State Representative Douglas Gutwein visited Pulaski County this week to speak to the county commissioners and council during a joint session held Monday night regarding a revenue bill vetoed by Governor Mike Pence that could affect the county’s CAGIT moneys. Gutwein explained that a clerical error at the state level could force the county to pay taxpayers back millions of dollars that had been collected by the County Adjusted Gross Income Tax – money that had originally been collected to cover the cost of the jail – because the state claims that the county overcharged its taxpayers. The county still owes roughly $5 million on the jail facility.
The Pulaski County Commissioners and Building Inspector Dave Dare held a discussion regarding an unsafe building at 533 N. Monticello St. in Winamac that Dare said is in very bad shape and needs to be addressed. He said the order to repair or demolish the building went out on April 24 and he received confirmation of its delivery via certified mail on April 26.
The Pulaski County Council and commissioners met in a joint session last night to discuss the personnel policy, particularly holiday pay and paid time off for sheriff’s department and EMS employees. Paula Reimers of Wagner, Irwin & Sheely appeared before the two boards in an effort to get the mess sorted out, and a lengthy discussion followed.
Because the county has 119 employees to worry about, the county council and commissioners would be hard-pressed to find a policy that would suit everyone’s needs, and the council sought changes to the policy to ensure fairness between departments. Reimers expressed to the boards that some important questions that needed answered regarding the policy included whether or not 12-hour shift employees would receive 12 or eight hours’ pay for holidays, whether those working on holidays would receive time and a half, and whether or not to allow employees to “bank” their holiday time.
The purchase of eight defibrillators for office buildings in Pulaski County hinges on the council’s willingness to appropriate funds for the potentially life-saving devices. Commissioners approved the expenditure last week. However, they don’t have funds readily available to make the purchase, having spent nearly their entire discretionary budget on iPads. Council members repeatedly refused to purchase the tablet computers for the commissioners and finally told them they can spend money in the commissioners budget without obtaining the council’s permission. If the council approves that expenditure when they meet tonight, it will still need to be advertised and approved at their June meeting.
Health insurance premiums for Pulaski County employees are expected go go up about 20 percent when it’s time to renew. Insurance agent Dave Bennett stresses that’s a best guess and a lot of factors could play into the increase. He tells the commissioners he should have hard numbers for them in mid-June so they can make a decision in July. A lot of the uncertainty, and possible increase in cost, has to do with implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act. The county has offered health insurance through Cigna for several years. Commissioners asked Bennett to get rates from some other companies as well. One option the commissioners could consider if costs get too far out of hand is to no longer offer health insurance as a benefit to employees and pay $188,000 in penalties instead. Bennett stresses this isn’t really an option, as the 124 full-time employees who qualify for health insurance would expect pay raises to make up for the lost benefit.
The Pulaski County Council and Commissioners will consider a controversial policy change during a joint meeting next week. Deputies with the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office contend they lost vacation and personal time when the county switched to calculating them by hours instead of days. That’s because they work 12-hour shifts, while most other county employees work seven hours per day. Continue reading
For the third time, Pulaski County commissioners appeared before the county council to request their approval for the purchase of four iPads at a cost of $4259, and also for the third time, the council denied the request. Commissioner Tracey Shorter said that the iPads would allow the commissioners to work more efficiently, explaining that it is hard for the commissioners and the county attorney to keep up with the information that is provided in their information packets, and that inconvenience has, in the past, translated to a loss for the county.
Pulaski County Building Inspector Dave Dare has an assistant to help with some of the additional responsibilities recently given to his office. Dare is also in charge of enforcing the county’s comprehensive land use plan, which was adopted last year by the county commissioners. They voted Monday to hire David R. Weber as an assistant to the county building official and secretary to the advisory plan commission and board of zoning appeals. The position is part-time, as the plan commission and BZA meet once a month.
Pulaski County Commissioners have approved the expenditure of up to $1,000 on a feasibility study for a proposed hotel in Winamac. Wisconsin-based Cobblestone Development has approached the Winamac Town Council about building a hotel there geared to business travelers. The first step is a feasibility study, of which the company will pay half. Pulaski County Economic Development Director Nathan P. Origer says officials with the town of Winamac have asked local shareholders to help offset the $3,500 cost. Commissioner Larry Brady says there’s definitely a need for affordable overnight accommodations.
Pulaski County Commissioners unanimously agreed to let county highway department employees work four 10-hour days from April through October. Commission President Tracey Shorter and Commissioner Terry Young voted last month to change the department to a traditional eight-hour-a-day, five-day-a-week schedule. New superintendent Mark Fox says his employees were still working four 10 hour days on March 25 when they were called in to plow snow.
“Working our 4 to 10 work schedule, we only came in an hour early, which works out to $422 in overtime that was paid out that morning. If we were working 8 to 4 like our current schedule is, it would have been $1,265 in overtime that morning. By working four 10’s just in one morning we saved $843,” Fox explained.
Pulaski County has a new maintenance supervisor. The commissioners voted unanimously last night to hire Winamac native Jeff Johnston, contingent on his passing a pre-employment drug screening. He will oversee maintenance and upkeep of all of the county’s buildings. Commissioner Larry Brady noted that a number of qualified individuals applied for the job and says their resumes will remain on file with the county. Johnston replaces longtime maintenance supervisor Morry DeMarco, who was fired last month by the commissioners.
The legal battle over longtime Pulaski County Highway Superintendent Kenny Becker’s firing continues. He was reappointed by the county commissioners on January 7th, suspended with pay on January 22nd so allegations raised by a current and a former employee could be looked into and reinstated as highway manager on February 4th following an investigation by an outside consultant. Commissioner Larry Brady served as interim superintendent, and Becker was subsequently fired by the commissioners on March 4th. He’s since hired an attorney and filed a $500,000 notice of tort claim against the county commissioners for slander and defamation of character.
Pulaski County attorney Kevin Tankersley reluctantly released a copy of the consultant’s investigation report after being ordered to do so by the state Public Access Counselor’s office but redacted the names of Becker’s accusers. The new filing seeks to force the release of that information, noting “the Commissioners have failed to comply fully with the requirements of the Open Door Law.” It also states the names are necessary for possible legal action by Becker for slander and defamation of character.
Pulaski County Commissioners recently discussed the purchase of some potentially life-saving technology.
“We’re looking at automatic external defibrillators – they get your heart going again,” Commissioner Larry Brady said. “We’d station these throughout the county buildings to use until the EMS system arrives. Most buildings have them laying around, and they are a wonderful asset when minutes count.”
Insurance claims are running high right now for the Cigna health insurance plan offered to Pulaski County employees. Gibson Insurance benefit consultant Bob Zavacky told the commissioners Monday that claims are running at about 180-percent utilization at the halfway point of the year and show no signs of letting up. He says three sizable claims in particular are driving the county’s costs up.
A veteran Pulaski County Highway Department employee is the new county highway superintendent. Commissioners voted unanimously during last night’s regularly-scheduled meeting to hire Mark Fox. He’s worked the past nine years under Kenny Becker, who was fired by the commissioners last month after his controversial paid suspension in January and subsequent reinstatement as county highway manager under the supervision of commissioner and interim highway superintendent Larry Brady. Fox was one of four applicants interviewed by the commissioners. Before voting to hire him, commissioners also voted to change the work week for county highway employees to Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. Brady voted against Commissioner Terry Young’s motion, leaving president Tracey Shorter to cast the tiebreaking vote.
Even with a slightly lower price tag this time around, the Pulaski County Council once again denied a request from the county commissioners to purchase four iPads from Verizon. Commissioner Tracey Shorter approached the council last night with the request to purchase the devices and presented new information regarding the proposed purchase.
Shorter said the devices would cost the county $4259 for the purchase of the four iPads, a one-time charge of $199 for two years of protection, and an additional $1404 per year to include the devices on the county’s current shared data plan through Verizon. Shorter said that because the commissioners fund had carried over an amount from last year through various cuts in county expenses by both the commissioners and the county council, she felt that this expense is justified – especially when considering the benefit she claims the iPads would have for the county officials.
Pulaski County Commissioners plan to interview candidates for the vacant highway superintendent and maintenance supervisor positions Friday. They ratified the terminations of highway manager Kenny Becker and maintenance supervisor Morry DeMarco during a tense public meeting last night. Both were fired during an executive session a week ago. That action has raised questions about whether open meetings law violations occurred. Formal complaints filed by outraged citizens are still pending before Indiana Public Access Counselor Joe Hoage. Additionally, Becker has filed a $500,000 notice of tort claim against the commissioners, county attorney and auditor. They were all served copies of the proceeding prior to the start of last night’s meeting and now have 90 days to respond. Stay tuned to WKVI throughout the day for more on this story, and watch for updates on our website at www.wkvi.com.
Pulaski County Commissioners plan to ratify the terminations of two employees during their meeting tonight. Questions have been raised about whether they committed a violation of the open meetings law last Monday when they terminated highway department manager Kenny Becker and maintenance supervisor Morry DeMarco during an executive session.
The state agency charged with making sure open meetings laws are followed is investigating a citizen complaint regarding recent actions by the Pulaski County Commissioners. Questions were first raised regarding their compliance with the law when no vote was taken to suspend then-county highway superintendent Kenny Becker and administrator Lin Morrison were suspended with pay. Becker was reinstated as county highway manager during the next commissioners meeting, at which time Commissioner Larry Brady was named interim superintendent. Becker was fired Monday during an executive session meeting for unspecified employee policy handbook violations. Dale Brewer with the Office of the Indiana Public Access Counselor says that action needs to be taken in a public meeting
The attorney for the former Pulaski County highway superintendent anticipates filing a notice of tort claim against the Pulaski County Commissioners, county attorney and auditor by the end of the week. Kenny Becker was fired Monday night during an executive session meeting for unspecified violations of the county personnel policy. The firing follows his paid suspension last month while commissioners looked into unspecified complaints of wrongdoing. Becker was reinstated as county highway manager after that investigation failed to find any criminal misdeeds. His attorney, Steven Bush of Valparaiso, says he plans to file as soon as Becker can come in and sign the necessary paperwork.