Questions remain about funding new annex

Mar 10, 2015 495

The funding for a new Bartholomew County annex on State Street is still up in the air, despite the County Council’s recent decision to pay for $3.25 million of the project out of county coffers.

County Auditor Barb Hackman asked the council during its Tuesday night meeting to reconsider their decision not to borrow money for the project. She explained that the overall price tag for the new building would be $4 million. As it currently stands, the project will be funded with the $3.25 million from funds controlled by the council, while the balance would be paid for out of funds controlled by the Bartholomew County Commissioners.

Hackman explained that the commissioners’ share of the money would likely need to come from county economic development income tax funds. However, she says that the commissioners do not feel comfortable using that money as a majority of this year’s CEDIT funds have already been budgeted for roads and other needs. Last year, Hackman noted that $1 million in CEDIT funds were spent to shore up the county employee trust shortfall that came about after several large health insurance claims.

She added that the county has only been getting about $1.8 million each year in CEDIT funds. Hackman said there is real concern that moving ahead as planned would result in a number of deferred maintenance items.

Hackman explained that bonding for the new annex is the best thing for everyone, as it would not result in a financial hit for the county. She explained that a 15-year bond could be repaid exclusively from county income taxes. Hackman reminded the council that its financial adviser is recommending the bonding option over paying for the building out of cash reserves. Failure to do so, she says, would drop the county’s Rainy Day Fund to approximately $1.5 million, cause delays in capital improvements and lower the county’s A+ bond rating.

Four council members, Jorge Morales, Laura DeDomenic, Bill Lentz and Evelyn Pence, voted against bonding for the project last month and Hackman’s presentation did not change their minds. Morales, DeDomenic and Lentz all said that they were hearing mixed messages coming from the commissioners and said they did not feel comfortable moving forward without meeting with them again, in person.

Morales added, “I am fully committed to finding the money to fund a $4 million annex.” However, he added that he is confused and wants to hear directly from the commissioners. Pence suggested that any agreement between the two bodies would need to be in writing.

No action was taken during Tuesday night’s meeting and no appointment has been scheduled for the two bodies to meet.

Local schools see graduation success with iGrad

Mar 10, 2015 465

Local education officials say that a pilot program called iGrad is working well in Bartholomew County at helping students graduate and they hope to expand the program next year.

Bill Jensen, director of secondary education for Bartholomew Consolidated schools, said that the program is a joint effort between BCSC and Flat Rock-Hawcreek schools, Ivy Tech Community College, the Community Education Coalition and Cummins.

“We are seeing an increase in students who are graduating on time,” Jensen said. “A lot of it has to do with the fact this program has brought in graduation coaches to directly work with and build relationships with students who might be having struggles, having some kind of barrier that prevents them from being succesful in high school.”

Jensen and Kathy Oren, from the Community Education Coalition, updated the BCSC board on the success of the iGrad program and the program’s future at the school board meeting last night.

Jensen said that there has been a jump in graduation rates of 8 percent at Columbus North High School and a jump of 2 to 3 percent at Columbus East High School. Jensen said the state goal is to have more than 90 percent of the students who start high school graduate with their cohorts four years later.

“The state recognizes that if you are over 90 percent you are doing what you need to be doing,” Jensen said. “We have one school that is there and one school that is just very close to that. We are on target, we are seeing the movement. We are definitely moving the needle to get more kids across the stage to get that diploma.”

The three-year pilot program is wrapping up this year, but organizers hope to expand the program next year.

“Now we are going to be looking at raising funds to continue the program,” Jensen said. “Because we are seeing how important this program is because we are saving kids — the bottom line is that we are saving kids. We are seeing more kids being able to finish school and being able to go on to a career or to college that they may not have a couple of years ago.”

The organizations would like to raise about $500,000 next year to expand the program and to add a program coordinator.

Indiana Avenue Improvement Project Continues

Mar 9, 2015 627

A section of Indiana Avenue in Columbus will be closed for about five months beginning next week to accommodate construction work that officials say will significantly enhance the safety and appearance of the street as part of the Indiana Avenue Improvement Project.

Chris Schilling, with the Office of Community Development, says that Indiana Avenue between Marr Road and just east of Gladstone Avenue will close March 16 for the street reconstruction portion of the project. All roads and alleys leading to this section of Indiana Avenue will also be closed to through traffic.

Schilling says that local traffic and residents will have access to their homes and businesses by using the closest side street or alley. He adds that no driving will be permitted through active construction areas, though emergency vehicles will continue to have access to all properties during construction.

“We greatly appreciate the public’s patience and cooperation as this important and much-anticipated project moves forward,” Mayor Kristen Brown said. “This improvement project will make Indiana Avenue safer for residents who live on this street as well as the students and parents traveling to Columbus East High School.”

The work includes the installation of new storm sewer piping and structures, a complete reconstruction of the roadway, new curbs and gutters, bicycle lanes, sidewalks, parking areas, pavement markings, and signs.

This section of Indiana Avenue is anticipated to re-open in August. Schilling says that additional sections of the street will be closed as the project progresses.

City officials say the $6.2 million Indiana Avenue Improvement Project will completely reconstruct approximately one mile of Indiana Avenue from Marr Road to State Street. Improvements to Indiana Avenue, which is a main artery serving Columbus East High School, include widening the road to provide one lane in each direction and add bicycle and parking lanes. Sidewalks will be constructed along both sides of the street, and storm water filtration areas and a storm sewer system will also be included.

Schilling says that construction work on the project began in January with the installation of the off-site storm piping from Clifty Creek to Marr Road. The remainder of the project will be completed in three phases and will require street closures.

The Indiana Avenue improvement project is expected to be completed in November.

Motorcyclist injured in morning crash

Mar 9, 2015 994

A Columbus motorcyclist was flown by Lifeline helicopter to Methodist Trauma Center after a crash this morning on Della Road.

Judy Jackson, spokeswoman for the the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department, said that wet or frozen pavement appears to be the cause of the accident.

32-year-old Earl Fields of Columbus lost control of the motorcycle and it left the east side of the road before slamming into the pavement and sliding. Fields was wearing a helmet and leather jacket at the time of the accident, Jackson said.

Fields was first taken to Columbus Regional Hospital by ambulance, stabilized at the hospital and then flown to Methodist, Jackson said.

Deputies Sgt. T. A. Smith, Jeff Tindell and Detectives Sgt. Kevin Abner and Will Kinman responded to the crash on Della Street just south of Base Road.

Assisting the sheriff’s department on the scene were the Clay Township Volunteer Fire Department and Columbus Regional Hospital paramedics.

E-mailing machine alerts company owner to fire

Mar 9, 2015 638

A machine at a Columbus factory is a total loss after a fire yesterday afternoon.

Capt. Mike Wilson, spokesman for the Columbus Fire Department, said that firefighters were called to Columbus Engineering Inc. in the 6600 block of South County Road 50W on a report that a machine was on fire. Firefighters were given information on the exact machine and its location, despite the plant being unoccupied at the time of the fire. Firefighters quickly extinguished the fire.

The business owner, Mike Noblitt, told firefighters that several of the company’s machines are automated and the machine that caught fire alerted Noblitt by e-mail. Between the information from the machine itself and security cameras that can be accessed by cell phone, company officials were able to see flames about 10 feet above the machine.

Firefighters believe the fire started in a dust collecting unit. The damage is estimated at $20,000. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Bartholomew County family farm recognized

Mar 9, 2015 669

A Bartholomew County family was one of dozens honored at the statehouse last week.

Lt. Governor Sue Ellspermann honored the county’s J. William Fear family and 63 other families with the Hoosier Homestead Award.

The Hoosier Homestead Award Program recognizes farming families who have owned and operated the same farm for 100 years or more.

The J. William Fear Farm, located in Bartholomew County, has been operating since 1913 and received the centennial award.

Indiana Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, said that as a small business owner, he appreciates the effort needed to keep a farm going for more than 100 years.

“Through the highs and lows of the economy, this family has persevered through it all, unwavering in their commitment to Indiana’s future,” Eberhart said. “I am proud to have this historic farm located right here in our community, and I am pleased to see them receive the recognition they deserve.”

Record numbers of Columbus police hit the streets

Mar 9, 2015 469

A record number of Columbus police officers are now serving in the city.

The department has 83 officers on the force, up from 76 when Mayor Kristen Brown took office, according to Sgt. Matt Harris, spokesman for the police department.

The mayor swore in six new officers last week.

Three positions were added this year to ensure full staffing for the Community Oriented Policing and Problem Solving unit.

I-65 project at Greenwood to kick off Tuesday

Mar 9, 2015 1074

The Indiana Department of Transportation will break ground on aMajor Moves 2020 construction tomorrow morning at Greenwood, launching the first in a series of specially funded added-travel-lane projects totaling $400 million.

Governor Mike Pence will be joined by other honorees at Tuesday’s groundbreaking ceremony slated to begin at 10 a.m. at Indiana Wesleyan University’s south lot.

Milestone, the state’s prime contractor, will reconstruct I-65 between Southport Road and Main Street at that area.

A second Major Moves 2020 project will extend I-65 reconstruction and add lanes from Greenwood to State Road 44 at Franklin. The contract for that project should be awarded in the near future.

Saturday morning fire blamed on cigarette

Mar 9, 2015 517

A Saturday morning apartment fire in Columbus is believed to have been sparked by a resident smoking in bed.

Capt. Mike Wilson, spokdsman for the Columbus fire department said firefighters were called to the 800 block of California Street at 6:22 a.m. Saturday.

A resident of one of the apartments  home told firefighters that her bedroom rug was on fire. Firefighters found a small blaze and extinguised it, Wilson said.

The resident, 18-year-old Danielle Tackett, told firefighters that she was in her bed smoking a cigarette and fell asleep. She awoke to find smoke in the room and noticed her mattress was on fire. Tackett told firefighters that she attempted to put the fire out herself. After applying water to the mattress fire, Tackett called 911 and then alerted her neighbors.

Columbus Regional Heath paramedics assessed Tackett at the scene, but she refused treatment.

Wilson said investigators found that none of the four apartments in the former single-family had a working smoke detector.

Sheriff asks for FBI help in Owsley case

Mar 6, 2015 892

Correction: An earlier version of this story had the wrong name for the sheriff’s department’s attorney.

The official investigation in to the death of Cary Owsley is far from over, if new Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers has his way.

Sheriff Myers released a statement on Friday saying that he is officially requesting the Federal Bureau of Investigations look in to Owsley’s death and the Sheriff’s Department’s investigation. Myers says that once he assumed office, he would review the case with legal counsel and determine what action, if any, he should take. He says that he is reaching out to the FBI in the hopes of providing closure for members of Owsley’s family and the men and women of the Sheriff’s Department.

Owsley’s death from a gunshot wound was ruled to be suicide by County Coroner Larry Fisher, who made that determination without an autopsy being performed. Owsley’s sister, Cheryl Jackson, accused the department of a possible coverup and led a successful campaign to have her brother’s remains exhumed and be tested by two medical examiners. They ruled the cause of death to be “undetermined.”

Three deputies who were at the death scene were reprimanded over their involvement in the case. One of them is the ex-husband of Owsley’s widow. He was facing possible firing last year due to a different matter, but ultimately chose to retire before a disciplinary hearing.

In a letter to the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Indianapolis Field Office, W. Jay Abbott , Meyers legal counsel Jeff Beck, officially asks for federal involvement. While noting that neither he, or Sheriff Myers were involved in the original investigation, Beck states that they came in to possession of the investigative file on Jan. 5. He adds that it has remained under double lock and key since that day.

Beck’s letter was part of an overall package sent to the FBI. That letter states that since neither he, or Sheriff Myers, knew what information was originally known to the FBI, the Sheriff’s Department included a number of items in the package. These include: autopsy reports, handwriting analysis, DNA analysis, firearm analysis, court orders that led to the autopsy, historical information and a list of documents in the Sheriff’s Department’s file.

There is no indication as to when, or even if, the FBI will respond to this request. Sheriff Myers says he will not comment about this case until that day comes.