The state of Indiana took a step toward supporting its residents’ mental health with a $100 million investment the next two years.

State Sen. Jeff Raatz, a Richmond Republican, updated Wayne County Council during its June 7 meeting about that investment and Senate Bill 1, which became Public Law 162 after Gov. Eric Holcomb signed it May 4. The legislature cut the requested investment in half.

“Senate Bill 1, I would say, is an impetus; it’s the beginning to set the stage in going to a place we’ve never been before,” Raatz said.

Main points include establishing and maintaining a toll-free help line for referrals to services and intervention during a crisis, funding mental health services, and formation of an Indiana Behavioral Health Commission. The commission will assess mental health efforts in each county, including critical response teams and stabilization units that better address mental health issues than law enforcement, the criminal justice system or hospitalization.

Council member Cathy Williams said people often do not receive the mental health help they need when money is invested in law enforcement and jails.

“I’m really, really glad that the state, the legislature — so, thank you — worked on that because it’s a major issue,” she said.

Raatz said Hancock County has a crisis response team that’s called when law enforcement encounters someone struggling with mental health. The team tries to diffuse the situation for a better outcome than arrest or hospitalization.

“Eventually, that’s what we’re going to have to do in Wayne County,” council member Barry Ritter said about the response team.

County native returns

Steve Higinbotham, the county’s director of facilities and development, introduced Haley Baker to council. Baker began June 5 as the sales and marketing coordinator for the Wayne County Fairgrounds.

A Wayne County native, Baker has a Purdue degree in agricultural communications and agribusiness that fits what the fairgrounds needs, Higinbotham said. 

“Her educational background and her previous job experience, it’s almost like the job description was written for her,” he said.

Baker, who grew up in Economy, was working as a communication specialist for the NILE Stock Show & Rodeo in Billings, Montana.

“I’m really excited to be back in Wayne County,” said Baker, who wanted to be closer to family.

A committee previously identified priorities for Baker to initially address, including developing a marketing and booking website, updating promotional materials, developing a social media presence, and collaborating with partners to expand rentals.

Other business

Council members unanimously approved appropriating $274,120 for a new generator at the Wayne County Administration Building. The generator will be tasked with maintaining power to the Emergency Communications 911 center, computer servers, the Emergency Management Agency and the county’s IT department during power failures. The money includes the $249,200 bid by Carroll Electric, which commissioners awarded May 31, and a 10% contingency for unexpected costs.

Council also permitted with a unanimous vote the Wayne County Health Department to apply for a grant supplying the county with two disease intervention specialists. The new grant would supplement the harm reduction grant already received annually. The specialists would investigate disease outbreaks and notify partners to receive treatments.

The council tax abatement committee met for its annual compliance review of active tax abatements. Committee members found ITD Engineering, Taconic and Sugar Creek Packing all in compliance.

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A version of this article appeared in the June 14 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

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