After weeks of continued improvement, Jefferson County is finally back in the “Blue” in terms of the state rating system for COVID-19 pandemic community spread.
The county has improved from Red to Orange to Yellow and was finally upgraded to Blue on Wednesday at noon. “Blue” advisory means the county is seeing minimal community spread and now that Jefferson County has remained at the “Blue” advisory for two consecutive weeks, the county may now follow “Blue” regulations.
With a “Blue” advisory, social gatherings or events of any kind may choose to increase crowd limits to 250 individuals and 100% capacity may be permitted with a submitted safety plan approved by the Jefferson County Health Department. However, attendees still must socially distance and wear face coverings. The guidelines are the same for community recreational sports leagues and tournaments, along with school extracurricular and co-curricular activities, although school may opt to institute stricter regulations.
Business capacity must still adhere to strict social distancing guidelines and businesses are required to place clearly visible signage at their public and employee entrances notifying that face coverings are required. Businesses should only admit those who wear face coverings properly (over nose and mouth) and practice social distancing.
In related news, Jefferson County Health Department will be conducting a Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine clinic on Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon, for those individuals eligible to receive the vaccine. There are limited appointments due to the number of doses received and registration is required by visiting www.ourshot.in.gov or by calling 2-1-1. No walk-ins will be permitted.
Vaccination eligibility is open to residents age50 and older, healthcare workers who live in Indiana and first responders who are firefighters, police officers or sheriff’s deputies, emergency medical services, reservist or correctional officers.
On Wednesday, Jefferson County had no new cases of COVID-19 with a total at 2,968 to date during the pandemic. So far 14,910 residents have been tested and the seven-day positivity percentage is currently 2.9% and the unique positivity rating is 7%. The total number of deaths in Jefferson County attributed to the virus is 74.
In Switzerland County, there were no new cases of COVID-19 with the total at 756. So far, 3,836 residents have been tested and the seven-day positivity is currently 2.7% and the unique positivity rating is 11.1%. A total of eight deaths have been attributed to the virus pandemic in Switzerland County.
Overall the state reported 16 new deaths and 863 new positive cases. So far there have been 669,164 positive cases overall and 12,350 deaths in Indiana.
At last report, about 6,570 Jefferson County residents have received at least the first of two doses of the COVID vaccine. In Switzerland County, 1,259 have received at least the first of two doses of the vaccine.
In Kentucky, 880 new cases of COVID-19 were reported on March 9, according to the Kentucky Department of Health. There have been 411,917 positive cases overall and 4,850 deaths including 21 new deaths.
In information from the North Central District Health Department, Trimble County has reported 631 cases of COVID-19 with 19 active cases and overall five deaths during the pandemic. Carroll County has reported 914 cases of COVID-19 with 10 deaths.
COVID vaccine and appointments for the vaccination are being taken by the Jefferson County Health Department for residents age 65 and older, first responders and health care employees. Appointments must be scheduled by visiting www.ourshot.in.gov or calling 2-1-1.
Damage from an apartment fire on Madison’s hilltop on Tuesday was primarily limited to a second floor residence where the blaze originated but the occupant of that apartment was transported to the hospital suffering from smoke inhalation.
Madison Township Fire Chief Robert Black said the call came in at 3:58 p.m. at Apartment 211 in the Clifton Heights Apartments, 401 Virginia Avenue, and firefighters were on the scene within four minutes.
Black smoke was already coming from under the door of the second floor residence when firefighters arrived and they quickly went to work.
“The fire department did a fantastic job,” said Rebecca Combs, property manager at Clifton Heights. She said firewalls in the ceiling, walls and floor worked to effectively stop the fire from spreading. “The fire was contained to one apartment and water damage to another. There was no other damage. I am so thankful. The building was built well.”
At the same time, the occupant of the apartment, whom Black did not identify, suffered from smoke inhalation and was transported to King’s Daughters’ Hospital in Madison and later transferred to a Louisville hospital.
“There was heavy damage to that apartment,” said Black, noting it was one-bedroom with a living room and kitchen area. “The fire never extended out of that apartment. The rafters above the apartment weren’t even burnt.”
Firefighters accessed the roof of the building and used a chainsaw to check for hot spots as a precaution to keep the fire from spreading to other parts of the roof and possibly other apartments in the building.
“Our firefighters worked every angle, and did their job in keeping the fire held to that one apartment,” Black said. “We used good fire tactics in getting the fire knocked down and blowing the smoke out of the apartment. It was a great team effort. It was a great response by everybody involved.”
Black said the cause of the fire is still under investigation. Rykers Ridge Fire Department assisted along with City of Madison firefighters. Officers with the Madison Police Department and Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department worked to evacuate residents the remainder of the apartment building and to control traffic. King’s Daughters’ Hospital emergency medical service was also on the scene.
At about the same time, firefighters in Trimble County were responding to about a 10-acre brush fire in the 1700 block of Bells Ridge Road near Bedford, Kentucky, that apparently started when ashes from a wood stove rekindled in dry, gusty conditions. Although unrelated to an earlier incident, it was the second brush fire reported on Bells Ridge Road this week as dry conditions have made fields and forests susceptible to easily catching fire.
There were no injuries in the blaze and the fire was contained to one tract of property with no damage to any structures.
Firefighters from Milton and Bedford volunteer fire departments in Trimble County and Westside Volunteer Fire Department in Carroll County responded.
When I asked Zach Hackney and Chris Webster how they came up with their band name, Vaguely Familiar, they answered by just reading off some songs from their typical set list. “We play Night Moves by Bob Seeger, Feathered Indians by Tyler Childress, Slow Dancing in a Burning Room by John Mayer, and Cover Me Up by Jason Isbell, just to name a few,” said Zach. “They’re popular songs, but not super popular. When we start playing the opening strains of a song I can see the audience snapping their fingers and saying ‘Wait, wait, don’t tell me, I know this one’!”
I caught a set of their songs at the Rivertown Grill last Saturday and it was really fun and engaging to try to guess the next song coming up. They started up on a tune and it was just so darn familiar, but it wouldn’t quite come to me. Until they got to the chorus. It was “Patience” by Guns N‘ Roses.
But it’s not just the novelty of their eclectic song list. These guys can play and sing! The show was very entertaining and highly professional.
“Chris and I go way back,” says Zach. “I went to Madison High School and Chris was a little ahead of me at Southwestern. We had a band when we were very young called Rock Box with Mitch and Matt Marsh. Chris was lead guitar and they pulled me in for rhythm guitar and vocals.”
“I also had a band called The Weekend Classic,” after Rock Box, adds Chris. “It was a pop punk band, and we toured the US for about four years solid. But then life happened, as it usually does. I got married and had a kid. Zach has two kids now, with another on the way. We both took a break from playing music.”
Zach picks up the story, “Then about a year ago we decided to get back together, just the two of us, and start playing some shows. So we started rehearsing and started building our set list. Then COVID hit. So we kept rehearsing. And we rehearsed some more. And we added more songs. We have about three hours of songs now without a problem, maybe even more.
“I guess Chris and I know each other so well from the early days, it just feels so comfortable to be back playing together again. I think we have confidence in our playing now that maybe we didn’t when we were so young.”
“We sound great!” Chris chimes in. “It just feels right, and it came together so easily. All the old songs came back, but even the new ones we pick out seem to fall right into place.
“Anyway, next thing we know a year has passed since we began rehearsing and it’s early 2021. Time to get out there! We did a show at The Taproom and a couple at Rivertown Grill. We’d like to play some shows at Mad Paddle and maybe Red Bicycle Hall. But we’re just getting started, looking for more places to play and share our unique sound.”
“The music scene in Madison is growing by leaps and bounds,” continues Zach. “I work in Kentucky and I travel around a bit, and people from other areas and states view Madison as a kind of little Nashville, a music city. We want to be part of that growth. We want to help make it happen.”
Looking a week ahead to St. Patrick’s Day on Wednesday, March 17, we have a couple of fun options for live music and Irish celebration. At Mad Paddle Brewstillery Rusty Bladen will be bringing his brand of high energy fun, along with his special backing band the Feckin’ Eejits. I’ll not be translatin’ that band name fer ye, as it lies well beyond my ken. For a slightly more traditional experience you can also head over to Thomas Family Winery on Wednesday where I’m sure Steve will have some Irish fare on hand, and a fun Celtic music jam happening around the tables. Bring your instrument if you want to join in.
This Week in Music
Thursday, March 11
Mad Paddle Brewery — Brian Hopkins
Friday, March 12
Mad Paddle Brewery — Tracy & Elaine
Off Broadway Taproom — Anthony Ray Wright
Saturday, March 13
Mad Paddle Brewery — Jordan Tyler Band
Thomas Family Winery — Croghan’s Crossing
Off Broadway Taproom — Joe Clark
Wednesday, March 17
Mad Paddle Brewery — Rusty Bladen St. Patty’s Party
Thomas Family Winery — Celtic Jam Session
Charlie Rohlfing is a retired advertising man and partner in The Red Bicycle Hall music venue. Look for his distinctive fedora bobbing above the crowd, anywhere live local music is happening.
Construction of the new Jefferson County Jail is drawing closer with process of accepting bids for the project to get underway soon.
While laying the foundation for that next step in the process, County Council heard details Tuesday of the project’s financing timetable from Andrew Lanam, director at the Indianapolis office of Stifel Investment Banking.
Construction bids are anticipated to be accepted April 20 with a bond rating expected to be received by May 3 followed by a preliminary initial statement, which is the document that goes out to investors when bonds are sold. He said Commissioners will award the bids May 6, but that will be contingent on financing. Bonds would then be sold May 17, and within “a couple of weeks later you actually close on the bonds, and that is when the bow is put on the package, and you have access to the cash at that point.”
The current cost estimate for the new jail is $41,791,737, but Lanam noted the cost won’t actually be known until bids are received. “Once we get to that point, we will pretty much know where we stand,” he said. “There is some guesswork involved in this, professional guesswork I should add, but until you receive bids you just don’t know what it’s going to be.”
Lanman said once bids are awarded that they will be approved contingent on the closing of financing. He added that construction won’t be authorized to move forward until June, costing the project some prime days for advancing the build.
“When we get into June, there is some valuable construction time that has been lost,” he said. However, a $2 million appropriation being used to buy down the bond could also allow receipt of bids focused on dirt work and site preparation to make up for some of that lost time.
“What we’re proposing is receiving the bid proposals in a couple of different packages, some for the primary construction of the jail, and a few smaller contracts to get the site work going as quickly as possible,” Lanam said. “As long as the money has been legally authorized and appropriated, those (smaller) contracts could be awarded not subject to financing.”
There was also discussion related to additional unanticipated expenses that might surface once the new jail is completed.
“With a bigger jail, you will have more cost to operate,” Lanam said. He suggested the county look at when the build is projected to be completed — anticipated to be March of 2023 — and “back into your budget cycle from there. During your budgets for next year, it would be a good idea to start discussing some of these things” and plan for those costs along with other planning during the summer of 2022 for the 2023 budget years when it is anticipated the jail will be completed.
Council member Heather Foy also mentioned factoring in general maintenance costs for the existing jail facility.
“Nobody in this room knows what’s going to happen to that facility but just because inmates vacate that facility doesn’t mean that there still aren’t costs to maintain that building,” Foy said. “Obviously that’s going to have to be a piece of the budgeting.”
There was also a discussion on the Jail Chemical Addiction Programs (JCAP) and how they might be implemented in the new jail, particularly since participants in that program must be separated from other inmates. Sheriff Dave Thomas said he is working on ways to do that “without modifying the whole jail.”
Commissioner David Bramer said the interlocal agreement with the City of Madison does not necessarily require that Jefferson County have JCAP. “We can work through this issue, and we can find a program that’s going to help that we can run in the new facility, and satisfy what the interlocal agreement says and be OK,” Bramer said.
In other business:
• Thomas reported the county currently has 191 inmates with 136 in-house and 55 housed in other jail facilities. “In the last four weeks, we have had as many as 216,” he said.
• Approved the retirement of K-9 deputy Meko, who has been handled by Deputy Ben Flint. Thomas said Flint has been promoted to detective, which will minimize the number of times that he will have Meko with him on patrol. Thomas also cited Meko’s advanced age and the fact he had surgery recently.
“That took a lot of him being a police K-9,” Thomas said.
The Council agreed to sell Meko to Flint for $1, and released all county liability.
• Approved $7,655.74 for the purchase of 10 new computers for the offices of the County Treasurer and the County Auditor. County Auditor Sherry Eblen said the current computers were bought in 2009 and due to a new tax vendor “we really do need updated computers.”
• Emergency Management Agency director Troy Morgan provide an update on Jefferson County serving as a central hub in the region for COVID-19 personal protective equipment. Morgan said the county has been storing that equipment at the Jefferson County 4-H Fairgrounds for $1,728 per month to the Jefferson County Fair Board funded by the Cares Act. He said the agreement expires at the end of April but the fair board has agreed to extend that contract for 12 more months. There are currently 31 pallets of materials that belong to Jefferson County being stored there, along with materials that other counties pick up from there from time to time. “It’s a benefit to us,” Morgan said.
County Council member Chris Shelton asked Morgan to seek costs on another space, asking for more than one quote to consider.
• County Council member Gary Copeland followed up on his previous suggestion to provide steel toe shoes for county employees. “It’s a safety issue for these employees,” said Copeland. Board member Judy Smith said it’s something they should discuss at budget time, while considering the best way to do go about the proposal.
“I think it’s a good idea, but if this is offered, they will all take advantage of it, whether they wear them or not” because they will be free to them,” Smith said.
Copeland said part of the discussion might be to determine if they wanted to offer the shoes by department. “I would like to hold onto this until budget time, and I would like to get (highway superintendent) Bobby Phillip’s thoughts about it,” Council president Pam Crozier said.
• Bramer told the County Council that the Indiana Wine Trail is returning $40,000 from Jefferson County that it will not be using with the funds going into the county’s Economic Development Fund. He asked if the money can be used to match Office of Community and Rural Affairs grant applications.
“I think that’s a great idea,” said Crozier.