Dan Sigler, our county attorney reported that while another county newspaper reported that we had terminated an employee, we had simply suspended the employee pending upcoming legal action. He also reported that the Whitley County Consolidated School system had yet to respond to our new contract for fuel. I think I mentioned in a previous column that 10 years ago the school and county had jointly built the fuel facility but the county is in charge of purchasing fuel and maintaining the equipment. The county needs to raise the amount that the school pays for a gallon of fuel as expenses have increased over the past 10 years. Hopefully we’ll have it worked out before school starts again. He also discussed with us that our contract with the EDC needs to be changed from monthly billing to semi-annual billing. Finally he talked with us about a lawsuit filed by a Churubusco person, with regard to drainage issues, in which the county was named as a defendant. This lawsuit is very old and it is his legal opinion that the county should not be named as a defendant. Finally we discussed our policy on the use of cell phones by county employees when in a vehicle. Rather than mandate that they not use a phone, we are asking employees to pull over at a safe location, stop and then use the phone.
In an earlier column I mentioned that Bagen, Incorporated had requested CEDIT funds for a renovation project. The commissioners, after touring their facility, decided that while we would be willing to provide some CEDIT funds, it should be for technology and geared towards recruiting or retaining employees. We offered them $25,000.00 for technology improvements.
Sheriff Hodges reported to the commissioners that the county Emergency Response Team (more commonly referred to as the SWAT team) had disbanded. He requested that we approve giving the ERT vehicle to the Columbia City ERT which is still active. This vehicle is actually one of our old retired ambulances so value to other departments of the county isn’t an issue. We voted to give the truck to the Columbia City ERT.
Michael Barton, our Highway Superintendent, reported to us that our 2009 road program had begun. It is our desire to single, double, and/or triple seal 57 miles of roads this year.
The department will be starting in the southwest portion of the county and working counterclockwise. They should be in Smith Township in mid-July. There will be some inconvenience to drivers but it’s our hope to hold it to a minimum.
He also reported that we have been able to purchase pea gravel here in Whitley County which is a win-win in that we are providing business to the pits and saving fuel and transportation costs to the county. Clean stone is very important in road building and the pit has agreed to wash the stone up to four times if necessary.
We also ask the superintendent to start a program of notifying citizens when serious roadwork will be done on their road. This won’t be the case for normal maintenance, just for larger projects. As of now, all citizens living on Anderson Road between 450E and 650E should have been notified of that project.
In completing his report, Mr. Barton asked if the interest earned on the Motor Vehicle Highway fund was returned to that fund or the county general fund. I don’t think anyone has every considered that idea but it’s a good one. Remember, MVH fund is NOT your property or real estate money, but money that comes from gas tax and distributed monthly by the state to municipalities. It only makes sense that our county treasurer keeps this fund and recurring interest separate as it helps our highway projects.
Mr. Alan Tio of the EDC presented to the commissioners, the annual EDC report. Also was discussed the formation of a committee that will screen requests for CEDIT funds. The commissioners are wholeheartedly in favor of starting this process.
The commissioners voted 3-0 to allow a sixty day (60) delay from June 1st to August 1st for using up compensation time before taking vacation time. Allow me to explain that county employees are not paid overtime; instead, they are given compensation time at the normal 1.5 rate after 40 hours in a seven day period. We have decided that before using vacation time, the employee needs to use their compensation time. Not mandating such a rule looks like we don’t want the employee to use the compensation time that they duly earned. Originally when we put this rule into effect we didn’t realize that some employees would not have time to use up their compensation time before their vacation time so we allowed the 60 day delay.
At our July 15th meeting as usual Dan Sigler led off the meeting with his county attorney report. At least this report was FUNNY!! Believe it or not, the county, specifically the county treasurer as the tax collector, has been sued by a citizen for “stealing his/her money”!! While it’s a frivolous lawsuit and will never be heard, it still costs the taxpayers money to defend such actions. Funny, but sad.
Other items discussed with the county attorney included whether or not department directors, without notifying the commissioners, should be asking for legal advice from the county attorney. It was generally felt that the commissioners be able to clear all such requests in an effort to save money in legal fees.
Paula Worden of Community Corrections gave us an update on several items including the work release center, grant money, a visit by the state director and a possible project in which we would provide (at a cost) a place to stay for a couple days after release from the work center. Oftentimes when first released they have nowhere to go. The commissioners tabled the issue in an effort to study the proposal further. She also reported that the current census was 51 at the work release center.
Finally she reported that the Youth Improvement Program (YIP) will soon be moving to the former Etna-Troy School building. This is a very important program that helps guide troubled youth that are having problems in the conventional school setting. When asked, she told me that Smith-Green has an agreement in place for four students. Kudos to Smith-Green.
Other issues that we dealt with at our meeting included a report from our maintenance head, Dennis Fenker. Mr. Fenker reported to us all needed repairs and/or projects that are required in the county owned buildings. While the list was lengthy, I was impressed by Mr. Fenker’s knowledge of the buildings, not a small task as we have several buildings.
In other business we received a request to provide the labor during the installation of signs proclaiming the old “Lincoln Highway.” Primarily it will be the county road we call Lincolnway. We are proud of the designation and were more than willing to have our highway department complete the task. It was during this discussion that we learned we do not have a “certified” signage person at the county highway department and therefore we directed the superintendent should handle the certification process.
The balance of the meeting was discussion of insurance. Our policies for liability and property damage expired on July 1st. Likewise, our county health policies expire on August 1st. We voted to stay with the current insurance agent, Star Insurance of Columbia City.
In closing, I need your help in the way of comments on a subject that drives us commissioners crazy. How much more, if any, do you pay to keep local vendors?
In other words, in our recent insurance talks our current vendor, Star Insurance was slightly higher than a potential vendor from Warsaw. Now this situation rectified itself when we discovered a serious lack in coverage from the proposed vendor and subsequently a premium that was higher than we currently pay. BUT, where should we draw the line in an effort to keep tax money in Whitley County? I’m a stickler for keeping our money at home but to what amount? I’d love to hear your opinion but, in all honesty, not by phone on this subject. So that I can gather and keep your opinions for future reference would you please contact me via email at email@example.com or by mail at 3977 NW Carlin Court, Churubusco, IN 46723.
Sorry I was long-winded but this was a very busy month, so take care and I hope you had a safe and happy July 4th.