Bright future: Mayor says only eclipse can darken Franklin

In his State of the City address, Mayor Steve Barnett painted a vivid picture of the city’s progress, emphasized collaboration and shared his vision for the community’s future.

Barnett expressed his gratitude to the city staff, board members and community ambassadors, whose support fostered economic growth while preserving Franklin’s hometown spirit.

The address, held Thursday at The Garment Factory Events in Franklin in conjunction with the Greater Franklin Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting, was attended by several hundred people. A recording of the address is available to watch on the city’s Facebook page, City of Franklin, Indiana — Government.

Collaboration a key

Reflecting on the defining moments of 2023, Barnett lauded the bicentennial celebration. The yearlong festivities were a combined effort between the Johnson County Museum, Festival Country, the City of Franklin, Greater Franklin Chamber of Commerce, Discover Downtown Franklin, Franklin Heritage as well as several non-profit organizations.

Amid the jubilation, Barnett recalled the spring EF-3 tornado which struck Johnson County. He commended emergency services and city employees for their swift aid to surrounding communities, paving the way to a return to normalcy.

“Franklin had major damage to the Johnson County Courthouse, the Franklin Street Department and the Historic Artcraft Theatre,” said Barnett. “I am really proud of the way our fire, police, street department and all city employees responded to this emergency.”

Collaboration was a recurring theme in the mayor’s address, with emphasis on educational partnerships with Superintendent of Franklin Community Schools David Clendening and Franklin College President Kerry Prather.

He also hailed collaborations with Johnson Memorial Hospital.

“Johnson Memorial Hospital CEO, Dr. David Dunkle and I talk about ways to cut health care costs for our citizens, businesses and city employees,” Barnett said. “I am proud to say that the City and JMH have partnered on their PMR Clinic expecting $250,000 to $400,000 of savings per year in health care costs.”

The Johnson County Commissioners and the Town of Whiteland also exemplified collaboration through their joint roundabout project at Paul Hand Boulevard and Graham Road, Barnett said.

He spoke about the city’s collaboration with Duke Energy and mentioned the upcoming electric vehicle charger installation by the Mayor’s Youth Leadership Council.

Barnett also thanked the Daily Journal for our story regarding a report from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry that found the contamination at Amphenol and Hoagland did not cause cancer.

City and health officials long thought the contamination was not a level that could cause cancer, however, reports from Indianapolis media spread fear about a cancer cluster and led people to believe water was unsafe. The Daily Journal took a facts-only approach.

“It’s really appreciated,” Barnett said. “[The Daily Journal] had the facts right from the very start.”

Improving quality of life

Increasing and maintaining the quality of life in Franklin was a focal point of Barnett’s speech. He applauded the community art projects including the addition of three new murals and the improvements to Kuji Alley, and emphasized the city’s commitment to environmental sustainability, with initiatives such as tree conservation programs. Franklin has been deemed a “Tree City USA” for seven years in a row.

He highlighted the completion of the Yandes Street project which was highly anticipated by the public.

“We didn’t know it was going to take this many years, but this historical street being completed during the bicentennial worked out perfectly,” Barnett said.

Home building slowed slightly in 2023, and Barnett was a “little bit disappointed” by this, he said. In recent years there have been an average of 150 new homes built in Franklin, but last year only 117 were constructed. Home sales across the country slowed last year partly because of an increase in mortgage rates, so Franklin is not alone in that slight slump.

In total, Franklin has seen 859 homes since 2017, when Barnett became mayor, he said.

Barnett outlined the city’s commitment to allocating resources wisely, with a significant portion of the budget earmarked for police and fire services.

Barnett highlighted achievements of the Franklin Police Department, such as the recruitment of additional officers, deployment of new equipment and successful community engagement initiatives. Similarly, he commended the Franklin Fire Department’s efforts in station renovations, vehicle acquisitions and community outreach programs.

City departments acquired ten grants in 2023 that totaled about $2.7 million, most of which went toward projects to improve quality of life, roads or public safety.

The city’s assessed value is now $1.5 billion, a major increase over the past few years, he said.

“I remember a couple of years ago saying that this was the first time we’ve ever been valued over a billion dollars, and now we are at one-and-a-half,” Barnett said.

Forging ahead

Looking forward to this year, Barnett said that it will be a “great year.”

Notable projects include the extension of Graham Road and the revitalization of downtown areas, aimed at attracting new businesses and stimulating economic growth. A major renovation of the Franklin Active Adult Center will also begin.

Barnett also spoke about the upcoming April total solar eclipse, an event expected to attract thousands of visitors to the Franklin community.

“We are as prepared as possible,” Barnett said. “Our department leaders have been doing research and talking with communities that have experienced similar events.”

He encouraged business owners to “do some research, embrace the chaos and take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime event.”

Looking ahead to 2024 and beyond, Barnett expressed optimism for Franklin’s future and urged residents to embrace the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.

He said a potential collaboration with the Johnson County Commissioners on a future parking garage project could also be on deck in the coming years.

Barnett said he will continue to “cautiously stand on the gas” and plan for the future of the city.

“Franklin will always be home and I will make sure to keep our residents informed as the city develops and expands,” he said. “We are shining bright on this journey to excellence and we refuse to let anything darken our path, except the eclipse.”