Sheriff Randy Retter will get the armored vehicle he’s long wanted.

Wayne County Council designated $350,000 for a BearCat as part of $2 million in spending it approved for uncommitted American Rescue Plan Act dollars. During a Feb. 7 morning meeting, council members considered eight ARPA expenditures the county’s commissioners had recommended during the Jan. 17 council/commissioners workshop. Council approved six of them, with five 6-0 votes and a 4-2 vote on the Bearcat.

Council members Tony Gillam and Max Smith opposed the BearCat expenditure. Gillam wondered if there were other options rather than a $350,000 BearCat, especially because the city of Richmond allocated ARPA funding for a Richmond Police Department BearCat as part of the Hoosier Enduring Legacy Program. Smith said he was not comfortable spending that money on a duplicate effort.

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

Council members supporting the BearCat purchase said the vehicle has the potential to protect lives of law enforcement officers and others during an emergency. That, said council member Barry Ritter, makes it “money well-spent.”

Council members also agreed to spend:

  • $500,000 on hardscape and landscape for the courthouse and Wayne County Administration Building complex, including an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant courthouse entrance.
  • $500,000 for new data and voice cabling to county employee workstations.
  • $300,000 for new First Bank Kuhlman Center and horse barn roofs at the Wayne County Fairgrounds.
  • $250,000 to address security issues at the administration building.
  • $100,000 for engineering and contractual services needed to move forward with projects.

Two commissioners recommendations — up to $100,000 contributed toward state CreatINg Places projects in county communities not participating in HELP and up to $100,000 for solar speed limit signs — died from lack of a motion to approve.

Wayne County received $12.78 million in its ARPA allocation. Commissioners and council members conservatively spent ARPA dollars as they reserved up to $10 million for the HELP project. HELP’s 33-project strategic investment plan includes the county contributing more than $5.8 million toward 25 of the projects. That leaves about $4.3 million in uncommitted ARPA dollars.

The ARPA money must be committed, which means under contract, by the end of 2024. Programs utilizing those dollars must be in place by the end of 2025 and construction projects must be completed by the end of 2026.

With the contract deadline moving ever closer, commissioners began prioritizing projects and reached consensus on the eight recommended. An investment sheet commissioners President Jeff Plasterer presented to council included the eight recommendations previously made, seven other possible project ideas and eight ongoing projects budgeted with non-ARPA funds.

The possible projects include ideas that require development of specific plans or projects to which the funding could be assigned. Those ideas with a projected total cost of $3.85 million include:

  • $1 million for downtown revitalization throughout the county.
  • $1 million for a one-stop center to provide social services.
  • $500,000 for possible increased costs beyond the $1.5 million allocated in HELP for upgrading emergency radio communications.
  • $500,000 to help residents buy homes.
  • $500,000 to rehabilitate single-family homes.
  • $300,000 to address the county’s animal control problem after consultant Sara Pizano conducts a study this month, which is part of the HELP program, and makes recommendations.
  • $50,000 for a Journey Home program for veterans.

No action was taken on any of those ideas; however, council members surprised Plasterer by recommending 6-0 that $2,203,236 in ARPA money be spent on existing projects. Plasterer had broached with commissioners the idea of funding those projects through ARPA because it removes the ticking ARPA time clock from the projects. The idea was then to use money saved in the other funds to pay for projects still being considered for ARPA funding.

Gillam expressed that in addition to taking the projects off the time clock, saving money in other funds would provide flexibility to also consider items such as longevity pay for county employees. Council has expressed interest in longevity pay, but has not yet had the funds to provide it.

County positions are categorized and assigned wages. That ensures similar positions across all departments pay equally; however, it also means new hires receive the same wages as longer-tenured employees. Longevity pay would provide additional pay for employees based on their time worked.

Smith, who chairs council’s personnel committee, said he plans to discuss pay options prior to the 2025 budgeting process.

The expenditures are:

  • $1 million for highway department projects.
  • $344,277 for the new HVAC system being installed in First Bank Expo Hall at the fairgrounds.
  • $317,100 remaining to be paid on repairs being made to the courthouse exterior.
  • $283,959 for a new generator for the administration building.
  • $150,000 for a new highway department dump truck.
  • $76,962 remaining to be paid for the administration building’s chambers remodeling.
  • $18,130 for two sewage ejector pumps for the administration building.
  • $12,808 for a sump pump panel for the administration building.

Plasterer asked council members to agree that if ARPA funds are depleted — only $97,745 would remain if all council’s recommendations are funded — that commissioners be included in discussions about how to spend the money saved in other funds. Commissioners briefly discussed the council recommendations during their Feb. 7 afternoon meeting, but decided to study the issue before reaching any decisions on accepting the recommendations or making a counterproposal. 

Commissioner Mary Anne Butters strongly objected to the expenditures, saying they don’t spend a dime on community projects. She said projects community members said they wanted during HELP input meetings and projects that make a difference in the community should be favored, rather than regular county expenses.

Butters also said commissioners should not have waited for HELP to plan ARPA uses, which would have alleviated the deadline problem. Wayne County was assigned to the third HELP cohort that began in 2023, rather than one of the initial two cohorts during 2022.

“We dithered, so let’s not punish the community for all that dithering,” Butters said.

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A version of this article appeared in the February 14 2024 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

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