Starke County News Items

North Judson-San Pierre School Board to Consider Capital Projects (3/23)

posted by North Judson-Wayne Township Public Library

Posted on March 23, 2017
Author Mary Perren, WKVI 

The North Judson-San Pierre School Board wants input from residents before finalizing plans for building renovations and updates. Superintendent Dr. Annette Zupin told the school board Tuesday night the bond for the auditorium project is almost paid off. She says the corporation can maintain the debt service rate and take care of some other needs on the campus.

Board members will meet for a work session in early April to discuss options prior to the April 18th board meeting. Zupin says they will formally discuss the preliminary project scope, tax impact, which should be zero, and potential financing options at that meeting.

A special called community meeting will take place sometime in late April at the auditorium to provide more information about estimated costs and savings and get community input with regard to the proposals.

Meanwhile, Zupin encourages any member of the community who would like to tour the campus to call maintenance supervisor Wilbur Collins at 574-896-2158 ext 282 to make arrangements.

Past discussions have involved investments in making the buildings more energy efficient.

Starke Council Adds Skilled Part-Time Classification to Salary Ordinance (3/23)

posted by North Judson-Wayne Township Public Library

Posted on March 23, 2017
Author Mary Perren, WKVI 

A handful of part-time county employees could be getting pay raises following Monday action by the Starke County Council. They agreed to create a “skilled part-time” wage classification as part of the salary ordinance.

The issue was first raised by Starke County Clerk Vicki Cooley when she requested a pay increase for her election clerk. Cooley says it’s a 32.5-hour-per-week position, but since it’s considered part-time there are no insurance benefits or paid time off.

The skilled part-time classification also includes cooks at the Starke County Jail. The commissioners set the starting wage for skilled part-time employees at $10.13 per hour, which can go up to $12.13 per hour after 90 days at the discretion of the supervisor.

Council members note the policy only applies to a few employees. They do not anticipate a major budgetary impact as a result of the new policy.

Starke Commissioners Approve Independent Inspection of Bass Lake Beach and Campground (3/23)

posted by North Judson-Wayne Township Public Library

Posted on March 23, 2017
Author Michael Gallenberger, WKVI 

The Bass Lake Beach and Campground will be inspected by an independent contractor.

Starke County Park Board President Debbie Mix has been working for months to obtain a formal inspection report on the property. “We’ve tried to get the county inspector; that hasn’t worked out,” she told the county commissioners Monday. “And then also the city, and that hasn’t worked out.”

She said the park board would like to hire a certified inspector from Valparaiso. The commissioners approved that request, choosing to pay for the $300 inspection with money from the cumulative capital development fund.

Having formal documentation of the beach and campground’s condition is seen as a way to possibly get the county out of its lease with operator Callahan Development, LLC. Otherwise, it would automatically be extended.

County Attorney Marty Lucas said it made sense to the park board to get someone with no involvement in the deal to inspect the property. He added they’d like to have the inspection completed within 30 days, to give the park board time to make some decisions before the summer season begins.

North Judson Utility Projects May Lead to Big Rate Hike (3/23)

posted by North Judson-Wayne Township Public Library   [ updated ]

Posted on March 23, 2017
Author Michael Gallenberger, WKVI 

The North Judson Town Council is trying to figure out how to pay for some much-needed utility projects, while minimizing the impact on utility rates. Representatives from Commonwealth Engineers and accounting firm Umbaugh and Associates met with the council Monday to discuss the projects and possible funding options.

The first project would upgrade the combined sewer overflow system to bring it into compliance with Indiana Department of Environmental Management regulations. It would include a new storm sewer along Main, Franklin, and Railroad streets, discharging in an area past Arlington Avenue, near the Wastewater Treatment Plant, costing nearly $1.9 million.

Commonwealth Engineers is also suggesting over $1.5 million in upgrades to North Judson’s Wastewater Treatment Plant. That project would improve aerators and add pumping capacity to handle biosolids. On top of that, the town’s also planning upgrades to its water system.

The town may apply for state or federal grants to cover the costs, in addition to issuing bonds. To cover the potential bond payments, utility rates would likely increase, possibly by as much as 54 percent. However, that would depend on state and federal funding options and whether both projects are done at the same time.

While spreading the projects out could lessen the immediate impact, North Judson could save some money in the long term by doing everything at once. Clerk-Treasurer Alicia Collins notes that the utility rates haven’t been raised since 2003, and are due for an increase. The town council plans to discuss funding options in more detail with officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development office.

Starke County Commissioners Pass Responsible Bidder Law (3/22)

posted Mar 22, 2017, 8:54 AM by North Judson-Wayne Township Public Library

Posted on March 22, 2017
Author Mary Perren, WKVI 

Starke County now has a responsible bidder law on the books. The county commissioners adopted the measure Monday evening following a brief public hearing. It sets clear and objective criteria contractors must meet in order to be eligible to bid on public works construction projects.

They include proof of licensure to do work in the state, disclosure of any federal or state law violations, tax liens or delinquencies, description of the project management team’s qualification and experience, proof of participation in construction apprenticeship training programs and assurance the workers’ employment status will be properly classified.

Prospective bidders must also show proof of an employee drug testing plan as required by state law and proof of any required professional licenses. They must also list any projects of similar size or scope that they’ve completed and provide proof of adequate surety coverage.

Representatives of the Indiana-Illinois-Iowa Foundation for Fair Contracting say defining “responsible bidder” ensures all contractors are able to compete on a level playing field. Such policies also protect employees from exploitation and ultimately lead to greater taxpayer value.

N.J.-S.P. School Board Prepares for Possible Reduction in Force (3/22)

posted Mar 22, 2017, 8:43 AM by North Judson-Wayne Township Public Library

Posted on March 22, 2017
Author Mary Perren, WKVI 

The North Judson-San Pierre School Board has taken the first step toward a reduction in force, should one be necessary this year.

They voted last night to follow procedures outlined in state law if and when teacher layoffs are necessary. Superintendent Dr. Annette Zupin says a lot will depend on the success of the upcoming kindergarten roundup and enrollment at the junior/senior high school for next year.

She adds any actual reductions will take place between May 1 and July 1.

School board member Derrick Stalbaum asked for clarification of how RIFs are handled if two teachers have identical certifications, licensure and evaluations. Zupin says the board then looks at what is the best interest of the school, experience and seniority to make a decision.

Downtown North Judson Building Demolition Delayed by Legal Action (3/22)

posted Mar 22, 2017, 8:39 AM by North Judson-Wayne Township Public Library

Posted on March 22, 2017
Author Michael Gallenberger, WKVI 

The demolition of a Downtown North Judson building appears to be on hold.

Town Attorney Justin Schramm told the town council Monday the owner of 205 and 207 Lane Street wants to retrieve his personal property from inside the building. “But our position from day one has been that building was unsafe,” Schramm explained. “Nobody’s going into that property unless it’s a contractor that’s going to tear the place down.” So to get his stuff back, the owner has filed a replevin action in Starke Circuit Court.

Schramm said that when the town bid the demolition project, it specified that the contractor could dispose the building’s contents, along with the rest of the debris. Since those specifications could change depending on the court decision, Schramm asked the town council to simply reject the seven bids the town received and rebid the project once the specifications are known. “What I want to avoid doing is since there is personal property in there that the current owner is saying is of a lot of value, I don’t want us to destroy all of that and the town’s on the hook for whatever is in there because we can’t prove what it was actually worth,” he said.

At the same time, the town may also make a few other updates to the demolition specifications. One potential contractor pointed out the current specifications lack some of the features typically required by the state. These include notification of the Indiana Department of Environment Management and the completion of an environmental study to locate potential asbestos in the property.

The North Judson Town Council voted unanimously to reject the current bids.

Starke County Council Clears Way for Stelrema Building Occupant (3/21)

posted Mar 21, 2017, 8:48 AM by North Judson-Wayne Township Public Library

Posted on March 21, 2017
Author Mary Perren, WKVI 

A long vacant Starke County industrial building could soon have a new occupant. Chicagoland-area-based gourmet snack food producer Gary Poppins plans to move into the Stelrema building on U.S. 35 this summer and be fully operational in that space by the end of the year.

The company opened as a gourmet popcorn retail storefront in Evanston, Ill. in 2003 and expanded to a wholesale producer and distributor a few years later. Officials say it’s no longer feasible to rent their existing space in Franklin Park, Ill. They plan to make Knox their sole production and distribution center for their global operations.

Gary Poppins officials are seeking real and personal property tax abatements from the county to help offset the cost of their relocation. The first step in that process is to designate the site as an economic revitalization area, which the Starke County Council did last night. The public hearing on the proposed abatements totaling $1.7 million will take place at their April meeting.

Gary Poppins General Manager Ryan Amos told the council the company has tremendous growth potential and will likely hire 40 or so local employees once the relocation is complete. He adds the company is looking to put down roots and make Starke County its permanent home.

North Judson Council Reestablishes Cumulative Capital Development Fund (3/21)

posted Mar 21, 2017, 8:46 AM by North Judson-Wayne Township Public Library

Posted on March 21, 2017
Author Michael Gallenberger, WKVI 

North Judson residents will soon see a bit of a tax increase. The town council voted Monday to reestablish the town’s cumulative capital development fund at 0.05 percent.

Ross Hagan with accounting firm Umbaugh and Associates told council members that will boost the town’s revenue by $13,000 to $14,000 a year. “That’s revenue that you guys currently don’t have access to because the CCD fund is outside of your maximum levy,” he explained. “So this is new revenue that you guys don’t currently get, and it’s revenue that can be used for any legal purpose, so it has a lot of different uses that it can have for the town.”

The owner of a $50,000 home can expect to pay an extra $3.73 a year in taxes, while someone who owns a $75,000 home will typically pay about $6.15, according to Umbaugh’s calculations.

However, North Judson Clerk-Treasurer Alicia Collins said residents may see a bigger jump initially, after the town learned that taxpayers were being charged the wrong amount. “There was an error a couple years ago that the tax amounts were lower,” she explained. “It will go up, and it has nothing to do with this cume cap that we’re talking about. It will go to the amount that it was supposed to be, and then it will go up an additional three dollars or six dollars or whatever.”

Hagan added that the town can expect to see the increased revenue in its 2018 budget.

Starke County Park Board Finalizes Five-Year Plan (3/21)

posted Mar 21, 2017, 8:43 AM by North Judson-Wayne Township Public Library

Posted on March 21, 2017
Author Michael Gallenberger, WKVI 

The Starke County Park Board has finalized a five-year plan for the county’s park and recreation facilities. The document will help guide improvements at parks, such as the Bass Lake Beach and Campground, the Starke County Forest, and Yellow River access sites at Range Road and English Lake. On top of that, it makes the county eligible for grant funding from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to help achieve some of those goals.

Board President Debbie Mix says a few minor updates were made to the plan since a draft was submitted to the DNR in January. She says the county’s ADA transition plan was added, as requested by the DNR.

Additionally, the plan no longer refers to Bass Lake Beach and Campground operator Callahan Development, LLC by name, instead just referring to “the lessee.” The terms of the county’s existing lease with Callahan are considered a challenge to making improvements at the property. However, residents complained last month that it was unfair to call out the lessee by name, when the plan didn’t necessarily do so with other individuals and organizations.

The updated plan will be submitted to the DNR by April 15. If it gets final approval, Starke County will be able to apply for grants later this year.

At the same time, Mix says the board is already considering ways to start implementing some of the plan’s suggestions. During last week’s meeting, members began discussing potential grant opportunities for some of the relatively easy projects on the list.

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