Council: State Street annex killed, health care savings needed (with audio)

Sep 16, 2015 457

The planned Bartholomew County annex building on State Street has been killed and the county will have to find a million dollars in savings in its health care costs, under budget cutting measures being laid out by the Bartholomew County Council.

The County Council and County Commissioners have been wrestling with the details of a 2016 budget that was originally about $4 million more than revenues. If the cuts and changes laid out at last night’s budget session are made, that gap would narrow to about $700,000 council members said.

One point of disagreement between the two county bodies has been the annex building on State Street. Both sides have agreed that there isn’t the money to fund the project, but both sides also wanted the other to actually make the vote to kill the construction. Last night the council made the first move, voting to pull back $2 million in funding they had already approved, effectively terminating the project.

Councilman Jim Reed said that the council needed to take that action and kill the project. The council voted unanimously to withdraw the funding.

Council members have called health care costs the 800-pound gorilla in the negotiations. Commissioners have said the county needs $5.7 million dollars next year in the health care trust fund to cover employee health care costs — the same as this year’s costs. But council member have urged the commissioners to find more cost savings.

Last night, the council members agreed to only fund $4.7 million in health care for employees and to urge the commissioners to find $1 million in savings.

Councilman Bill Lentz explained the council’s view:

Councilman Bill Lentz on health care costs

Of particular interest to several council members was a proposal by Apex Benefits of Indianapolis. In a hearing last week, representatives from Apex said they could save the county more than a million dollars. But that would come from forcing health providers to accept reimbursements pegged to Medicare costs plus a percentage. And if the health care provider came after a covered employee for the remainder of the balance, the claim would be forwarded to the company’s’ attorneys.

County Commissioners said they were concerned about the effect such a plan would have on the county-owned Columbus Regional Hospital and didn’t like the way the company proposed strong-arming health-care providers. They also said they were concerned with the effects on employees who would receive the dunning notices.

Commissioner Rick Flohr said the commissioners weren’t interested in doing business under a model meant to short-change health care providers. Commissioners said they are looking at changes to the benefits offered, to the premiums and deductibles paid by employees and will be seeking bids for the administration of the health care plan.

But council members charged the commissioners still weren’t doing enough to cut healthcare costs.

The council also agreed to set aside $1.2 million saved from the now-rejected county annex project as a reserve for the county health care trust, which has dipped to dangerously low levels in recent years.

Council member Laura DeDomenic came to the council meeting armed with a list of more than $3 million dollars in possible savings she found after scouring the county budget requests for next year and comparing it to actual spending in previous years. Plus she had suggestions based on her own business experience.

Councilwoman Laura DeDomenic on her motivation

Although many of the suggestions were ruled out by various spending requirements outside of the county’s control or by budget realities, the council and county auditor Barb Hackman did agree to about $370,000 of her cost-cutting proposals including an energy audit of county buildings and eliminating two open job positions in the county information technology and maintenance departments.

Councilman Mark Gorbett said he was concerned that the council was focused on short-term fixes for next year’s budget without looking at longer term changes including raising revenues, such as through an income tax aimed to cover public safety expenses.

Bridge inspection set for next week

Sep 15, 2015 936

The Indiana Department of Transportation’s (INDOT) bi-annual inspection of the Interstate 65 bridge over State Road 46 in Columbus is scheduled next week. INDOT Spokesman Harry Maginity says that the work begins Monday, weather permitting. He also says that traffic on State Road 46, as well as the ramps, will be significantly impacted.

Maginity says that examinations of the bridge’s superstructure require two aerial man-lifts operating from State Road 46 over four days. He notes that this will require the closure of one lane of State Road 46 in each direction at the bridge site.

Meanwhile, all I-65 ramps that enter or exit at the single-point interchange under the bridge will also be closed. Those ramps are:

• I-65 northbound to S.R. 46 westbound
• I-65 southbound to S.R. 46 eastbound
• S.R. 46 westbound to I-65 southbound
• S.R. 46 eastbound to I-65 northbound

Signed detours are being put in place that direct motorists to alternate routes or to one of the four ramps that remain open. They are:

• I-65 northbound to S.R. 46 eastbound
• I-65 southbound to S.R. 46 westbound
• S.R. 46 eastbound to I-65 southbound
• S.R. 46 westbound to I-65 northbound

The inspection schedule calls for closures and restrictions to be effect at the following times:

Monday, September 21 Noon to 7 p.m.
Tuesday, September 22 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Wednesday, September 23 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Thursday, September 24 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Friday, September 25, is scheduled as a rain date.

Maginity adds that INDOT’s bi-annual inspection of the bridge includes detailed examinations of the substructure, superstructure and driving surface.

Eagle-eyed Deputy helps net two arrests within six-hour period

Sep 15, 2015 1598

An observant Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Deputy is responsible for the arrests of two people.

Sheriff’s Department Spokesperson Judy Jackson says that at DENSON BILLY RAYapproximately 7:52 p.m. on Monday, Deputy Dane Duke observed a moped, carrying a female passenger, turning north onto U.S. 31 from Main Street in Taylorsville.

Deputy Duke believed that he observed 43-year-old Billy Denson driving the moped. Knowing that Denson had an outstanding Bartholomew County warrant, Duke initiated a traffic stop as the moped turned onto Henry Lakes Blvd.

Authorities say that the driver instead turned into a parking lot, LEACH ANN MARIEdrove around the south side of a building and continued back toward U.S. 31, before turning into a ditch on the west side of U.S. 31. At this time, Deputy Justin Arnholt and Deputy Jon Lanning reportedly exited their patrol car to pursue the male suspect who fled, on foot, into a densely wooded area.

Deputy Arnholt made contact with the female passenger, who was identified as 49-year-old Ann Marie Leach, of Flat Rock. The Sheriff’s Department says that Leach also had an outstanding warrant for Failure to Appear on Criminal Conversion. As she was being taken in to custody, deputies allegedly found her to be in possession of marijuana. Leach was booked in the Bartholomew County Jail on $8,500 bond.

Leach reportedly told investigators that the driver of the moped was Billy Denson. A search of the wooded area failed to locate him.

Deputies were able to locate Denson early Tuesday morning. According to Jackson, Deputies Sgt. Kris Weisner, Teancum Clark, Matt Bush and K-9 Bolt attempted to serve a warrant just after 1 a.m. at a home located at 9630 Depot Street in Taylorsville. When they arrived, Deputy Bush, who was on the front porch of the home, reportedly saw Denson asleep in the living room. He was taken into custody without incident and booked in the Bartholomew County Jail on $15,000 bond.

Sheriff Matt Myers credited the hard work of the deputies. He also cautioned people against running from law enforcement. “People need to think before they run from us,” said Myers. “We will aggressively pursue them and they will be caught.” The Sheriff continued, “Deputies will evaluate the safety of citizens as well as officer safety before deciding whether or not the gain of a pursuit is worth the risks involved. People who run from us will be apprehended, it’s just a matter of time,” Myers concluded.

LGBTQ, vets and those age 40 and over included in updated discrimination ordinance

Sep 15, 2015 602

Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people are now included in the city of Columbus’ updated discrimination and housing ordinance after action taken Tuesday night by the Columbus City Council. The changes also add veterans and people over the age of 40 to the list of “protected classes.”

Council President Tim Shuffett calls for the vote:

Tim Shuffett calls for the vote

Aida Ramirez of the Columbus Human Rights Commission says the ordinance changes are simply meant to extend the civil liberties to more people. She said that there are too many people who do not feel welcome in Columbus and that this ordinance change will do much to remedy the situation. Ramirez also stated that churches and other religious institutions have exemptions from this ordinance change.

Ramirez also talked about some concerns about how the proposed ordinance change would impact public restrooms. She says that federal law has already spoken on the matter, labeling public restrooms as “public accommodations.” Ramirez says that several organizations have indicated that the law means that individuals are free to use whatever restroom, male or female, that they feel “conforms to their particular gender identity.” Essentially, a business or organization cannot prevent someone from using a restroom that is intended for the opposite sex, as it is considered discrimination. Failure to comply would be deemed as a violation of the proposed ordinance changes.

Opponents of the ordinance changes say they are concerned about possible consequences. They say that language in the ordinance strips churches of their religious exemption if membership of said church bases membership in a way that includes sexual orientation or gender identity. A number of Christians, and others in the community, expressed concerns that preaching the gospel will eventually be referred to as “hate speech” in Columbus, if they express their belief that homosexual activity, and relationships, are wrong.

Opponents also say that it is a bad idea to allow non-elected officials, members of the Civil Rights Commission, to have the authority level thousands of dollars in fines to businesses and organizations deemed to be in violation of the ordinance. Penalties for a first-time offense could result in a fine of up to $10,000. A second offense within five-years could result in a $25,000 fine, while a third offense within a seven-year time period could result in a $50,000 fine. The Civil Rights Commission may also “recover a civil penalty” for alleged offenses, as well as attorneys fees.

The City Council voted to approve the measure on a unanimous vote of six to zero.

Bartholomew Consolidated to increase budget by 2.6 percent

Sep 15, 2015 393

Bartholomew Consolidated Schools will increase their budget about $2.8 million dollars next year.

But school officials believe property taxes could actually fall under the proposed budget, which had its first public hearing last night.

Vaughn Sylva, assistant superintendent of financial services for the district, presented the $111.3 million budget to the school board. It was up from a budget of $108.5 million this year, or 2.6 percent.

He said that rising assessed values on community property and nearly $1 million in excess funds carried over from 2014 means the district can give its teachers raises, buy buses and make payments on new school bonds, likely without hiking taxes.

Sylva said that schools, unlike other government units in Indiana, are not allowed to simply spend any unanticipated increases in tax revenues. Instead, that money must be saved until an upcoming budget and then is deducted from the amount the Indiana Department of Local Govenrment Finances will approve for the upcoming tax levy.

Sylva also said the district is being helped on its 2016 budget calculations because of an increase of about 30 students this year.

The exact tax rate won’t be known until the budget is approved and then ratified by the state. The advertised tax rate of $1.13 per $100,000 of assessed value is set artificially high because while the state will lower tax rates to meet spending projections, it will not let a body increase the tax rate above what was advertised, Sylva said.

Deputies make arrest in car theft case

Sep 15, 2015 404

Bartholomew County sheriff’s deputies recovered a stolen car yesterday afternoon and arrested a Columbus man on auto theft and drug charges.

Deputy Andrew Whipker spotted the stolen vehicle at County Road 450N and Talley Road at about 1:10 p.m. yesterday. After pulling the vehicle over, the driver 24-year-old Brian K. George, allegedly admitted that he had stolen the vehicle and deputies say he was carrying identification and bank cards that belonged to someone else.

When deputies searched George, he was found to be carrying a baggie with methamphetamine, according to police reports. George was arrested on preliminary charges of auto theft, posession of methamphetamine and driving while suspended with a prior conviction. .

Not-for-profit’s properties pulled from tax sale

Sep 14, 2015 480

A local organization aimed at providing quality, low-income housing to those in need, was facing the threat of many of its properties being sold Wednesday at tax sale.

A decision last week in Bartholomew Circuit Court pulled the properties from the auction block, while the issues surrounding past due fees and penalties on the properties are sorted out.

Mark Lindenlaub, executive director of Housing Partnerships Inc., part of Thrive Alliance, said that the issue goes back to a 2006 court case which found that the not-for-profit group was not exempt from property taxes on the properties it rents to low-income residents.

And while the agency has paid the property taxes on those properties, the agency still owes past-due fees, as well as other charges. Those charges are being appealed, because the property tax question was being litigated when they were added to the bill. Lindenlaub says that he believes the organization is on firm legal footing not to pay those extra fees, but the question is yet to be decided. He noted that a formal appeal has been filed with the Bartholomew County Assessor.

HPI properties were advertised, as recently as last week, as being a part of this week’s Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Sale. Lindenlaub says that a court decision from last week took those properties off the list.

Lindenlaub says the original court case ruled that rental properties owned and operated by HPI are not exempt from property taxes.

Lindenlaub said that their argument hinged on a former assessor’s ruling. “Unfortunately,” Lindenlaub continued, “the court did not see it that way.

Lindenlaub went on to say that the property tax decision will undoubtedly harm HPI’s mission to provide quality, affordable housing to residents in, and around Columbus. He says that a number of the organization’s properties will have to sold in order for HPI to pay its yearly property taxes.

The total number of properties that will need to be sold remains unknown, Lindenlaub said. He noted that the decision will largely rest on the outcome of the fees appeal. It could be as few as four-percent of HPI’s portfolio, to as much as 10-percent of the portfolio, should the decision go against HPI, said Lindenlaub. Regardless, he says, that there will be fewer options for well-made, well-maintained, affordable housing, hurting those who need it the most.

Lindenlaub explains that HPI works to provide quality, affordable housing to area individuals, or families, who meet certain income guidelines. He says that good, affordable housing in the area is very difficult to come by, noting that many times, even “bad” housing is not affordable in Columbus.

INDOT work underway in Jennings County

Sep 14, 2015 451

The Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) is asking for you to be aware of ongoing work on State Road 3 / State Road 7 in Jennings County. INDOT Spokesman Harry Maginity says that on Monday, their contractor shifted traffic to the south side of the highway’s bridge over the Muscatatuck River, just south of Vernon. He says that a pair 0f 10-foot lanes, one in each direction, will remain open while repairs are made and a new bridge deck overlay is put in to place.

INDOT says that drivers may encounter flaggers at the bridge site during milling operations. At those times, brief delays will occur. Maginity notes that Phase I repair and overlay operations begin Tuesday on the north half of the bridge. Once completed, Phase II traffic will shift to the north, allowing work to take place on the south half of the bridge.

INDOT officials say they expect traffic to be returned to two 12-foot lanes, with 10-foot shoulders, by October 3.

Police: Six needles, meth spoon found on Columbus man

Sep 14, 2015 548

A Columbus man was arrested Saturday on drug charges after allegedly telling police he had hypodermic needles in his pockets.

Sgt. Matt Harris, spokesman for the police department, says that officers spoke with 33-year-old Rex Clark near Eighth and Sycamore streets at about 6 p.m. Saturday. Officers allegedly found six needles and a spoon containing methamphetamine residue on Clark.

He was arrested on preliminary charges including possession of methamphetamine, possession of a legend drug injection device, and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Two from Kentucky arrested on drug charges

Sep 14, 2015 1739

Two Kentucky residents were arrested on drug charges after Indiana State Police made a traffic stop on Interstate 65 Sunday near Seymour.

Trooper Randel Miller stopped a pickup truck just north of Seymour at 3:48 p.m. Sunday. According to reports from Sgt. Stephen Wheeles, a state police spokesman, Miller became suspicious and had his police dog, Jinx, sniff the vehicle. Jinx alerted to the smell of narcotics inside. A search of the vehicle allegedly revealed marijuana, cocaine, heroin and other controlled substances.

The driver, 55-year-old Dewayne Thomas Anderson of Louisville was arrested on preliminary charges of dealing heroin, possession of heroin, possession of cocaine and possession of marijuana. The passenger, 31-year-old Tylanna L. Couts of Louisville was arrested on one preliminary charge of possession of a controlled substance.

They were taken to the Jackson County Jail.