With $6.2 million in American Rescue Plan funding to invest in Jefferson County, the County Council and County Commissioners met in a joint session Tuesday to review how the Commissioners are proposing to utilize those funds.
There was agreement on much of what the Commissioners presented along with some reservations about spending $500,000 on a study to determine the potential of the abandoned airfield at Jefferson Proving Ground and with the distribution plan for money earmarked for the various county and city fire departments.
The portions of the Commissioners’ ARP plan that received approval by the Council will be advertised to be voted on in June as appropriations by the council, but the JPG study and fire department allocations were set aside for further discussion at another joint Council-Commissioners meeting on June 14.
Commissioner David Bramer said the former JPG airfield has enough potential that he thinks funding the study would be worthwhile. “I don’t know what the study is going to cost but it’s going to look at a wide variety of potential uses,” Bramer said, asking for enough money to be earmarked to do the study even if the full amount is not needed. “If we don’t need all of it (for a study), then we can find other uses for that money.”
Bramer cited the possibility that the airfield could be used as a maintenance facility, as a cargo hub or flight school but even more possibilities might be found through the study. He said the county won’t know what all could be achieved until the study is conducted. On the other hand, depending on what airspace the facility will use the assessment could wrap up quickly. “If there isn’t air space, then the study probably stops pretty quickly. But if it is there, and some of these other opportunities are available,” then there could be great possibilities for Jefferson County.
Council member Pam Crozier asked whether some of those same possibilities for the JPG airfield might be achieved at Madison Municipal Airport. Bramer said he’s asked those question of airport officials at Madison and the response has been “they can’t do that.” He said he is not looking to “take business away from the Madison Airport, I’m trying to find something else” to enhance Jefferson County. “It seems wasteful to let (the JPG runway) deteriorate to nothing without at least looking.”
Council member Ray Black Jr. said he had also discussed the issue with officials at Madison Municipal and received a different response. “I met with them just two weeks ago and they said they would be interested in discussing that,” Black said.
Black and Council member Gary Copeland both asked for more information on the JPG study and a vote taken on tabling the issue until the June meeting. The vote was a 2-2 tie with Black and Copeland voting to table and Judy Smith and Ray Denning voting not to table and the other three council members abstaining. After more discussion, a second vote to table the JPG study until the June May meeting passed by a 7-0 vote. The Council also voted 7-0 to advertise for appropriations for the rest of the items in the revenue replacement portion of the ARP funding.
Toward the end of meeting and the time when public comments are permitted, Kevin Kellems, Jefferson County’s representative on the Our Southern Indiana Regional Development Authority, spoke in favor of funding a study to explore uses for the JPG airfield.
“I have never seen a greater under used asset in my years in government and business and in Jefferson County than is represented by Jefferson Proving Ground,” said Kellems. “We have to think regionally but we are also passionate locally. We have to wear both hats.”
Kellems said the airfield provides possibilities both regionally and locally and is therefore worth the study.
“I think minus a study, which gives us a tool essentially to pitch what we have to a variety of funding sources, we don’t have anything to sell,” Kellems said. “In my view I would really encourage you to think about the big opportunity here. It’s a regional opportunity, frankly it’s a national opportunity for us, that we can play ball in a number of ways. I think the private sector play here is big.”
Kellems said it’s not a matter of competing with other airfields but “this is an opportunity to us, an asset that is unique and has air space above and around that is rare, and I happen to know this because of my background” in government and business. “I really think we have something there.”
After withdrawing the $500,000 for the JPG study pending the discussed next month, the Council approved advertising for appropriations from the county’s ARP funds in following amounts: $500,000 for highway department equipment, $300,000 for an emergency management agency warehouse building for storage, $100,000 for 911 equipment, $100,000 for Kevlar vests for the sheriff’s department , $100,000 for the health department, $150,000 for cybersecurity improvements, $150,000 for a county stormwater management study and plan, and $250,000 for county matching grants.
In the category on water, sewer and broadband infrastructure, Bramer announced updated totals for the water companies from a draft from April. He said the previous amounts were based on total customers for each water company that included customers outside of Jefferson County. The allocations have been revised to account for only water customers in Jefferson County. The allocation for the City of Madison was increased to $1 million, which the city has said will go toward its drinking water infrastructure project that had originally requested $2.5 million.
The allocation totals for the other water companies are: Kent $375,000, Dupont $160,000, Canaan $150,000 and Rykers’ Ridge $135,000. Meanwhile, Hanover’s amount was set at $100,000 based on an amount that had been requested to support automation of the town’s water meters. Under that grouping, there was also $250,000 earmarked for City of Madison stormwater management and $150,000 for broadband projects.
Copeland made a motion to set aside the approved amounts for Madison, Canaan, Rykers’ Ridge and Dupont water companies while approving the amounts for everything else in the category and Black seconded. Copeland, Black and Crozier voted in support of the motion, but Smith, Foy, Shelton and Denning voting against for it to fail 4-3. The council then voted on the entire $2,320,000 in that category, which passed on a 4-3 vote with Smith, Foy, Shelton and Denning in support and Crozier, Black and Copeland opposing.
The council also approved assistance for organizations negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic including $15,000 for three festivals — Neavill’s Grove, Chelsea Jubilee and Canaan Fall Festival — $30,000 for Jefferson County Habitat for Humanity and $200,000 for other non-profits.
The council members agreed to delay finalizing allocations for fire departments in order to determine the best criteria for measuring the amount to be given to each. Under consideration is basing the amount per department on the number of calls the respective fire departments respond to annually.
The Commissioners had proposed $100,000 funding for each of the county fire departments — Hanover, Kent, Rykers’ Ridge, Canaan, Deputy, Dupont, Madison Township and Milton Township — and $50,000 each for the six fire departments in the City of Madison for a total of $300,000.
In other items, the Commissioners plan earmarked premium pay totaling $220,769 for current county employees who were employed with the county during the pandemic and that was unanimously approved by the Council.
During the regular County Council meeting that took place prior to the joint meeting, the Council approved an appropriation of $25,000 from the ARP for administration expenses to hire Barnes and Thornburg attorneys and Stifel Financial to advise the Commissioners on how the ARP funds are required to be spent.
The County Council also unanimously approved $5,000 from the rainy day fund for money in earnest toward purchasing an existing building for use as a warehouse for the emergency management agency.
Council member Heather Foy said an existing building could offer “a cost savings to the county rather than building our own,”
The Commissioners approved the proposal contingent on the structure passing inspection.
A Scott County woman has been charged with Reckless Homicide in connection with the death of a Jefferson County woman in a Jan. 24, 2022, traffic crash on State Road 256 in Scott County.
Scott County Circuit Court on Monday issued an arrest warrant for Cheyenne Elizabeth Paige Taylor, 25, 505 W. Cherry, Austin, Indiana, on charges of Reckless Homicide, a Level 5 felony; and False Informing, Reckless Driving, Driving at an Unreasonable High or Low Speed-Endangerment, all misdemeanors, in connection with the death of Karena Monroe, 51, of the 13800 block of West Polk Road, Lexington, Indiana, who died in the crash.
Taylor was arrested without incident on Tuesday by Scott County Sheriff’s Deputies at her residence after a lengthy investigation of the crash conducted by the sheriff’s office, troopers from the Indiana State Police and the Scott County Prosecutor’s Office.
The investigation determined that Taylor was allegedly passing other vehicles prior to slamming head-on into the vehicle driven Monroe at about 6:17 a.m. on Jan. 24 near Bethlehem Road in northeastern Scott County. Investigators had sought help from the public to identify two drivers who were allegedly run off of the roadway by Taylor as she was passing another motorist prior to the crash.
Monroe was pronounced dead at the scene. Taylor and a passenger in her vehicle, Keenan Vaughn, 26, of Madison, were both transported to University Hospital in Louisville for treatment.
Taylor was lodged in the Scott County Jail pending her initial court appearance at which time bond was set at $65,000.00 surety or $6,500.00 cash.
Madison Consolidated School Board’s meeting on Wednesday was one of transition — the first for interim superintendent Daniel Noel and the annual session where the board recognizes its retiring teachers and when hiring of some of the new teachers for next year is announced.
“I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to be here,” said Noel, named interim superintendent last month following the March 31 resignation of Jeffrey Studebaker. “It’s a great honor and a great privilege.”
Noel commended the school corporation’s teacher and non-certified employees and expressed appreciation to the principals “who have worked hard bringing quality candidates to us to hire. I’m very impressed with that. We have great things going on here.”
New teacher hires were presented with most of them at the meeting including Jefferey Curtis, science teacher; Alexis Ricketts, ELA teacher, and Laura Ratcliff, business teacher, all at Madison Consolidated High School; Susan Hale, math teacher at Madison Junior High School; Kayla Adkins, elementary teacher at Rykers’ Ridge, and Haley Swafford, elementary teacher at Anderson. Additionally, Kelly Neal, due to be hired next week as a career and technical teacher with Cub Industries, was also introduced.
Retiring staff were also recognized including Lydia Middleton Elementary principal Tracy Ahlbrand. Retiring teachers include Kathleen Gee, Paul Woodling and Maria Stewart at Madison Consolidated High School, and Kerri Bedingham and Mark Stewart at Madison Junior High School. Cindy Robinson, elementary teacher at Anderson Elementary, is retiring with the most longevity at 40 years. Others retiring include Dorothy “Laverne” Austin, instructional support at E.O. Muncie, Karen Hall, bookkeeper at MCHS, and Jodi Gray, head custodian at Rykers’ Ridge.
The meeting also included recognition of MJHS math teacher Jackie Thurston as the Madison Consolidated Schools teacher of the year. Madison Junior High School principal Dan Grill said Thurston has “created a positive, academic-focused, rigorous learning environment ideal for student learning. Her work ethic and dedication to student learning are at the highest level. We are very fortunate to have a teacher of her caliber in our classroom.”
Susie Hutton, special education instructional support at MCHS, was named the school district’s non-certified employee of the year. “Suzie is an extremely thoughtful, genuine and selfless employee,” said MCHS principal Michael Gasaway. “Her value to our high school and all that she does is unmeasurable.”
In other business, the board:
• Approved cafeteria line item bids. Fresh produce will be purchased through A. Dattilo Fruit Company, which was noted as the only local company that will deliver orders to the cafeterias with Gordon Food Service as the backup if Dattilo Fruit does not have certain items available. Dairy and bread bids were obtained through the Wilson Center, going to Prairie Farms and Klosterman.
• Recognized members of the MCHS State Unified Bowling team that placed 13th in the state.
A change in the meals provided at the Madison Senior Center — from hot meals prior to the center’s closure during the COVID-19 pandemic to frozen meals that are warmed up since the reopening earlier this year — is not being warmly received by the patrons who use the center.
LifeTime Resources Executive Director Erin Thompson was at Monday’s Madison Parks Board this week to ask why hot meals have been replaced with reheated frozen meals.
Gary Hewitt, who has served in the role of managing the senior center, said patrons have expressed that they don’t want the frozen meals and have refused to eat them.
Thompson said prior to COVID-19 that hot meals were provided to the seniors with the assistance of local nursing facilities who prepared the food. “Since we’ve re-opened many of our previous providers simply don’t have the capacity to continue providing the meals,” said Thompson, adding that most are struggling to even prepare meals for their own residents. Because of that, LifeTime has currently transitioned to providing frozen meals for seniors because that’s the best way of ensuring the meals meet nutritional standards.
LifeTime Resources is a regional agency on aging that serves five southeastern Indiana counties including Jefferson County and providing nutritional meals is just one of its many functions. She said the majority of the meals are paid for by federal funds through the Older Americans Act, which requires a 15% match that can be received from a variety of sources. All meals must be approved by a registered dietitian and must meet specific dietary guidelines in order to receive funding through the Older Americans Act.
She said they take the frozen meals out of containers, heat them up and re-serve on the plate “so it doesn’t feel as much like a frozen meal.”
Thompson said she has contacted the previous local provider, River Terrace Health, multiple times about resuming meals but the facility in downtown Madison currently does not have adequate staffing to provide serve its residents and also provide hot meals to the center. She said LifeTime Resources has also reached out to other local nursing facilities and Norton King’s Daughters’ Health, but each have expressed they are unable to currently assist with the meals program.
LifeTime is working with the Boys and Girls Club of Jefferson County in coordinating the meal program. Krysten Snyder, representing the Boys and Girls Club, noted “it’s a way to get our foot in the door for more interaction with the seniors.”
Carol Marsh, who assisting with the program through the Boys and Girls Club, said what she has observed is that the seniors “really liked what they were doing” in preparing their own meals. “They were able to cook what they wanted, not what they were told they had to have ... They do have meals but they’re doing them themselves and they’re pretty happy about that.”
Thompson said the seniors are “free to do that sort of thing on their own” and the program is “designed for those who aren’t getting a meal or can’t afford a meal. I don’t want to force our involvement if there’s no need” and meals can be provided other places. “If they like what they’re doing and enjoy that, then that’s fine.”
Thompson noted there is value in the seniors doing that. “That gives them ownership in their senior center organizing their events with their friends. That’s what it’s all about anyway,” she said.
In the meanwhile, Thompson said LifeTime Resources can continue working to serve people who need meals at home even if that’s not needed at the Senior Center.
In other business:
• Parks Director Matt Woolard reported on the city’s 5-year parks master plan that was submitted to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources on April 15. With that application filed, it puts the city in position to apply for Land and Conservation grants to address needs and make improvements in the city’s parks.
Woolard said the 134-page report includes plans to upgrade neighborhood parks along with community parks and other recreational facilities. He said maintenance is “a huge focus” along with improving accessibility, landscaping and a beautification plan, evaluating staffing levels and maintaining appropriate staffing, and expanding all programming.
“We’re committed to providing an excellent standard for clean, safe and beautiful parks and facilities for all citizens of our community and the hundreds of thousands of visitors that Madison receives each year,” said Woolard. “This overall plan is designed to support those initiatives, and focus on investing into our assets so that we may provide the best possible experience to those of all ages. By prioritizing, there is proper planning you will see an acceleration on the return of our investment and the economic impact on our local economy cannot be understated.”
• Julie Thevenow proposed that the ballfield at John Paul Park in downtown Madison be named in honor of her grandfather, Tommy Thevenow, a Madison native who played professional baseball with the St. Louis Cardinals when they won the 1926 World Series. Thevenow said she made the suggestion because the ballfield at John Paul Park has never been given a name, and wanted to inquire about the process in getting it named for Tommy Thevenow.
Woolard said he believed that would require city council adoption of an ordinance, but he can investigate the process and report back.