Starke County Reaps Benefits of Fewer Worker’s Compensation Claims

starke-county-courthouseStarke County is poised to save 11 percent on insurance premiums over last year. Carrie Block from First Choice Insurance in North Judson told the county commissioners Monday the decline is mostly due to fewer workman’s compensation claims over the past three years. Overall the county will save $52,435, as premiums dropped from $473,982 to $421,547 for 2016-17. Continue reading

Commissioners Debunk Hospital Rumors

Starke County government officials are negotiating with Community Health Systems over construction of a new building to replace the existing IU Health Starke Hospital.

The Starke County Commissioners last week reaffirmed their commitment to building a new hospital in Knox. County officials are still negotiating with Tennessee-based Community Health Systems, which recently acquired 80-percent ownership of IU Health Starke and LaPorte Hospitals. The county owns the current hospital building and land on which it sits. Commissioner Kathy Norem quoted an email received by the commissioners stating they are “ignorant, clueless and intentionally blocking the building of a new facility.” She says they want to ensure adequate services are provided. Continue reading

Surgery Delays Murder Trial, Prompts Reevaluation of Jail Medical Contract

  A murder trial scheduled to start April 13 in Starke Circuit Court has been pushed back to at least July so the defendant can have surgery deemed medically necessary by a provider under contract with the county. Gary Chavez is accused of beating his estranged wife, Kimberly Chavez, to death at their rural California Township home last June. From there police say he drove to Mark Bailey’s Discount Center, kidnapped an employee and drove to English Lake where he’s accused of stealing a second vehicle. Chavez then led police on a high-speed chase into LaPorte and Porter Counties, according to court records. He’s accused of stealing a third vehicle in Kouts and continuing into Lake County. Police there say Chavez shot himself in the face when officers in Crown Point managed to stop his vehicle. He was airlifted to a Chicagoland area hospital and released to the custody of the Starke County Sheriff last August. Chavez remains in jail. Continue reading

Starke County Officials Planning Jail Grand Opening

This building on SR 8 at CR 550 E is part of the new Starke County Sheriff's Office and Detention Center.
This building on SR 8 at CR 550 E is part of the new Starke County Sheriff’s Office and Detention Center.

Starke County officials are making plans for a May 22nd open house to celebrate the completion of the Starke County Sheriff’s Office and Detention Center. Contractors are putting final touches on the new facility east of Knox on State Road 8 and will have the building ready to turn over to the county by May 1st. Continue reading

Snow Keeps Starke County Highway Department Busy

 As of last night, Starke County Highway Department snow plow drivers had worked 24 of the past 36 hours clearing ice and snow from roads. Highway Superintendent Rik Ritzler shared that information with the county commissioners during their meeting last night. Commissioner Kathy Norem praised their efforts and noted the county roads are in better shape than state roads 8, 23 and U.S. 35. Continue reading

Starke County Commissioners Defer Action on Highway Superintendent Contract

Starke County Highway Superintendent Stephen "Rik" Ritzler
Starke County Highway Superintendent Stephen “Rik” Ritzler

The Starke County Commissioners will revisit whether to offer a long-term contract to Highway Superintendent Rik Ritzler when they meet Dec. 1. Commissioner Kent Danford previously raised concerns about the precedent such an action would set. He says possibly offering Ritzler a contract is a “test case” and adds he will say no to anyone else who requests a long-term employment contract until he sees how this works. Continue reading

Fate of Bass Lake Seasonal Camping in Park Board’s Hands

Bass Lake Beach
The Starke County Park Board will oversee Bass Lake Beach and Campground

The future of seasonal camping at the Bass Lake Beach and Campground is in the hands of the five yet-to-be-named Starke County Park Board members. The county commissioners previously announced plans to limit camping to 15 days at a time after this season concludes but have not yet sent a formal notice to manager Richard Callahan and his attorney David Wallsmith. They contend those statements have caused damage to the business, as many campers are uncertain whether they will be able to return next year. Continue reading

County Officials Considering Uses for Existing Jail Building

starke-county-jail-outsideThe current Starke County Jail in downtown Knox will still be owned by the county and used for correctional programs once the new Starke County Sheriff’s Office and Detention Center east of Knox on State Road 8 opens next year. Commissioner Kathy Norem says the building is part of the collateral for the loan to build the new structure, so it cannot be sold or torn down and must be used in the justice arena. She says the county set aside money to renovate the building. Continue reading

Starke County Commissioners Bless Wheel Tax Exploration

starke-county-courthouseStarke County Highway Superintendent Rik Ritzler has the blessing of the county commissioners to look into other sources of funds for road improvements.

He told them last week the county does not presently qualify for a lot of money available from the state because there’s no roadway user tax in place and said he would like to talk to the council about the costs and benefits of a wheel tax at various levels. Ritzler says counties that collect a wheel tax have some of the best roads in the state because all of the money that is collected is used to maintain and improve them.

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Volunteers Needed to Spearhead Bicentennial Celebration Pillars

Indiana BicentennialStarke County’s participation in Indiana’s upcoming bicentennial celebration may be limited unless organizations or individuals step up and volunteer to help with event planning.

Commissioner Kathy Norem says the county’s only commitment right now is to be part of the 92 county torch relay in 2016. According to the bicentennial website, it’s “designed to promote and unify the state by connecting people, communities and regions. Hoosiers will also symbolically “pass the torch,” connecting past and current generations to future ones to IGNITE our future.”

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Extreme Temperatures Prompt Communities To Establish Cooling Centers

With record-breaking highs yesterday, many communities in the area established cooling centers to provide citizens with a place to cool off. Visitors to the Starke County 4-H Fair had to tolerate high 90-degree temperatures that felt hotter than 101 degrees with the humidity.

Fortunately, IU Health Starke Hospital put its Health Mobile to good use providing visitors with a place to go to get out of the sweltering heat and take a break. Hospital Interim President David Hyatt said the Health Mobile will help stave off heat exhaustion for fair-goers.

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Starke County Highway Superintendent Asked for Scrap Metal Receipts

Starke County Commissioners: Kathy Norem, Dan Bridegroom and Jennifer Davis

Starke County Auditor Kay Chaffins has asked Starke County Highway Department Superintendent Steve Siddall for an accounting of all scrap metal items sold at the garage. She said her records showed there hasn’t been an accounting of these sales since 2008.

She passed out a December article from New Albany, Indiana at this week’s Starke County Commissioners meeting that stated the State Board of Accounts had released its investigation into the Floyd County Highway Department which concluded that over $11,000 in receipts were not accounted for from 2006 until the end of 2011. The report also concluded that more than $5,000 was deposited into a private account by the department’s head.

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Drug and Tobacco Free Starke County Make No Decision Concerning Jennie Carter

Jennie Carter

The regular meeting of Drug and Tobacco Free Starke County was held Wednesday and produced no action on the status of Jennie Carter as Coalition Coordinator of Drug and Tobacco Free Starke County. The President of Drug and Tobacco Free Starke County, Judy Jelinek, said no action could have been taken as the lack of a quorum prohibited the Board to conduct business.

Another meeting has been scheduled for 8:00 a.m. Wednesday, February 15th at the Girl Scout Cabin in Knox. Carter is still the Coordinator, and Jelinek said that the executive session is scheduled to discuss personnel matters. A yet to be announced open meeting for the public and press will be held after the executive session. No time or location has been announced for that public meeting.

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Starke County Jail Committee to Focus on Needs Assessment

Starke County Jail

The Starke County Jail Committee continues its quest in trying to decide what to do about the Starke County Jail. Starke County Commissioner, Kathy Norem, was asked where the Committee stands on their discussions.

“We have a needs assessment that has been sent out and we should receive the request for proposals from companies to do a needs assessment for us,” she replied. “Once those are completed and the study has been done, then I believe that we will need to bring that to the people and show them what the results of that study were that show us exactly what we should be doing for the jail; whether that be an addition, some sort of renovation, a new facility, and if so, what kind of new facility.”

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Starke County Jail Committee to Meet Today

Starke County Jail

The Starke County Community Jail Committee will meet this afternoon at 4:00 p.m. in the County Annex building.

One agenda item is the scheduling of public meetings to inform the public of the options to solve the jail problems. Commissioner Kathy Norem, who is chairing the committee, conceded that specific plans have not been formulated, but the public will be brought up to date on where the committee is at this point in time.

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Linda Belork’s Hearing is Today in Jasper County

Linda Belork

A hearing will be held in Jasper County today on Linda Belork’s request to have a court-imposed Temporary Restraining Order removed allowing her to return to her duties as the Starke County Treasurer. Belork has been out of the office since August 13th after being removed by the County Commissioners following the issuance of a State Audit showing thousands of dollars in discrepancies.

The money has been found, but Belork has been blocked by the order from returning to office. Objecting to her return are the Starke County Commissioners. Judge John Potter will be seeking pertinent information from Belork’s attorney, Ethan Lowe, and Martin Lucas, attorney for the commissioners, during today’s hearing.

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Commissioners to Hold Public Meeting to Discuss Hospital, Jail

Calling the future of IU Health Starke Hospital and the decision to be made on the Starke County Jail the two most important issues over the next five years, Commissioner Kathy Norem said a night should be devoted to providing information to the public on both issues.

The hospital administration was to attend the September 19th regular meeting of the Commissioners, but Norem thought the presentations would be more important than just being discussed with other county business.

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