple of weeks on Zoom with all the other participating towns and cities. This past spring, Mindy Murdock, who was the interim superintendent for Parks and Recreation at the time, was able to get all this data entered into a software called ClearPath, which takes all the sources for greenhouse gas in a town or city and puts it into useful data tracking so that we can forecast where we were in 2018 and where we anticipate we’re going to be in 20–30 years if we change nothing.”
Johnson shared that this data is important because the town’s projected population is expected to increase twofold in the next couple of decades.
“The town’s population is expected to double, which is shocking to think about Zionsville becoming a 50,000-person town, but that is the actual forecast, and we’re trying to figure out a way to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions,” Johnson said. “The answer is, we probably won’t because we will have twice as many people, but we’re hoping to keep our per capita emissions consistent and have several strategies that we’ve put into the [Climate Action] plan. Some of these strategies deal with energy and waste diversion. We have had and will continue to have conversations with our representatives from Duke Energy and Boone REMC who have both made some commitments that we were able to take into account in our forecasting. We have written into the plan that we will review data and our strategies every three years to see how far we’ve come and what we can do better.”
Johnson is also working with a steering committee made up of local residents and town employees who helped frame questions for surveys that went out to the community, of which they received over 1,000 surveys.
When asked what Johnson’s immediate goals for the plan are for 2021, she replied, “One thing we’re hoping we can have for next year is an opt-in curbside compost program for town residents that would be handled by a separate business and not directly through the town. I’m really excited about that, and it is something that would have a meaningful impact on the environment that would add no cost to the town or residents that don’t wish to join the program.”
Additionally, Johnson said that Mayor Styron would like to see the creation and development of a Sustainability Commission in 2021.
“We are working towards developing that by the end of 2021,” Johnson stated. “It would be comprised of volunteers in an unofficial role who could look for funding, write grant applications and keep tabs on the strategies and projects. We’d like to offer educational programs related to sustainability as well.”
Lance Lantz on Zionsville’s Department of Public Works
As Zionsville’s DPW Director Lance Lantz said, it’s been a “banner year” for the town’s department of public works.
“We did not miss a step,” Lantz said. “COVID-19 didn’t affect the services that we provide in this town. We’re finalizing the quantification, but I can say that, budgetarily, we are about 2 ½ times the amount of money that we usually spend on heavy trash services, which would equate to 2 ½ times the participation or volume because people were home—especially during lockdown—and took advantage of that time to clean out their attics and basements.”
Lantz added that his department also saw a tremendous uptick in the spring and fall brush and limb pickup services for the same reason—people had time to spruce up their lawns.
“Our goal is to remain the silent workhorse that just gets thing done and doesn’t result in a lot of complaints working behind the scenes,” Lantz said. “Our goal was and is to make people feel like those services with which we do have direct control over were not and will not be disrupted.”
The DPW saw similar success with regard to road projects this year, but it had little to nothing to do with the affects of the pandemic or related lockdowns.
“This year, we had our highest year ever for centerline miles of roads paved,” Lantz shared. “Over seven miles of roads were resurfaced, reconstructed or repaved this year. And we have a very good budget set for 2021, so we’re looking to at least match or exceed those centerline miles. We have about 110 miles [for round numbers], and within the last couple of years, 14–15% of our roadway network has received significant and major improvements. That is a major level of expenditure effort that is unprecedented. We’ve never had this much funding, and we’ve never addressed that many road miles before.”
Some of the major road projects that Lantz discussed included the completion of Zionsville Road that was completed in its entirety last spring.
“Zionsville Road opened in the fall of 2019, but there was still some degree of work that had to be done in spring of 2020,” Lantz said. “That project represents 1.2 miles of reconstructed and enlarged roadway. The pathway elements that came along with that were around a mile and a half of multiuse pathways, and that equates to about 200 residences now having direct access to the pathway network and connectivity to the Main Street area. These residences now have pedestrian or nonvehicular access to our network and specific points within the network. The project also upgraded two traffic signals and added new pedestrian crossing elements to those two traffic signals along that project.”
Another major roadway project, the North-South Connector project, is the largest and most aggressive project the town has undertaken in its history, according to Lantz.
“It’s been a banner year for adding network capacity in our roadways this year,” Lantz enthused. “Although the North-South Connector is a multiyear project, this year we were able to complete the north roundabout on that and get that open to traffic in a completely finished state. That [north roundabout] is major roundabout number three for the town. And on the horizon for next year, as the construction on that project picks back up in spring, we’ll have the first roundabout construction on Oak Street on the south end of that project at Cooper Road or 850 E. And that roundabout will hopefully be open by mid-summer next year. I’m very excited to keep that project on track and am looking ahead at the next phase. We have a nearly completed design on the next roundabout for Oak Street on Kissel Road/800 E. We will be finalizing the design on that in 2021 and are working with property owners to acquire the necessary right-of-way to make that next roundabout. We will hopefully get that under construction soon after.”
The DPW received about $500,000 from a Community Crossings grant that reduced the local burden on some of the road resurfacing projects.
Lantz also shared that the town officially created the Department of Public Works in 2020 as part of the current administration’s restructuring initiatives.
“The DPW was created this year and the framework was put into place, and we’re in the process of changing title and other minor internal structural changes, but having that framework in place is very exciting,” Lantz said. “Along with that, we’re adding two staff engineers, and I currently have those positions open and advertised.”
I asked Lantz about his thoughts on the ZGA project and on Mayor Styron’s direction with that project, to which he responded, “I like the direction and the initiatives that the mayor is taking with the gateway project. We’ve long known that there were transportation improvement opportunities in that corridor. Past efforts had focused on designing projects on self-imposed constraints, and there was a litany of concerns. So essentially, the past approaches to the transportation of that area were geared towards efficiencies for vehicles and getting people through and to stop the bottleneck and the backups.”
Lantz continued, “What I like about this approach is that it blends the needs a little more thoroughly in that if we want to create a ‘place making’ exercise and an experience enhancement, then certain things have to be sacrificed. You can have anything, but you can’t have everything. The direction that I see this going is, there’s going to be necessary compromises. Let’s stop trying to build a bypass and make it easy for people and volumes of traffic to get through the heart of our town. Let’s make it an experience. And understand that one of the compromises is going to have to be the free flow of traffic. One of the benefits that will be realized is that through the use of intelligent traffic design, we know that we have some intersections downtown, specifically First Street and Oak Street, that are going to probably need a traffic signal or management in the future, beyond the three-way stop that is there currently.”
I asked Lantz if it was at all feasible to consider installing roundabouts in those specific areas that include the ZGA, and he offered some thoughtful logic. In the surrounding communities, most of the Main Street areas have been completely redeveloped, and the roundabouts had been assimilated into those redevelopment projects. They are not original to the architecture nor is the architecture original to the infrastructure.
“If we abandon the roundabouts or the desire to get around the traffic solution elements in the gateway study area, that only leaves a traffic signal,” Lantz explained. “If we consolidate the two intersections, involving Sycamore Street as it comes into town, into one efficiently signalized intersection, that allows us to interconnect that signal with the future signals, and let them operate harmoniously and tie the timings together for the peak travel times. This also provides a more comfortable pedestrian experience.”
Lantz added, “We’ve taken great pride and have been very fortunate through the years that we didn’t fall victim early to redevelopment in Zionsville for many years. We’ve preserved the downtown that other communities are now trying to re-create. If we want to install a roundabout in the downtown area, it is going to be incongruous, in my opinion. Traffic signals, as much as they can be viewed as inefficient compared to roundabouts, they still fit small-town America. We have to look at what we want to do to perpetuate and augment and do it in a way that preserves our core downtown and its architectural elements. We can’t just build an antique roundabout.”
Wayne DeLong on Wayfinding Initiatives for Residents, Visitors and Employees
A little bit of history of the town’s wayfinding initiatives: Wayfinding is defined as a system of signs that provide navigational assistance to bicyclists, pedestrians and automobile users, including information about destinations, travel distances and other information about the system.
The Town of Zionsville sought proposals from consulting groups specializing in transportation planning, design and wayfinding to develop a Town of Zionsville Wayfinding Plan for Zionsville’s pathways, corridors and destinations. All forms of transportation (speeds) were taken into consideration in the Wayfinding Plan (e.g., foot traffic, bicycles, golf carts, automobiles).
In 2012, the Town of Zionsville conducted an Economic-Development Strategic Plan. In this plan, it was mentioned that a community-wide wayfinding plan should be developed. This idea was touched on again in the 2014 Comprehensive Plan Amendment Downtown Zionsville Market Study Parking Analysis with regards to locating public parking. In 2016, Zionsville Strategic Trails Implementation Plan was approved. This plan, while more detailed in its responses than prior plans, recommended establishment of a community-wide wayfinding system.
“We’ve got a lot of geography here, and there’s lots of different pockets and nodes,” Wayne DeLong, director of planning and economic development, stated. “And you can have conversations with somebody who lives out in one of the townships and doesn’t even realize that they’re in Zionsville. So, the goal of the wayfinding program is to find a way to communicate to people where they are in the scheme of the community. For instance, there are different districts, such as the ‘Village District’ or rural districts, and we want to find a way to communicate through imagery where you are at in town and how close you are to an amenity that you didn’t know was there if you’re on one of the trails. You might not realize that just a few more steps this way or that way is this great natural feature. Or that over [here] are public restrooms. This wayfinding program ties right into our gateway study that we’re doing as well.”
While most locals can agree that the epicenter of the community is its downtown, DeLong emphasized that there is much more to Zionsville for residents and visitors to enjoy.
“Wayfinding is going to help locals be visitors in their own town,” DeLong said. “By using the trail systems, people will benefit both their health and the environment by cutting down on [vehicular] traffic and can experience the town’s brick-and-mortars and restaurants through the trail system, so the wayfinding project is a quality of life effort as well by enhancing the quality of life. It is also an economic development tool because businesses and employees are focused on many different things, including taking care of themselves and their environment where they work. It attracts new businesses when they see a community taking care of itself—that adds value.”
DeLong explained further that wayfinding, from an economic development point of view, is an investment in the community, and it visually demonstrates that the Town of Zionsville is doing positive things for its residents and visitors by making it easier to navigate.
The official wayfinding website for the Town of Zionsville was recently launched. To learn more about the project and to provide input via a survey, visit the project website: www.GettingAroundZville.com.
In addition to the survey, a [virtual] public input meeting will take place at Zionsville Town Hall on Thursday, Jan. 28 at 9 a.m. and at 4 p.m. (same content for both meetings).
And for additional information and press releases about all of the administration and town departments’ achievements and projects for all of 2020, visit the Town of Zionsville’s website at zionsville-in.gov.