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

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

City Council meeting 11-28-2016

The City Council had a short agenda and a short meeting on Monday evening. First up were engineering reports on two potential sewer projects, one for Owen Street and the other for West Washington. The consultant from United Engineering said that there were three options he examined to serve 19 existing residences but potentially 60 residences if the vacant lots were built. A gravity system would cost an estimated $1.7 million, a low pressure system in which residences had individual grinder pumps was estimated at $.9 million, and combination of the two at $1.2 million. There were a number of questions about technical details. Apparently the estimates included the City providing and installing the grinder pumps, but their maintenance and electrical costs would be borne by the residence. The prices mentioned were a magnitude higher than the prices I see on-line for grinder sewer pumps. The discussion of the West Washington was brief, and in this one there is no option for a gravity system. These projects are several years off if they happen at all, but this was advanced planning.

The next item was a decision on which engineering company to hire for the Watts substation that will be several miles out on Bunkum Road and will provide a second line to the Interstate area. The Council accepted ISC, which had a low bid of $126,000. The entire project is estimated at $1,680,000.

Supply bids, which had been read at the previous Council meeting, were awarded: unleaded gas and diesel to Ceres Solution and tire repairs to CTS. The date for the December meeting was changed from Monday, Dec 26 to Tuesday, Dec 27. (The 26th is a City Holiday.) The Redevelopment Commission met on November 21 and awarded paving of Gaspar Drive and part of Melville to Town and Country Paving. The work will be done next spring.

There was a brief discussion about the sorry state of the Weston Cemetery building. The sentiment seemed to be that it would be better to replace it than try to fix it but that project is also not imminent. The Christmas parade will take place this Saturday. The roof on the Power Plant has been finished. Work continues on the high rate treatment plant. (This morning--Tuesday--trucks were delivering more 66-inch culverts.) With no further business or announcements, the meeting adjourned.

Last week I spent a few days in Illinois and I do not have any really appropriate pictures, but I did take the one below over the weekend. The doors are now on the new C&C Warehousing building on Melville.

While I was in Illinois I took part in the largest 5K race I have ever been in--there were, I guess, well over a thousand people running. It was free and untimed, though there was a clock at the finish line so that people could time themselves. I wondered if the huge turnout--they ran out of bibs before I registered and by the time I finished they had run out of goodie bags--was because it was a free race. I wonder how many people would run in a free race here. Or is the thought that you are helping some cause part of the draw for our 5ks?

The other odd thing from Illinois was the price of eggs. I thought they were ridiculously cheap when Strack and Van Til recently had them for 69 cents a dozen. However, Aldi had them for 28 cents a dozen.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

We got our first snow Saturday morning. It melted on the streets but it stuck on most roofs and cars.
The City has put up the downtown Christmas decorations.
The price of gasoline has fallen well below $2.00, an early Christmas present. (Or maybe it is an early Black Friday sale.) I filled up my tank when it hit $1.95--I guessed wrong.

The Wikipedia entry for Rensselaer lists some notable people who came from our town. One is Eleanor Stackhouse Atkinson. She has one of the three small markers in Milroy Park that was mentioned in a blog post in 2009. (The website listed there does not work for me but I found it on the wayback machine at Looking at the article about her on Wikipedia, I noticed that she was the grandmother of a well-known movie and TV actor, Wally Cox, who was active in the 1950s and 1960s. He died in 1973, not yet 50 years old.

Eleanor Stackhouse Atkinson is buried in Weston Cemetery. The Lane-Wood directory has this entry: Atkinson Eleanor (Ashes) Burial Jan 12 1943 Sec D Bl 32 Lot 2 foot of 5 (Isaac M Stackhouse). She died in Manhasset, Long Island on November 4, 1942, so her ashes were buried two months later. There is no marker for her, but there is for three others, her father Isaac, her mother Margaret Smith Stackhouse, and a brother, Walter. The 1870 census lists her as Nellie, age 7. The other children in the family are Harry (age 9), Fredrick (age 5), Minnie (age 3), and Walter (age 1). The family is in Southport, Indiana for the 1880 census and Walter is no longer listed, so he died as a child.

I thought it was interesting that Wally Cox had a Rensselaer connection even if it is a very weak connection. I know he means nothing to younger people, but older people almost certainly recognize the name.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Meetings and more

Our unseasonably warm weather will end this weekend as some late fall or early winter weather moves in. I have been busy trying to do some outside chores to get ready for winter but I will not get as many done as I would like.

Stores are getting ready for Christmas. Strack and Van Til has its Christmas trees stocked and the city has installed the street decorations.

Last Tuesday had more meetings than the usual third Tuesday. In addition to meetings of the Jasper County Historical Society, the Rensselaer Central School Board, and the Jasper County Council, the Rensselaer Park Board met. Its meeting was very short. Someone noted that the gazebo in Hal Gray Park was being painted. There has not yet been a meeting between Park representatives and leaders of the Saint Joseph College soccer program to iron out plans for next season. Heather Hall will become a part-time program director beginning January 1. There will be no December meeting and the January meeting will be on January 2.

The County Council had a short agenda but the meeting still lasted more than an hour. After approving minutes for October,  the Council heard Judge Ahler's request for an additional appropriation to pay for new court recorders. His request for an additional court recorder had been granted by the Commissioners (his long-time recorder had taken another job and training people for the job takes time, which is why he wanted a second person) but the funds were not in the budget. He could have asked to transfer money from another part of his budget but wanted to be clear to the Council about what was happening. The request was granted.

The sheriff requested additional money for part-time court house security and for jail utilities and both were granted. He noted that the recent work on the heating and cooling system at the jail had reduced its utility bill by $30K to $35K per year but that the jail population was in the 80s and that resulted in more water usage. There was a short discussion about the drug problem in the county. He said that heroin is now a bigger problem than meth. He mentioned Vivitrol as a possible help but noted that the treatment was quite expensive. He ended with a little rant about how government programs to fight the problem seem to quickly get bogged down in collecting statistics and paperwork.

The Council approved a salary adjustment for the assessor and approved an additional appropriation of $140 for the Drainage Board. It passed a series of mostly small transfers for a variety of departments (one was for $16) and reappointed a person to the Remington Carpenter Township Library Board. It approved a meeting schedule for 2017. The Council will meet on the third Tuesday of the month except in July (the 11th) and October (the 24th). The auditor noted that the State had completed its audit of the County for 2014. Mr. Bontreger reported on a conference call from Standard and Poor about the refinancing of the jail. The County has a very good bond rating, either AA or AA+. Gary Fritts had found a document at the state website detailing how property taxes would be changing and said that people who own homes in Jasper County may see a slight increase.

Jasper is now on the second floor of the Court House.
I have a few pictures from last weekend that I have not posted. The Prairie Arts League had their annual Christmas sale. I avoided the rush on Friday night and stopped by on Saturday morning.
Next door the First Christian Church had a rummage sale. The price was reasonable, $3 per bag, but the word must not have gotten out because there were few people there.
Speaking of sales, this one looks like it might be fun if you if you want something to do the day after Black Friday.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

City Council meeting 11-14-2016

There was a big crowd at the City Council meeting on Monday night. People came for the public hearing on the planning grant for downtown revitalization. Emily from KIRPC (Kankakee Iroquois Regional Planning Commission) summarized what it was about and no one in the audience had anything to ask or say. Then almost the entire audience left. 

The gas tracker for November is a 1.5 cent decrease. The Council then authorized a match for the planning grant and authorized the mayor to submit the grant proposal. Work will begin almost immediately with a meeting to select consultants.

Supply bids were opened for unleaded gas, diesel fuel, and tire repairs. There was a request from the American Legion for a donation for their Thanksgiving turkey dinner, which is open to anyone and which serves about 400 people each year. It is intended for those who do not want to celebrate Thanksgiving alone but it also provides meals for those who cannot easily get out. The Council approved $250. 

The Redevelopment Commission had opened bids earlier in the day for paving the rest of Drexel Parkway and a bit of Melville south of Kohley Drive. There were two bids, one a bit above $200K and the other a bit below. They are being evaluated. The work will be done next spring.

In committee reports the mayor announced that on Thursday there would be a meeting reviewing engineering proposals for a new substation to serve the Interstate area. In superintendents reports, the city attorney reported that an offer of $45K had been accepted for a property on Clark Street that borders Brookside Park. He said he thought he knew of a source of funding. The utility office reported that their switchover to new software will be delayed until January. The building commissioner reported that the developer of the Ike Donnelly property north of Pizza Hut was willing to donate the access road into the College Mall to the City if the City wanted it. The Council decided to accept pending legal review. 

The fire chief said that new air pack have been ordered and that two townships were funding the purchase of eight thermal imaging cameras, The ladder truck is having intermittent problems. The gas department has four hookups to do, two to residences, one for the hangar under construction at the airport, and one for the wet water treatment plant on Lincoln Street. The Street Department reported that a bit of the paving will not be completed this fall but will be done in the spring. Water samples sent to the state reported unacceptable levels of lead and copper in five samples. This is caused by leaching in the feed lines when water sits in the line overnight. The solution is to replace the lines. Finally, the new "Welcome to Rensselaer" sign by the Interstate is finished and will have a ribbon cutting on Friday at 3:00.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Veterans Day

It is Veterans Day so there will be no mail delivery today. The annual ceremony at Weston Cemetery featured the choir from Rensselaer Central High School. There seemed to be fewer people than usual but that may be because it was cold and very windy. Mayor Wood gave the main address and Marsha Smith-Wood did the invocation.
On Thursday I drove over to Monon for a meeting and stopped to take a picture of the completed Hanging Grove School memorial. The granite block on the left reads, "Hanging Grove School 1922-1966 Honored 2015"
When I drove this route two weeks ago, about half the crop was harvested. On Thursday almost all was harvested.

The weather forecast says we will get our first real frost tonight.

The voting results for Jasper County can be found on the county website, or here. There were no contested county races. Before the election there was concern in the media about how Donald Trump would handle the results. He seems to be doing quite well, unlike a few people in big cities who, in the denial and anger stages of grieving, are protesting and rioting. Many pundits and most polls were certain Clinton would win, but not an artificial intelligence system. CNBC reported on its predictions on October 28. It makes you wonder if the people at Google, Facebook, and Twitter had deep-mined their data and were aware that Trump would win or that the election would be very close.

The Chamber of Commerce has moved from Drexel Drive to the Chamberlin Building on Kellner and Weston. I wanted to take a picture of the inside but was discouraged from doing so because it was somewhat in disarray from a board meeting earlier in the day. The inside looks much better than the exterior of the the rather drab building.

A friend of mine sent me a picture of this 22-pound carp he caught in the Iroquois River. I am not sure what he does with them.
Laying the giant pipes that were unloaded just to the east of Weston Cemetery has begun.

Finally, the annual report of the Jasper Foundation gave some information about how to avoid taxes if you donate to non-profit organizations and also are required to take mandatory distributions from a retirement account. A little background information may be helpful. Many people have avoided taxes by contributing to IRAs, 401(k) and 403(b) plans. When funds are withdrawn from these accounts, they are taxed, and when a person reaches the age of 70½, the government requires that a certain percentage be withdrawn each year, the mandatory distribution. These distributions count as income and are taxed (which means that the high-tax years of a person's life may be after retirement). However, the PATH Act of 2015 made permanent the provision of some previous years that allowed people to have some or all of the mandatory distribution from an IRA (but not a 401(k) or 403(b) account) be given to a qualified charity and not count as taxable income. And if you have funds in a 401(k) or 403(b) plan, you probably can roll them over to an IRA so you can make contributions from it and avoid taxes.

This is of interest to both older people and non-profit organizations and both should investigate to see if they can benefit from this change in tax rules. See here and here for a start.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Meetings, Nov 7, 2016

The Commissioners meeting on Monday morning was more interesting than the short agenda suggested it would be. After some routine preliminaries, there was a discussion of a road (I think it is 250E) that crosses through NIPSCO property and that the county had agreed to vacate with the agreement that NIPSCO would finance a new road to take its place (at 300E). NIPSCO has built a gate and either will soon or has already closed the road to the public. NIPSCO claims a liability issue. The County had assumed the road would remain open until the replacement was completed. NIPSCO may or may not have worked out agreements with several groups that rely on the road.

The commissioners approved an agreement pending review by legal council that the County Recorder had with a company to have documents from large title companies submitted electronically. After a discussion of the need for building repairs at Community Corrections and reviewing two bids that could not be compared because both were partial, the Commissioners suggested that a third party review the situation and prepare a new bid form. After a Bicentennial recap by one of the torch bearers, the Commissioners heard more about bids for changes or repairs, this time from the County Coroner for the County Annex east of DeMotte.

The presentation by the Sheriff had three major items. The good news was that the jail passed its annual inspection and he gave the report to the Commissioners as required by state law. The average census of the jail is in the low to mid 80s. Several inmates are being held for level six felonies; the state now requires that they be housed in the county jails, and though it reimburses the counties for about $35 per day, the actual cost is closer to $56.

The second item was a discussion of River Bend Hospital, which is a psychiatric hospital that the state has assigned the county to use. A recent incident with a prisoner who was suicidal caused great frustration and there was no clear alternative.

Finally, the Sheriff said that over the weekend an unnamed Indiana county had been subject to a cyberattack, a case of ransomware. The county had brought in security experts but it was not clear that they would be able to unlock the systems or files. The Commissioners agreed that a meeting should be held to discuss how Jasper County can protect itself from a similar attack. Those who would attend would be those who have a responsibility to insure that the computer systems are secure.

Several routine or minor issues followed. The final item that was of interest was a comment from a member of the public. His wife and dog had been attacked by another dog. The attacking dog had attacked seven other people before this attack, and it was finally declared a dangerous dog and euthanized. The question the citizen raised is why a dog that had repeatedly attacked people in Rensselaer was not put down earlier and why the owner of such a dog can largely escape the consequences of his dog's behavior. (Apparently the dog owner was fined $100 by the City of Rensselaer.) There was no clear answers to the questions.

After a few other items, the Commissioners took a recess and then reconvened in executive session.

The Drainage Board had a long agenda but had nothing that was of general public interest. It discussed what might be done for several tiles, approved some drainage plans, and opened bids for five projects. The difference between high bids and low bids on those projects was often a factor of two or three.

The meeting lasted over past two o'clock and when it was over I noticed that the long lines for early voting had mostly disappeared. So I asked it I could vote and was told that signing up to vote had ceased at noon. The people still voting had waited for over two hours to vote.

Speaking of voting, today is election day. Are there people who decide for whom they will vote based on the signs in front of the polling place? If there are, should they be voting?
By the way, none of the Jasper County voting machines is connected to the Internet.

(edited to clarify a sentence)

Monday, November 7, 2016

Fall pictures and more

The chipper that worked its way through the city brush pile on Matheson Street a couple weeks ago left a huge pile of wood chips. Last week trucks were hauling them away. I am not sure exactly where they were deposited, but I saw the trucks heading out toward the sewage treatment plant west of SJC. I believe the steam is from the heat generated from fermentation in the pile and it rises as the excavator strips away the surface layers.
 Below is the excavator filling a truck. There were many truckloads taken out.
 The maples are impressive though many may be past their prime. Our neighborhood has been raining leaves for several days.
 This picture was taken on the last Saturday of October.
 Here is the scene a week later on the first Saturday of November. Beauty is fleeting.
 The sweet gum tree has beautiful fall leaves but it is not much planted. I suspect people do not like the seed pods.
 Work was being done to the back wall of the Horton Building last week.
 Progress continues on what was Jack's Uptown Service.
 There is now a roof on the new building at C&C Warehousing.
 CDC Resources has a new donation box at the College Mall. It is along the side entrance from Kannal Street.
These boxes are built by CDC Resources. See here for a bit more.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Mostly pictures

Despite not yet having a real frost--just a morning or two of patchy frost--the leaves may be approaching peak color. Below is a maple that was probably planted for its fall colors.
 The tulip trees are also near or at peak color.
 The City's leaf vacuum has been roaming the streets.
 Football season is over but there are still some downtown windows that have not been washed.
 I have not posted a picture of the quarry for some time. The water keeps creeping up the road. If you look carefully, you might see a lot of geese in the water. It is a safe place for them.
 Street paving seems to be finished but the crew filling cracks is out and about. There are a lot of cracks to fill.
 There is a lot of dirt being moved on North Elza in preparation for construction of an apartment building.
 Almost every day the old gas station next to eMbers is a little different.
 It is hard to see what progress is being made on the National Gypsum addition, but the dirt in front has been smoothed and grass mats have been placed to help get a lawn started.
 Not too far away a storage building for C&C Warehousing is taking shape. It appears to be twice the size of the original building, with bays on both sides.
 Work continues on the high rate treatment plant. There is still a lot of rebar on the street so there must be a lot left to do.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Ribbon cutting for the Rensselaer Solar Farm

The Rensselaer Solar Farm, which is owned by IMPA, the Indiana Municipal Power Agency, had its ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday. The solar farm has been in operation for over two years and was the first operational solar farm that IMPA completed.
The ceremony began with several speeches. The President and CEO of IMPA, Raj Rao, said that Rensselaer joined IMPA in 1983 and that the agency had learned a lot in building the Rensselaer Solar Farm. Also stepping up to the microphone were Doug Gutwein, Mayor Steve Wood, and an engineer for IMPA, Jack Alvey.

Then people, which included a middle school science class, assembled for the cutting of the ribbon. There were an lots of people taking pictures.
 The big moment of ribbon cutting.
 Then there was a quick tour of the facility, which involved almost no walking. Most of those who were on the tour were the middle school kids. They learned that the facility had 3188 panels and each supplied 305 watts per hour. On cloudy days the output is 20% or 30% of what it is on sunny days. IMPA currently has 14 operational solar parks and would like to have one in each community it serves.
 Below is a view of the panels that I will probably never see again. During the tour, the installation was shut down to reduce the chance of an accident.
 I asked about lawn care. The green strips are mowed and the area under the panels is treated with herbicide so it will not have to be mowed.  The IMPA representative giving the tour said that the panels used in the Rensselaer facility are still being manufactured and they are considerably cheaper today than they were two years ago, so the economics of these facilities is getting better.

One of the student asked why the facility could not generate power from moonlight and the tour guide struggled to come up with an unconvincing answer. (I think the correct answer is that the sun is 400,000 times brighter than the full moon.)

The power from every two rows of panels is collected in boxes in the center aisle of the facility.
 From there it goes to transformers at the front where the direct current of the panels is converted to alternating current for the power grid.
Listening in to a conversation after the tour, I learned that IMPA now has one tracking farm in which the panels move during the day to track the sun. However, they only track from east to west, on one axis, and do not adjust for the height of the sun above the horizon. That requires tracking on two axes, and is much more complicated. Also, if the Rensselaer facility were being built today, IMPA would build it to fully fill the site with panels and not leave the large empty area in front. As one of the speakers said, IMPA learned a lot when it constructed the Rensselaer facility and it has used what it learned on other solar farms that it has constructed.

There is a chance Rensselaer may get a second solar park. The idea is being discussed and explored.