This year has been one full of challenges.
It’s easy to focus on the effects COVID-19 has had on our lives and how it has disrupted our daily activities and routines. None of us could have predicted a worldwide pandemic at the beginning of the year or what that would mean for us.
However, out of a negative situation came many positive outcomes. I believe we are better focused now on what’s truly important to move us forward to even better times in Jasper County.
In about two months, we will reach the one-year mark since we learned about such words as coronavirus, social distancing, mask up, quarantining, positivity rate, virtual learning, Zoom and so many others. It seems these have become common everyday words.
Like most other Indiana counties, Jasper followed the guidance of state leaders and put into place measures to limit the exposure of our employees and the public. I never dreamed I would see the day when county offices were closed to the public, but it happened. Public meetings were still public, but were instead held virtually.
COVID has caused huge inconveniences, for sure, but our citizens have once again risen to the occasion and shown their compassion and willingness to help their neighbors, family and citizens.
There was an immediate need for protective equipment for our first responders and public health and safety officials. A plea went out to make face masks and gowns. An outpouring of support quickly followed. The best in people was portrayed by so many who volunteered their time and talents to help others.
Jasper County’s COVID numbers continue to increase, both in the numbers tested and those who tested positive. In many cases, our homes have become a classroom, doctor’s office, place of worship, or a work place. We have adapted and are making the most of the situation.
While all this has been happening, our county has continued to work to accomplish not only our normal duties, but also to bring new jobs, business opportunities and additional tax base into the county.
Nearly $1.6 million has come into the county from the federal government for COVID relief to our local units of government. Local financial institutions have assisted their customers to acquire forgivable loans through the federal payroll protection plan.
Just last week, our local health department moved to a new facility located on Sparling Avenue (behind the college) in Rensselaer. This upgrade is being paid for by federal dollars that would have otherwise come from local property tax dollars, thus saving those local funds.
The county highway department was also the recipient of a $1 million community crossings grant that helped resurface county roads. Along with revenue from state and local funding sources, we paved nearly 32 mile of roads this summer at a cost of nearly $4 million. Investing in local infrastructure is always a good use of funds.
Speaking of investing, NIPSCO announced recently that they will be acquiring the Dunns Bridge Solar project, located in the northeast corner of the county, from NextEra renewable energy company. Construction of solar panels will begin in 2022 and should be complete in 2023.
When fully operational, this large solar project will produce enough energy to power 270,000 homes. It will be the largest solar project east of the Mississippi.
This is exceptionally good news for the Kankakee Valley School Corporation and Kankakee Township who will be losing a good deal of tax revenue when the Schahfer coal fired generating station is retired in 2023.
We know that access to public utilities determines whether new business and industry locates in a county. We are exceptionally excited to partner with the town of DeMotte to bring water and sewer services to the exit 230 interchange on I-65.
The county also established their first TIF district there with the majority of the revenue created to go to DeMotte to help pay to install those utility lines.
It’s easy to see the business expansion that has taken place in Remington, where the town has taken utilities to that interchange as well. I expect the same result south and west of DeMotte.
Many of us are extra excited that Jasper County REMC will be running fiber optic lines around the county to provide broadband to their members. Communities that are not well connected (from a fiber standpoint) stand to lose out to those who have invested in broadband to the last mile. In today’s society, we depend on the internet to conduct business, tele-health visits, virtual learning and for agricultural productivity.
Thanks to a vision a few decades ago, Jasper County has steadily invested in our bridges. We rank first in the state in the quality of bridges. Our 126 bridges have the highest rating overall than any of Indiana’s 92 counties.
Due to the overwhelming need for face masks due to COVID, Indiana Face Mask was born. This new business purchased the old Green’s furniture building west of Rensselaer and are now in production. They were one of only four companies in the U.S. that qualified for and received a grant from the federal government to begin production. They expect to employ more that 100 people over the next three years.
We are close to powering the county jail with solar energy. A small solar array has been constructed this year to provide electricity to the jail, which will lower our utility costs over time.
Collaboration is key to the success of government. Commissioners Richard Maxwell, Jim Walstra and I have worked with partners such as the county council, city and town governments, local units of government and offices, Purdue Extension and especially the Jasper County Economic Development Organization, under the lead of Stephen Eastridge, to accomplish our targeted priorities necessary for future growth in Jasper County.
While COVID has kept us from worshiping, shopping, working and socializing as we are used to, it shouldn’t redirect our focus of the positive things that have happened during 2020.
One thing is for sure, 2021 will be different.
Thank you for your steadfast dedication and contributions to the successes in Jasper County this year.