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

Thursday, August 16, 2018

A couple of unexpected meetings

The Rensselaer City Council held a special meeting on Wednesday at 4:00 to discuss budget items. The amount of money that they can expect in taxes has been given to the City by the State and it is less than it was last year. (Perhaps this decrease reflects the effects on the local economy of the closing of Saint Joseph's College.) After reworking the budget a number of times, the Mayor the Clerk/Treasurer came up with a budget that has a deficit of about $130,000. The Mayor thinks that at the end of the year there will be enough unspent money in this year's budget to cover that deficit. Health insurance is rising by 8.5%, which is less than expected.

As part of the budget, the mayor proposed a 3% across-the-board increase in wages for full-time employees. Rick Odle wanted to know what the dollar amount of that increase was and that information was not available. He expressed frustration at being asked to approve a budget when the numbers needed for him to make a sound decision were not available. George Cover moved that instead of a 3% raise, the raise be 2.5%. Eventually that proposal was passed with one nay vote even though no one knew how much of an impact that would have on the $130,000 shortfall.

As they were ready to adjourn, Claude Grow, superintendent of the power plant, mentioned a letter he had sent to the Council arguing that his workers were being paid about $5 less than workers doing similar work at other municipalities and private companies. He also said that they were below what City linemen were making. The Council discussed the wages but declined to act on his concerns at this meeting.

As the Council was again getting ready to adjourn, someone pointed out that they had not voted on the cuts in the proposed budget. They did so and then adjourned.

This is not the end of budgeting. The budget now goes to the State where it will be approved or more likely changed.

The Board of Public Works was scheduled to meet on Monday before the City Council meeting but did not because it lacked a quorum. Instead it met on Thursday afternoon. It approved payments to Commonwealth Engineering for its work on recent paving and the water-well project. It also approved a promotion of Police Corporal White to Sergeant. It briefly discussed a proposed contract revision between the City Fire Department and the Marion Township Trustee. The current contract dates from 1997. Some of the equipment was purchased and is owned by the City and some (most) was purchased and owned by the Township. The two entities have worked together to provide fire protection not just to Rensselaer and Marion Township but several other townships as well. The biggest change in the proposed contract would be that the Township Trustee would move his office to the Fire Station. The Fire Chief said that the advantage of this to the City is that the Station would have a human presence two days a week and also that the Trustee's secretary could do some of the paper work for the Fire Department. There was some question about what would happen to a small payment that the Trustee makes to the City and that needs to addressed before the Board gives the contract approval.
The spray-paint artist who did the mural on the Embers building is back in Indiana working in Lafayette. He paid a visit to Rensselaer in the last day or two and left a small painting on the old carriage house on the alley behind Fenwick Farms Brewery. When I stopped to snap a picture, there were three young people there and they were posing a young girl in front of the butterfly. It makes for a wonderful backdrop and gives the person posing butterfly wings.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

City Council meeting and other items of interest

August's first City Council meeting took place Monday evening. There were a lot of little items discussed.

The Council approved four street closings, including Van Rensselaer for OktoberFest on September 22. Two closings were for weddings and another was for St. Augustine's on the 26th. The Council also gave the SJC Alumni Association permission to serve alcohol at Brookside Park for the Homecoming celebration.

The gas tracker for August is a two cent decrease. Weston Cemetery was given permission to hire someone part time to digitized records. The Council agreed to a demonstration at its next meeting of recording software that would, among other things, allow its meetings to be broadcast on the Internet.

The Council agreed to release funds that were obtained by the sale of the old Admin Building at what was the Monnett school to be used for construction of park projects. The Parks for People campaign would like to start some construction this fall on soccer fields, a walking trail, and new basketball courts.

There followed a long discussion of how to re-imburse an employee who paid for an airline ticket with a personal credit card rather than a city credit card. I could not follow some of the discussion, but there was frequent mention of the State Board of Accounts and their regulations.

Approval was given to replace the furnace/air conditioner that sits on the roof of City Hall above the Mayor's office. The Council also approved August 31 as a City Holiday. In superintendents' reports there were several mentions of how City employees enjoyed the City Employee Picnic held on Saturday. Kevin Cochran, Superintendent of Weston Cemetery, announced that tickets were now on sale for the cemetery walk to be held September 22. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children and are available at Jordans, Willow Switch, and Browns Garden Shop. The event is sponsored by the Jasper County Historical Society.

The City has finished re-routing the drainage tile that previously went under the land on which the new solar parks sits. Construction of the solar panels and related equipment should be completed about the middle of September. The new well house for the Sparling Avenue well has been delayed and also should be installed about the middle of  September. The Police Department moved into its newly-remodeled building last Tuesday. There are a few issues still being worked out. There are no plans yet of what to do with the old space they occupied next to City Hall. There may be an open house for the new space sometime in the future.

In other news, work on the US 231/Mt Calvary Rd intersection continues. The road has been shifted to the east but there is still some paving to do and it is not yet clear what the west side of the road will look like. Below are pictures from Monday.
 Above, looking to the north from south of the intersection. Below, looking to the south from north of the intersection.
There was an insightful update on what is happening at SJC on Facebook. Read it here. It appears that there is no future for Halleck Center.

The swimming pool held its last public opening on Sunday. The White House B&B plans to close as of September 1. Unique Finds is reopening Wednesday in its old Van Rensselaer Street location.

Rensselaer had a heavy but short downpour on Friday. My rain gauge said we got more than an inch. I saw the dark clouds approaching as I drove west on Friday and when I got back to Rensselaer a few hours later, the rain had moved to the east.

Finally, I found an observation from the Pulaski County Community Development Commission interesting. Rural counties have to work to keep from eroding away and declining.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Meetings 8-6-2018

The Commissioners met for their August meeting on Monday. After the usual preliminaries, they heard a presentation from their voting machine vendor about an electronic replacement for the paper poll book, the book that precinct workers use to check in voters for elections. Besides making the process easier for the Clerk's office, the device would make audits of contested elections easier to handle. 43 Indiana counties already use the device, which is based on iPad hardware.

They next took up UDO changes. The Commissioners had sent a proposal for changes to the Plan Commission several months ago. The Plan Commission had made changes to that and sent it back to the Commissioners for approval. The Commissioners had suggested changes to what the Plan Commission had sent them, and at its last meeting, the Plan Commission had rejected those changes. After some discussion about what the Plan Commission had done and what the options were for the Commissioners, the Commissioners decided to start the process anew by sending a slightly revised version of what the Plan Commission had recommended back to the Commission for its review. Two rezone requests that had been recommended by the Plan Commission at its last meeting were then approved.

The Recorder's Office wants to purchase services from a company that will allow the public to search, view, and print Recorder documents. There is a charge for using the services that is borne by the searcher, not by the Recorder's office and the software should reduce the support work for the staff of the office. The Commissioners approved the request. The next step will be to have a contract drawn up and have that approved. The Commissioners also approved a separate contract with the same company for a product that watermarks digital copies.

The Sheriff received permission to replace a Court House security officer. He expressed concern about the way that Trane, contracted to insulate the jail, wanted to do their work. The new squad cars that had been ordered some time ago have arrived and the sheriff wanted to know if the County Highway Department could use one of the vehicles that they were replacing. It can. Two or three old squad cars will be available at the next County auction.

Animal control wanted approval of use of donation funds to purchase a used van. The truck that they are using does not have enough space for equipment and cages. That was approved.

A variety of conference requests were approved. It was mentioned that the County IT guy will be leaving in September.

Before they went into executive session (to discuss insurance??) a boy thanked the Commissioners for buying his 4H goat at the County Fair.

The executive session lasted for more than an hour and fifteen minutes. There were still county highway issues to be discussed and I do not know when they got to that discussion. The State collects money from an increase in the gas tax and a fee on license plates to fund county roads, but it does not simply return that money to the counties for them to use as they see fit. Rather it is returned in a complex and ever-changing process of grants. The County and the Commissioners spend a lot of time making sure they get everything right so they can get those funds, but listening to the discussion is boring beyond belief.

I skipped the Drainage Board meeting. The most interesting item on its agenda seemed to be the drainage plans for a new Wheatfield Township Fire Station. Instead I want to a planning meeting for the upcoming Weston Cemetery Walking Tour to be held on September 22. (I am on the committee—the meetings are not open to the public.) Tickets have been printed ($10 for adults and $5 for 12 & under.) If you are interested, I advise you to purchase quickly. The announcement that the Historical Society posted on Facebook last week went viral, with close to 11,000 views. There are a limited number of people the tour can handle and it is possible that the event will sell out.

In the evening the Rensselaer Park Board met. The Parks for People campaign has receipts and pledges of $1.2 million and would like to start some of the proposed projects this fall. Included in the list are the dog park and improvements to the Staddon/Monnett property. Those improvement include new soccer fields, an entry way off College, and basketball courts. Ball fields at Brookside will wait until next spring.

Larue Pool will close Thursday and Friday, then be open for the weekend, and then close for the season for swimming. Lifeguards are returning to school and are not available to staff even on weekends.

Heather Hall, who was in charge of park programs this summer, gave a report on four programs she led this past spring and summer. Spring Fling (replacing Earth Day) had bad weather and very few people attending. Park Pop or Hop in honor of National Trails Day had only a few walkers. The STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) Camp met on several Thursdays and had 103 kids participating. Kids Camp, a four-day day camp, had 21 kids. Still to come is a walking club and the Harvest Fest (October 18, Thursday evening before Fall Break). Harvest Fest is an expanded Riley Read and last year had an huge number of people attending.

The next Park Board meeting will be Tuesday, September 4 at 6:00 pm.

Workers are now paving at the US 231/Mt Calvary Road intersection.

NITCO had a customer-appreciation day on Tuesday. They devoted a lot of manpower to it.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Annie Get Your Gun

The 41st production of the Carnegie Players, which finished its run on Saturday, was Annie Get Your Gun. They had previously done that play in 1995; it was their third production. I probably went to it but I do not remember it.
This was another solid performance from the Carnegie Players. The actors had a lot of energy, the music has several recognizable songs, and the play itself is very funny. It made for a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Odds and ends, 8-3-2018


There is a new big bird in town. The sculpture shown below was given to the City of Rensselaer at Embers Whiskey and Whiskers event. Where the City will put it has not yet been determined, so it might sit at Embers for while. It makes and interesting companion to the painting on the wall.
The sculpture is made of bits and pieces of junk.
Also downtown, Moonshiners is now smoke free and family friendly. Those who want to smoke will still be able to do so, but only on the patio in the back.
The owner of the Country Bumpkin gift shop is opening a flea market in some of the space that was recently occupied by Endless Treasure. She said that the closing of the Antique Mall that was behind Greene's Furniture prompted her to make the move. The various vendors that were there are scattering to many different places, but perhaps a few will come to downtown Rensselaer.
I have noticed some sidewalk construction lately. There is a new sidewalk that is almost finished that runs along Lincoln from College to the High Rate Treatment plant. It will connect with a walking path that continues on to Weston Cemetery.
Saint Joseph's College is in the news again, and not in a good way. Sodexo, which ran food service at the College, is suing for $1.3 million, the amount they spent on remodeling in the month immediately before the College announced it was closing. Their suit argues that the College hid its bad financial state from them and if they had known how bad the finances were, they never would have agreed to fund the remodeling.

I did not see any work at the solar farm when I stopped by earlier this week, but outside the fence City crews were installing utility poles.
I had not been to an Airport Authority Committee meeting for about a year and decided that August might be the last chance I get while the days are still fairly long. The meeting covered fairly routine items. They discussed a new five-year lease for Excel Air. Fuel sales for July were good but not nearly as good as last July. This year there was less traffic from crop dusters and less traffic traveling to a big air show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Excel Air is now offering flight instruction at the airport. They discussed bids to provide security camera backup. There will be another Tunes on the Tarmac concert on August 25 from 5-7 pm CST. The event will benefit the Safe Halloween Event. They ended the meeting by voting on a budget to present to the County Council. The budget is flat, that is, has the same total amount as the current budget, but does shift some money around among categories.

Rensselaer received some much needed rain Thursday afternoon. The clouds at sunset were very pretty.
The Spaw is or soon will be under new management and ownership.

Fair Oaks Farms made NBC-5 news.

On Friday morning the Tourism Commission met and approved grants for Oktoberfest and Memories Alive at Weston Cemetery. Both events are scheduled for September 22. JCEDO has a new director of Tourism, Shelby Carroll. She started work on July 30.

The Tourism Commission heard reports on both Oktoberfest and the Parks for People Campaign. Last year Oktoberfest had about 600 people pay. That total was aided by the SJC Homecoming event held the same day. This year the SJC Homecoming event will be later. Oktoberfest is the only fundraiser for Main Street Rensselaer. They use the funds for various project. The most recent was the trailhead in Potawatomie Park. Bands are the biggest cost of the event.

Parks for People is at the $1.2 million mark of its $1.5 million goal.

Today dirt is being moved in Remington for the new Holiday Inn Express that will be at the intersection of I-65 and US 24.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

More notes on the Dwiggins family

The March post about Zimri Dwiggins noted that many newspapers found his name odd. The name Zimri is Biblical and occurs in several places, most frequently in 1 Kings chapter 16 where Zimri is a short reigning and very bad king of Israel. Findagrave has two Zimri Dwiggins in its records, the Rensselaer Zimri and his uncle who is buried in Ohio. Along with uncle Zimri Dwiggins, many other Dwiggins are buried in Clinton County, Ohio.

A grandson of uncle Zimri Dwiggins achieved fame as a designer and typographer. His name was William Addison Dwiggins and he has a Wikipedia entry, and if that is not enough, much more about him is available here. I encountered his name 15-20 years ago when typography was my passion, but did not connect it to the local Dwiggins until a chance discovery in a google search.

 Zimri Dwiggins also had a nephew with the name Zimri, Zimri Paris. He left Jasper County for New York where he died after being struck by a street car and is either buried in Argos, Marshall County, Indiana or Kewanna, Fulton County, Indiana, USA. The post about Zimri mentioned his nephew John Paris who also was organizing banks using his uncle's methods. He and several of his siblings left Indiana for New York. In the 1900 and 1910 Censuses he is in the real estate business.

Zimri's sister-in-law married Abraham Long who owed and operated Longs Drugstore in Rensselaer. More about Long can be found here.

Elmer Dwiggins was the subject of a post in early February. In March I found his name mentioned in the Indianapolis Journal, 12/25/1890 p.3. The article begins with a statement by Dwiggins and then goes on to describe plans for an airship, a model of which was destined for the Columbian Exposition. The proposed airship would be 120 feet long and made from aluminum. It would use hydrogen gas for buoyancy. It is unclear from the article what connection Dwiggins had with this project, though one can guess he was a promoter because promotion was what he was good at. The story of what happened next can be found here. (Ten years later Zeppelin showed how it could be done.) What struck me as I read the article were the similarities between these plans and the spaceship that Dwiggins imagined for his sci-fi novel, Pharoah's Broker.

Below is a picture of Elmer Dwiggins found in a book that the Jasper County Historical Society has in its collection. The book was called Pioneers of Jasper County and was assembled from various portraits by Simon Parr Thompson and given to the Rensselaer Library in 1901. They apparently discarded it because someone found it on the sidewalk and put it back together, eventually donating it to the Historical Society.

Members of the Dwiggins family lost a lot from the 1893 failure of the Columbia National Bank and its allied banks. Four years later Jay and Elmer Dwiggins finished paying depositors of the failed Hebron bank:



Robert Starbuck Dwiggins, father of Elmer and Jay Dwiggins and brother of Zimri Dwiggins, was a lawyer. In one of his adventures he was a candidate for the Indiana governorship, running on the Prohibition Party ticket in 1884. He did not win, as the vote totals show.


The low vote for Dwiggins was expected because the prohibitionists had split on the desirability of running on a separate ticket. Many and perhaps most wanted to work in the existing parties, trying to bring them around to prohibitionist views and thought that running a separate ticket would weaken their ability to influence policy. There were two prohibitionist conventions held at the same time in July, 1884, one forming the ticket and the other condemning the other for forming the ticket.

What is especially odd in R.S. Dwiggins' run for governor is that only a few weeks before he accepted the nomination to run on the Prohibitionist Party he had taken an active role in the Republican state convention that had nominated Calkins.

When reading about the financial exploits of the Dwiggins, one repeatedly sees mention of partners by the name of Starbuck. I have not seen anything in any of the articles explaining family ties between these Starbucks and the Dwiggins, but almost certainly there were some. Zimri's mother's maiden name was Mary Ann Starbuck and, tying the families even closer, Mary Ann Starbuck's mother was Sarah Dwiggins.

The Starbucks connected back to a Starbuck who bought Nantucket Island, which became a whaling center. It is plausible that Herman Melville got the name for the first mate of the Pequod from the Starbucks of Nantucket. As for Starbucks Coffee, the founders took the name from Melville.

Finally, the Handbook of Chicago Biography published in 1893 after the collapse of the Commercial National Bank has a very favorable biography of Zimri Dwiggins along with a picture. Both are reproduced below.



One of the Dwiggins is scheduled to be portrayed for the event, Memories Alive at Weston Cemetery, to be held on September 22.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Moving the highway

Rock the Arts was the biggest of several events happening last weekend. I have nothing to report because I was out of town visiting family this past weekend.

On the way out of town I noticed that work on US 231 at the Mount Calvary Road had begun. There is a little stretch of the highway that was not resurfaced a couple years ago because the plans were to move the highway a few feet to the east, improving visibility of traffic crossing or entering the highway from the west. On Monday work continued and while I was there a couple dump trucks dropped loads of crushed stone to build up a base for the moved road.
 Stone was already in place to the south of Mt. Calvary road.
 I also noticed piles of windmill blades north of Tri-County School. They will be used for turbines in either White or Benton County.

The Japanese beetles have been terrible this year. Basswood trees are one of their favorite foods. Below is a picture of a basswood in Potawatomie Park showing how damaging the beetles are to this tree.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

More long meetings, part two

After the BZA meeting on Monday ended, the Plan Commission meeting opened. It had five items on its agenda. First up was a case of a tenant living in Barkley Township who wanted to stop paying rent and purchase the home she was living in. However, the house is on a 15 acre lot of land, most of which is tillable, and the owner did not want to sell the whole lot nor did the tenant want to purchase it. The decision was to have a one acre lot carved out and rezoned R1. However, R1 lots are not supposed to be adjacent to A1 lots. If the rezone would have been a request for an A2 classification, the minimum lot size would, according to the code, be two acres. So there was a brief discussion and eventually the Commission decided that there would be no harm done with the rezone and there were benefits, so they passed the request, which now goes to the Commissioners for final approval. What was a bit unusual about this item is that the house is directly south and less than half a mile from a large dairy.

The second item was a carry-over from the last meeting, a request for approval of a four-lot subdivision in Wheatfield township. The land had been subdivided three years ago and the Code says land can only be subdivided every five years, so the petitioners will have to wait two more years. The third item on the agenda did not get published correctly so will be delayed until the next meeting. There were a number of neighbors from Union Township who were concerned enough to be at the meeting, but some of their questions were answered before the meeting proceeded to the fourth item.

The fourth item was from Carpenter Township, a request to rezone a six-acre lot from A1 to A2 so a second house can be built on it. It was approved, though again the County Commissioners have final say. Unusual about this is that the new house would be on a carved out lot with the larger parcel surrounding it on three sides. The requirement for a house on A2 is that it have a frontage of at least 250 feet. The larger lot, containing the existing house, would have 300 feet, but it would be split in two parts.

The final item on the agenda was an amendment to the Unified Development Ordinance regarding setbacks for confined feeding operations. In the previous meeting the Commission had considered a recommendation from the Commissioners, but decided that the setbacks to property lines were too short, so had changed the proposal. The Commissioners did not like their new setbacks, so had suggested a new number as well as a few minor changes. The Plan Commission's attorney said that they could either accept the new recommendations from the County Commissioners or reject them but could not change them. So the motion was made to reject them with the anticipation that the County Commissioners would at their next meeting pass the ordinance with the wording that the Plan Commission was rejecting. The meeting finally adjourned at 9:45.

On Tuesday I was able to swing by the Farmers Market and see the crowd that Kids' Night had brought out.
I had a commitment on Tuesday afternoon that made me miss the joint Commissioners-Council meeting and made me late to the County Council meeting. When I arrived, the Council was finishing up approving tax abatements. They approved the last year of a Monsanto abatement and an abatement for Remington seeds. They then moved on to additional appropriations and in dollar terms, passed a huge amount. There was a small appropriation for the Sheriff's Department. The department has turnover, especially among part-time employees. The entire staff of Court House Security has turned over in the past year and the sheriff noted that it was hard to keep lower-paid employees when Advance Auto is paying $17 an hour plus benefits. The County Highway Department requested an appropriation of $2 million that is needed to match a $2 million grant from the State for road improvements. The Commissioners budget was given an additional appropriation to pay the State Board of Accounts for their examination of the County's records. The Coroner has been doing a lot of autopsies and now has new state reporting regulations (but not new state funding to pay for those reports) and needed an extra $6,000. Finally an expenditure of $1.1 million from the rainy-day fund was approved to pay for Court House renovations.

Finally the Council reached the topic that the standing-room-only crowd was waiting for, the discussion of approving a donation from the innkeepers' tax fund for the Rensselaer Parks for People campaign. At the previous meeting the Council had approved a donation of $10,000 but told the Director of Economic Development that he could put the item back on the agenda. The presentation began with a video and then a presentation by Stace Pickering. One thing that surprised me was mention that the kiddie pool at Brookside would be replaced with a splash pad. (The kiddie pool has been out of operation for several weeks this summer and is currently drained.)

After the presentation and some discussion,  Gerrit DeVries said that the original purpose of the inn keepers tax was to help fund festivals and that he did not think the large sum requested ($175,000) should be given to one project. He suggested that $25,000 be given to the parks in Rensselaer but the same amount given to the parks in DeMotte, Wheatfield, and Remington. A motion was made to approve a contribution of an additional $100,000 to the Parks for People campaign. There was discussion of what precedent this would set. In the past few years the Tourism Commission gave DeMotte parks $10,000 as part of a $200,000 campaign, or 5% of the total. The donation of $110,000 is 7.33% of the campaign goal of $1.5 million. When in the future the Tourism Commission will be approached by other communities and groups to fund capital improvements, these percentages will be used to judge what a reasonable donation will be and the Council will almost certainly look back at these percentages when they approve or disapprove of these donations. The motion then passed with one opposed.

With that settled, most of the audience left. The Council then approved a long, legalese ordinance that allows the drainage board to set up a revolving line of credit to pay for drainage projects. The loans will be backed by funds in the County's rainy-day fund. The Council also voted to make no changes in the local income tax (LIT) or the distributions from that tax for the next year.

One more meeting is worth mentioning. The group that is planning the Weston Cemetery Walk for September 22 met on Monday. The price of tickets will be $10 for adults and $5 for children. The Walk will highlight eight graves/markers in the eastern part of the Cemetery using costumed reenactors. Many little items that need to be decided to make this event a reality. If you have ever been part of a group planning an event, you know how many little decisions have to be made to make an event happen. Members of the Historical Society have been talking about doing a cemetery walk for at least four years and this year will be the year it finally happens. Their goal is to make this an annual event.

This weekend Carnegie players have the first performance of Annie Get Your Gun and the Rock the Arts Festival will bring crowds to Potawatomie Park.

One more picture: inverters. The solar panels have been installed at the new solar park on the north edge of town and now the equipment needed to make the electricity generated by the panels compatible with the grid must be installed.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Van Nationals

At the end of Tuesdays County Council meeting (the subject of a future post), Steve Jordan mentioned that the Fairgrounds was almost as busy this week as it was last week. There is a national van convention that has rented the facility. Several Council members encouraged me to go out and see what was happening. They said that my blogger credentials would make me welcome.

 I took their advice. No cars are allowed in the event, so I used a two-wheeled vehicle. I stopped at the registration check point and asked it if would be OK if I rode around and took pictures for a blog and received permission. I also could not resist asking if the reason the convention came to Rensselaer was because our town was named after VAN Rensselaer.
 This is the 46th annual convention and each year it is held in a different part of the nation. Next year it will be in New England. The Jasper County Fairgrounds was not the first choice of venue for this year. The group was negotiating with another fairgrounds but decided that the price was too high. The Midwestern group of vanners (can I call them that?) has annually met at the Jasper County Fairgrounds in May (Memorial Day weekend), and they told the national group that our fairgrounds would be ideal. So VAN Rensselaer had nothing to do with the selection.

There were not as many vendor booths as there are during fair week, but I was impressed with the number that were there.
 I rode around the campgrounds looking for interesting vans.
 New Jersey was represented. I was told that there were several people from Europe attending. They rent vans after flying to the U.S. I do not know what the 2% refers to but saw it in several signs.
 I have a hard time believing that this van was driven from Texas.
 More vans.
 The carnival people still had not removed all of their equipment as of Wednesday morning.
 A group from Pittsburg had their sign up.
 Someone who owns a van is a fan of the Wizard of Oz.
 I did not meet the Bad Girls from New York.
 I would have liked to have heard the Long Story.
 This van looks like it began as a pick-up truck.
 There were port-a-potties scattered throughout the campgrounds. Many campsites had children and I saw two pools for the kids.
 The Diamondback van had sleeping quarters in the back. One of the people I talked to said the feel of the encampment was much like a hippy event from the 1960s.
On Saturday the public is invited to come out to a van show from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. Vans on display will in the parking area near the highway and from the way it was described, not all the vans will be from those attending the convention. The one person who seemed to know what was happening with the event said that visitors are encouraged to bring a donation of dog or cat food and that entry and parking will be not at the main gate but at the gate to the east. The dog and cat food will go to two different groups.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

More long meetings

Monday's City Council meeting lasted an hour. There was only one really important item, a review of a grant application that the City is making to the Rural Development, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The City will be asking for $5,211,500 for sewer improvements. The largest part of the project will be a new lift station just to the east of Weston Cemetery. The existing plant (shown below) was built in the early 1960s and it is beyond its useful life. The grant application notes that sewer gases including hydrogen sulfide and methane can permeate the entire building, causing both a safety hazard and degrading electrical equipment. In addition, the project will extend sewer service to 41 new customers, 20 on the Owen Street line, nine on West Washington, and 12 along Clark.
The City has a combined storm sewer system where storm water from the streets goes into the sewer system Heavy rains overwhelm the system causing sewage to be dumped into the river. The State is monitoring the progress the City is making in separating the storm sewers from the sewage system, and in recent years the Melville project and the high rate treatment plant have been undertaken to meet State requirements. The reason for moving on this project now is that Rural Development has extra money this year and that means that the project has an excellent chance of being funded. The deadline for getting the application in is August 1.

In other business the Council wrote off some bad debt and closed an account fund. I did not understand exactly what this was about but it seems to be related to new software that utility billing is using. The Council decided to change the meal allowances from set maximums for breakfast, lunch, and dinner to a daily per-diem maximum. They established a tipping policy for reimbursing employees traveling on City business; the tip cannot exceed 20% the cost of the service. (The City auditors had said that without a tipping policy the City cannot reimburse tips.) There was also a discussion of whether City employees should be able to charge expenses of spouses traveling with them to the City credit card and reimburse the City later. The City attorney was asked to find if there were State regulations on this issue.

The Police Department will be doing a big move to their new offices next week. The parking lot at the new building may not drain properly so will be fixed so water will drain to Harrison Street. Plans from Autumn Trace, the company that plans to build an assisted living complex south of Fountain Stone, will have a technical review Thursday and the company should break ground in the next month. Walnut Street from Cullen to McKinley will be repaved by Town and Country for a bid of $21,695.

The meeting adjourned at 7:00 and I hurried across the street to get to the BZA meeting at the Court House. I arrived as the Board was in the process of approving the minutes and I found a seat in the packed room. The first item on the agenda was a variance for Interstate Farms for setbacks. This item had been on the agenda in the June meeting but a tie vote on a finding of fact had brought consideration to a close. The attorney for the Board had researched the law to see what the next step would be. The opinion of an attorney representing a group opposing the CAFO was that a tie vote ended the matter and the next step for the applicant was to go to court. However, the BZA's attorney said he could find no case law supporting that and other case law suggested otherwise. Further, the matter had never been closed with a final vote. So his opinion was that proceeding with rehearing the matter was appropriate now that all members of the BZA were present.

Don Shelman again made the case for the variance. He noted that State law requires that actions of the BZA needs majority approval and that had not happened at the previous meeting. He made essentially the same presentation that had been made in a special June meeting for the Planning Commission in seeking the rezone from A1 to A3 and at the BZA in June seeking a special exception and a variance. He did note that on July 17 the hog farm had received a permit from IDEM, so the variance was the last remaining regulatory hurdle to overcome.

The variance was for setbacks from property lines. The current regulation requires setbacks of 1000 feet to adjoining A1 properties. Mr Shelman noted that all property owners except one on the Northwest supported the project and that the closest residence was almost a mile away. A representative of Carpenter Creek Winery again expressed his opposition, arguing that the hog farms had the potential to seriously injure his business. However, when the votes were taken, two of the findings of fact passed 3 to 1 and the other, the one that had had the tie vote, passed 4 to 0. (At this meeting the Chairman did not vote, which is why there were not five votes.) The variance was granted by a 3-to-1 vote.

The second item on the agenda was a request for a use variance from Von Excavating for 3.68 acres of a 65 acre parcel in Kankakee Township on SR 49. The land in question is being used for storage of materials and may in the future be used for retail sales of those materials. The question that immediately arose is why they were not requesting a rezone and the answer as that none of the zoning categories seemed to fit. After discussion, a motion was made and passed that consideration on the matter be delayed until the petitioner discovers what the State requires for them to access the site from SR49.

The BZA adjourned at 8:45 and the Plan Commission began its meeting. However, this post is long enough so an account of that meeting will have to wait for another post.

Friday, July 20, 2018

More pictures from the fair

The weather this year for the county fair has been ideal. We have not had the extreme heat of some past fairs.

Their rides are different this year. My guess is that there is a new carnival ride company.
 I always check out the old tractors. My interest is probably mostly due to family. My grandfather and his two sons both were in the farm implement business and my grandfather and one uncle sold John Deere tractors for many years. They probably sold tractors like this model A tractor, which was one of the oldest tractors in the retired iron building. They must have been disappointed that I had no interest in things mechanical because that was their life. My uncle bought and restored old farm steam engines and once made a miniature steam engine that worked. (There is a picture of a steam engine on my uncle's farm on the Internet. I cannot be sure that it was one he owned.)
Showing animals is one of the main activities at the fair.
 I did not understand the raffle of a demolition-derby car.
There were more food booths this year than I remember from the past.  I recognized this food booth as the booth that had been Martin's. Although the owners of Martin's Restaurant sold the restaurant, they kept the booth. I asked why and was told that the return on effort was higher for the booth than for the restaurant.
 South of the Commercial Building there were many storage buildings and gazebos for sale. I do not recall that from past fairs.
 While in the Commercial Building I asked the lady at the Ivy Tech booth if there was any possibility that Ivy Tech might be expanding to Rensselaer. She said, "No." The booming economy has cut community college enrollments so there are no thoughts of opening anything new at this time. Community college enrollment rises when the economy is bad and drops when it is good.

Tuesday and Wednesday nights were rodeo nights at the Grandstand. This year there are eight nights of grandstand entertainment. In some previous years the Fair Board booked a big name entertainer but did not this year. I heard that they found that the big name entertainment brought very few additional people to the fair.
 The free stage is always fun. The quality of acts varies. In the past I have seen both very poor acts/music and some very good musicians.
This year the fair has added an extra day. In the past the fair ran Saturday to Friday, with the next Saturday the day that entries were released and everything closed down. This year parts of the fair will run through Saturday. Also this year the Jasper County Fair and the Newton County Fair were in the same week. In the past the Newton County Fair was always the week before the Jasper County Fair. Next year the Jasper County Fair will start on the 20th, a week later than this year.

The County Fair is the big festival for the County. We still have a number of other festivals/events on the calendar for this year. Rock the Arts will be later this month. The Touch of Dutch festival is in August. Little Cousin Jasper and Oktoberfest are in September. New this year is a Cemetery Walk planned for Weston Cemetery on September 22. It will feature actors portraying a few of the many interesting people buried there. It will be both entertaining and educational--mark your calendar. If you would like to see how this format works in other places, check here, here, here, here, or here.

We need rain. The river has little water in it but the grass has not turned totally brown.

Monday, July 16, 2018

The play and the fair

The Children's Summer Theater put on its 43rd production this past week. The play, Newsies, had a huge cast, moveable sets, and a lot of choreography.
 Even the ceiling was decorated. The setting of the play was New York City at the end of the 19th or beginning of the 20th when laundry was hung outside in porches or between buildings.
 I attended on the last performance and was surprised to see many empty seats. In the past productions have usually sold out.

Rensselaer's next play production will be the Carnegie Players production of Annie Get Your Gun. It will have four showings, on July 27, August 2, 3 and 4, 2018 at 7:00 p.m. each evening in the RCHS auditorium.

The County Fair had a large crowd on Sunday night.

There seem to be even more food booths this year. Many are old favorites but quite a few seem to be new.

There is always something going on. On Sunday there were musical performances both on the free stage and in the Community Building.
There were no events going on at the horse arena but these two little guys were fascinated watching riders and horses practice.
 The air was definitely warmer on the other side of the curtain.
While the musicians played and sang in the Community Building, people could watch a lady make little animals from rods of glass.

I do not attend many Tourism Board meetings, which may be a mistake because it seems a lot happens at them. I did attend the July meeting. Touch of Dutch requested and was granted some additional money to increase advertising. Their festival was cited as one that has been growing and developing. There was a follow up report on a car show and the Vietnam Wall memorial. About 4000 people signed the guest books at the Wall and probably at least that many did not sign.

The Board discussed their proposed donation to the Parks for People campaign. At the June County Council meeting only a $10,000 donation was approved and the item will be on the agenda again this month at the meeting on the 24th. The Board members reaffirmed their belief that good parks are an important determinant of quality of life that both attracts people to an area and helps retain them.

They mentioned a change in state law that allows out-of-county residents to serve on tourism boards if they own or are senior management in a county business related to tourism. South Shore is rebuilding the County's tourism website. A new Tourism Director will begin work on August 1.