A worker at Sugar Creek Packing Company's Cambridge City, IN facility. File photo

HELP group planning public meetings 

Sugar Creek Packing Company is investing nearly $11 million in building and equipment expansions at its Cambridge City facility.

And the company has asked Wayne County for some tax relief.

The county council’s tax abatement committee reviewed Sugar Creek’s two abatement applications Feb. 1 and unanimously voted recommending that council approve them. Council plans to put the abatement issue on its March 1 meeting agenda.

Sugar Creek said it will invest $8,727,246 in three building projects: expanding a building, raising the roof of a building and expanding its chemical room. That investment qualifies for a real estate abatement.

The company also plans to invest $2,174,740 in new equipment, which qualifies for a personal property abatement.

Both abatements would be standard 10-year abatements that begin with 100% tax relief that decreases annually by 10 percentage points through the 10 years.

Sugar Creek will not add to its 571-person workforce because of the projects. The company’s annual payroll is just short of $30 million, according to its application.

The company has added 26 employees and more than $2 million in payroll since the tax abatement committee conducted its annual compliance review of Sugar Creek’s existing abatements last May. If council approves the new abatements, they would be Sugar Creek’s sixth and seventh abatements.

Sugar Creek assumed a real estate abatement after taking over the Gateway Industrial Park facility from Really Cool Foods. It also received personal property abatements in 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.

The new investments will raise Sugar Creek’s total investments to more than $137 million in personal property and nearly $83 million in real estate.

HELP progress

The county’s Hoosier Enduring Legacy Program coalition is working through a community outreach plan now that the county coalition’s HELP cohort has begun.

Commissioner Jeff Plasterer updated county council Feb. 1 about the HELP program’s progress. 

The coalition of county government along with Cambridge City, Dublin, Economy, East Germantown, Milton, Richmond and Spring Grove was selected by the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs for the HELP program that provides planning assistance to most effectively spend American Rescue Plan Act dollars. The group has about $12.5 million combined, although each entity controls how its money is spent.

Input meetings are required in each participating community, and OCRA expects them to be completed by the end of February. Plasterer said that those meetings likely would be clustered toward the end of the month and that OCRA understands the county might need some extra time to conduct eight meetings.

Wayne County’s HELP group involves by far the most participating entities among the three groups involved in the program’s third cohort. The Franklin County group involves the county and Brookville, while Connersville stands alone.

While organizing community outreach, Wayne County’s group is developing four committees, one for each of the four target areas of the HELP program. They are health and wellness, economic vitality, broadband and digital literacy and quality of place and are chaired by Sharrie Harlin Davis, Valerie Shaffer, Acacia St. John and Mary Walker.

Plasterer also provided more details about the additional $1 million OCRA provides to cohort participants. That money is designated for communities planning projects to help low and moderate income people, he said. Cambridge City, Dublin, East Germantown and Milton qualify as low and moderate income communities through the 2020 census.

Deed sale

During their afternoon meeting, commissioners reviewed properties that are candidates for their June 6 deed sale.

Properties that will be included must be provided to a judge Feb. 22 so that ownership can be transfered to commissioners, enabling them to sell the properties.

One property sold last year had a city of Richmond unsafe building order to demolish the house, bringing complaints from the buyer. To avoid repeating that situation, the Feb. 1 review included several properties with such orders that were removed from the sale pending the demolitions. 

Richmond will be asked its preference about other properties with liens applied because demolitions have already occurred. If commissioners take ownership of those properties, the liens are canceled.

Two East Main Street properties were included in the discussion. The former Crain Sanitarium building at 2116 E. Main St. and its neighbor at 2110 E. Main St. are both eligible for the sale.

Commissioners expressed concern about taking ownership of those properties. If they don’t sell, commissioners would be responsible for upkeep and, if it came to it, demolition, which could prove controversial.

Plasterer said he would consult with Richmond Neighborhood Restoration and Indiana Landmarks on any interest they might have in the properties. Richmond has removed deteriorated porches from both properties.

The Crain building was previously embroiled in an ownership dispute that went to court, then was dismissed, after Heaven and Benjamin Johnson reneged on a contract purchase from Kristopher Nelson. County property records show Nelson as the owner in care of the Johnsons. Mark Olson of Oelwein, Iowa, is listed as the owner of 2110 E. Main St.  

Salary study

Council and commissioners Feb. 1 approved a contract with consultant Waggoner Irwin Scheele & Associates for a salary study this year.

The contract will cost up to $26,680 plus travel expenses, with the study to be completed by Aug. 1.

Consultant Kent Irwin attended council’s meeting to hear concerns and requests for the study, which follows a similar 2017 study. The study compares and classifies county jobs with the goal of creating equity and consistency across departments and compares Wayne County salaries to those in other counties.

Council asked Irwin about longevity pay. That pay outside of a position’s base rate ensures that veteran employees make more than new hires. Council, though, decided more discussion was needed before authorizing Irwin to formulate a longevity pay system.

Other concerns include the comparison of bookkeeping positions with different job duties across county departments and how highway department employees are classified and paid relative to the external market.

Annex projects

Wednesday’s council and commissioners meetings were conducted in the Wayne County Administration Building’s first floor conference area because construction has begun on the upstairs chambers.

Thor Construction expects the renovation to take just short of two months. The overall project’s projected cost is $197,439, including furniture and audio/visual technology.

A large trash container sat outside the annex building, and cardboard covered the hallway to protect carpeting.

An annex safety measure has also been completed. Film has been placed over the building’s doors. One film prevents the glass from shattering and another reflective film prevents those outside from seeing through the doors into the building.

That project cost $11,894.

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