City to tackle junked and unlicensed vehicles

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Correction: Fred Barnett is the code enforcement officer for the city of Columbus. An earlier version of this story had his name incorrect. We apologize for the error.

The city of Columbus has taken the first steps in making it easier to fine those with junked and inoperable vehicles that can be seen from the street. City Council gave initial approval to amend the city’s ordinance dealing with these types of vehicles. Mary Ferdon, the city’s director of administration, says that the amended ordinance cleans up some ambiguous language regarding where these vehicles can be parked and when they constitute a nuisance.

If approved on second reading, city code enforcement officers will be able to “tag” offending vehicles on public property. Currently, Ferdon says that code enforcement must call a city police officer to handle that duty. Code enforcement is also tasked with notifying property owners of offending vehicles in order to have them removed. These notices will be sent to the property owner and not the registered owner of the vehicle. Fred Barnett, with city code enforcement, says that some 70 percent of offending vehicles are on rental property. By making the property owner liable for any potential fines, he says that he believes that will expedite the process for getting inoperable and unlicensed vehicles removed.

Penalties under the ordinance were also discussed. They are as follows:

First offense – $250 fine
Second offense – $500 fine
Third offense – $1,000 fine
Fourth offense – $2,500 fine
Subsequent offenses – $5,000 fine

In an effort to clean up the community and assist residents who may be unable to remove a junk vehicle, the city has announced the Inoperable Vehicle Abatement Program. City officials say that, under the plan, owners of offending vehicles will be able to have them towed away, at no charge. All they would have to do is present the city with proof of ownership and a clear title. The owner would then sign a waiver and the city pays the towing fee. Vehicle owners would receive the full metal value of the scrapped vehicle. This program is set to go into effect on October 1st.

Sheriff asks for more money for jail, public safety

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Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers is asking for a nearly one-million dollar budget increase, as well as additional manpower, for 2018. The sheriff unveiled his proposed budget during Tuesday afternoon hearings before the county council. The sheriff divided his budget into two separate presentations: one for county corrections and the other for everything else.

During his presentation, Myers stressed that his leadership team took instruction from the county council in helping to better identify areas in which the department could improve and, potentially, save taxpayer dollars. These tools include Six Sigma and other programs. In addition, the department enlisted the help of Dana Vogt, a Cummins employee, in preparing Tuesday’s presentation.

Myers first addressed the situation facing deputies and other non-jail staff. He is asking for $3,967,326, a $356,525 increase over his 2017 budget. The sheriff says that the increases are largely confined to the purchase of 11 new vehicles, three new patrol deputies and a three-percent salary increase for employees.

Sheriff Myers argues that the increase in deputies is necessary, noting that response time for 911 calls is slower than what it was in 2016. He blames that on a bevy of reasons, including an increase in 911 calls, the ongoing opioid epidemic and inadequate patrol staffing. Myers cited the U.S. Department of Justice when he told council members that the county, outside of Columbus, only has about 70-percent of the officers it should, based on population. He says that those figures indicate that the department should have 59 officers when it only has 41.

Despite the apparent understaffing, the sheriff noted that he can’t realistically ask for 18 new deputies in a single year. Instead, his proposal calls for three new deputies for 2018, with four more phased-in through 2027. Citing the slower response time to 911 calls, Myers noted every moment matters, especially when you or a loved one needs help.

Sheriff Myers also expressed hope that an increase in deputies on the road will help save lives as it related to the county’s drug epidemic. Since 2015, drug overdose deaths in Bartholomew County, including Columbus, have gone from a single incident to 12 in 2016. So far in 2017, there have been 13 overdose deaths. Based on these figures, Myers says the department is forecasting 21 OD deaths. Authorities say that the death toll from drugs would be higher if not for officers’ use of Narcan. Last year, the sheriff says that 47 doses of the medication were administered by deputies and Columbus Police Officers, saving 35 lives. This year, authorities are on track to save 104 lives.

When it comes to operations at the county jail, Myers says the situation is much more dire. He explained that this year has seen the jail lose its classification due to overcrowding.The sheriff says that each month of this year has seen an “accelerated growth” in jail population. This includes an 18-percent increase in female inmates since 2016.

Myers is asking for $3,654,476 for the jail in 2018. That’s an increase of $626,219 over this year’s budget. The increases, he says, are largely confined to three areas: an increase in staff, an increase in food, medicine and other supplies for inmates, as well as a three-percent salary increase for staff.

Sheriff Myers cited a recent audit that showed the jail is not in compliance with standards set by the Department of Corrections. He says that the jail should have 16 more staff members that it currently does. This staffing inadequacy has led to fights, injuries to inmates and staff, as well as inmates being forced to sleep on cots. Myers says that jail staff are currently using overtime and some part-time help to deal with the situation. However, he says that sometimes leads to inconsistent results in dealing with inmate behavior, along with employee burn-out. In an effort to alleviate these issues, the sheriff is proposing an increase in staffing by seven full-time positions and an unspecified increase in part-time positions. Even with these improvements he stressed to council members that overtime will still be needed in the coming year.

Councilman Mark Gorbett, a former Sheriff, empathized with Myers and seemed to champion his successor’s efforts. He again chided his fellow council members for not doing enough to shore-up additional revenue for county operations. Myers thanked the council for considering his proposal, but finished with a note of concern. Noting the situation at the jail, he said, “Someone is going to get hurt. We cannot continue going down the path we’re going.

The council will make final budget decisions later this year.

Hope takes possession of new fire truck

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The Hope Volunteer Fire Department took possession of its newest fire truck on Monday. The department announced that the new pumper truck, which will be called Engine 11, was delivered. The truck was made by E-One fire engines and was paid for by a grant of just over $490,000. Fire officials said at the time of the grant announcement that Engine 11 is replacing an engine that is more than 20 years old.

Duke donation fuels summer school science programs

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BCSC Superintendent Dr. Jim Roberts, Chip Orben and Casey Voelz with BCSC receive a giant check from Duke Energy at Monday night’s school board meeting. White River Broadcasting photo.

Duke Energy provided a $20,000 grant to Bartholomew Consolidated schools that helped 500 students take part in science, technology, engineering and math programs this summer.

Chip Orben with Duke Energy explain his company’s support for the Summer Learning Academy.

Orben said that the school district had previously taken advantage of grants to aid with reading projects. Company officials were happy to provide help to the schools for the summer STEM program, Orben said.

The school district said that students from all grade levels were chosen for the academy based on their test scores and classroom performance. The academy was held this year at Schmitt Elementary School.

A basketful of school supplies provided to teachers at Taylorsville and Clifty Creek elementaries by the Men’s Brotherhood of Faith Ministries. White River Broadcasting photo.

The district also received a report last night from the Men’s Brotherhood of Faith Ministries on their work to provide school supplies at Clifty Creek and Taylorsville elementaries.

Suspect under arrest, State Road 7 open again

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A female suspect is in custody in Jennings County after an incident at Decatur Plastics that shut down traffic on State Road 7 this morning.

There are no official details available yet on the situation that closed down the highway between County Road 300N and 275W. Drivers were urged to avoid the area while the incident involving the Jennings County Sheriff’s Department unfolded. Deputies are still at the scene. Staff at the sheriff’s department said at about 11:40 a.m. that the road had reopened.

Hope man accused of sex with teen

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Madison police report that they arrested a Hope man on Friday and are accusing him of being sexually involved with a minor.

40-year-old Manuel B. Perkins is under arrest on a preliminary charge of sexual misconduct with a minor.

The incident happened Friday, when officers were called to a report of suspicious vehicle in a neighborhood. Perkins allegedly told officers that he was in the area teaching a friend how to drive, even though there was no one else in the vehicle. Perkins said that his friend was an 18-year-old that he met through social media but he only knew the friend by his first name.

Soon, a 14-year-old boy left a nearby home and Perkins identified the teen as the friend he was there to meet. After talking with the teen’s mother, police discovered allegedly inappropriate phone messages between the two. The teen also told police that he and Perkins had been sexually active, exchanging money and gifts for sexual favors.

Seymour police revive child after near-drowning

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Seymour police are reporting that they revived a toddler who fell into a swimming pool Sunday, nearly drowning.

The incident happened at about 8 p.m. Sunday night when officers were on another call and heard a woman screaming a few doors away. A 1-year-old child had escaped from a back door left open by older children and fallen into the small, above-ground pool. The child was not breathing, when Sgt. Brandon White began CPR while Officer Seth Sage drove to Schneck Medical Center.

The police say that the child is in stable condition and has been transferred to Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis.

Sheriff to make case for increase in jail staff

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Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers will be making the case today for more jail staff. The County Council will hear the sheriff’s 2018 budget request at 1:45 p.m. this afternoon.

He said yesterday on Facebook that he wants enough staff to provide for drug treatment in the jail:

My goal before I leave the Sheriff’s Office is to have evidence based treatment options for inmates serving and or awaiting sentencing in our jail. I would like to see the old part of the jail partially used to treat inmates with heroin and Methamphetamine addiction. I’m not sure what the treatment would look like at this point, but I truly feel it would change lives and help the heroin and Methamphetamine epidemic we currently face in our community.

The current problem is that I don’t have enough staff to operate the jail we currently have opened. The treatment options we have right now in the jail are not ideal for a successful outcome.

The bottom line is, If the community member want treatment for heroin addiction in a jail setting, We must have increased jail staffing, i.e. corrections officers for it to happen.

I leave you with this thought, Do we just want the inmates to do their time, or use their time in the jail. I’ve talked with most of the inmates and they tell me they want to USE THEIR TIME do beat addiction.

At the County Council’s request, the sheriff’s department went through a Six Sigma evaluation process recently that revealed the immediate need for more staffing. That study showed the sheriff needed 11 more staff in the jail just to meet state minimum staffing guidelines.

The county budget hearings are ongoing this week and next at the County Governmental Office building on Third Street in Columbus.

Services set for slain Columbus soldier

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Jonathon Hunter. Photo courtesy of U.S. Army

A funeral date has been set for a Columbus soldier who died in Afghanistan.

Barkes, Weaver and Glick funeral home has announced that services for 23-year-old Army Sgt. Jonathon M. Hunter will be held at 2 the afternoon of August 26th at Columbus East High School gymnasium. Those will be with full military honors by the Indiana Army National Guard Honor Guard.

Calling will be start at 10 a.m. until the time of services.

Hunter and 25-year-old Specialist Christopher Harris, of Jackson Springs North Carolina, died earlier this month in a suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan

The “Fayetteville Observer” newspaper reports that Harris was laid to rest yesterday.

For more information on the funeral services for Hunter, you can go to barkesweaverglick.com

‘Exhibit Columbus’ preview party details revealed

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The Preview Party for the opening of the inaugural Exhibit Columbus, originally scheduled for the grounds of the Cummins Corporate Office Building, has changed it’s location to the Mill Race Park Amphitheater. The party is set for the evening of Friday, Aug 25th. The Indiana University School of Art, Architecture, and Design is the presenting sponsor.

Organizers say the Preview Party of Exhibit Columbus’ inaugural exhibition opening is an evening of cocktails, food, and entertainment in celebration of architecture, design, and community. They note that the party will be an occasion to meet and honor the five J. Irwin and Xenia S. Miller Prize winners, other designers whose work is being presented in the 2017 exhibition, as well as those who have helped make this exhibition possible.

The schedule is as follows:

5 p.m. to 6 p.m.: VIP/Patron Reception;
6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Preview Party Reception and Dinner catered by Kahn’s Fine Catering of Indianapolis;

Organizers have also announced entertainment for the evening. The band “Salaam” will be playing during the cocktail/social hour. Organizers say that Salaam performs an “expansive mix of traditional and original Middle Eastern music.” The group has performed throughout the US, recorded seven albums, and have been interviewed and featured on NPR’s All Things Considered.

“Busman’s Holiday” has been announced as the Dinner/Dancing Entertainment. Organizers say that this group is fronted by brothers Lewis and Addison Rogers are brothers. The pop-music duo will be joined by their full band for this event.

Organizers say that you still have time to take part in this event.

Preview Party Tickets are $150 each and includes the cocktail reception, dinner and evening entertainment;
VIP Tickets are $250 and entitle you to arrive at 5 p.m. for a more intimate conversation with Exhibit Columbus participants and supporters;
Table Sponsorship are $1,500 and guarantees seating with your party of 10;
VIP and Table Sponsorship are $2,500 and entitle you to arrive at 5 p.m. for more intimate surroundings.

You can get reservations online at exhibitcolumbus.org.