The County Commissioners held their September meeting on Tuesday morning, delayed a day because of the Labor Day holiday. The most interesting item on the agenda was a presentation of NIPSCO assessed valuation, but more on that later. The first item was a presentation from JA Benefits about the possibility of Jasper County joining with other counties to manage their health insurance plans. Bigger groups have less volatility in expenses from year to year and that both smooths year-to-year payment and slightly reduces the yearly cost. No action was taken and any changes will require a lot of planning and discussion.
The Commissioners heard from a lady involved with a group concerned with childhood cancer in northwest Indiana. She read a proclamation establishing a childhood cancer awareness month and they approved the proclamation and the awareness month.
Several people on the agenda did not show up and it threw the schedule off. There was a discussion of how local traffic will detour around the closed section of US 231 north of Rensselaer where it crosses the Iroquois River. The official detour uses I-65.
A representative of the Zaremba group requested a driveway access to a county road adjacent to Wheatfield. The group is planning a new Dollar General Store for Wheatfield. The land that they are considering is just outside the town limits and they will want it annexed so they can connect to Wheatfield sewer. The Commissioners approved the request with a couple of conditions that will become irrelevant if the annexation goes through.
Community Corrections has a retiring matron who prepares meals. The Commissioners approved replacing her with a corrections officer that will give them more flexibility in work done.
The Assessor, Dawn Hoffman, gave a short presentation of what will happen to the assessed valuation of NIPSCO when they close two of the four generators that they have at the Schahfer Plant. The slide shows the projected assessed valuations for the next several years. The reason this matters for the county is that currently about 20% of property taxes that the County collects comes from NIPSCO. With the projected reduction of the assessed valuation, that percentage will drop to 10%, which means that other property owners will have their tax rates increased. Only some of what you pay in property taxes goes to the county and that part is projected to go up by about 9%. Some of what is collected goes to the school district, and those living in the KV school district will have that part of their taxes increase by 15%.
The biggest impact will be on those who live in Kankakee Township.
As the meeting neared an end, there was a discussion among the few remaining people about what could be done to offset this loss. Because the NIPSCO plant has by far the largest assessed valuation, there is no one change that can offset that loss. However, NIPSCO has sought proposals for renewable energy and both wind farm operators and solar farm developers are looking at the County. I have heard from two County officials that there are vague plans for a huge complex of solar panels in the Wheatfield area. Apparently there are some land contracts being negotiated.
The Sheriff had a pension advisor with him when his time to speak arrived. The Sheriff's Department, like other sheriff departments in the Indiana, has a separate pension plan, not the plan for other county employees. The plan was set up in the late 1980s and currently a deputy becomes vested at ten years of service. The size of his pension increases for each additional year of service until twenty years, and then there is no more increase. The Sheriff argues that this creates an incentive for deputies to leave when they reach 20 years and that the result is an increase in training costs. He would like the pension to have a 26 or 32 year limit. (32 is the highest allowed by state law.) This whole issue must be decided by the County Council rather than the Commissioners, but the Sheriff was explaining his position to the Commissioners as a courtesy. He also asked for and was granted permission to fill a vacancy.
After a short break, the discussion turned to the difficulty in filing the paper work for the Cross Roads grants. The county is still working on the paperwork for the 2016 grants.
The picture below is in the hallway near the Commissioners' Room in the Court House. It shows the first Jasper/Newton County Court House. You can learn more about it on the Weston Cemetery Walk on September 22 because it has connections to one of the featured persons for that event.