Starke County News Items

City and County Officials Clash Over Jail Commissary Trash (9/23)

posted Sep 23, 2016, 8:55 AM by North Judson-Wayne Township Public Library

Posted on September 23, 2016
Author Mary Perren, WKVI 

Commissary items being flushed down the toilets at the Starke County Jail are causing problems for the Knox Wastewater Department. Superintendent Kelly Clemons told the county commissioners Monday night the city has lost two pumps since Sept. 6th due to trash like razors, toothbrushes and elastic underwear bands getting into the lines.

Clemons says the county needs to install a mechanical screen in order to get the trash out. Commissioner Kathy Norem pointed out the system that is currently in place is the one Clemons selected and is not what the engineers with DLZ originally proposed. Clemons says that’s because the original recommendation called for trash to be ground. According to Clemons, that won’t work because the sewage is pumped from the jail through two lift stations en route to the Wastewater Treatment Plant at the back of Wythogan Park. She says any grease or debris that might be in the line would catch on the ground matter and cause blockages along the way.

The engineer who recommended the existing system told the county only small pieces would get through the bar screen, but Clemons says that hasn’t been the case. The city has been having problems with trash from the jail for more than a year. She adds trash must be removed.

“The commissary either needs to be taken away or some kind of screen put in. There’s no way to get around it,” Clemons said. That drew an objection from Sheriff Bill Dulin, who said the commissary is staying. He agreed the trash needs to be taken out and noted that during the issue was raised during the discussions of the new jail builidng.

Clemons, Dulin and jail maintenance director Tony Mildice are to meet and come up with a recommended solution and a cost prior to the next commissioners meeting. Meanwhile, Clemons suggested the bar screen be checked at least once per hour by Mildice or a member of the staff. If the problem persists, Clemons says the mayor is ready to fine the county.

Park Board Suspends Bass Lake Beach Gazebo Demolition Order (9/23)

posted Sep 23, 2016, 8:50 AM by North Judson-Wayne Township Public Library   [ updated Sep 23, 2016, 8:56 AM ]

Posted on September 23, 2016
Author Michael Gallenberger, WKVI 

The gazebo at the Bass Lake Beach may be getting a new lease on life. The Starke County Park Board called for its demolition this past July, due to concerns that the structure was becoming a safety hazard, as well as a lack of funding to make repairs. Since then, however, members of the community have begun fundraising efforts in order to save the gazebo, organizing a raffle earlier this month to help raise money.

It was reported during Tuesday’s park board meeting those residents have gotten estimates for the repair of the structure and have been in contact with County Building Inspector Terry Stephenson. The park board then decided to suspend its demolition order, in order to give residents a chance to develop more formal plans to save the structure.

However, board member Debbie Mix opposed the measure, and wondered why the operator of the beach didn’t remove the structure when asked. “As far as I’m concerned, you’re in breach of contract,” she said. “I mean I hate to tell you that, but that’s my point of view. . . In writing, it was told to come down, and it hasn’t been. It’s been over two months now.”

But Park Board President Roger Chaffins said he’d rather see the gazebo saved, if possible. “I feel that I would like to see that done, after we’d made that motion to take it down,” Chaffins said. And they’re willing to put in the effort on their own expense, not Callahan enterprises but public people are willing to try to save it, other people. I see no problem with that.”

Callahan’s attorney agreed to allow the community members to proceed with the repair effort on the Bass Lake Beach and Campground property. Project organizers were asked to provide written plans for the work by the October park board meeting.

Bluejay Strategic Planning Group to Meet Next Week (9/23)

posted Sep 23, 2016, 8:46 AM by North Judson-Wayne Township Public Library

Posted on September 23, 2016
Author Mary Perren, WKVI 

The newly appointed Bluejay Strategic Planning Group will meet for the first time next week to discuss ways to market the North Judson-San Pierre School Corporation. Superintendent Dr. Annette Zupin told the school board Tuesday night she’s selected nine volunteers from the community to bring much-needed perspective to the school corporation’s work.

She says the purpose is to ensure and increase positive communication between the school and the community.

“Collaboration within this group will allow us to hear directly from our school community and provide us with insight, concerns, and questions from all stakeholders.  In addition, this alliance will also be able to provide information to the community regarding emerging trends and practices in education and within our own school corporation,” Zupin said.

They will meet Thursday, Sept. 29 at 6:30 p.m. at the central office. The meeting is NOT open to the public. At that time, Zupin says the team will develop objectives, including how to market the school. She says enrollment and the data analysis of students who have withdrawn from N.J.-S.P. will serve as the foundation of the discussion and development of the plan. Over the past year, the corporation has lost 31 students.

Starke County Hopes to Take Possession of Former San Pierre Bank (9/23)

posted Sep 23, 2016, 8:44 AM by North Judson-Wayne Township Public Library

Posted on September 23, 2016
Author Michael Gallenberger, WKVI 

Starke County may soon be able to move ahead with the demolition of a dilapidated San Pierre building. The former bank has become a safety concern for the community, to the point where the county has had to install barriers around the building.

But until now, contacting the owner of the property has been a bit of a challenge for County Building Inspector Terry Stephenson. “We finally got a proper address,” Stephenson told the Starke County Plan Commission Wednesday. “All the registered letters we’ve been sending have been coming back. He was in this week to pay taxes, and so they got an address from him. So we’ve sent a registered letter to try to get him to sign that property over to us, so we can get it cleaned up because it is just definitely an eyesore.”

Once the county takes possession of the property, it would then clear the way for demolition to proceed.

Starke County Unemployment Largely Stays Flat (9/23)

posted Sep 23, 2016, 8:42 AM by North Judson-Wayne Township Public Library

Posted on September 23, 2016
Author Tyler Maffitt, WKVI 
August unemployment rates have been released, and Starke County appears to have ticked up a bit from the previous month.

According to the report, released by the Starke County Economic Development Foundation, Starke County reported an unemployment rate of 5.3-percent. That’s a .2-percent increase from July’s reporting period.

That figure puts Starke County as the 16th highest unemployment rate in the state of Indiana. Compared with it’s neighbors, Starke County is considered relatively high as well.

Pulaski County reported an unemployment rate of 4.7-percent with Marshall County checking in at 3.8-percent. LaPorte was the highest in the immediate area with unemployment of 6-percent in August.

August’s report indicates that a majority of Indiana counties saw their unemployment rates increase between July and August The state as a whole is sits at 4.5-percent unemployment.

CAFO Permit Fees Amended by Starke County Plan Commission (9/22)

posted Sep 22, 2016, 8:44 AM by North Judson-Wayne Township Public Library

Posted on September 22, 2016
Author Michael Gallenberger, WKVI 

Permit fees for concentrated animal feeding operations were revisited Wednesday by the Starke County Plan Commission.

Back in July, the plan commission decided that the $250 fee per structure was too low, considering the size of many such operations, and decided to simply place CAFOs into the category of commercial and industrial buildings. However, the revised fee of 20-cents per square foot, up to a maximum of $5,000 was considered too high by many farmers. Now, plan commissioners hope they’ve found the sweet spot with a fee of $500 per CAFO structure.

That result came after a bit of discussion involving various parties. Attorney Jim Federoff appeared on behalf of the Indiana Pork Advocacy Coalition. He says that Indiana law appears to limit how much revenue may be generated from permit fees. “The fee has to be reasonable and it has to be rationally related to the purpose of the fee, which in this case is an ILP,” he said. “Based on my experience doing land use law and from what I can see applicable in Starke County, I think the last amendment with a fee up to $5,000 for CAFOs for an ILP would not be consistent with the law.”

But Plan Commission Director Terry Stephenson noted that CAFO permitting can mean a lot of work for his department if all the steps are properly followed. “If they would call for the number of inspections they’re supposed to call for, which would be eight to 10, there’s a lot of administrative fees,” he said.

Plan Commission Attorney Martin Bedrock pointed out that Starke County’s updated proposal is comparable to fees seen in other counties. “Ours is not out of line,” Bedrock said. “Ours is a flat $500 fee, which will take in all the costs of all the inspections, and there’s no additional, like in Marshall County, they charge $800 plus twenty- cents per square foot over a certain size, I guess. So $500 is not out of line with all the surrounding counties.”

To help offset some of the administrative costs of processing CAFO applications, the plan commission decided to add a $75 filing fee to the $500 permit, due to the steps required to process the applications. Plan commissioners also decided to double the re-inspection fee to $100 for all permits. It’s charged when the county is called out to conduct an inspection, but the work is deemed to be incomplete.

The Starke County Plan Commission approved the changes unanimously.

Proposed N.J.-S.P. Budget Factors in Declining Enrollment (9/22)

posted Sep 22, 2016, 8:40 AM by North Judson-Wayne Township Public Library

Posted on September 22, 2016
Author Mary Perren, WKVI 
The North Judson-San Pierre School Corporation’s proposed 2017 budget reflects shrinking revenue, according to information shared during this week’s budget hearing.

Business Manager and Treasurer Guy Richie told the county council the proposal is very similar to what was approved last year, except the dollar amounts are less. The approved 2016 budget is $7.6 million, compared to $7,035,070 proposed for 2017 . Richie says the dip in funding is due to dwindling enrollment. N.J.-S.P. has seen a steady slip in both revenue and enrollment over the past decade. The school board reluctantly approved a reduction in force in the spring after voters rejected a general fund property tax referendum last November. Richie says they also set up a $1.1 million rainy day fund with money from capital projects and transportation. He says it has buoyed the general fund.

“Over the past eight months, we have expended $576,000 less, so with our reductions that are in place, they are working. But at the same time, the receipts in that time frame have been over $700,000 less. So our current cash balance shows at $469,000, but if we had not had the rainy day transfer nor the reductions, we would be negative right now.”

Additionally, enrollment at N.J.-S.P. is down 31 students over this time last year, which will affect the amount of tuition money the corporation gets from the state. Superintendent Dr. Annette Zupin told the school board Tuesday night she’s in the process of analyzing the data to determine where students went and why.

Richie says told the council enrollment N.J.-S.P. has been declining for the past 14 or 15 years and is expected to continue doing so based on birth rate and aging population data. The council conducts the corporation’s annual budget hearing and approves their proposal since the school board is appointed.

Zupin says the administration will keep a close watch on enrollment and identify potential reductions in force.

“We will look every year about this time, because of the ADM, matching staff with students to get a ratio. It’s something we’re going to have to visit every year and make sure we’re being prudent,” she said.

Several corporations are experiencing declines in enrollment as a result of fewer school-aged children and the state’s open enrollment policy, which allows students to attend classes outside of their home district without paying tuition. Council members asked Zupin at what point the county’s three corporations seriously discuss shared services. She says they’ve talked about it and already have arrangements in place for vocational programs.

Proposed Starke County Budget Includes Employee Pay Raises (9/22)

posted Sep 22, 2016, 8:11 AM by North Judson-Wayne Township Public Library

Posted on September 22, 2016
Author Mary Perren, WKVI 

Starke County government employees stand to get raises in 2017 following action by the county council during their budget hearing Monday evening. They recommended approval of 2-percent raises for all employees. That will cost about $65,000, which will come from the county general fund.

Last year employees got one-percent pay raises and longevity for those with five years of continuous, full-time county employment. The policy is designed to reward workers who stay with the county and does not apply to elected officials. Additionally employees who retire from the county but later return to work will not have their prior years of service count toward their longevity.

Council members noted year-to-year changes at the state level make it hard to say what they will be able to do for employees in 2018, so they opted for a slightly higher raise in 2017’s budget proposal. The bump in pay still must be approved by the state.

Starke County Park Board Seeks Consultants for Five-Year Plan (9/22)

posted Sep 22, 2016, 8:07 AM by North Judson-Wayne Township Public Library

Posted on September 22, 2016
Author Michael Gallenberger, WKVI 

The Starke County Park Board is moving ahead with the process of finding a consultant to create a five-year plan for the county’s park facilities. A comprehensive plan is required before the county may receive grant funding from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

During Tuesday’s park board meeting, Kankakee-Iroquois Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Edwin Buswell gave board members a list of options for moving ahead with the planning process. One that was previously discussed was getting a grant to pay for the plan. Buswell said Tuesday that the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs offers grants of up to $15,000 for that purpose. But it would cost Starke County an estimated $6,000 or more to hire a consultant to conduct a county-wide income survey to prove Starke County’s eligibility for that grant.

Buswell also told the park board that KIRPC could create the park plan itself for a cost of $10,000. “You wouldn’t get the same level of detail in what we do as what the consultants do,” Buswell said. “You wouldn’t get engineering designs. You wouldn’t get detailed cost estimates if we were to do it. Basically, we’d be meeting the requirements of DNR. We’d be establishing goals and objectives.” Alternatively, KIRPC could do some of the preliminary work, while leaving it up to the park board to write the actual plan.

In an apparent effort to move the process along, the Starke County Commissioners agreed earlier this month to appropriate up to $15,000 to help create the plan. With that money available, the park board chose to have KIRPC advertise for proposals from outside planning firms. Buswell also agreed to contact of few of them directly, along with Purdue and Ball State Universities. Starke County is interested in having students create the plan as part of their coursework, in an effort to save on costs. Board members would then have the opportunity to review the proposals and interview prospective consultants. Buswell said that once a planner is chosen, it will typically conduct a survey, as well as a series of meetings with various groups that have a special interest in the parks, as well as the general public.

One issue to be addressed in the planning process is how much oversight the park board should have over various open areas and recreational facilities in the county. Starke County Attorney Marty Lucas has been trying to assemble a list of potential county park facilities. Additionally, Starke County Highway Superintendent Rik Ritzler presented his own list of properties the County Highway Department is asked to maintain. “I get, every day, asked to maintain public property that’s not roadways,” Ritzler said. “For example, Koontz Lake has a beach too and they have more people who live there, and I was just asked to bring 50 tons of sand there today. I think the park board could help administer that.”

The hope is to have the five-year park plan completed in time to make the county eligible for 2017 DNR grants. That means a draft has to be created and submitted to the DNR by January 15.

N.J.-S.P. Board to Remain Appointed for Now (9/21)

posted Sep 21, 2016, 8:54 AM by North Judson-Wayne Township Public Library

Posted on September 21, 2016
Author Mary Perren, WKVI 

Overwhelming public support of an elected North Judson-San Pierre School Board was not enough to overcome the estimated $15,000 cost to transition from the current appointed body. Members voted four to one last night to maintain the status quo. The most recent appointee, Derrick Stalbaum of Rich Grove Township, cast the lone vote in favor of transition via community committee. After polling the board, President Pat Goin said, “I will support whatever plan is brought to the school, hear that loud and clear. I think all the rest of the school board members will, too. We just don’t have the money to pay for it right now.”

Board members received 206 signed responses to a Google survey posted on the school corporation’s website, with 417 comments offered. Of those, members say 85 percent favored an elected board.

Several members of the public who spoke after the board’s decision questioned why cost was never raised as a factor before and pointed out the board’s promise to base their decision on survey responses and the will of the people. Matt Bailey has been one of the leading voices for change. After the meeting he said he was disappointed but not surprised.

Earlier this year, Bailey offered to share in the cost of drafting the transition plan if the board made a decision at its June meeting. The board instead opted to gather more information and give members of the public a chance to weigh in. Bailey says the funding issue was not raised again until 8 p.m. Monday when he got an email from a board member asking if he was still willing to contribute.

He’s previously stated the Bluejay Nation Pride group would proceed with a referendum if the school board failed to act. There’s not time to get the question before voters this fall. Bailey says he’s not yet sure the next steps in the process.

“We’re definitely going to move forward, but what that forward is, there’s some different options there. This has been a long process. It’s been five months now. It’s just something that we need to sit down and think through and make that decision and take those next steps,” Bailey said after the meeting.

A transition plan needs to be drawn up before a petition can be circulated to bring the matter to a vote. The school board’s attorney has advised completing a plan would cost about $15,000. Bailey’s group has already spoken to an attorney about what that process entails. At this time he’s not sure whether they will try to schedule a special election next year or wait until 2018. A special election would carry an additional cost.

WKVI will air the entire discussion on Sunday at noon on Kankakee Valley Viewpoints, as we have throughout this process.

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