Commissioner Meeting Mar 23, 2022

abe martin sage of brown county hoosierindianacom

Facebook post and Audio recording, and agenda below.

Update and Assessment: Commissioner Meeting – Mar 23, 2022.

The majority of the time at the commissioner meeting was spent on discussion related to expanded sewer service in the county.

o. Development. Regarding the intent to expand sewer service, if DEVELOPMENT is the vision, then have the courage to come out of the shadows, step up, and admit it. Make your case and reinforce that there is nothing the citizens can do to stop it. And to demonstrate your abuse of power, continue on with the no public comment policy at meetings and continue to ignore the comments that are provided. Let the citizens know that unlike changes at the state level, county elected officials are not required to read the input from citizens.

o. Bean Blossom. “Development” in Bean Blossom is the Main priority for the special interests in the county. These interests are represented by individuals and groups that have a financial interest in the development supported with sewer expansion.

o. Corruption. This “commissioner meeting” provided another illustration that reinforces my assessment of good people trapped in a bad system. A monopoly on political power without radical transparency leads to moral corruption where individuals can no longer tell right from wrong.

o. Republican Party. This was the kind of meeting “Commissioners” wanted to avoid by not allowing citizens to ask questions. The policy not to allow citizens to participate in their government likely came from or was supported by the core leadership of the local republican party that is consistently represented at commissioners and council meetings – especially on critical votes.

o. Tax, Spend, Borrow. The agenda included the commissioner’s support for a tax increase (raising the cum cap fund), approximately $600,000 in new infrastructure spending, and a need for another175K for a new coroner’s office. This increase of the cum cap tax is subject to remonstrance. Of the $600K, $550 was to replace a/c units at the jail and the balance for IT-related infrastructure replacements that are rarely budgeted. These expenses will reduce the balance of the 3 million dollar loan where it was stated that money from the loan would also be used for road and bridge projects.

o. Failure – Capital Improvment Planning. The “surprise” infrastructure spending is a result of a deliberate failure to plan for needed and expected repairs, replacements, and improvements via a capital improvement plan and budget. Such a plan would compete for other desired (pet) projects. And with a monopoly on political power, the policy of tax, spend, and borrow will remain unchallenged. And the consequences of a deliberate lack of planning justify tax increases such as the cum cap tax. These types of increases add up. The income tax rate was doubled in ten years. How fast can property tax rates be raised? This may be negated through the inflation tax – where inflated land values lead to increases in property tax.

o. County Sewer Expansion.  The bigger ticket item was a “verbal” request for approval by the Brown County Regional Sewer District (BCRSD) represented by Clint Studabaker who asked for $300,000 of ARPA funds. The overall intent was to support expanding sewer service to 700-800 homes for an estimated “30 million dollar” (with inflation, likely will be higher) major sewer project to support the Lake Lemon to Bean Blossom/Woodland Lake corridor.

o. Helmsburg – Lake Lemon – the Prioroty for the County. The documented need is for immediate support for the Lake Lemon and Helmsburg corridor. This should be the highest priority for the county. However, the highest priority for the BCRSD is Bean Blossom.

o. Get a Warrant. Unlike Helmsburg and Lake Lemon, there is no documented evidence supporting a need or support from the customers to be served by the BCRSD. The “need” is based on speculation regarding the lack of records and age of systems. If this is all you need to conclude that there is a failed system (s), take this “evidence” to the judge and get a warrant to inspect the system. You can also add in “everybody knows.” I’m sure the several hundred people affected by this action will be more than appreciative of the efforts of the BCRSD and County elected officials who appointed them.

o. Background – BCRSD.  In June of 2018, the BCRSD submitted an application for a new sewer plant in Bean Blossom. They claimed State support and were anticipating quick approval and expected to begin construction within approximately 18 months. They received 270K from the county council to fund the required engineering reports. Local landowners refused to sell the land for a sewer plant and their attempt to acquire parkland for a plant was denied by 0 BCRSD.  DNR. They spent 220,000 of the 270,000 on engineering and regulatory-related reports. They still need landowners to grant them 190 easements and without the support of the citizens, may require the BCRSD to take legal action (eminent domain?) to acquire the easements. There is no documented evidence of wide-scale support for sewers in their area to be served and no documented evidence of “failed” septic systems in the area. If there were, there are many options for working with homeowners to resolve the situation.

o. Bean Blossom not the priority. The “need” and support for sewer service in the Lake Lemon area and the “need” for upgrading the aging plant in Helmsburg gave new life to the bean Blossom project. It allows them to continue their project using an expanded plant in Helmsburg as their new plant. “Some” of the planning that was used for the Bean Blossom project was reported to be used in support of the current Helmsburg Expansion project – no supporting detail was asked for or provided regarding this claim.

o. BCRSD Dissolution. The BCRSD should be dissolved and transitioned to an advisory group. The BCRSD will have no customers. And if the technology allows for smaller size wastewater treatment systems, the residents affected are in the best position to manage these types of systems for their area. Private developers develop these systems for their projects.

o. HRSD – Add members. The Helmsburg RSD Board can be expanded from 3 members to 5 to provide additional support for overseeing the work formerly and allegedly being performed by the BCRSD. If the BCRSD transitioned to a support and advisory role, they can continue to support the new plan with Helmsburg and Lake Lemon being the priority.

o. HRSD – Approvide Funding Requests. The Helmsburg RSD identified a need for 750K of ARPA funds and an immediate need for 175K to develop a Preliminary Engineering Report (PER) needed to fund plant expansion. No detail was provided by the BCRSD as to how much of the 300K was to support what should be considered the main priority for the county.

o. Systemis Analysis. I offered (not the first time) to facilitate a more systemic analysis of the “total project” that would address many if not most of the “cultural” and historical issues involved with the issues (refer to the audio of the meeting.)

o. Fascade.  Before I objected (despite the new rules), Commissioner Pittman and Braden – “This is not open to discussion or debate,” were going to vote to approve the 300K. After citizen input, Commissioner Pittman tabled the vote until their April 6 meeting to allow for “citizen input” on the project. He referred to the meeting as a “hearing.” The intent is to provide him with a justification for approving or voting no on the request/project. This is out of the “playbook” that parallels the strategy used to approve the new septic ordinance. The process can represent a façade of “listening and collecting information from citizens” and then declaring that you reviewed the information (but may have not read or studied it or did your own homework) and have decided upon the recommendation of an ad-hoc group to approve their project citing unsubstantiated benefits. The decision is certainly not based on the needs and desires of the citizens that the commissioners want to be silenced at commissioner meetings. On the vote at the April 6 meeting, Commissioner Pittman may choose to vote No on the funding but will most likely be outvoted by Commissioner Biddle and Braden.

o. Number One Priority. The need and number one priority for sewer service is the Lake Lemon and Helmbsurg area. They have a documented need and will contribute to development. The priority for the expansion of sewer service in the Bean Blossom area should be driven by the support of the citizens to be serviced. The current preliminary engineering report included letters of support from 1998. Yep, no typo “1998. Informal door-to-door surveys of residents in the area have identified little desire and interest for sewer service.

o.  Federal Review. The Bean Blossom PER was submitted to the Feds for review and approval but was not complete to the extent needed for a review. The need (as opposed to a want) is approved by state agencies and the Feds likely accept the state’s judgment. However, the feds are required by law (FMFIA) to perform their due diligence. Approving a project without documented evidence of failed systems to justify funding may represent “a material weakness” in their internal controls (violation of the law). In my former federal civil service position, managing an internal control program was another duty as assigned. It will be interesting to see how the law will be applied to this project – assuming the feds still are involved in the review and approval process. I would assess that the Helmsburg – Lake Lemon projects would have no problem justifying a valid need for funding.

o. Gentrification. An expansion of sewers to 700-800 homes – most of which may be unneeded can accelerate county-wide gentrification and a churn/turnover in the real estate market. The income survey from 2017 indicates that 53.1% of county residents are in the low to moderate-income level. Unnecessarily raising their cost of living with a new monthly bill and hook-up fees may force many to relocate thus contributing to the gentrification. Is the plan to build more high-density apartment complexes to accommodate the displaced citizens?

o. Help our Citizens. Note that there are most likely failing systems in the county. And it is likely that people may need financial help to repair and replace a failing system. But given the reputation of the Health Department, fear of admitting the need for help and being evicted would take precedence over environmental concerns. This issue should be addressed. The community foundation could help establish a fund where citizens can contribute to help provide support for those in need.

o. Solutions without Problems. Continued evidence of the corruption of good people caught in a bad system includes pushing solutions without evidence of a problem and the support of the people affected by the “solution.”

A Way Ahead. At the meeting, I outlined a Way Ahead through the application of a decision-making process developed in support of the Brown County Leader Network.
BCRSD – Addition Information

Mar 24, 2022. Facebook Post – Update  Commissioner Meeting

Mar 23, 2022.  Facebook Post – Brown County Matters 

Audio – Commissioner Meeting

  • Ric Fox – IT / AC Funding requirements – 550K for Jail, additional funding needed for IT equip
  • Melissa Stinson – Tax increase – Cum Cap Fund – Taxpayers do have the right to remonstrate
  • Highway – Magnor
  • New Coroners Office – Pittman – Need for up to approximately $175K.
  • BCRSD – Clint Studabaker – Verbal request for 300K of ARPA Funds for wastwater projects – Bean Blossom and Helmsburg
    • Clark objection to the 300K request – Start of Public Debate

Not open to discussion, not open to debate” – Commisssioner Braden

    • Helmsburg Needs – Kyle Myers. 750K of ARPA funds requested.  Immediate needs: 40K to fund hook-ups (approved) and 175K for a PER – – plan for plant expansion
    • Clark – Suggestions of a better process
    • Bob Cochran – Interested and Concerned citizen
    • Paul Navarro
    • Studabaker …
    • Sherrie Mitchell – Dissolve the BCRSD
  • Decision for the 300K tabled – Jerry Pittman asking for input via emails. Considers this a “public hearing.”
  • Closing Comments

Agenda

Pledge of Allegiance
Prayer
Additions to the Agenda or Changes
Approval of Minutes/Claims

County Office/Department Reports (Boards & Committees): 

  1. IT H-Vac System and People Trail  —  Identifed around 600K of needed spending on AC systems for the Jail (550K) and for IT Department
  2. Commissioner’s Update on the Cum Cap Timeline – Proposed tax increase. Citizens have the right to remonstrate.

Highway Superintendent Report:  

  1. Project Updates

 Other Business: 

  1. Regional Sewer District – Request for 300,000 ARPA Funds

Legal:

Commissioners:

ADJOURN – Next Regular Commissioner Meeting Wednesday, April 6, 2022 @ 2:00PM 

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