By David Slone
WARSAW — Everything that went before the Kosciusko County Council on Thursday, Jan. 13, was unanimously approved, except a transfer for legal services, which was approved by a vote of 4-3.
Kosciusko County Administrator Marsha McSherry presented the transfer of $63,000 in the county cumulative capital development fund, which is part of the county commissioners’ budget, from CCD land and improvements to legal services.
Councilwoman Kimberly Cates asked if the $63,000 was for county attorney Ed Ormsby’s 2021 bill, and McSherry said that was correct.
“And this is in addition to what was budgeted?” Cates asked.
“Yes, it was,” McSherry replied.
For 2020 expended, legal services were listed as $57,788. The 2021 adopted budget listed legal services as $58,000, while the commissioners requested $131,000 for legal services for 2022. The county council only approved a 4% increase for legal services for 2022, putting it at $60,320. Ormsby took over as county attorney Jan. 1, 2021.
In October 2021, Commissioner Cary Groninger said the commissioners and Ormsby worked it out and did away with the contract that had been in place. Going forward, Ormsby would be paid $200 an hour and he would bill the county by the hour.
Thursday, Councilwoman Kathy Groninger made a motion to approve the transfer for legal services and Councilman Ernie Wiggins seconded it. Kathy Groninger, Wiggins, Council President Sue Ann Mitchell and Councilman Mike Long voted in favor of it. Council Vice President Joni Truex, Cates and Councilman Jon Garber voted against the transfer.
Mitchell said she wanted to “qualify” her vote as she wasn’t sure the council had a choice on it.
“We know that we fixed the problem,” she said.
Cates then said she wanted to qualify her vote. She said she would have liked to have seen the bill for legal services and that it be specific.
Truex said, “And I would also like to say that, from what I understand, the bill only goes through November so I guess you’ll be back” because December 2021 hasn’t been billed yet.
McSherry said the bill was through the end of November and she hadn’t received the December bill yet.
“And when he came before the Council before, he told us he would start billing timely. I don’t think waiting until December is billing timely,” Truex stated.
Kathy Groninger then qualified her vote by saying Ormsby was within his bounds and the county already resolved the issue for 2022.
Cates agreed he was within the bounds of his contract, but, “at the same time, because we are so much over budget on this item, it would have been very gracious to have received a specific detail of it. For a full year, that seems extreme.”
Garber agreed he would have liked to seen some of the expenditures listed because he thought there may be some that he didn’t agree with. “Ditto,” Truex said.
Wiggins said he just had his December billing done, too, and “it’s not like you don’t have other things to do.” He said Ormsby only had the December billing to do.
“We didn’t get billed for January through November until just now,” Truex said. “And, also, there’s some things billed that … aren’t in the area of the commissioners’ responsibility.”
After the meeting, Truex said McSherry didn’t receive the legal services bill until Dec. 14 and the auditor received it Dec. 17, which was after the Council’s December meeting.
Wiggins referred to Truex’s comments as “editorial.”
Some of the special projects Ormsby worked on in 2021 for the commissioners included the county being a Constitutional Sanctuary County and a Second Amendment Sanctuary County. They also invited Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita to the county to speak on school issues like critical race theory, which, after Thursday’s meeting, Truex said was a school board issue.
Mitchell said the county has covered it and they’ve fixed it going forward.
In other business, the Council approved:
• Nominations to have Mitchell serve as president and Truex as vice president for 2022.
• Additional appropriations under the American Rescue Plan Act, which already were approved by the commissioners and council, as requested by McSherry. “These are just the additional appropriations to appropriate these funds for expenditure,” she said.
They include $1,632,379 for communication radios for police and fire departments; $2.4 million for the remainder of the public safety communications project; $522,882 for Economic Development Income Tax (EDIT) reimbursement; and $771,670 for administrative expenses, which is 10% of the $7.7 million the county received in ARPA funds.
• The establishment of the community coordinator position, as requested by Cary Groninger. A $20,000 Hoosier Enduring Legacy Program (HELP) grant and ARPA funds will help pay for the position, which will help small communities in the county apply for grants and other funds, for the next few years.
Groninger said they started the interview process for hiring the coordinator on Wednesday.
• Emily Shipley to the Lakeland Regional Sewer District Board. She fills the vacant seat on the board, which was held by Mitchell, who stepped down in November. Shipley’s term expires April 18, 2023.
• Superior Court I Judge Karin McGrath’s request to apply for the 2023 Juvenile Detention Alternatives Grant. The grant includes $15,000 in implementation funding and $55,000 for programming.
• A 2022 salary ordinance amendment for the Purdue Extension Office to pay $18.73 per hour for the 4-H STEM program assistant.
• A 2022 salary ordinance amendment for the Sheriff’s Office to pay $18.51 per hour for two part-time experienced sheriff positions. Chief Deputy Shane Bucher said the two men oversee the evidence room plus they’ve been given the additional responsibility of overseeing the sex offenders in the county.
“They do all the checks. They go out to the home checks and do all that stuff. They do all the paperwork here at the sheriff’s office. It has increased their responsibility, their work load. So that’s why we come before you to ask for the increase,” he said.
• Health Department Administrator Bob Weaver’s request for a 2022 salary ordinance amendment to reflect employee changes that occurred after the salary ordinance was approved in 2021 by the Council for 2022. The annual salaries are $35,217 for a registrar I/bookkeeper and $38,864 for a registrar III/secretary. Weaver said the health department was “fully staffed now.”
To pay for the annual salary increases, two transfers also were approved. The first was for $1,755 from meeting and travel expenses to registrar I/bookkeeper and the second was $5,402 from meeting and travel expenses to registrar III/secretary.
Weaver also requested an additional appropriation of $40,000. He said the health department took in about $80,000 in 2021 in CARES Act funds to be used in COVID-19 testing and immunization, but he still had about half of that left. He asked for the additional appropriation so he could use the remaining $40,000 in 2022. The Council approved Weaver’s request 7-0.
• An additional appropriation of $20,800 for the Highway Department for advanced warning signs that go on roads for railroad crossings. The warnings were started in 2021 and the additional appropriation will help finish the work out in 2022.
• An additional appropriation of $15,000 for the annual Hazardous Materials Emergency Preparedness Grant, as requested by Emergency Management Agency Director Ed Rock. He said it used to be a matching grant but the match is now waived. Of the $15,000, a third will be used for a contractor to plan a required exercise and the other $10,000 will be used for HAZMAT training at the technician level.