Rensselaer Adventures

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

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Meetings postponed

The storms that swept through the County late on Monday afternoon resulted in the postponement of the City Council meeting until Thursday at 4:15. Also rescheduled was the Jasper County Library Board meeting, which was scheduled to meet Monday evening. It will now meet Thursday at 6:00.

Below are a some more pictures from the parking lot at the high school. When I took them on Sunday, the north lot was still torn up and not yet repaved.

The addition to C&C Storage now has roof trusses.
Monday's storm blew down a lot of leaves and small branches. I did not see any big trees down, but did find a large branch down in front of the Library.
On Friday last week Food Finders was in town and Teen Mission was giving away school supplies.
The food giveaway started at noon and I was told by someone nearby that cars started lining up at 8:00. By noon the line of cars stretched back to Elza and on Abigail back almost to the highway.
There were some meetings on Monday and Tuesday that did take place. On Monday afternoon the Rensselaer Redevelopment Commission met to discuss a grant proposal to fund phase one of Downtown Revitalization Project. The major part of Phase One would be to reset the bricks on Harrison and Van Rensselaer Streets and would also include some  replacement of underground utilities, new street lights and sidewalks, and wayfaring signage. The grant proposal would not go to OCRA, which is not doing grants this year, but would seek U. S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) funding. If accepted the grant would require a 20% local contribution to go with the 80% federal contribution. The asking amount will be in the neighborhood of $2 million. The advisor from KIRPC, who is helping with the application, said that asking for more reduces the chances of getting a grant. The goal is to submit the application in September.

Members of the Commission supported the project and the grant but had concerns about the engineering contract that they were being asked to sign. The City had originally contracted with Remenschneider Associates to plan the revitalization. In 2018 Remenschneider merged with Kimley Horn, a much bigger firm. The firm is needed to prepare the grant but the contract under consideration would also lock in the firm for all future planning of the project if the grant is approved. The Commission, the City's Clerk-Treasurer, and the City Attorney want to make sure that the end product of the planning is recognized as belonging to the City, that the amount specified in the contract as engineering expenses are capped, and that the firm provide invoices and bills that meet the requirements of the State Board of accounts. I got the impression that there was some dissatisfaction with Kimley Horn. It is a giant company and the impression I got was that the City worked better with the much smaller Remenschneider. Because of the concerns with the contract, the Commission voted to continue the meeting until the 17th at 3:00 to give the City Attorney time to iron out their concerns with the contract. It is possible that if the contract is not acceptable there will be no grant application submitted.

Recently the Jasper County Plan Commission approved an updating of the Jasper County Comprehensive Plan and work on the update has begun with the aid of consultants from Purdue University. On Monday there was a fairly large brain-storming meeting via Zoom that I was able to attend. I saw features of Zoom that I did not know existed. The big meeting was broken into sub-meetings and participants were able to post comments on a whiteboard.

A comment that I thought was both funny and true was posted on the challenges page of the small group I was in: "CAVE—Citizens Against Virtually Everything". I was reminded of that when I saw that Pulaski County has a group of citizens vehemently opposed to a large solar project proposed in the County.

On Tuesday evening the Rensselaer BZA met to discuss a variance for a garage. I wondered why a garage would need a variance. It was needed because the garage did not meet the setback regulations of five feet from the property line. The neighbors were OK with the placement of the garage, so the variance was approved. I wonder how many old garages in Rensselaer meet the current requirements. I suspect that there are lots of cases in which neighbors have buildings that are less than ten feet apart.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Parking lots and meetings

I noticed that members of the class of 2021 had been painting parking lot spaces so I stopped by to see what they had done.

Last year was the first year in which seniors painted parking spaces.

The high school parking lot north of the school has been totally ripped out and will be repaved.
The Commissioners met on Monday in a fairly routine meeting. They decided to keep the Court House and other County Buildings closed to the public through August and the first week of September. They will meet again on September 8 to decide what to do going forward. If a court needs to have a jury trial, additional protocols will be established.

A representative from Trane reported that the company was finishing its punch list for the Jail HVAC changes and had started to put pilings in the ground for the small solar park east of the Jail. A representative from Titan discussed plans for remodeling the former Youth Center on Sparling Avenue for use by the Health Department. The cost will be less than $150,000, the threshold which triggers the need for competitive bidding for the project. The Commissioners approved a revised floor plan and Titan as the contractor. They also approved giving supplies left by the Youth Center to two non-profit early-childhood centers, one in Remington and another that is starting in Rensselaer. County offices, however, can take whatever they need before the supplies are given away.

The Commissioners approved the change in the County's UDO that was passed by the Plan Commission. It clarifies the legal notice that must be given in the newspaper. There was a request for a speed limit on a stretch of CR 1000 N that will be considered again at September's meeting. The Commissioners approved a request from Rensselaer MainStreet to use some of the Court House lawn for Oktoberfest on September 26. The event will have to follow the guidelines of the Health Department. Bruce Wood was appointed to fill the remainder of the term of Kim DeWees on the Airport Authority Board.

The Highway Department opened bids for some kind of paving. The bids were quoted in terms of dollars per ton of asphalt. All were accepted, as is the practice for supply bids for the Highway Department. The County Clerk was given permission to fill two vacancies. Someone from the Lower Kankakee Watershed Initiative wanted a letter of support for a planned grant application. The goal of the group is to get sediment and nutrients out of the water. The Commissioners wanted to make sure that the grant also had support of the Kankakee and Yellow River Commission as well as the Iroquois River Conservancy.

The Council Budget Hearings will begin at 7:00 pm on August 18 and are tentatively set for the conference room in the former Youth Center on Sparling Avenue. They continue on the 19th at 8:30 am. The Court House will soon have an automated phone system with an option to connect to a live person. The Commissioners continued the meeting until August 17 if necessary and then went into executive session to open and discuss EMS proposals that were due at 9:55 that morning.

In the evening the Rensselaer Park Board met in Iroquois Park. Someone mentioned that the car show had had 177 cars entered, breaking the previous record high entries of 143. The Blacker Fields are getting netting installed but the fields have not yet been seeded.
The walking path is finished. Disc golf was approved by the Parks for People committee. There will be no fall soccer program. The last day for the pool will be August 16. The next meeting will be September 8. More culverts in the dog park have been decorated.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

August already

July is gone and here we are in August. The summer seems to be passing very quickly. And unfortunately, the days are getting shorter.

Little Cousin Jasper is the latest festival to cancel. One event that did not was the Fountain Park Chautauqua which will have concluded its season on Sunday.

On Friday I noticed a crop duster northwest of Rensselaer so I tried to get some pictures. As it finished, it flew over me.
I tried to get some pictures of it dusting, but it was not close enough for a good picture.
I rode back on the highway because it was closed to all but local traffic and I wanted to see what work was being done and discovered a new store, P&P Hobbies and Collectables located in what was once the showroom of the Tonner Dodge dealership.
 I stopped in and found that it had only been open for about a week. The owner is from Crown Point. He had a coin store there but had sold his interest and wanted to start something with his grandson. Crown Point has about five coin stores located close together. Rensselaer has none.
 In addition to coins, gold, and silver, the store sells new clothing. That might make it Rensselaer's biggest clothing store. (Walmart probably has more.)
 There were boxes of comic books and variety of other things, including some baseball cards.
Over the years Rensselaer has had a variety of businesses that have dealt in these types of things but we were without one until P&P opened.

There is a new concrete slab in Milroy Park. This will be where a granite bench commemorating John Egan will be located. The bench was completed in March and has been in storage since.
 I thought for a moment I was in the high school parking lot when I noticed the painted parking spaces that Strack & Van Til have for their "to-go" customers.
It will be interesting to see how many of the adjustments that people have made for the Covid outbreak will become permanent.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Garbage news

The highlight of the Rensselaer City Council meeting on Monday evening was a report by John Julien, who works for Baker-Tilly and is the City's financial consultant. He presented findings on several issues facing the City.

His firm did an analysis of the sewage rate. Revenues have declined a bit, partially due to the closing of SJC. Operating costs, mostly in the form of wages and benefits, have risen. He suggested that the city needs a 10% increase in rates to balance between costs and revenues.

However, the City also has an upcoming sewage project that will replace the current lift station east of Weston Cemetery and extend sewage lines. That project proposes rebuilding the lift station next to the high-rate treatment plant on Lincoln Street. He suggested that an addition 10% increase was needed for that project. Hence, the total increase in rates that he recommended was 20%, which he suggested could be implemented in two or three stages, perhaps the first 10% in January of 2021 and the second in January of 2022.

He said that in August he would present a report on the water department. Here revenues have been constant but costs have risen. He anticipates a recommended rate increase of 12% to 15%. This would help prepare for the next water project, which will likely be a water tower near the Interstate to improve water pressure for those customers.

A third area of recommendation was for the trash pick-up program. User fees, both stickers and payments by businesses for their trash services, raise about $500,000 but costs are $700,000. The difference is picked up from the general fund. He suggested that the finances of trash pickup be given their own set of books, which has been the trend in other cities with municipal service. He also recommended that the sticker program be replaced with a standard residential monthly charge of about $17.85 and that this change begin in January of 2021. The majority of people will see an increase. This rate would help the City update its trucks with lifts that would operate with uniform trash containers, which the City would provide to residents. (Not mentioned was whether the new trucks with lifts would allow the reduction in employees.) In response to a question if a lower rate could be charged to households that do not generate much trash, he said that once the totes or containers were provided, some households could be given smaller containers and charged less.

Only one action on these reports was taken at the Monday meeting. The Council passed a motion that the 2021 budget, which will be presented in August, should be prepared with sanitation removed from the general fund. The next two meetings will have the public hearings and ordinances that make these reports policy.

In other business, the Council approved a request from the Eagles to close Harrison Street for a fish fry provided that the Little Cousin Jasper Festival does not get canceled. It approved two transfers of funds. It delayed consideration of an extension of the IMPA contract to next month. It gave the Police Department permission to tell Dodge what it would like in a new squad car but the actual purchase will not be approved until an order is placed. The Awards Committee recommended adding a 40-year service award to the 10, 20, and 30-year awards and that recommendation was accepted. The 10-year award is a plaque, the 20 and engraved clock, the 20 an engraved watch. The 40-year award will be a jacket and a $400 bonus.

A committee was appointed to consider a golf-cart ordinance. The City employee picnic has been canceled and a committee was appointed to consider to plan some alternative celebration. The recycling department has ordered new glass crushers to replace one that has failed and another that is failing.

In other news, a new trail in Brookside Park has been paved. It runs from the parking lot around the south side of Roth Field, then north through the tennis courts to connect to the new Blacker Fields.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

At the fair

I rode out to the Fairgrounds on Tuesday to see what was happening and to compare this year to previous years. There was activity in two areas, the horse arena and the show arena.
The field that should have carnival rides was empty and the exhibit halls were closed. However, there were quite a few campers in the campgrounds, though the area by the horse arena was only lightly populated. The old fair office was gone, with only its foundation remaining.

There were two food vendors serving those who were showing livestock.
Tuesday was goat day in the show arena.
I notice that paving of SR 114 still is not completed. There is a strip down the center of the road that needs to be finished. My guess is that reflectors need to be installed.
The farmers market is in full swing with many buyers and many sellers. I finally got a few small tomatoes from my garden, but others have done much better.

I have not seen any mulberries this year. Did the late freeze get them?

Fountain Stone Theaters has announced it is temporarily closing because there are no new films being released and there is no demand for movies right now. The Rensselaer Chamber of Commerce is closing its office and disposing of its furnishings. I do not know what the story is there. CTS Express in downtown Rensselaer has had a sign on its door for a couple of months that its downtown facility is closed and directs people to the location at the Interstate. I just noticed it.

SJC has released its July newsletter.

I managed to find Comet NEOWISE with binoculars last week. It was a faint, blurry star and I could not see a tail. Viewing from Rensselaer is difficult because of all the stray light. My daughter who lives at 5000 feet in the desert in the middle of nowhere has been taking pictures of the comet and what I saw was nothing like what she captures in her photographs.

Last week I heard the crop dusters and this week I am not hearing them, so I suspect that they have come and gone. Update: Early Wednesday there was a crop duster buzzing a field on the northwest outskirts of Rensselaer.