County Council

Photo by Cheri Shelhart

Council President Rein Bontreger reads the 2020 budget numbers during council meeting Sept. 17 before the full board approved it.

RENSSELAER — After several meetings with county department heads and entities involved in the annual process of creating a budget for the next year, the Jasper County Council approved the budget for the county at Tuesday night’s meeting. The budget for all county operations totals over $10 million with no changes in tax rates. Council President Rein Bontreger read the numbers for all in attendance before the board voted to accept the budget as proposed. The next step will be approval from the Dept. of Local Government Finance (DLGF).

The county council is required to review the budgets for several other government agencies including the Rensselaer Central School Corporation. Corporation Curtis Craig said due to the school board being an appointed board, the council must review the budget before it goes down state for approval. He explained a 2% increase the corporation received will be going back to the state after the second count day, which determines how much the school district will receive based on the number of students it has on that particular day.

However, he said, they were able to give their teachers a 2 to 2.5% raise. He said they have no expectations for using their rainy day fund and they used the 3.5% growth quotient as directed to apply the numbers to the 2020 budget.

The school corp will need to replace the 40-year old chiller at the middle school. When it was inspected, the decision was made to replace the whole system so it would all be updated. He said they discovered the fresh air ducts were completely blocked and have been opened up so it should be more comfortable in the school this year.

After replacing the chiller at the high school, there will be no large expenditures in the future for the schools.

Craig was asked about enrollment. He said he expects the numbers to be down between 10 – 15 students this year. “It’s been a fairly steady decline,” he said, except for last year, when the numbers went up slightly. He said it is mainly due to smaller families and bigger farms. There are 150 in the freshman class this year and they aren’t predicting any drastic changes in population in the future either.

The Jasper County Airport Authority was next, with FBO Ray Seif giving the council some information about a flight school coming next year, and changes to the an 80-year old hanger that needs to be replaced. He said they are working on preserving the runway pavement to extend the life of the airport infrastructure.

Councilman Andy Andree asked if the airport would have to be fenced in at some point, but Seif said the FAA does not require it, but they do “highly recommend” having a fence around the airport property. He explained that the fencing required is costly and has to also have barbed wire at the top to prevent wildlife from jumping over it. “If we get federal funds, then we’ll do it, otherwise it will be a few years,” he said.

The Northwest Indiana Solid Waste District receives its funding from landfill tipping fees in Newton and White Counties. Mindy Gleason took over the job of director after Carol Stradling retired, and she is also the educator as well. With the shift from two positions to one, the budget for the district fell about $24,000. She said she believes she can do both without too many issues.

The last agency to review, the Iroquois River Conservancy, was rescheduled for Monday, Sept. 23, due to scheduling conflicts. Four of the seven board members pledged to be there to hear what the conservancy had to say.

The county council asks each of these agencies to keep their budgets within the growth quotient as dictated by the state each year.