What should $4 million in uncommitted federal relief funds be spent on to improve Wayne County? Should the county focus on quality of life improvements, catching up on infrastructure maintenance, highly visible projects that add to community pride, or something else?

Those were the questions that Wayne County’s commissioners wrestled with during their morning Sept. 20 meeting and again during a joint workshop with Wayne County council later that same day.

Projects under consideration include a fuel tank replacement (estimated at $500K), landscaping updates at county government buildings ($500K), new cabling for an updated network and phone system at the county ($500K), hiring a grant writing firm ($200K) and increasing homeownership opportunities ($350K).

Commissioner Mary Anne Butters advocated for prioritizing projects that would make a noticeable difference to local residents. She reminded the group that the funds were allocated to help the community recover from the pandemic, and favored ideas like improving animal control and shelter options or helping with housing issues over something less visible like a fuel tank replacement. “There’s no community pride in replacing a leaky tank,” Butters said.

Commissioner Jeff Plasterer didn’t disagree, but said that if the repair needed to happen and the county didn’t have the funds allocated elsewhere, it could be an appropriate use of the money. “Any money we’re spending is for the benefit of the citizens of Wayne County,” Plasterer said.

But as the commissioners went through the list of project ideas, it never got shorter, only longer. All in all, the project estimates totaled up to more than $6 million, so some decisions will have to be made before the funds are committed by the end of 2024.

In other business, the commissioners:

  • Discussed communications around the upcoming end of the three-year lease agreement with the Well Care Community Health center
  • Heard updates on facilities improvements, including that improvements to the courthouse’s exterior should be finished before winter, and that courthouse bathroom renovations will be finished soon
  • Heard from Steve Higinbotham, director of facilities and development, about a visit to the Indiana statehouse a few weeks ago where he testified about the proposed flood map changes being considered by the Department of Natural Resources, along with related rules imposed on land owners that may be creating hardships.
  • Approved making two firearms available for purchase by officers eligible for retirement, Randy Brown and Rick Thalls, at half the estimated replacement cost
  • Heard from Matthew Cain, director of Wayne County Emergency Management Agency, about updates to the county’s hazardous materials plan and a continued contract for quality improvement at the county’s dispatch center
  • Rejected a request to have a former employee who is now returning to county employment be able to regain their previously accrued vacation time
  • Discussed plans to implement an employee parking policy
  • Finalized 13 paid holidays for employees during 2024

During the joint council and commissioners workshop the same day, in addition to discussing ARPA fund allocation ideas, the group also:

  • Appropriated funds to help pay for the community coordinator position created to facilitate the HELP funding process
  • Transferred funds between accounts to cover the salary of the grant clerk role
  • Approved a final distribution of the jail bond fund
  • Heard from executive director of Wayne County Health Department Christine Stinson about plans for the use of $29,400 in additional dollars left over from the six Indiana counties that did not opt-in to the Health First Indiana program. Those include improving digital file storage, access to a third party service that will streamline reporting and financial record keeping, and a “hidden in plain sight” mobile trailer to educate parents on signs of smoking, vaping or drug use in their child’s bedrooms.
  • Approved or otherwise acted on various salary ordinance amendments and personnel requests
  • Reviewed changes and clarifications for the proposed 2024 budget, which is set for a public hearing on Oct. 4. at 8 a.m. in the Wayne County Administration Building, 401 E. Main St.
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A version of this article appeared in the September 27 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

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