Applicant projects were prioritized through scoring system

Twenty-three applicants should know this month whether they’ll receive a share of Wayne County’s 2022 opioid settlement disbursement.

On Feb. 8, the county commissioners set their commitment goal to help interested agencies apply for $25 million the state has made available in additional grants. Local matches are required by applicants for state funds, and any opioid settlement money the county awards could qualify as matching funds. Deadline for the state applications is Feb. 28.

Commissioners established a preliminary list of awards for the $413,748.19 the county received last year in the national settlement with opioid manufacturer Johnson & Johnson and distributors Cardinal Health, McKesson and Amerisource Berger. The 23 applicants requested $1,244,596.

Prior to the meeting, each commissioner had scored the 23 applicants based on a scale Commissioner Mary Anne Butters created that prioritized saving lives. The discussion began with a philosophical difference previously expressed. In her preparation, Butters had allocated some money to each applicant.

“I do not think that we should award every applicant with funding,” Commissioner Jeff Plasterer said. “I think we should award the ones that scored highest, and that we think will have the most impact, enough funds to actually do what they said they could do.”

Commissioner Brad Dwenger then said: “I agree with that.”

All three commissioners agreed that each applicant’s program had merit, and Butters said she did not want to discourage any of the programs by not providing them with some funds. Plasterer and Dwenger recommended allocating a higher percentage of requested funding to fewer applicants.

“Giving them a little doesn’t do anything when we can fully fund somebody,” Dwenger said. “I was trying to see the most impact for the $413,000 we have right now.”

Commissioners added the three scores assigned to each applicant and prioritized those with the top total scores. Nine applicants scored more than 200 points each. Commissioners then discussed preliminary awards to the highest scoring applicants.

With a preliminary allocation established, Plasterer said he would continue discussions with the city of Richmond about priorities for its 2022 settlement distribution and how they align with the county’s priorities. The city received about $375,000 in 2022 to distribute.

The county will receive about $1.9 million total through 2038; however, the annual distributions decrease significantly after the 2022 initial allotments. The county will receive $74,688.59 in 2023, according to the Indiana Attorney General’s most recent estimates.

Broadband work

Commissioners discussed utility agreements for fiber optic installations supplying broadband with Brandon Sanders, the county engineer, and Mike Sharp, the county highway superintendent.

The two are currently checking right of way permit requests for each section of broadband installations, especially for Charter Communications. Charter has installations progressing through Wayne County from the north and the south.

Sanders called the number of permit requests overwhelming. In the end, the group decided to maintain the permitting process because it provides the county an opportunity to evaluate any potential problems with overhead and underground fiber lines.

Project progress

Steve Higinbotham, the county’s director of facilities and development, told commissioners that enough materials have now arrived for a courthouse bathrooms renovation project to begin.

He said the start date is Feb. 27. The project is expected to cost $549,196.

Commissioners also discussed their June 6 deed sale. To be included in the sale, the properties must be provided to a judge Feb. 22 for transfer of ownership to commissioners.

Twenty-two properties are planned to go to the judge. Several of those, however, might be given to other entities. For example, one small property on Front Street adjacent to Creitz Park has been offered to Cambridge City, and another is offered to the Society for the Preservation and Use of Resources.

The former Crain Sanitarium at 2116 E. Main St. and its neighbor at 2110 E. Main St. will not be in the deed sale. Plasterer checked with Richmond and the Richmond Neighborhood Restoration and found some interest in the historic Crain building on the northwest corner of East Main and North 22nd streets.

Commissioners are reluctant to take possession of those buildings because they could be stuck with upkeep responsibilities should they not sell at the deed sale.

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