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

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

First meeting of 2015

I woke up this morning as the city was plowing two or three inches of new, powdery snow from the street next to my house. The bright morning sun on the newly plowed street provided a scene that captures what January is like in northern Indiana.

Then I was off to the first Commissioners meeting of the new year. The agenda looked short so I expected a quick meeting. The meeting started with the commissioners voting to keep the same officers as they had last year and then proceeded to routine stuff--approving the Recorder's request to replace a worker, discussion of repairs for Animal Control, and approval of meeting requests before a pause to recognize Bill Campbell for serving 29 years as a member of the Board of Health. A picture of him with his plaque and the Commissioners should appear in the Rensselaer Republican.

There was a public hearing scheduled at 9:00 to discuss a road closing request by NIPSCO, and as everyone kept watching the clock, the Commissioners filled the time with more routine business: Community Corrections was having water problems, the Highway Department was looking at Working Well as an alternative for random drug testing, the Health Department wanted one of the pool cars located at the Annex, three appointments were made, and how Workman's Compensation might affect a volunteer policy was discussed.

At 9:00 the public hearing for the road closing that NIPSCO was requesting was re-opened--it had been continued at the December meeting because some members of the affected public were not able to attend. The representative from NIPSCO reviewed the company's reasons for wanting to close the road and then suggested the solution that I expected after the December meeting, that NIPSCO would relocate the road half a mile east, building it on NIPSCO property and then turning it over to the county. 

There were some comments from the public, but not really about the road. The Walker Township Trustee wanted a tipping fee for any fly ash brought in from the Bailey or Michigan City plants. One of the farmers who has power lines adjacent to one of this fields was upset that sometimes NIPSCO equipment went into his field and damaged crops. NIPSCO had a contingent of people there from engineers to lawyers who were ready to answer questions. I suspect that with the proposal to re-locate the road NIPSCO's request will be granted at the February meeting.

The meeting broke and I talked to several people, including some of the NIPSCO people. I had heard at an earlier meeting that they had found uses for some of the byproducts of burning coal, with the residue from some of the units being recycled and while other units had their residue put in the landfill. I asked why they could not recycle all of it. I learned that different units burn different kinds of coal. I had assumed that all the coal came from Wyoming but this was wrong. They have three different kinds of coal that they burn, including some from Illinois, and different coals and different ways of curbing emissions gives different byproducts. In addition, NIPSCO and others are very reluctant to look for new ways of recycling because of regulatory risk. Regulations can change unexpectedly and something that was permitted can suddenly not only become forbidden but may entail cleanup costs. For example, one person was asking why NIPSCO did not sell gypsum that is produced in burning coal for use by farmers as a type of fertilizer.  The answer was that they did not want to be faced with the possibility of some future regulation that would make them liable for any problems that might occur from having farmers use their gypsum on their land. 

The meeting resumed with the sheriff's concerns. The deputy who serves civil process papers was leaving and he wanted to replace him. He noted that the county collects $13 on all papers served, and those fees plus those from sheriff's sales go to the general fund. That amount roughly covers the cost of the civil process deputy. After the Commissioners approved that replacement informed them that the likely replacement would be internal, which would open a different position, a merit deputy. The Commissioners approved that replacement as well. Then he discussed a product that re-inforces glass windows so that an attack like the one on the Rensselaer Police station, in which a person smashed a window in an effort to get to the communication officer, would not occur at the jail. Then there was a discussion of the proposed upgrade to the 911 equipment. The person in charge had gone through the list of the original specifications and trimmed out those things that have never been used. As a result, the cost of the upgrade will be considerably less than the initial estimates. There was also a discussion of the ambiguity in existing law that may affect Jasper County. At present if a call from a land line in Rensselaer or DeMotte comes to the 911 center, it is automatically routed to the dispatchers at Rensselaer or DeMotte. The county considers Rensselaer and DeMotte satellite sites, but it is not clear from the existing statue exactly how they should be considered. There will be an attempt in the next legislative session to clarify the situation. (A lot of time in these meetings is spent on details like this, which is probably why so few members of the public do not attend them.)

The Commissioners' attorney said that the county has a temporary easement with the neighboring property owner that will help with the demolition of the old Johnny Rusk building. Bids for demolition will probably be opened in the February meeting. 

The remainder of the meeting--at least an hour--was spent discussing the airport. The Airport Authority wanted the county to deed the land used by the airport to the Airport Authority with a reversion clause--that in the event that the airport no longer uses the land, it reverts to the county. An alternative favored by one of the commissioners was a 99-year lease. A third alternative was a hybrid--a deed for the land occupied by the airport operations with a lease for the adjacent lands. A central issue was the rental income from the farm lands that would be involved, with a side issue that the deed would split a field that is most conveniently farmed as a single unit. After long discussion in the meeting that built on much longer discussions at previous meetings and between various parties, it was time to set a course. Commissioner Walstra moved to deed the land to the Airport Authority with the provision that in event that the land was damaged, the county could refuse any reversion and that the Airport Authority would not use any of the land as collateral for any loans. He noted that the income from the farm land would lessen the need for the Airport Authority to tax, so that in the end the public should not be affected by which entity got the farm income. Commissioner Maxwell said he preferred a lease. Commissioner Culp, who had favored a hybrid, seconded Walstra's motion, which passed with two in favor and one not voting. (It is very unusual to have a split vote.)  There then followed further discussion on details of how the contract should be formulated and what would happen to the current three-year lease to the farm land. The issue will be back for another meeting or two.

The Commissioners will continue the meeting on Tuesday, January 20 if needed.

On the way home I stopped by the Library to take a picture of the trains in their display window. The Library will have a special Family Train Day: Saturday, January 24 from 10 a.m.-3:00 p.m.  Come and enjoy model train displays, train movies and more.  All ages are welcome, registration not required.




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