A joint meeting between the County Council and County Commissioners resulted in no firm answer on what Jefferson County might contribute from its American Rescue Plan allocation to a City of Madison drinking water infrastructure improvement project that will serve about 70% of the county’s residents.
Brian Jackson, utility manager for the city, said a commitment from the county is needed in order for water rates to be calculated as the city begins the formal rate process needed to repay the debt service on the project moving forward.
“You can’t do a rate study with an unknown number,” Jackson noted.
The city has requested $2.5 million from the county’s $6.2 million ARP allocation towards the project, but so far only $200,000 was earmarked during a draft proposal in August. However, the Commissioners have hinted that they might provide more funding than the $200,000 although Commissioner David Bramer at one point expressed that he didn’t think it would be as much as $2.5 million.
Commissioner Bobby Little has said he does not feel comfortable providing 40% of the county’s $6.2 million ARP money for the project because contributing that much is not good business.
“I think we need to help,” Little said. “None of us three (Commissioners) are not in agreement of helping out, it’s just a question what is a reasonable, realistic amount.”
Bramer has indicated that for now they are focusing on the first half of the county’s draw on the ARP money, which will be $3.1 million.
Madison City Council member Patrick Thevenow asked if the Commissioners would consider committing $1.25 million from that first draw, then $1.25 million from the second draw of ARP funds.
“I’d like to see the county step up and help with a major infrastructure project which will prevent long-term issues coming up,” Thevenow said. “There is no doubt that our water is safe” at this time “but long term we will have to stay on top of this, which hasn’t necessarily happened in the past, but we’re here now asking for your help” by doing something impactful with the ARP funds.
On Monday, the city released information at its Board of Public Works and Safety meeting that a review by accountants at Sherman, Barber and Mullikin determined the city’s water rates will increase by 77.9% if the city borrows $13 million for the $15 million project. If the county receives $2.5 million from the county, the city would borrow $10.5 million, dropping that rate increase to 67.9% and creating a savings of $182,734 per year, which over the 20-year period of the load would result in $3.7 million in savings directly to customers.
County Council member Ray Black Jr. said Madison’s clean drinking water infrastructure project is critical for the community to have water that is “as clean and safe as possible” while limiting how the water rate increase will impact customers in the City of Madison and the Rykers’ Ridge, Dupont and Canaan water company districts that buy their water from Madison.
Jackson noted that 20,000 county residents are impacted by Madison water. Black said the county providing $2.5 million toward the project provides the best economic value to county residents while also insuring the safety of clean drinking water for the future.
Bramer, the president of the Commissioners, said he wanted to see more of an investment from the city toward the project but County Council President Pam Crozier said she believes the city is investing. She pointed out the city is utilizing most of its $2.4 million in ARP funds for stormwater infrastructure to mitigate future flash flooding disasters.
“We are a county and we need to come together as a county and work towards the taxpayer,” Crozier said. “If we can utilize the funds for the county taxpayer as a whole, it’s clean water drinking water project and we have to think collectively as a whole, not just compartmentalize county against city, and work together collectively.” Crozier noted a $3.7 million savings in debt service from a $2.5 million county contribution more than pays for itself.
Madison Mayor Bob Courtney said the city has been discussing the drinking water infrastructure project with the Commissioners for eight months, and that it’s been a complicated rate study to complete “because there are a lot of moving parts,” and one of those is how much the city must borrow to finance the project and what water rates will be required to repay that money.
“The fact that there’s been so much difficulty in getting a level of commitment, even a soft commitment to what that may be, makes the completion of the new rate study very difficult,” Courtney said, adding the project must begin in January and the city has already committed money toward preliminary engineering work.
He added that it’s been 20 years since the city invested in drinking water infrastructure, and the project is vital to the future health of the communities served by the city’s water.
“What’s more impactful than drinking water for 20,000 residents of Jefferson County?” Courtney asked. “We’re talking about 800 millions gallons of water that our community needs for safe drinking water and for fire suppression. I cannot think of anything more important than to use these ARP monies for stormwater and safe drinking water infrastructure.”
However, Warren Auxier noted that Madison’s water rates are currently low enough that the project should be passed on customers through a rate increase, preserving the county’s $2.5 million to do other good in the county.
Citing his knowledge of the water issue from 37 years as a director and treasurer for Kent Water Company, Auxier said Madison has been “way too low on its water rates for a great number of years.” Based on his calculations, a $2.5 million contribution from the county would only save water users from Canaan, Dupont and Rykers’ Ridge about $7.68 yearly which he said amounts to just 64 cents on each monthly bill.
Courtney said the savings will impact all water users — from those who may only require the monthly minimum to businesses and industries that buy 50,000 gallons or more per month — and that it’s misleading to equate the county’s entire benefits to a single user.
“If county doesn’t participate at all, this project will go right on through and what they have to raise the water rates to is a very reasonable and competitive rate,” Auxier said. “They are still going to be way lower than what the state average is on water rates.”
Auxier noted a Madison customer using 5,000 gallons per month will see an increase to $25.30 monthly — plus or minus 10 to 15% for water losses — and the state average for that amount of water is $36.37.
“(Madison) has been way low on its rates for many years and has allowed maintenance to accumulate that should have been addressed,” Auxier said, noting periodic rates increases could have supported better upkeep and drinking water infrastructure improvement.
Meeting with Madison City Council earlier Tuesday night, Jackson said calculating the individual impact of the water rate increase is difficult because the city has a four tiered rate structure so some customers could be impacted more than others. However, he did agree that Madison utilities customers are getting great value for their money because most customers pay less for all services — water, sewage, trash, recycling and composting — than customers in many communities pay for water alone.
Jackson noted that a City of Madison water customer using the 3,000 gallon monthly minimum pays $7.11 for water alone while customers of the same amount in Greensburg pay $27.63 and Scottsburg $36.48, but Madison’s last rate increase was in 2008 leaving no surplus for major improvements.
He said that has to stop so the rate increase for the water project could prove significant because there will likely be additional rate increases moving forward because — and as Auxier later suggested — the city needs to adopt a rate structure that provides capital for ongoing improvement projects and that means rate increases more frequently and a closer attention to factors like inflation.
“Nobody adjust rates once every 14 years,” Jackson told city council.
County Council member Heather Foy said it’s not fair to “penalize past administrations and decisions that have been made or not made in decades past. Yes, we do have clean water today,” but she’s thinking about the future and what might be “decades from now. So I do applaud the city for thinking big picture knowing today, and yes tomorrow that we’ll have clean water.”
Gary Copeland said he’s “looking out for the taxpayers and I don’t want anything raised” for county residents.
“With the full support of city council and our board of public works, we presented to the joint County Commissioners and County Council meeting last night a plan to save Jefferson County residents $3.7 million in water rate increases,” Courtney said. “At a time when inflation is at a 30-year high, we feel it’s important to help residents economically. Despite not receiving a material commitment from the County Commissioners, we will continue to finalize our rate study and keep them informed of the impact from higher rates, which will be particularly felt by county residents outside the city who buy their water through a county water utility such as Rykers’ Ridge, Dupont and Canaan.”
As the meeting neared a conclusion, Bramer asked for assistance from the County Council in establishing guidelines for applications from non-profits for any money that might come from ARP funds. Crozier agreed the Council would work on that at its January meeting.
Based on a discussion held at its November meeting, the Jefferson County Board of Tourism on Monday appropriated $25,000 toward bringing a professional rodeo event to Jefferson County during the fall of 2022.
Ellie Troutman and Tayler Rinehart appeared before the JCBT in November to initially ask for a $100,000 contribution to help secure the event, which would be broadcast on the rodeo channel, but later expressed that even a lesser amount would help.
At Monday’s meeting, JCBT members agreed to offer $25,000 with the anticipation that more private contributions and sponsorships be sought with the possibility that additional funds from JCBT might be considered if needed.
One of the concerns about the rodeo is that in 2022, the only available date would mean scheduling on the same weekend as the Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art, which is slated for Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 24-25 and is a time when local hotels are already at capacity. That could lead to a poor visitor experience for both rodeo and Chautauqua visitors in Jefferson County that weekend and take less advantage of both events in terms of tourism and business.
Board member Trevor Crafton said while it’s a gamble to schedule the rodeo on a weekend when the county is already at tourism capacity, he doesn’t want to take a chance on losing the opportunity for Jefferson County to host the rodeo in future years.
Crafton’s motion to appropriate $25,000 for the rodeo venture was approved unanimously by JCBT with the stipulation that the organizers coordinate with Visit Madison Inc. in promoting the event and that after 2022 the event would be scheduled on a weekend different than Chautauqua.
Board member Nancy Crisp also suggested preparing local businesses for “the capacity that we haven’t seen before” to help provide the best customer experience possible that weekend.
The event, to be held in association with the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), has been in negotiations to hold the event at the Jefferson County 4-H Fairgrounds. One issue considered at the November meeting is that beer is typically sold at rodeos, and traditionally alcohol sales have not been permitted at the 4-H fairgrounds. JCBT board member Curtis Chatham said the fairgrounds recently changed its policy to allow alcohol at the rodeo event.
“The fair board was extremely excited about the opportunity to have the rodeo there, and all the things that come with it,” Chatham said.
Board member Todd Boone said one of the big benefits of hosting the rodeo in Jefferson County is the local exposure from the event being broadcast on the Cowboy Channel.
In other business:
• Lucy Dattilo, president of the Visit Madison Inc. board, presented VMI’s proposed 2022 budget and contract to JCBT, including a request to once again fund an executive director’s position that VMI has been without since laying off Tawana Thomas in February. Dattilo said the proposed salary for a new executive director is between $60,000 to $75,000 annually.
Dattilo noted that as president of VMI she has been “holding down the fort, but I am very much part-time” and as a volunteer cannot compensate for the loss of a full-time staff position.
“The tourism industry needs an advocate. It needs somebody to be the glue to represent the county, to go to state functions. I have not been able to do that,” she said.
Dattilo encouraged the board to strongly consider funding an executive director because that’s “a very important part that’s missing” in the tourism marketing of Jefferson County.
• The Town of Hanover made a request for $40,500 toward enhancing and building a community website that goes beyond providing a way to pay bills and publish town council minutes to one that promotes community events and activities along with parks activities. The town will also seeking additional funds from other sources to match that amount for an overall total of $81,000.
JCBT members expressed support for the project, but suggested ways Hanover might be able to reduce the cost of creating the website. Chatham said he thinks JCBT wants to invest in the project but board members want to work with the town to develop list of needs and seek more competitive pricing to creating a robust Hanover website.
“I think it would benefit everyone for us to upgrade our website to be more user friendly” and to provide for much more community information, particularly as Hanover works toward creating a soccer facility and many more activities,” said Kenny Garrett, president of the Hanover Town Board. “It’s a huge step for us.”
“We’re trying to build tourism in Hanover because our little businesses need the money,” Hanover Town Board member Debbie Kroger said.
Sarah Prasil, executive marketing director for Visit Madison Inc., said she agrees on the importance of the website as a marketing tool and noted VMI just updated its website for a lesser amount. However, since Hanover is starting from scratch the project is likely to cost more.
• Chatham provided an update on the Madison-Hanover Sports Council of Jefferson County, the newly created organization to promote sports tourism and better utilize local sports facilities. He said the group has identified six sports events that could be implemented immediately without having to invest in infrastructure based on existing facilities in the county. They include events involving baseball, softball, basketball, archery, volleyball and soccer.
Chatham said the group’s website is currently being updated by an intern.
Due to increased numbers of COVID-19 cases, Jefferson County will be moving back into a “red” advisory level — indicating high community spread — on the Indiana Department of Health County metrics map going into the Christmas and New Year’s holiday weekends.
According to a release issued by Jefferson County Health Department, there are no group setting outbreaks in Jefferson County at this time but overall cases of the virus are on the rise.
Advisory levels are factored using two metrics — the county’s 7-day positivity rate and the county’s weekly cases per 100,000 residents. Those two metrics are then averaged to determine the county’s color advisory for the week.
Jefferson County’s most recent metric map indicated a 7-day positivity rate of 13.21% and 200 or more weekly cases per 100,000 residents meaning the county is under a “red” advisory.
The move to a “red” advisory comes as many residents will be participating in holiday events with family and friends. With that in mind, the local health department issued a recommendation calling for “universal masking for all individuals in indoor public settings regardless of vaccination status.”
As of presstime, Indiana COVID numbers had not been updated since Monday and the state’s dashboard will not be updated Dec. 23 through Dec. 26. However, the latest figures showed Jefferson County with 6,510 cases of COVID overall including 16 new cases and 111 total deaths.
Switzerland County, also under a “red” advisory, has had 1,577 total cases and 14 total deaths with a 20.5 seven-day positivity.
Meanwhile in Kentucky, both Carroll County and Trimble County are in a “red” advisory and Carroll County reported one new death, giving the county 34 deaths in 2,290 total cases during the pandemic. Trimble County’s death toll remains at 28 out of 1,480 total virus cases.
Jefferson County Health Department reminded residents if you are sick, seek testing right away and stay away from others until you know results. Free testing is available at the Jefferson County Community Testing Site located at King’s Daughters’ Hospital Convenient Care, 445 Clifty Drive, Madison. You can schedule a COVID test by visiting www.coronavirus.in.gov.
The Jefferson County Health Department office will be closed today and Friday for the holiday but Jefferson County residents and visitors are urged to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as possible. You can schedule your COVID vaccine by visiting www.ourshot.in.gov. All three vaccines are available, Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson and Johnson. Individual’s age 12 — 17 years of age must receive Pfizer vaccine and have an adult present.
In Jefferson County 37,212 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered and 52.94% of the county’s residents are vaccinated and 49.05% are fully vaccinated. Switzerland County has administered 8,170 doses of vaccine with 35.59% of residents vaccinated and 32.95% fully vaccinated.
In Carroll County 4,047 residents have been vaccinated for 49.33% with 43.41% fully vaccinated. Meanwhile Trimble County has 4,047 residents vaccinated for 46.86% and 40.29% fully vaccinated.
Those who have been fully vaccinated for six months are now urged to get a follow up booster dose of the vaccine as soon as that can be scheduled.