Wayne County’s commissioners have approved another distribution of opioid settlement funds, granting $201,970.02 to area law enforcement agencies.

A unanimous vote 3-0 in favor of the fund usage happened at their April 24 regular meeting.

Requested items on police department wish lists submitted to commissioners included funds for K-9 programs ($28,500 for Sheriff’s office, $7K for Hagerstown, $6K for Fountain City), $30K for a hand-held drug detector (Cambridge City) and tens of thousands of dollars for updated encryption-ready radios for each of Hagerstown, Milton, Centerville and Greens Fork. There are also requests for weapons and ammunition, vests, safety equipment, computers, cameras, and vehicle accessories.

Commissioners began soliciting ideas for how to use the dollars in October, when it was expected to receive over $400K in settlement funds for 2023. The latest approval spends down most of the remaining $204,738.38 balance that remains after previous funding decisions. Funds originally requested by the Sheriff’s office for a jail navigator position will now likely instead come through health department funds.

Another $200K was approved as funding for Bridges for Life to initiate its Building Together program, aimed at providing housing and employment to individuals struggling to secure both, while teaching marketable construction trade skills. Commissioners had already donated two properties to the organization to renovate.

The funds come from the 2021 settlement with opioid manufacturers, distributors, and retailers for their role in the opioid epidemic. Indiana is receiving $507 million over 18 years, and half those funds are being sent to county and local governments. Approved uses of the monies include abatement strategies such as drugs to reverse overdoses, preventing opioid misuse, addiction treatment and recovery, addressing the needs of pregnant or parenting women and their families, public education, training and coordination for first responders, and a variety of related programs.

Commissioners heard from representatives of Dunn & Associates about the renewal of the county’s health insurance plan, estimated to cost around $4.3 million for the new plan year. The county’s plan usage has beaten expectations when it comes to the ratio of dollars paid out to premiums collected. The commissioners discussed continuing to make use of telehealth options, patient assistance programs and employee education to keep claims down.

Commissioners voted to alter an Oct. 24, 2023, structure removal order that had been issued for the home at 2927 Westview Drive in Richmond after a structure fire and subsequent deterioration had made the structure unsafe. The property had since been sold to Andrew Morgan Properties LLC without owner Andrew Morgan’s knowledge of the removal order. Morgan said he had crews already working on remodeling the home. Commissioners approved a revised order that the property now has to be rehabilitated and secured on or before Oct. 2, 2024.

Commissioners considered an ordinance to require contractors installing or working on on-site sewage and septic systems to register with the county health department. The change was requested by health inspector Dan Burk, who said it would improve communication about permitting, inspections, code changes, legislative updates or other details affecting contractor work.

Commissioners also heard from highway engineer Brandon Sanders about his continued concerns around the gap in funding available for planned construction and repairs on county bridges. There is not currently a clear path to make up the $4.2 million shortage that has resulted from ballooning material and labor costs. Commissioner Mary Anne Butters said that any “tough decisions” about deferring bridge maintenance should be made after looking at the details of inspection scores, level of deterioration and bridge age. “Somebody’s going to come to their senses that counties cannot eat this inflation alone,” Butters said.

Commissioners approved Sheriff Randy Retter’s plans to pursue a contract for vending machines to be placed in secure areas of the Wayne County Jail. Retter said that he’d like inmates to have more immediate access to certain food options instead of ordering them and waiting. He hopes to offer healthy options beyond traditional vending machine “junk food.”

Commissioner Brad Dwenger reported on efforts to better publicly recognize county employees’ accomplishments and milestones. Dwenger said with so many negative things being discussed about local governments, he wants to highlight the people who work hard every day in service of the community.

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A version of this article appeared in the May 1 2024 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Chris Hardie is the owner and publisher of the Western Wayne News.