COUNTY NEWS: More trail funding; IT threats; highway work update

More funding offered for phase of Salt Creek Trail

The Brown County Commissioners voted to accept additional funding for a phase of the Salt Creek Trail at their Dec. 6 meeting.

Brown County Highway Superintendent Mike Magner said that the Indiana Department of Transportation provided a supplement to the contract for phase three of the Salt Creek Trail, increasing the funding limit by 1 percent. That amounts to an additional $20,752, bringing the total funding for the trail phase from the Brown County YMCA to Parkview Road to $1,955,664.

“They are allowing for a little bit of an inflation adjustment,” Magner said. “At this point right now, they are guaranteeing they will hold that money until some time in 2021. That money will be guaranteed to be there; after that time frame it would have to be renegotiated.”

About six months ago, INDOT offered to extend the timeline to complete phase three of the trail due to delays involved with bridges. There have been delays on INDOT’s end with getting bridges to Brown County, which will connect the Department of Natural Resources phase of the trail on the state park end with the end of phase three near Parkview Road.

The placement of the bridges has been at the center of public debate with homeowners Gary and Sheila Oliver. They have been asking the commissioners to stop INDOT from placing a large bridge on their property.

The additional funding INDOT offered the county would not go toward the phase of the trail that would affect the Olivers.

Commissioners Diana Biddle and Jerry Pittman voted in favor of the funding. “It doesn’t hurt us at all,” Biddle said. “If we can work out the issues between now and 2021, the money is programmed.”

Commissioner Dave Anderson abstained from voting. In a follow-up interview last week asking for his reason for abstaining, Anderson said he supported the additional funding.

Courtroom technology, bailiff placement to change

Changes are coming to the historic Brown County courtroom.

County IT Director Ric Fox is working on upgrading the video equipment. It’s used so that defendants who are incarcerated can participate in a court hearing through video instead of being transported from jail or the Department of Corrections to the courthouse.

“We’ve been doing this for about three years now. We put them in the room at the jail, they can talk to the court at that point and there’s no transportation or anything. It works out really well,” Fox said.

The equipment is becoming “antiquated” and needs to be replaced. Fox is also changing out the microphones and the recording devices in the courtroom. Court reporters are having trouble hearing conversations and making complete records for the court, Fox said.

There are also plans to remodel the courtroom slightly to move Bailiff Andy Reed to the front. Currently, Reed is seated at a desk in the back.

“It’s not a real good place for a bailiff to sit, so we’re going to move him to the front, off to the side, the same level as the bench, so he can be up above and see down,” Fox said.

He will be seated to the right side of the judge’s bench, near the jury room door.

Firm conducting security evaluation on county systems

A Columbus firm will conduct an evaluation on the county’s computer systems.

The county government’s email firewall device is eight to 10 years old, IT Director Ric Fox told the Brown County Commissioners Dec. 6.

Fox said he is working to move to a cloud-based system because it’s easier to maintain and support.

The part of that project requires having a firm do an infrastructure performance and security evaluation. “It gives me a better picture of where we stand when it comes to virus attacks and ransomware,” Fox said.

Ransomware can get transferred to a person’s computer when a person gets an email with a link asking for the recipient to click on it. If a person clicks that link, it will install software on the computer to get around the firewall.

Fox said he gets emails daily from county government employees asking if emails are legitimate or not. “Nine times out of 10 they are right; it’s wrong. Don’t click on it. They’ve been very good about making my job a lot easier,” he said.

Hackers have also sent emails to employees trying to get them to write checks in a short period of time. Fox said those hackers will do research on the county website to find employees who may be new and not know how all of the offices work together.

“The treasurer got one from (Commissioner Dave) Anderson about eight to 10 months ago. It was addressed to Mary Smith at our treasurer’s office and it was from Mr. Anderson. He said, ‘Mary I need you to get with Doug in the auditor’s office and get this $10,000 check written to our consultant in Indianapolis by the end of the day,'” Fox said.

“She had 15 minutes to complete the task. She called me and said, ‘I don’t think Mr. Anderson would send me an email like this,’ and I said, ‘You’re exactly right. He did not.’”

Fox said hackers do this on a daily basis.

Highway update: Bridge repair, striping, repaving

During bridge inspections, the Brown County Highway Department discovered a bridge on Grandview Road that will need extensive repairs.

“It was unexpected. It’s not really that old of a bridge,” Magner said. “Due to some moisture issues on steel beams, we had poles rusted in the beams that we had to go in and put in temporary supports and jack it up to take care of that.”

Magner said the department will have to do “extensive repairs” on the bridge next summer, but the bridge can remain open through the winter and that school buses can still use it.

“We’ll keep an eye on it weekly to make sure everything stays good there,” Magner said.

The week of Nov. 27, center and edge line striping was done on the 21-and-a-half miles that were paved using Community Crossing funding. Salt Creek Road, Sweetwater Trail, T.C. Steele Road and Crooked Creek Road were on that list.

Commissioner Diana Biddle asked Magner if plans were being made with the Indiana Department of Transportation to repair Lick Creek Road, since the State Road 135 North bridge in Morgan County is now open. Lick Creek was used as a detour route during that closure.

Magner said his department will make repairs and get reimbursed by the state. Lick Creek was on the list to be paved next year, but since the county did not receive Community Crossing funds for next year, plans will have to “reshuffle.”

“There’s about a half-mile section there that really needs it,” Magner said. “It’s about half of the section between Cottonwood Road and Three Story Hill Road on Lick Creek, mainly up closer to Three Story. It definitely needs to be fixed.”