Rensselaer Adventures

This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Truck show 2014

One of the attractions at the Fall Festival last weekend was a truck show. Last year's Fall Festival also had a truck show, but there were quite a few different vehicles in this year's show. I forgot to get the date and model of this old, rusty truck, but a close examination of the original photo reveals that it is a Mack B-6-0. Behind it is a livestock trailer that was modified to serve as a display room. The sign on the trailer, which you can barely read below, says "Jim and Jean Gingerich's 'Growing Up with Trucks' Museum." It contained a lot of pictures plus two diesel truck motors.
 In addition to trucks, there were some other vehicles. This bus was from 1951.
 A peek inside showed that after its career as a bus, it was converted into a RV. It was in rough shape.
 This old milk delivery truck was a 1965 DIVCO. The milk delivery business was dying by 1965 where I lived--the arrival of supermarkets was driving them out of business.
 The oldest truck on display was a 1920 Nelson LeMoon truck. The company lasted from 1910 to 1939 and made only about 3000 trucks.
 It did not even have a radio.
 Also at the truck show, though at some distance from the other trucks, where some old military vehicles, some from WWII. They had been carefully restored to it was difficult for a casual observer to recognize which were the really old ones and which were more recent.
Update: Because of the heavy rains on Saturday, not many people got to see these vehicles.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

City council, Monday Aug 25 2014

The Rensselaer Police Department has a couple broken windows. A few days ago a gentleman decided to throw bricks through them. He was arrested.
(It is usually difficult to find pictures to illustrate City Council meetings, so I could not resist taking the picture above after I left the meeting.)

At the meeting, the airport manager gave a brief summary of what has been happening at the airport during the citizens' comment part of the meeting. His best story was about a call he got at 2:00 in the morning. A medevac helicopter had stopped at the airport to refuel and the credit card that the pilot had was not working. After trying to help over the telephone, the airport manager drove to the airport and used another way to get the copter fueled. It then flew to Jasper County Hospital, picked up its patient, and took off for Indianapolis. Its tank was almost empty when it landed at the airport--it would not have been able to complete the run if it could not get fuel.

The Council approved the first reading of an ordinance granting city employees a 3% pay raise. Then they suspended the rules and voted to approve the second and third reading.

A financial consultant updated the council on funding for the proposed firehouse. USDA funding turns out not to be an option--the program that the city thought might be the source of funds has been cut back and now funds much smaller projects. Rensselaer could sell general obligation bonds and fund them with taxes on citizens. The consultant said it had a better option--sell bonds and use the revenues from the TIF districts (mostly or entirely Drexel Park) to pay back the bonds. In this way the citizens would not have to face a tax increase. The TIF district generates about $400K a year, but $165K of that is needed to pay on bonds that will mature in 2020. The consultant said that there was enough left to fund about $4.5 million in bonds.

An objection to this idea that there was free money was quickly raised by Councilman Cover. He pointed out that if the TIF funds were used to help finance the fire station, they could not be used for other projects, such as a new water well or the extension of water lines to the Interstate. After a bit of discussion, the council agreed that using the TIF funds for the fire station was their best use. Before more details on financing can be developed, plans and costs must be known much better. The Council voted to move to the design stage of the project.

There was about five minutes of discussion about a request that the city fund the continuing education for an employee of the power plant. He needs one course each semester to finish his degree in electrical engineering. As is standard when the city funds continuing education of employees, the employee would have to agree to work for three years for the city or else pay back the grant. The discussion was about how difficult it was to enforce that agreement. The council agreed to grant a bit more than a thousand dollars a semester to allow the employee to take the class at Purdue.

The council voted to approve about $5000 to clean the exterior of the Drexel water tower and another $2000 to fix the roof on city hall so water would not pour into the building when the rain was heavy. (I wonder if they had any problems this afternoon. We got another inch and a half in two heavy downpours.)

The gas department representative announced that work had begun on the gas line extension along John Deere Road. It begins just past the Madison subdivision. You can see the pipe that has been fitted below what appears to be a drainage tile.
It will extend about mile east. The pipe is plastic. I am not sure how the joints are sealed. For some of the route a trencher is used to bury the pipe, but a directional drilling machine will be used to get it below Melville and several driveways.
 This morning I briefly stopped in the County Council Meeting to see what their budget discussion would look like. They got a late start because they could not get the computer to display on the screen (the computer had two screens, and the second screen was what was being projected). In ordinary meetings the members of the council face the audience, In this meeting they shifted to the other side of the table so they could watch the spreadsheet.
I had too many things on my agenda to stay and watch very long. While I was there they were deciding that they wanted to give a pay increase big enough so it would cover the increased cost of insurance. That way the employees would not see their pay checks shrink. (The cost of health insurance is almost certain to rise significantly.)

Monday, August 25, 2014

More budget hearings

The County Council reconvened at 8:30 on Monday morning to continue hearing the various county departments explain their budget requests. As I listened to the discussions, I was struck by how much the process is constrained by rules from the state. The budget that the Council and then the Commissioners approve must be reviewed by the state, I think by the State Board of Accounts. The county is not supposed to increase its budget by more than 2.9%. If a new program is initiated for $100,000, but the state funds $50,000 of that, the budget is deemed to have increased not by the net of $50,000 but by the full $100,000. The Council can cut budget requests but not increase them. 

Having attended a lot of city and county meetings over the past six months, I have noticed frequent frustration with the state government. The state constantly changes the rules by which the local governments must abide. It frequently asks or requires local governments to do more or do things in more costly ways. It rarely provides the funds to compensate the local governments for their demands. In fact this year the governor wanted to eliminate a tax that provided revenue to local governments and no revenue to the state and had no proposal to compensate the local governments for the lost revenue. The words "unfunded mandates" were heard more than a few times during the discussion today.

Almost all of the departments reporting today proposed a ten percent increase in wages. A few proposed five percent and one or two proposed a measly three percent. All of them certainly know that ten percent cannot happen given the constraints of the budget process. 

There were over a dozen presentations in the morning session. Here are a few highlights.

The weed control people said that they are not just working to control marijuana but have also begun to work on palmer amaranth. It now occurs throughout the county and they expect that they may soon spend as much time and effort trying to control it as they do marijuana. They do not control in farmers' fields, just along the roadway.

The public defender was the first of several departments from the county court system. A court case has ruled that parents in all child abuse cases must have a lawyer or a public defender and this requirement will increase the number of public defenders that the county will need to fund. At present there are six public defenders, four who primarily handle felony cases and are thus partially reimbursed by the state and two who primarily handle misdemeanors and are not reimbursed by the state. 46 children so far this year have been taken from their parents by Welfare, up considerably from previous years. He requested two new positions for public defenders, filled either by two full-time people or one full-time and one position split between two people.

One of the commissions had to present the commissioners budget, which includes a lot of different things that do not fit anywhere else, such as upkeep of the county buildings and health insurance. Workman's compensation insurance is expected to take a jump, as is health insurance. The price of health insurance per person is $17,000, which explains why the county is so concerned with limiting full-time employees. The county will be closing on the Donnelly building (former Johnny Rusk building) on Friday and the plan is to demolish it. The Youth Center has enough children so that they should be economically viable. The big project for next year will be energy savings for the Court House, which will involve getting better control systems on the heating and cooling and perhaps replacing some windows.

Jasper County Community Services gets some funding from the county but is not part of the county government. (CDC Resources, another organization that gets some funding but is not a branch of the county government, gave a summary of what it does in the afternoon.) Community Services opened a new senior center in Remington this year and the building is debt free. The organization is reaching out beyond seniors to find other places where it can provide services. It has 18 employees, 11 full time and 7 part time.

Community Corrections requested four additional officers. They foresee a real chance of having full occupancy next year (presently there are two male beds and five female beds empty) because of changes in the state criminal code that will keep more offenders in local lock-ups rather than in state prisons. It is only slightly cheaper to house prisoners in community corrections than in the county jail, but those on work-release have to pay a bit for room and board, so that makes the net cost significantly less.

After a few more presentations, it was time for lunch. The afternoon session began at 1:00. Among those presenting reports were the surveyor, planning and development, the tourism commission, soil and water, IT, emergency management, the assessor, extension, animal control, the prosecutor, and the health department. The prosecutor wanted to add a full-time investigator. She said that because the new criminal code gave judges less discretion in sentencing, she expected that there would be fewer plea bargains and more trials. 

I missed the very end of the meeting because I noticed it was raining and decided I needed to go home and protect my basement. There were a lot of basements flooded last week, including that of the Mayor Wood. At the city council meeting Monday night (the subject of a future post) the mayor announced that people who had furniture and other things damaged by backed up sewers or other flooding could put them out for pick up on their regular trash pick-up day, but should call first. I think the number was 7833. There are now 20 to 22 people on the list for back-flow protectors. It may be a long wait.

The County Council will reconvene on Tuesday morning at 8:30 to begin cutting, trying to shape a budget that fits the constraints that the state has set.

And now for a picture. The city has been working on east Vine Street to remove a few more storm sewers from the combined sewer system and make them drain to the big underground pipe that was the Melville Street project.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Fall Festival has some weather problems (Updated)

I visited the Fall Festival on Saturday morning. This year the festival has carnival rides in the Midway, though not by the same company that does the rides for the County Fair. I tried to read the name of the company from the shirts of the employees, but could not make it out.
 There were ten or twelve food vendors, most of them different from those that come to the County Fair. One of the vendors was a food truck that dispensed frozen yogurt.
 I have seen this vendor before--I recognize the typeface that they use.
 There were some trailers or RVs in the camping spots, but not nearly as many as the Fair has. Though the festival is quite large, it seems small in the venue--the county fair really is a big event.
 There were numerous acts scheduled for the free stage. In the morning Natalie Brouwer sang.
 Then in the afternoon the rain came. I got an inch and a half in my rain gauge, about the same as what the downtown station reported and more than twice as much as the airport recorded. It was enough to flood roads in Rensselaer and it chased away the crowds at the Fall Festival. At 4:00 the free stage was empty though an act was supposed to be there. Even though the vendors were inside, there were few people to stop by. Some of the outdoor events have been postponed or canceled.
Maybe the weather on Sunday will be better for festival goers.

Update Sunday:
The name of the carnival ride provider is Sterling Crown Carnival.

On Sunday the Weed Wacker Pulling Association had a competition next to the Retired Iron building. Despite its name, the web page says that the motors are from chain saws.
The outhouse that was added to the Jasper County Historical Society area last year now has a plaque. I did not realize that it was a WPA outhouse, a "Roosevelt Privy". You would think that by the 1930s outhouses would have been disappearing, replaced by indoor plumbing. But I guess they were not disappearing as fast as I would have expected.

 Another item from the past: a new comment was left on on old post. It tells a little about soda fountains in Rensselaer.

For the last two days, and perhaps for the last three, the Iroquois has set a daily record for stream flow. The records go back 65 years. Normally August, September, and October are dry months with very low flow in the river. The high levels for these months are not much different from the average during the spring months.