MOROCCO — After action by the Newton County Council (Oct. 9), the $9 million request from the Newton County Commissioners on behalf of the Newton County Regional Water and Sewer District (NCRWSD) to expand water and sewer utilities up to Roselawn, is off the table — for now.
The council tabled the request last month due to concerns over ownership issues if the State Revolving Fund (SRF) loan, which was used to pay for the NCRWSD’s new water and sewer plant, is called back.
Council Vice President Michael Mark said that he was informed by Newton County Commissioner Tim Drenth, who also serves on the NCRWSD board, that the ownership issues have not been resolved and asked if the council could table the request once again.
Mark made a motion to table the request, which was seconded by Mick Vanderwall, but it failed by a 6-1 vote (Vanderwall yes).
“To be completely transparent, I would like to deny the request,” said Councilmember Abbey Rossiter. “We have been having all of these discussions about salaries and if positions are needed or not, but we are going to consider this.”
Commissioner Kyle Conrad added the money probably won’t be needed until next year anyway.
“If that is the case and we haven’t gotten any updated information from SRF and Select Milk on ownership, then we should deny it until we do,” added Mark.
Rossiter added that she is voting against the request because she feels it is not a good use of $9 million.
“Economic development is one thing, but I don’t feel this project is for that,” said Rossiter. “This project is aimed at helping just one developer.”
The motion to deny the $9 million request out of landfill tipping fees passed by a 7-0 vote.
The request would have funded a proposed project that would include extending a sewer line from the district’s new plant on 700N up CR 400E to SR 10 and then east along 10 to 450E where it would extend north past Lincoln Elementary. Also part of the project would include adding a drinking water supply (2 shallow wells), treatment, and distribution to that same area.
The sewer portion of the cost was estimated at $5.5 million, while the drinking water supply had an estimate of $2.95 million.
Drenth has repeatedly told the council that the only reason he wants to do this project is for a proposed 90-unit residential development.
However, the question over the SRF loan and who would own the new water and sewer plant if that loan is called back and Select Milk Producers have to pay it off remains.
Most of the concerns come from an economic development agreement approved more than four years ago, which called for the county to do $29 million worth of infrastructure improvements (a new water and sewer plant) to the Fair Oaks corridor, while Select Milk Producers would build a hotel and a cheese plant along with possible other attractions at the farm.
The infrastructure work was paid for via the selling of $23 million of bonds and then an additional $6 million in grants. The lender for the project was the State’s Revolving Fund (SRF), however, that loan came with milestones that had to be made. The first set of milestones were not reachable by Select, so a new agreement was made to delay the goals. The first milestone deadline is Oct. 15 and covers engineering work for the cheese plant, which according to county officials is not yet completed.
If the state would call back the loan, Select would be required to pay off the remaining balance of the $23 million loan, but could then possibly own the water and sewer plant. If Select is unable to pay off the loan or defaults on the agreement, the loan is secured with landfill tipping fees. If landfill tipping fees are not available or can’t cover the balance then a property tax rate would go into effect.
The county council has already been informally told that a $2 million grant from the Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA) will have to be paid back since the project did not meet its employment requirements.
Commissioner Drenth has told members of the county council that Select Milk will reimburse the county for the repayment of the grant, but terms of that repayment have not been discussed.
In other news from the Oct. 9 county council meeting, a carousel of employee moves was discussed.
The issue was first brought up when Highway Superintendent Dave Plummer announced that he had an opening in his department and Brian Hoskins has decided to leave the Newton County Sheriff’s Department to come back to the highway department if approved.
Council President Scott Carlson and Mark responded by asking Plummer to put the hiring on hold until he could send in a job description for that position so the council could determine if that position was needed.
“Over my 10 years on council, we have not cut jobs that are filled with people,” said Mark. “When a position becomes open, however, it gives this body the opportunity to determine if that position is needed.”
“It gives us the chance to justify that position,” added Carlson.
Maintenance Director John Hivley approached the council as he will have a position opening up as well, as one of his employees is moving to the building department. The council told Hivley to put the hiring on hold as well.
Building Commissioner Butch Cain added that his last day is Dec. 1 and that his assistant Bill Rowe informed him that his last day will be Oct. 16.
“I have to train a lot of people in a very short amount of time,” said Cain. “It has turned into a chaotic mess.”
The council answered stating that job descriptions for all of the positions opening up can be reviewed and acted on at their special meeting set for Oct. 23.
“We really need to move forward with a salary matrix, we keep having these same discussions every year,” added Rossiter.
In related news, EMA Director Ray Chambers, who is also the president of the health board, informed the council that Public Health Nurse Kim Durham has been approached with a job offer and she could be possibly leaving.
Chambers added that if the council would increase her salary there is a chance she could stay.
“For me, public safety for our constituents is the most important thing,” said Rossiter. “I am scared to lose Kim, and we won’t be able to find an RN (registered nurse) as good as her.”
Councilmember Tim Lohr asked how much of an increase are they looking at.
The average RN in Indiana makes around $70,000 a year, while the Public Health Nurse position currently pays $45,000.
Chambers said if the council would consider a salary increase to the $56,000 to $58,000 range there could be a chance to keep Durham.
The council replied they would consider a pay raise and will look at a solution to keep Durham at their special meeting Oct. 23.
In other news, Commissioner Conrad addressed the council in his role as Brook Fire Chief. Conrad stated that there is interest from the department of adding a ladder truck. Conrad noted that the council helped Lake Township get a ladder truck for the north part of the county and that Brook is interested in housing the ladder truck for the southern portion.
On Oct. 19, the county commissioners and council will meet in executive session to discuss possible pending litigation against Republic Services regarding the landfill.