COUNTY NEWS: Ambulance contract update, ghost employment concerns, OCRA grants and more

County in talks with IU Health for ambulance

The Brown County Commissioners are working with Indiana University Health to try to provide ambulance service in the county when the current contract with Columbus Regional Health expires at the end of March.

In December, the commissioners approved a three-month ambulance contract with CRH. The previous contract expired Dec. 31.

For years, the hospital has provided two ambulances in Brown County on contract, but CRH wanted to drop down to one. CRH did not bid when the commissioners opened proposals for the next three years of service.

At the Feb. 3 commissioners meeting, commissioner Diana Biddle announced the county was in discussion with IU Health Lifeline to provide ambulance service here by April 1.

Biddle said that there has already been a “very large uptick” of people applying to IU Health to be an EMT or paramedic. “The plan is that anyone who applies from Brown County specifically for Brown County will be stationed here,” Biddle said.

“They don’t have to worry about someone applying who lives in Brown County, then they move them and say, ‘We’re going to send you down to Bedford today.’ Anyone who applies to work for Brown County will be stationed in Brown County.”

Biddle said more details would be available at the Feb. 17 meeting.

Process outlined for ghost employment complaints

After being contacted by a few people concerned about ghost employment happening in the county, Brown County Council President Dave Redding outlined the process to report concerns at the council’s first meeting of the year.

According to Indiana Code, the ghost employment rule is that “a state officer, employee or special state appointee shall not engage in, or direct others to engage in, work other than the performance of official duties during working hours, except as permitted by general written agency, departmental or institutional policy or regulation.”

Redding said at the Jan. 19 council meeting that the issue about ghost employment came up because of different work arrangements due to COVID-19 restrictions. He said that when COVID-19 hit, he worked with the county commissioners and office leaders to make sure everyone understood ghost employment and staying away from it.

He said if anyone thinks there is a ghost employment issue, he and Prosecutor Ted Adams will help set up an interview with a sheriff’s department detective. An Indiana State Police detective would be brought if there was a potential issue with the sheriff’s department, Redding explained.

“I would hope people are careful about assertions and accusations. If they do know something, I think we would all want you to sit down with detective from right law enforcement agency to make sure we correct the problem,” Redding said.

Commissioner Diana Biddle said the county’s personnel handbook defines the work-from-home policy and that anyone who works from home has to sign a contract. “I don’t know where people are getting into this whole ghost employment thing,” she said.

“If a person is working from home and they are a team member in some county office, as long as they are answering emails, responsive to phone calls being made to their office phone, which is in turn being forwarded to cellphones, then they are meeting the criteria of working their day.”

The State Board of Accounts had asked the county to implement a work from home contract, she said. “(County Human Resources Coordinator) Melissa (Stinson) has gone to great lengths to make sure that that work-from-home contract and our employee personnel policy are as ironclad as they can be,” Biddle said.

Jail lease refinancing plans finalized

The refinancing of the lease for the Brown County Law Enforcement Center was finalized late last month. The move will ultimately save the county nearly $290,000.

Brown County Commissioner Diana Biddle announced the refinance had been complete and a new loan was funded on Jan. 26 at 1.3 percent interest, which was lower than what the commissioners thought they would get when they initially decided to refinance.

After expenses related to the bond issuance and consultation with bond advisers were deducted, the county ended up with a net savings of $284,635.32, Biddle said.

The original estimated savings was $250,000.

Highway department planning bridge work

Within the next two years, crews with the Brown County Highway Department will replace at least three bridges throughout the county.

Brown County Highway Superintendent Mike Magner reported at the Jan. 20 county commissioners meeting that his department was tentatively looking at replacing bridges on Grandview Road, Mt. Liberty Road and Country Club Road either by the end of this year or into next year.

“Then do some deck repair overlays on probably three to four other structures,” he said.

“We have many others we need to look at. But those will be the first three we fund with our local cumulative bridge fund.”

For 2021, the cumulative bridge fund was approved at $1,004,004.

Temporary sewer board member formally approved

Kyle Myers will now serve the remainder of Denise Broussard’s term on the Helmsburg Regional Sewer District Board.

The Brown County Commissioners approved Myers as a member to the board on Feb. 3 after no other applicants expressed interest in serving.

On Jan. 6, Myers was appointed to temporarily serve until at least Feb. 17, 2021, after Broussard announced her resignation at the Jan. 6 HRSD board meeting.

The county commissioners also appointed Brian Webb to serve a four-year term, replacing Harrietta Weddle.

Myers’ term will be up at the end of this year.

Commissioners support two OCRA grant applications

The Brown County Commissioners voted to support two grant requests through the Office of Community and Rural Affairs for 2021.

The commissioners will apply on behalf of the Brown County Regional Sewer District for a planning grant and then for a construction grant for Brown County Water Utility.

The water utility and the regional sewer district will be the sub-recipients, said Donna Anderson with Kenna Consulting.

Kenna Consulting will help facilitate the applications. The money will funnel through the county to the sub-recipients and they would be responsible for any match or grant activities, Anderson said.

The regional sewer district wants to do a wastewater and stormwater study in the Lake Lemon area. The application is due in July with awards expected in August. The $60,000 planning grant will require a match, Anderson said.

The regional sewer district has been working with a group of homeowners in the Lake Lemon area to see if a sewer system is possible to help protect the lake. A cooperative has been working to survey homeowners in the area.

At the Feb. 3 meeting, BCRSD member Clint Studabaker said the group had received surveys back from around 100 homeowners on the east end of the lake.

Brown County Water Utility (which is not a part of county government) will apply for a construction grant for upgrades and improvements, Anderson said.

The utility plans to apply in November with a possible award in December. They also had completed a preliminary engineering report and will submit it for additional funding for the match money, Anderson said.

The county can have three open grant applications to OCRA and can apply for a fourth, but the fourth will not be awarded until one of the other grants drop off, Anderson said.

The county currently has an OCRA grant for the stormwater project in Helmsburg.