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Switzerland County goalie Allena Weaver stretches for the ball during the regional tourney at Providence on Thursday. The Pioneers won the game 2-0 to hand the Pacers their first loss of the season. Switzerland closed out the year 16-1-2.

Council holds second readings of budget, salary ordinances
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Madison City Council held the second reading of its annual budget notice to taxpayers — a projected $12.7 million city budget for 2023 — with funding by property taxes, receipts from the city’s TIF districts through the city’s Redevelopment Commission and state grants.

The proposal, considered at a special meeting on Wednesday after being tabled at last week’s regular meeting to allow time to develop more exact figures, includes funding for all city departments, a number of ongoing development projects and a 5% pay increase for city employees. The ordinance is now scheduled for a third reading and adoption at the council’s regular meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 18, but the $12,730,981 package won’t become final until November after undergoing a required review by the state’s Department of Local Government Finance.

“The goal of our budget process was to develop a really responsible, conservative and balanced budget where appropriations match expenditures,” Deputy Mayor Mindy McGee said, explaining the process.

She noted the budget must cover not only actual expenditures but anticipate fluctuations in the costs for operating the city in the coming year. With inflation trending upward, the city’s allocations in some areas had to be higher than the 2022 budget.

“Utility costs and fuel have gone up significantly but there is room in the budget for those anticipated increases,” McGee said, later noting that if actual expenditures in some areas fall short of budget estimates, those funds can later be diverted to other areas or moved to a rainy day fund if needed.

She said the state requires the city to account for and allocate each dollar of projected revenue even if the city does not plan to spend those funds at this time. “We’re not going to spend every penny, but that’s the way they look at it,” McGee said.

Although the council had delayed the second reading of the ordinance by a week and some figures are more solid now than they were last Tuesday, Mayor Bob Courtney cautioned that the notice to taxpayers is “still based on estimates” and the actual 2023 budget will be the version “certified by the state”and returned to the city next month.

That said, Courtney thinks the budget proposed to council Wednesday covers all the bases including the continuation of city services and the reinvestment in parks, infrastructure and community development through tax dollars, grants, bond issues and private investment.

“I appreciate city council’s support of the $12.7 million budget that we proposed for 2023. It represents a responsible and conservative approach to managing the city’s business given the economic environment that we are in,” Courtney said. “The budget focuses on delivering exceptional professional services to the community while strongly supporting our most valuable resource, which is our dedicated city employees. Combined with the financial support from our Redevelopment Commission revenues along with the record level of grants and private investment we have been able to attract, I am confident that our strategic multi-million dollar investment in parks, infrastructure, housing, and streets will continue to elevate our community, making Madison the best place it can be to live, work or visit.”

“Overall I think we’ve got a pretty good budget this year,” Councilman Patrick Thevenow commented.

The council also held the second reading and discussed ordinances fixing compensation for elected officials and salaries for appointed officers and employees after tabling both last week to align with the budget notice.

Based on the ordinance, annual compensation for elected city officials in 2023 will include: Mayor: $77,207.05; Clerk treasurer: $67,435.50; City Council (7 total): $7,720.78; and Board of Public Works and Safety (3 total): $1,750.00.

The proposed salary ranges for appointed officers and employees led to a discussion after Thevenow questioned the proposed salary ranges and offered an amendment to reflect new numbers.

According to Thevenow, many of the salary ranges proposed last week are now too high based on the budget updates proposed Wednesday.

“I’d like to see us pull them back down,” Thevenow said.

McGee cautioned against lowering the salary ranges, noting that the numbers were adjusted up just last year to avoid having to come back before city council each time a hire or extra pay period caused an issue with hiring or pay. She noted the city hires employees at various skill levels and the wider ranges and higher ceilings are sometimes necessary to make the best hire and remain competitive in the job market.

Courtney agreed: “We’re having to compete for hires with other communities and businesses,” he said. “We’ve got an extremely low unemployment rate and we’re having to compete for workers ... the council’s check and balance is the appropriation; our job is to manage the staff.”

Council member Lucy Dattilo agreed, noting it is not the council’s place to micromanage operations but to set a budget and allow the staff to manage day-to-day operations.

In the end, the majority of the council also agreed, voting 4-2 against Thevenow’s amendment with Thevenow and Curtis Chatham voting “yes” and Dattilo, Carla Krebs, Jim Bartlett and Dan Dattilo opposing with Josh Schafer unable to vote since he was attending the meeting via phone.

“Councilman Thevenow’s motion to amend the salary ordinance to effectively eliminate salary ranges would have posed an impractical strain on the administration and council, too, regarding management of city staffing needs,” Courtney said on Thursday. “It would have made the process of recruiting and retention unnecessarily difficult leading to disruptions in service to the community. I am happy the council body declined to approve the proposed amendment.”

A complete list of the salary ranges was included in the agenda package for Wednesday’s meeting and is available on the city’s website at: documents/16656032 75_54773.pdf .

The council also heard a fourth ordinance presented on second reading. The Madison Waterwork Revenue Bond was updated with a number of amendments as recommended by the city’s bond counsel including making the maximum term of that bond issue 30 years. Courtney said while the bonds will likely be recalled prior to 30 years, the longer offering was recommended to strengthen the city’s position leading into the bond sale.

MJHS dedicates new event space
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There wasn’t much impressive about the back side of Madison Junior High School when Madison Mayor Bob Courtney was a student there in the 1970s, but that area has now been transformed into an outdoor classroom and event space allowing an assortment of opportunities for use by the school and community.

“This courtyard didn’t look like this when I was in junior high a few years ago,” said Courtney, who joined local artist and junior high art teacher Eric Phagan in officially dedicating the space Thursday afternoon.

Courtney, a 1981 graduate of Madison Consolidated High School, had high praise for the newly upgraded space that will be used not only by the school but also available to the community for activities and events.

“I am so proud of this space and what you have done,” he said. “It’s because you’re creating a destination feel, not just downtown where we have a lot of natural amenities there that’s been cultivated for many, many years” but by working with the Madison Area Arts Alliance, the Madison Music Movement and the schools “we’re bringing that destination development to the hilltop and that energy, and that is what is going to make our community and schools and our children, and everybody that visits Madison thrive. I really look forward to using this space in the future and bringing more of that Madison feel and that magic of Madison. And I can tell you that having lived in Madison all my life, it’s truly magical.”

The transformation began in 2017 when the area had playground equipment that was no longer being used. Kenton Mahoney, now assistant principal at Anderson Elementary School, was a science teacher at the junior high and worked with local Boy Scout Matthew Burkhardt, then a student at MCHS and working on his Eagle Scout project, to reinvision and remake the area.

Once the playground equipment was removed, Burkhardt led the effort in re-designing the space as his Eagle Scout project with Troop 717, including new landscaping and placing gravel to create a sensory garden. But since Burkhardt also wanted the area to be used by the rest of the school, he built and stained benches to be utilized as an outdoor classroom along with building a podium.

Phagan said Mahoney and Burkhardt “had the idea of turning it into an outdoor classroom and a butterfly garden that can be used by students to get outside in the fresh air and learn, so we’ve kind of kept that, but changed a little bit to fit the arts, too” along with adding a stage for musical performances and more.

Madison native Freddie Sizemore, a former Madison Junior High School student and professional artist, painted a mural on the courtyard wall. A sculpture designed by Phagan and created by students in conjunction with Cub Manufacturing was also placed in the area. Another dimension was added when Ron Couch, MJHS technology teacher, led efforts to build a stage and create an assortment of new opportunites for use of the space which can comfortably accommodate about 100 people.

“Students will use it as an outdoor classroom,” Phagan said. “Staff can use it for meetings or whatever they have going on. Also, band and choir had hold performances and we can have dances out here. It’s whatever you want the space to become,” he said. ” “We could have artists use it as a place to meet with students ... We want it to be an event space for the community.”

There will be a suggested donation for community groups using the area to help support continued upkeep, and to continue to make improvements to the space.

Madison Consolidated Schools has provided much assistance but Phagan prefers not to depend on that support. “They helped us a lot but I don’t expect them to spend money that’s needed for school on space like this,” he said.

Phagan said Jane Vonderheide is planning to stage one of her House of Jane songwriter sessions there and they are working with Madison Music Movement to have musicians perform there. Additionally, he said it will be a place for students to perform.

“In the nicer weather months, we’ll use it for a little bit of everything,” he said.

Madison schools to pursue $3.36M bond issue for upgrades
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Madison Consolidated School Board held a public hearing a list of projects needed throughout the school corporation and another hearing on up to $3,365,000 in revenue bonds needed to fund that work prior to Wednesday’s regular board meeting.

“The school district has been evaluating our facilities and the needs we have that require funding beyond our operations budget,” said Superintendent Dr. Teresa Brown. “In order to provide for the renovation of and improvements to our facilities throughout the corporation including site improvements, purchase of equipment and technology, we are proposing the board consider bonds which will allow us to secure the necessary funding for facilities projects.”

The proposed renovations and their estimated costs include:

• New roof at Lydia Middleton Elementary School at a cost of $300,000.

• Ventilation and HVAC (Heating, ventilation and air conditioning) improvements along with site improvements for Cub Enterprises at $500,000.

• Continued improvements and renovation of the athletic facilities at Madison Consolidated High School including tennis court upgrades and lighting at $600,000.

• Install a new net on the side of the playground at Lydia Middleton to keeps balls from going outside the playground at $30,000.

• Add controls needed for HVAC at Lydia Middleton at $250,000.

• Add controls needed for HVAC at MCHS at $107,000.

• Install an industrial kitchen in the Cub Culinary Arts program and update the kitchen at a cost of $125,000.

The total for the seven upgrades comes to $1,912,000 with an overall estimate for those projects at $2 million depending on the bids.

Phase two of the work would include upgrading and installing HVAC at MCHS and Madison Junior High School with that work being done with any remaining funding from the overall $3,365,000 bond issue.

Jason Tanselle, municipal bond advisor from Baker Tilly, said the debt service tax on the bond is expected to be 1.16 cents above the current rate, but he said there is anticipation that the operations fund will decrease by the same amount because of assessed value rates, meaning that the overall school tax rate should remain basically the same.

However, Tanselle said that in being fully transparent the 1.16 cent rate increase — based on the county’s median home value of $142,100 — would represent a $6.97 tax increase. Likewise, an acre of farm land with a DLGF (Indiana Department of Local Government Finance) assessed value of $1,500 per acre would increase by 17.4 cents per 100 acres and a commercial property valued at $100,000 would see a rate increase of $11.60.

After the project hearing, an additional appropriation resolution was passed for the proceeds of the bonds and a final bond resolution for approving issuance of bonds. Additionally, approval was given to adopt the reimbursement resolution relating to the financing of the project that allows the school corporation to reimburse itself from bond proceeds from any cash it might spend on the project prior to the closing of the bonds, which is required by federal tax law, for the school corporation’s ability to reimburse itself.

In other business:

• Tara McKay, former Anderson Elementary School principal who was promoted to director of programs for the school district, has now been transitioned to assistant to the superintendent. Brown said McKay’s job basically remains the same as it was as director of programs but as assistant to the superintendent provides a chain of command.

Danica Houze, who has been the school corporation treasurer, has now been named the chief financial officer replacing Bonnie Hensler, who the school board recently voted to terminate. Meanwhile, Amanda Conover, who had been deputy treasurer, has now assumed the role of assistant to the chief financial officer.

An agreement to resolve employment status was approved for Shelli Reetz, who had recently been named assistant director of programs after previously serving as director of student services. Brown said the agreement was made following Reetz’s departure from the school district.

Phillip Wimpee was named head wrestling coach. Wimpee, a Madison graduate and former Cub wrestler, has previously served as assistant wrestling coach.

• Approved adoption of the 2023 corporation budget. The total budget is being advertised at $36,240,314 with a tax rate of 1.1772. The budget will be sent to the Indiana DLGF for approval. At the public hearing for the budget in September, Houze said the budget is advertised high to protect the school district because the DLGF will lower the advertised budget, levies and tax rates, but will not raise them. In 2022, the school corporation budget was $35,066,493 with a tax rate of 0.9732.

• Brown reported on bargaining for teacher contracts. “I want to thank our board for their commitment to increasing the salaries of all of our staff,” she said, adding there was a meeting with the Madison Teachers Association on Tuesday, and the details of negotiations are not ready to be announced. “I am very excited that we are establishing a great working relationship, and a mutual trust and respect with all of our employees in creating a school district of choice for this district.”

• Deputy Elementary School Principal Janet McCreary and other Deputy staff members gave a presentation on that school’s progress and goals. McCreary noted that Deputy, which was named a National Blue Ribbon School in 2021, actually posted higher scores in the past year. McCreary said the school’s goals for the school year are to improve literacy, improve attendance and improve excellence in mathematics with other initiatives such as increasing parent participation.

“Our story is that we’re family,” said McCreary. “If you’ve not been there, it’s hard to explain” but when people “walk through our building, there’s a welcoming feeling, it feels like home. It’s just special. Part of it is being a small school, but part of it is there isn’t a staff member that doesn’t stop and take the time to get to know a kid, to understand what they’re going through. ... truly take the time to listen to them and understand.”

• The meeting was the first for student board representative Molly Armbrecht, a senior at MCHS, who will serve in that role throughout the end of this school year in May.

• Observed a moment of silence following the recent deaths of Helen Behymer, health and physical education teacher at MJHS for 31 years; Jim Lee, athletic director and health/physical education instructor at MCHS for 21 years; and Jersie Sever, who was an eighth grade student at MJHS.

Local area reports 4 new COVID deaths
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Four new deaths related to the COVID-19 have been reported in the Courier area — three in Jefferson County and one in Trimble County — increasing the overall death toll for the four-county local area to 276 during the pandemic.

Jefferson County’s total is now 160, an increase of three in the last week, while Trimble County has now reported 45 deaths including the one new death this week. Meanwhile, the death toll in Carroll County remains at 51 while Switzerland County has reported 20 deaths during the pandemic.

All four counties continue to show low community spread of the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the last week, Jefferson County had nine reported cases of COVID-19 while Carroll County has had seven, and Switzerland and Trimble counties three each. However, with most residents now self-testing using home test kits, the number of new cases reported to the CDC may not reflective of those infections.

Earlier this week, the Associated Press reported Dr. Ashish Jha, White House COVID-19 coordinator, emphasized that eligible Americans should get the updated COVID-19 boosters by Halloween to have maximum protection against the coronavirus by Thanksgiving and the upcoming holidays, warning of a “challenging” virus season ahead.

Jha said the U.S. has the tools — both with vaccines and treatments — to largely eliminate serious illness and death from the virus, but stressed that’s only the case if people do their part.

“We are not helpless against these challenges,” he said. “What happens this winter is up to us.”

So far the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says only about 11.5 million Americans have received the updated shots, which are meant to provide a boost of protection against both the original strain of COVID-19 as well as the BA.5 variant that is dominant around the world. Jha said studies suggest that if more Americans get the updated vaccines “we could save hundreds of lives each day this winter.”

More than 330 people die on average each day of COVID-19, according to CDC data, with the U.S. death toll standing at over 1.05 million.

Jha acknowledged the slower pace of vaccinations, saying, “we expected September to be a month where it would just start picking up.” He added that the White House expects more Americans to get the updated boosters this month around the time when they get their annual flu shots. He also emphasized that they should look to get them soon to be protected when they gather with family and friends.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday authorized updated COVID-19 boosters for children as young as 5, seeking to expand protection ahead of an expected winter wave.

Tweaked boosters rolled out for Americans 12 and older last month, doses modified to target today’s most common and contagious omicron relative, and now the FDA has given a green light for elementary school-age kids to get the updated booster doses, too — one made by Pfizer for 5- to 11-year-olds, and a version from rival Moderna for those as young as 6.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends how vaccines are used, also signed off.

Americans may be tired of repeated calls to get boosted against COVID-19 but experts say the updated shots have an advantage: They contain half the recipe that targeted the original coronavirus strain and half protection against the dominant BA.4 and BA.5 omicron versions.

These combination or “bivalent” boosters are designed to broaden immune defenses so that people are better protected against serious illness whether they encounter an omicron relative in the coming months —or a different mutant that’s more like the original virus.

“We want to have the best of both worlds,” Pfizer’s Dr. Bill Gruber, a pediatrician, told The Associated Press. He hopes the updated shots will “re-energize interest in protecting children for the winter.”