At our first meeting of November we approved a contract with Accurate Assessment, Inc. to continue to perform our “new construction” inspection for assessing and also to perform the state mandated “trending,” again an assessment project. We have been working with Accurate Assessment for a lot of years and their work has always met or exceeded our expectations. They perform work that as a township assessor Patty and I used to perform. When a new home, barn, actually any structure is built it must be assessed. The county assessor noticed that similar homes in the county were assessed differently so as to have equal assessments for equal buildings; we decided to have one company do the new construction assessing. It’s a good thing our county was ahead of the game because in July of 2008 our legislature did away with township assessors.
Next on our agenda was the report of Mr. Dan Sigler, our county attorney. Mr. Sigler reported that the county and humane shelter had reached an agreement where the county would pay the shelter $5,000.00 and the shelter would again accept animals from the county. Furthermore there would be no agreement or contract for 2010 but a committee will look at other options. Mr. Sigler then asked the commissioners if they wanted to expand the proposed “barking dog” ordinance to include a “noise” ordinance. The commissioners indicated that for now they only want to deal with barking dogs and perhaps a noise ordinance could be considered at another time. Mr. Sigler then stated that he would have a barking dog ordinance ready for us to sign at our next meeting.
Brandon Forrester P.E., our county engineer advised the board that USI (our current bridge inspectors) were present to discuss the reason why our next four year proposal increased from $60,000 to $107,495. The explanation included new state and federal regulations along with a newly mandated software program as the reasons. The board was reminded that this program is 80% funded by the state with the county having to pickup about 20 percent an actual increase of about $ 9000.00. Further discussion indicated that since this was a proposal and not a “bid,” this amount is further capable of negotiation and Mr. Forrester was asked to continue negotiations. The commissioners did approve the contract with the negotiation stipulation.
Sheriff Hodges came before the commissioners to request three new sheriff vehicles with a total cost of $74,000.00. It is essential that we purchase two to three cars each year to keep from having to replace the entire fleet at one time. Normally we try to place the used police cars in the hands of other county departments that require transportation. To be honest with you, I’m opposed to giving used sheriff vehicles to other departments because I feel that the cars are beyond their useful life and we should consider giving more fuel efficient cars to the departments that require transportation in their daily duties.
Chairman Tom Rethlake has received complaints from citizens about vehicles passing school buses that have their stop arms out and flashers on. While this isn’t a responsibility of the commissioners, we felt that inviting local police agencies and school transportation directors from the Whitley County Consolidated Schools, Smith-Green Schools, and Whitko Schools to our meeting in an effort to discuss this problem would be prudent. It was a great discussion. One school transportation director lamented that his drivers were no longer calling in these infractions because it appeared that nothing was being done about it. Brian Bills of the Indiana State Police told us that he used to be the contact person when these problems were called in; however, the ISP had taken the issued cell phones away from the officers so he no longer could receive calls. He stated that if he had a way to be contacted he would pursue each case. I asked our county coordinator, Amy Crickmore, if we had any county cell phones available and she said that we have one. I made a motion that we assign this cell phone to Trooper Bills if he agreed to carry it. He did agree and the transportation directors all stated that they would again request that their bus drivers report any further cases as soon as they happen. Student safety is not just the responsibility of the schools but everyone’s responsibility.
In other business, we were informed that the first annual “Veteran’s Day Marathon” would take place on Saturday November 14th. The commissioners approved the use of the courthouse lawn for marathon activities. In addition to a very healthy activity, this marathon brought about 400 folks to Whitley County and I understand that every motel room was full! A great economic boost to the county as well.
Under the heading of “you can’t win them all,” I suggested that the impact of H1N1 illness was such that we should give our employees additional time off so that they could stay home with not only their ill children but non-infected siblings as well (they would soon be infected most likely) . At the time, Dr. Lisa Hatcher, our County Health doctor had suggested that ill children be kept in the home for seven days and unaffected siblings kept in as well for five days. This would get the unaffected siblings through the incubation period. Unfortunately I had no support for my request as it would be very hard to “police” the additional time off.
On the subject of H1N1 I want to thank the entire health department and especially April Waugh, RN from our immunization clinic. April and her staff have worked tirelessly to see that immunizations are administered. I’m also happy to report that we have had some volunteers from the EMS help with our shot clinics. Volunteers include Robin Holloway RN/Advanced EMT, Duane Ginder EMT/P, and Doug Reed EMT/P. Again thanks to all who have worked so hard to see our citizens are immunized against this current flu. As I write this it appears that the flu has gone on Christmas vacation but with family gatherings soon coming up you can bet that another wave of flu will soon be here. Currently we have enough vaccine for everyone so if you see a clinic available please go and get immunized. There is no cost for this immunization.
Other items discussed, or worked on in November was a combined grant initiative between the county and Columbia City about the sewer project that is needed in Coesse, and the need to apply for a grant that would allow the county to become “greener” and save the taxpayers money with regard to energy situations. One of the things the grant would cover would be replacing all light bulbs in the jail with energy efficient lighting. We also re-appointed Dr. Lisa Hatcher as the County Health officer. Dr. Hatcher is NOT a “behind the scenes” medical director but a very, very hard working and conscientious medical professional who has made a significant impact on keeping Whitley County residents healthy. It was a pleasure to re-appoint her.
Also, we heard from David Sewell, the planning director, that we are getting closer to having an updated “Comprehensive Plan” for Whitley County. Our last plan was dated 1993!! We all agree that this plan needs updated more often. We selected Ground Rules of Indianapolis to perform the work but a final contract will not be signed until we have finished negotiations with them that will give the county “the most bang for the buck.”
From the inception of computers the county has never had an “IT” (Informational Technologist) but instead used a variety of computer repair agencies. For the past few years we’ve used one man in particular and have been very happy with his work. His name is Jim Becher and he is very responsive to our needs. In an effort to feel a little more comfortable with knowing that he will always be available and so that the county does not have to fund a new “full time” position, Jim and the county have reached an agreement that will make him our “IT” person. He will not be a full-time employee, but a contracted employee for now. We all agreed that eventually the county will require a full time IT person.
In closing, I want to bring up another situation that I want to hear comments on. Awhile back I mentioned that EMS funding is going to have to change from using CEDIT (Economic Development Income Tax) and instead be funded by another method. Folks, this is a significant expenditure each year and I won’t deny that I don’t want the EMS service downgraded. We have had an EMS service in Whitley County unmatched by any others for quite a few years; however, it has been downgraded on at least one occasion and I don’t want that to happen again. The citizens of Whitley County deserve the best pre-hospital care possible. Here’s the deal. Currently it costs the county about $380,000 annually to keep the EMS at a breakeven point. Medicare reimbursement rates are going lower and no one knows the outcome of the current healthcare initiative at the federal level. Furthermore, it’s becoming obvious that within a few years volunteerism in Churubusco and South Whitley will wane to the point that full time personnel are going to be required. A knowledgeable guess is that the $380,000 EMS expense will go to about $610,000 by 2014. When I was the EMS Director I suggested to the county council that they put EMS on the tax role but that never happened, so now we must find an alternate way to fund it. A couple of ideas being considered are the incorporation of a Local Option Income Tax (LOIT) which, while adding an income tax, would decrease your real estate tax or, initiating a fee similar to the fee for recycling on your annual real estate tax statement. I have to guess that such a “fee” would have to be in the area of $50.00 to $60.00 annually. I’d love to hear your comments and would request that you send them to me at email@example.com or by regular mail at 3977NW Carlin Court, Churubusco, IN 46723. I’m always glad to take your calls but it’s hard to compile comments received by phone.
I hope your holidays are happy and thanks for listening.