Sheriff at solar training

By Cheri Shelhart

Sheriff Pat Williamson (right) shares a laugh with Solectria Solar owner Jim Shaw, who spoke to area first responders on how to handle emergencies in or near the solar array on Oct. 8, at the new solar field near the Kankakee Valley School Corporation office and the intermediate school.

RENSSELAER — Sheriff Pat Williamson came before the Jasper County Council Tuesday night asking for an additional appropriation of $18,000 to pay for the detention center and sheriff’s office utilities through 2019. He said this is something the sheriff has to do each year because it is hard to predict the usage when setting the numbers in the budget.

Although the budget for 2020 includes an additional amount for the utilities, he said they may not need as much if they are able to build a solar field next year. If this is approved, the construction of the solar array will begin in the spring. The sheriff’s office will receive a discount on electrical use while the power from the solar panels will go into the grid, and will not directly power the building. It will be a similar arrangement to the solar field on KV School Corp property near DeMotte.

Williamson also asked the council to approve personnel restructuring. A dispatch officer is moving to a position as a correctional officer, and that move will have a slight increase in pay, which the council approved. He said they had two dispatchers quit, one took a job with the DeMotte Police and the other moved out of state. These two positions have not been filled, and he said they are doing okay. There will be another dispatcher hired to fill the spot left by the person moving into corrections. “The extra officer will help quite a bit,” he told the council members. Both requests were approved.

Williamson said he would be back next month to ask for additional money to pay for over time. He said they’ve been scheduling officers to save as much over time as they could. With the dispatchers leaving, there is money in that fund to cover overtime for the rest of the year, but he will still need the council’s approval to move the money.

He was asked how many inmates were currently housed in the jail. Williamson said they are down a bit at 74, with an average of 80. Capacity is 112 so they aren’t close to capacity, although, he said, there are other counties that are overfilled, mostly due to Level 6 felons, that now serve in county jails rather than going into state facilities. The state does reimburse half of the cost to the county sheriffs for housing the low level felons. He said the Jasper County judges move inmates in and out, keeping the numbers down. This year, the state paid a one lump sum of $71,000 plus the usual payment in June, and that money goes into the county’s general fund.

Williamson said he has been working with the coroner’s office in forming a major crimes task force that will include officers from town police departments, the sheriff’s office and the coroner.

Deputy Coroner Andy Boersma explained it came to a head when there was a death of a child in DeMotte. The child was transported to a hospital in Crown Point, where the child was declared deceased. He said the Lake County coroner called their office for assistance since the scene was in DeMotte. That incident started the conversation about forming a task force. “We don’t want to waste money, but we also don’t want to waste valuable time,” he said.

Williamson said with his 15 years of experience as a detective, he has learned, “the more manpower the better.” He said they will have to have a set of protocols in place for the task force before it is established.

Boersma said the coroner’s office has had 56 cases so far this year.

In other business:

Animal Control Director Mark Sinclair asked the council to approve an appropriation of $1,000 from the shelter’s donation fund to weatherproof a shed that is used for storing food for the cats and dogs. The shed has had problems with bugs and rodents getting into the food as well as weather, so they want to weather- proof it so the food is less vulnerable to weather and pests. He said he was looking for someone to do spray foam, but so far had not found anyone who would do it for less than $1,500. Council members gave him a couple people to try.

Council President Rein Bontreger asked about the numbers of animals that have gone through the animal control system. Sinclair said they are at 525 intakes, up by more than 70 from this time last year. They have adopted out 60 dogs and 50 cats and have sent dogs, mostly pitbulls to rescue shelters.

The council approved the non-binding budgets for Rensselaer Central School Corporation, the Jasper County Airport Authority and Northwest Indiana Solid Waste District. They scheduled a budget approval for the Iroquois River Conservancy District for Oct. 28, after an issue with paperwork delayed the process.

The council scheduled the meeting for the 28th at 4:15 p.m. at the courthouse in Rensselaer.