By Nicholette Carlson
SYRACUSE — Amidst a few technical difficulties, the Turkey Creek Dam and Dike Conservancy District made it through all 16 agenda items and passed multiple motions in its lengthy first board meeting Thursday, Jan. 28.
Following a quick call to order, Pledge of Allegiance and roll call, the five board members discussed the requirements for board meetings. A quorum consists of three or more board members meeting together and these meetings must be announced a minimum of 48 hours prior and open to the public. Minutes must also be kept for these meetings as a matter of public record. Bill Pipp mentioned the possibility of later constructing a website with information including minutes and agendas.
The first motion to use the Wawasee Area Conservancy Foundation facility as the conservancy’s primary office and official address was passed unanimously via roll call since Carolyn Anderson joined the meeting via Zoom.
Officers of the board of directors were elected. Pipp was proposed as chairperson, Anderson as vice chairperson and John Earnest as secretary/treasurer. All offices passed unanimously.
After the agenda items were approved by the board, a discussion of consultant proposals was moved to the top of the agenda. The company Baker Tilly, represented by Jeff Rowe via Zoom, had submitted a letter of engagement to the conservancy to work as its financial consultant. Conversations with Baker Tilly references were discussed, along with a mention of the company’s years of experience with conservancies. Rowe mentioned an approximate $19,000 to $20,000 in costs for services and thanked the board members for their consideration. A motion was passed to unanimously approve Baker Tilly as their financial consultant.
David Hollenbeck briefly discussed his letter of engagement to serve as the conservancy’s attorney. He also mentioned his rate of $175 an hour, which is the rate charged to government entities. A motion to retain his services as conservancy attorney was unanimously passed.
Board members had also received a letter of engagement from Lawson-Fisher Associates P.C. as an engineering consultant. Breagan Eicher joined the meeting via Zoom to represent Lawson-Fisher. Eicher described that, specifically referring to the dike project, the business would work with the conservancy on surveys, technical analysis, plans for any additional structures, permitting, coordination with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, assist with the bidding process and provide construction inspection to ensure a top-notch product was delivered.
Jim Silcox asked Eicher if the dike project plans would help to discourage the muskrats and beavers. Eicher stated it would. Specifics of the dike project, such as necessary property clearance, time frame schedule and the size and location of the new dike were discussed. In the best case scenario, construction of the new dike could potentially be completed before the end of this year.
However, the first order of business for Lawson-Fisher would be to assist the conservancy in developing a district plan. The conservancy’s district plan must be completed 120 days from Dec. 22. Once the district plan is complete, it must be approved by the DNR. After receiving the DNR’s approval, there must be a hearing in circuit court. Only after receiving the court’s approval can work begin to take place on the dike.
A motion to engage Lawson-Fisher as engineering consultant for the first task of developing the district plan was passed unanimously.
Some concern was expressed regarding the private owners of the dike property and how they do not wish to lose ownership. Pipp and Silcox are in communication with the private owners and plan to discuss various options for moving forward.
Steve Snyder was present at the board meeting to discuss the conservancy getting the deed for the dam from the town of Syracuse. He also suggested including an agreement for an easement over Veteran’s Park for dam maintenance. Hollenbeck stated the sign over of the deed should be included in the district plan. Board members also plan to discuss an agreement with the town the town will remain in control of the water flow and general maintenance of the dam while the conservancy will be in charge of the flood control structure and receive the necessary access.
Snyder mentioned a legal drain that was present on private property across from what the conservancy would own. He suggested acquiring a portion of that property from the owner to ensure the conservancy could maintain it should any future problems arise.
A motion was passed for Snyder to move forward with getting the deed for the dam signed over from the town.
Regarding dike access, Snyder also recommended the conservancy should acquire the portions of property owned by the WACF and a private homeowner since the conservancy has more liability coverage available should future improvements need to be made. These proposed acquisitions should also be included in the district plan should the board choose to move forward with his recommendation.
In working with the Department of Local Government Finance, board members decided they would be self-funded for the first year, but will apply for special benefits for 2022. Additional money that was held over from the dam project was agreed to be used partially on the forming of the conservancy.
Hollenbeck will put together a resolution stating the means of funding for 2022 will be special benefits. He explained that, once the board determines an official fund budget, the certified assessed value will be necessary to determine the tax rate, which will appear as a line item on the freeholders’ property tax bills. Board members also requested Hollenbeck move forward with putting together an additional cumulative improvement fund for savings for future improvement projects.
Hollenbeck informed the board it needs to meet quarterly and announce the dates for the meetings at its first meeting of the year. An annual meeting would also need to be held, which could be combined with the board’s first quarter meeting. The fourth Thursday of the first month in each quarter was proposed. This places the next three meetings for the year April 22, July 22 and Oct. 28. Future meetings will be held at 9 a.m. at the WACF building. The first annual meeting and first quarter board meeting of next year will take place back to back beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022.
The board was also reminded special meetings could be called as necessary, as long as 48 hours notice was given to the public. Earnest mentioned there will be a great deal coming up in the next few months that will need to be approved by the board, likely requiring more meetings.
Board members considered it prudent to review their mission statement to ensure that, moving forward, all future endeavors would be in line with their purpose. The mission of the conservancy is to address flood prevention and control and improve drainage. All of these projects will be done to serve the conservancy’s freeholders.
Board members reviewed public participation guideline recommendations given to them by Hollenbeck. The board wishes to be as transparent as possible. At upcoming meetings, there will be a sign-in sheet for public participation. Anyone who wishes to participate will have three minutes to speak and it must pertain to an item on the agenda. This portion will take place following the approval of the agenda at the beginning of the meeting. The proposal was passed.
Earnest requested moving forward with finding a fireproof cabinet for their records, researching better internet connection options and purchasing an American flag.
The next meeting will be at 9 a.m. Thursday, April 22, at the WACF building.