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

Thursday, February 13, 2014

One more meeting

On Tuesday evening a special joint session of the County Commissioners and the County Council was held at the Jasper County Fairgrounds. The purpose of the meeting was to allow the two elected branches of county government to share concerns and information. Sometimes coordination between the two branches is needed and the meeting explored some of those areas. Although the meeting was open to the public, it was not well publicized. There was no mention of it on the County's meeting schedule.

The first item on the agenda was a report on the newly formed Tourism Commission, a five member board with four members appointed by the Commissioners and one by the Mayor of Rensselaer.  The five are from Fair Oaks Farms, Hamstra Builders, Knights Inn, Saint Joseph's College, and one retired. The Commissions goal is to promote tourism in Jasper County. It is funded with an innkeeper tax that is raising almost $150,000 per year but its budget will be approved by the Council. The actual day-to-day work will be done by the staff of the Jasper County Economic Development Commission. The Tourism Commission will be willing to partner or support county festivals and events. They will also be working with the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, which I was surprised to learn, was commissioned by the state. Although it began as the Lake County Convention and Visitors Bureau, the South Shore CVA has a region-wide focus and will promotes events in Porter, LaPorte, Newton and Jasper Counties. It has a staff of about twenty people and the new county initiative plans to rely on their expertise to get started and create things like logo, website, and slogans.

There was a discussion of finances that was hard to follow because the members of the audience did not have the pages and pages of numbers that the council and commissioners had, followed by an update of progress on the jail heating/cooling system, details of which the commissioners had but the council did not. This was of joint concern because of a proposal to do an additional $140,000 of upgrading work at the jail. The Council would need to approve the expenditures of funds. (There were no decisions made at the meeting--it was only for sharing information.)

There was some discussion of building inspection--the salary is set by the Council but the permit fees are set by the Commissioners--and also how to get the right sized staff in various departments. Funding CASA was an issue because until recently the position was covered by Gibault, which found it a profitable part of their experience in Rensselaer. However, now that the position is handled by the county, it seems to be losing money and they were trying to figure out how to make it all work.

A discussion of Warning Sirens focused on two questions, should the county change the maintenance company from one in Joliet to one in Lafayette and whether they should be doing annual inspections on the sirens. When they upgraded the sirens they installed two-way communications so that all the sirens can be monitored centrally and the purpose of that was to eliminate the need for annual inspections which are quite expensive.

A member of the Council suggested that the county consider the possibility of a Violations Bureau. At present the county can take people who ignore rules, such as obtaining building permits, to court, but the legal costs of doing so often exceeds the revenue collected when the county wins the case. The councilman thought that a violations bureau might be a solution and urged the commissioners to consider investigating whether this might work for the county.

Finally, two hours into the meeting, the auditors office told the officials that they were still not happy with the financial software that they have been working with for the past three years and that they would like to research other systems. And with that, the meeting ended.

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