County officials are moving forward with planning development of land acquired earlier this year.
Jay County Council approved a $395,000 contract Wednesday with Rundell Ernstberger and Associates (REA) of Indianapolis for planning development of county-owned land on the western edge of Portland.
Also during a nearly two-hour meeting, council agreed to reduce the contractual services fund allocated from economic development income tax (EDIT) dollars in the 2024 budget to $240,000 and increase Jay County Humane Society’s allotment for animal control.
In August, commissioners approved a contract with REA to develop the 68 acres of land purchased by the county for $1.1 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars earlier this year.
Cynthia Bowen, a representative from REA, explained the company will undergo various planning stages for the land development, including creating a “vision packet,” marketing images to attract developers and renderings, prepare phases, help with development and recruitment, identify other sources of funding and conduct surveys and environmental wetland delineation.
“We work for municipalities and counties all over the state of Indiana and help them understand and realize their vision, so taking their vision from a vision to reality and helping them achieve that reality, at least in the market,” said Bowen.
Answering a question from council vice president Faron Parr, Bowen said the company can get started immediately on the process once the contract is approved.
County attorney Wes Schemenaur noted other proposals for the land development only covered part of the process. REA’s contract is divided as follows — conceptual design for $141,515, schematic design for $214,745, surveying and platting for $30,370 and environmental (survey) for $8,370.
Council member Cindy Bracy argued the county should have REA complete part of the work, or the conceptual design, before agreeing to a contract for the rest of the project.
Council approved the contract on a 4-3 vote, with Jeanne Houchins, Dave Haines, Randy May and Parr in favor and Harold Towell, Matt Minnich and Bracy dissenting. (Minnich noted his hesitation stemmed from a desire to have access to the information sooner, noting council received an email about the $395,000 contract Tuesday.)
Also Wednesday, Minnich asked commissioners president Chad Aker, who was present along with commissioner Brian McGalliard, what contracts will be paid for out of the contractual services fund allocated from EDIT dollars in the 2024 budget. (Council agreed to cut $300,000 from the fund in August.)
Aker explained the fund will be used for contracts with Jay County Development Corporation and East Central Indiana Regional Planning District, which were set at $130,000 and $100,000, respectively. Other contracts approved to be paid for with EDIT funds would also come out of that fund.
JCDC originally requested $250,000 in 2024, Aker noted. Minnich asked if commissioners had spoken with JCDC about how they planned to operate on a lower budget than originally anticipated. (The $250,000 included room for a new community development director, a position that has since been replaced by the county’s hiring of a community coordinator through East Central Indiana Regional Planning District.)
Aker said JCDC has since requested $140,000, with the county’s personnel committee settling on $130,000. He pointed out JCDC has an additional $64,000 left from its county allocation in 2022.
Minnich said commissioners have pushed that 75% of EDIT funds need to be spent on capital projects but that the current budget has been invested into other ventures. He made a motion council allocate $240,000 for the fund next year, giving $140,000 for a contract with JCDC and $100,000 for the contract with East Central Indiana Regional Planning District.
Minnich and Bracy pointed out commissioners have a capital improvement project list but have not yet approved a full plan.
“It’s not going to hurt anything to (let the money) sit there while we actually get a plan,” said Bracy. “And we have a plan, and then we just move it.”
Council approved the $40,000 cut on a 5-1 vote with Parr dissenting.
Jay County Humane Society consultant Linda Conn told council Wednesday the organization had proposed a 2024 contract with the county for $66,325. (Council cut Jay County Humane Society’s allocation for animal control services to $55,000 during a special meeting in August. The group had originally requested $68,500 but negotiated to the $66,325 amount.) Conn explained the amount had been calculated using a formula developed by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Using census information, she calculated there are approximately 2,330 cats and 1,457 dogs in the rural, unincorporated portions of Jay County. Factoring in 10% of those dogs and cats, with each animal serviced at a rate of $175, she came up with the contract request of $66,325.
Conn noted Indiana mandates a certain level of care for animals before they’re adopted, such as requiring them to be spayed or neutered. She added $55,000 doesn’t leave the organization enough room to pay for all it would need to provide adequate care.
“To go out and capture them, (the humane society doesn’t) see any way of putting a vehicle on the road, paying insurance … paying a person to go out and do that for anything less than what we had asked for,” said Conn.
She added that the county is welcome to hire an animal control officer, but she noted it would likely cost the county more than it would pay the humane society.
So far, Conn said, Salamonia has approved a contract with the organization, and other towns and cities have been considering contracts. (Dunkirk has declined the contract, instead choosing to continue utilizing its own animal control service.)
On a 4-3 vote, with Houchins, Parr, May and Haines in favor, and Bracy, Minnich and Towell dissenting, council agreed to increase Jay County Humane Society’s allocation to $66,325.
In other business, council:
•Agreed, Towell dissenting, to give between 6% and 8% raises in 2024 to several employees, along with a 6% raise to Jay County treasurer and her first deputy
•Agreed to give the Jay County Jail matron an 8% raise in 2024 and bump part-time clerical positions to $16.05 an hour from the current rate of $14.79 an hour
•Approved Jay County Health Department’s health maintenance fund for 2024, which came out to $208,045.28. (The health department had been waiting on a response about its enhanced funding from the state next year. Plans are to use approximately $92,000 for new health educator and health school liaison positions.)
•Formally approved creating a board to review Jay County Country Living’s finances. The group includes Jay County clerk Jon Eads, local residents Virginia Burkey, Nancy Cline, Paul VanCise and Camile Elick-Shawver, and McGalliard, Houchins, Towell and Bracy.
• Heard a request for $50,000 from Tasha Weaver, Firefly Children and Family Alliance region 7 director of prevention services, and Justin Litman of Jay County’s branch of the Indiana Department of Child Services to fund a coordinator position. The employee would coordinate services used in a family resource center for Jay County.
•Made the following additional appropriations: $30,000 for overtime at Jay County Jail; $15,000 for repairs at Jay County Courthouse; $7,500 in jury fees for Jay Circuit Court; $5,000 for uniforms for Jay County Sheriff’s Office and Jay County Jail; $3,000
•Tabled a $50,000 additional appropriation for truck and tractor repair at Jay County Highway Department
•Made the following transfers: $46,000 for group health insurance to computer maintenance in the county general fund; $25,000 for group health insurance to contractual services in the county general fund; $8,000 for the wages, repair and maintenance to director wages for Jay County Country Living; $7,500 for jury fees in Jay Circuit Court; $5,000 for group health insurance to professional services for commissioners (pay for the county attorney); $800 for clerical wages to maintenance of cemetery stones and $75 for office supplies to maintenance of cemetery stones in the cemetery fund