AUBURN — In talking about her campaign for mayor, Sarah Payne uses the phrase, “a new day in Auburn.”
“What I bring to the table is this balance of experience and fresh perspective that is really important in moving our community forward,” she said.
Payne, 42, is running for mayor on the Democratic ticket in the Nov. 5 election, although she de-emphasizes the notion of party. She and Republican Mike Ley are seeking the office left open by the retirement of 20-year Mayor Norm Yoder.
Payne points to her involvement with local nonprofits, especially Auburn Main Street, which promotes improvements downtown such as the 6th and Main streets renovation and the proposed Cedar Creek Landing.
“My north star has always been what’s in the best interest of this community,” Payne said.
“Being reactive to problems rather than being proactive is one of the largest problems in our community,” she added. “What we need is to open up the windows and let some fresh air in, and have some new ideas come to light. …I think that comes from really being intentional about including people.”
Payne points to the example of Cedar Creek Landing, a proposed park along the west bank of Cedar Creek, between 7th and 9th streets. It would include room for a farmers market, a canoe landing and a war memorial.
The plan for Cedar Creek Landing grew out of a survey, a community forum and a steering committee designed to include multiple segments of the community, she said.
“The results of projects are so much better when they come from the community,” Payne said.
“One of the things that really inspired me to run was the idea of getting people involved — going beyond the usual suspects — and really reaching out intentionally to say everybody’s voice should be heard,” she added.
She would take that approach to issues such as how to replace the city’s closed swimming pool.
“I would love to do a total evaluation, both with survey and community forums, to get feedback from the community about what do they really see as the need for our parks and recreation department,” Payne said.
“What is the future of water recreation? Is it a water park? … Is it a splash pad? Is it a better collaboration with the YMCA?” Payne asked. “We simply don’t know until we get enough people at the table — we do surveying.”
Payne has pledged to create a historic preservation commission for the city if she is elected. It would provide expert help to property owners with the process of obtaining state grants and tax credits.
“Our historic buildings are our biggest asset,” Payne said. “It’s important that we act in a way that’s much more proactive about looking at how we can preserve those buildings in a way that meets our community’s needs.”
Payne sees obtaining grants as one of her strengths. She said a $500,000 state grant made the 6th and Main street makeover a better project.
“We have just seen the tip of the iceberg of what’s available to us” in grants, she said.
Making city walkable
Grants could be available to make Auburn’s west edge more friendly for pedestrians, Payne said. During her campaign visits, she became concerned about walking and biking accessibility for some 700 homes in the West Edge neighborhood.
“When we live in neighborhoods that are more walkable, it supports better property values for everyone,” Payne said. Toward that goal, she would like to see Auburn do more to help property owners repair sidewalks.
Fort Wayne offers low-interest, 10 year loans to encourage sidewalk repairs, she said. Auburn could combine that with its program of paying for removal of old sidewalks when requested. More people need to know about that service, she said.
“Making walking an easy choice for people and part of the culture of a community” is one aspect of Blue Zones, a concept Payne has used in her campaign. Blue Zones emphasizes nine factors shared by places where people live longer.
“It’s all about making the healthy choice an easy choice,” Payne said. “It’s just the right thing to do for a community to support it to be healthier.”
Through creating communities where people want to live, “Quality of place is the future of economic development,” Payne said.
More housing needed
With employers in the Auburn area, she said, “There’s plenty of jobs. What they need is the talent to fill those jobs. … One of the obstacles to attracting talent is having some affordable housing options for people.”
She added, “There’s some creative things that communities across the country are doing to incentivize young people to choose to live in their communities.” She pointed to programs that help with down payments for people who work in public services, such as teachers, police officers or firefighters. Low-interest loans or grants could be written off in return for living in the home for a prescribed number of years.
Auburn has a shortage of affordable, entry-level homes for young families to buy, Payne said, and she would work with housing developers to encourage them.
Payne said too often, leaders work on projects that are “to” or “for” their communities.
“I think you, as a strong leader, need to do projects with your community,” she said.
“When we talk about change, it doesn’t mean that we want Auburn to be something different. It’s more about we understand that change is inevitable, and that as a community, you are either going to react to change, or you’re going to lead the community through a change,” Payne said.
“We should do everything that we can to make sure that we’re having leaders that are open and transparent. I think that’s really powerful.”