An armored vehicle created the most controversy among Wayne County Council members when they considered possible expenditures of American Rescue Plan Act dollars.

During the Jan. 17 workshop, the county’s commissioners presented council members with recommendations for some of the county’s remaining $4.3 million in uncommitted ARPA funds. Commissioners had reached a consensus about the recommendations during their Jan. 10 meeting.

The nine recommendations account for about $2.25 million. Commissioners hope to soon receive council blessings to move forward with at least some of the recommended projects. ARPA money must be committed by contract before the end of 2024.

Recommendations include: hardscape and landscape for the county government complex; new voice and data cabling to employee work stations; new roofs for First Bank Kuhlman Center and the horse barn at the Wayne County Fairgrounds; security improvements in county buildings; a BearCat armored vehicle; support for CreatINg Places projects for communities that did not participate in the Hoosier Enduring Legacy Program; solar speed limit signs; support for the Journey Home transitional housing project for veterans; and money for engineering and contractual services related to ARPA projects.

Sheriff Randy Retter showed an example of a BearCat armored vehicle during a May presentation to council members and commissioners. Photo by Mike Emery

The BearCat for the sheriff’s department drew the most conversation and criticism. Council members Tony Gillam and Max Smith questioned the BearCat’s need with Richmond Police Department ordering an armored vehicle as a HELP project.

“Is it just the best place to spend the funds?” Gillam asked.

Sheriff Randy Retter, who committed to funding any cost beyond $350,000, said the vehicle is essential in today’s world, and multiple situations have required response from multiple armored vehicles. He said the county needs to be self-sufficient rather than needing response from Richmond, Randolph County or the Indiana State Police.

Earlier that day, the sheriff’s department needed an armored vehicle from Randolph County to end a standoff situation on Helm Road. Retter said when the vehicle pulled into the front yard, the suspect gave up without incident, possibly saving his life and the lives of officers.

Ritter said he has been in and understands the dangerous situations officers face and thinks the BearCat is a good investment. Council member Cathy Williams said having the right tool makes a difference, especially when lives are at risk.

Communities across the nation have wrestled with the proper use of military-style vehicles in community policing. The availability of grants and surplus equipment has made armored vehicles more accessible, while raising concerns about the ways they might create distance between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.

In 2018, the city of Bloomington attempted to find a compromise by authorizing the purchase of a BearCat armored vehicle but prohibiting its use for crowd control operations or the use of “affixed firearms, water cannons and devices that can fire a projectile,” according to reporting by the Bloomington Herald-Times.

Council delayed taking any action on the recommendations.

Fairgrounds update

Haley Baker, the fairgrounds’ sales and marketing coordinator, provided an update of her work since she began June 5.

Baker distributed marketing pamphlets and showcased the fairgrounds’ new website and social media presence on Facebook and Instagram. Potential renters can fill out an online form through the website.

The fairgrounds already has 12 new and 38 returning renters on its 2024 calendar. Rentals provided $153,942.65 of income during 2023, the highest total in the past six years. Rental income was $93,239.25 in 2022.

Claims change

Council members voted unanimously to provide Auditor Mark Hoelscher $2,500 to handle expense claims digitally.

Hoelscher will use a system from SBA Portals, the company scanning and digitally storing the clerk’s records. The money includes $1,500 for setup and $1,000 for training. The system will then cost $350 a month to maintain that Hoelscher said will come from the IT budget.

Hoelscher also plans to handle the 2025 budgeting process digitally when it begins later this year.

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A version of this article appeared in the January 24 2024 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Mike Emery is a reporter and layout editor for the Western Wayne News.