BICKNELL — City council members here on Tuesday approved a 2020 spending plan that Mayor Thomas Estabrook says is already realizing the savings from largely doing away with its police department last month.
Estabrook said the city’s General Fund next year will total $982,000, down from more than $1.1 million this year.
“So our General Fund is quite a bit less,” he said. “And a lot of that has to do with this inter-local agreement.”
The county council in September approved the agreement with Bicknell, bringing an end to a months-long effort to see the city fall under the sheriff's department's protection.
The agreement — which essentially eliminates the BPD save but one day-time code enforcement officer — previously was approved by the city council and by the county commissioners.
There was some public opposition to the agreement, but Estabrook and the city council held fast to the position it was the best option for Bicknell in terms of law enforcement.
The city had for years, Estabrook said, been plagued with trouble in attracting quality officers and keeping them due to relatively low pay and a complete lack of health benefits.
In return for police protection, city officials will annually pay $326,000 to the county for the addition of four county deputies.
Sheriff Doug Vantlin those new deputies this week by Circuit Judge Sherry Gregg Gilmore; they are Caden Lynn, Kyle Gilmore, Blake Marsee and Quinten Clough.
The new deputies have all been through the police academy already, Vantlin has said, and, while never all at once, will be assigned primarily to Bicknell and a six-mile radius around the city, specifically the communities of Freelandville, Edwardsport, Bruceville and Ragsdale.
As a result of the deal Bicknell also eliminated its dispatchers; all 911 and even utility emergency numbers now go to Central Dispatch at 812-882-1502
Estabrook said the transition so far has gone, at least from his perspective, pretty smoothly. The county’s existing deputies, he said, have done a “great job of being present” in the Bicknell community.
There are still bugs that will need to be worked out, so he asks for residents’ patience.
“We’re continuing to work through those,” he said.
Council members also on Tuesday approved their salary ordinance for 2020, with it providing a 4% pay raise for all city employees, the mayor said.
The one exception, he said, was with the city’s only remaining police officer.
That position largely works 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and handles police calls made during the day, makes arrests as necessary and serves as a code enforcement officer.
That officer, Estabrook said, this year made $36,200 per year.Council members have increased it to an even $40,000 for next year.
“Since we have just the one position, we figured we would try to make it more lucrative,” he said.
In other business, the city council approved on first reading a zoning change request that would rezone the former Dollar General building as commercial; currently, he said, it’s rather inexplicably zoned as residential.
The owners, Estabrook said, are looking to open there new Family Dollar store, but they want to add on, hence the need for a zoning change.
Now that the council approved the request on first reading, it will go before the county’s Area Plan Commission for consideration.
“And once it comes back to us, we’ll more than likely sign off on it,” the mayor said.
Dollar General moved to its new, larger location on Indiana 67 back in 2012.
The city’s Board of Works took steps, too, on Tuesday to seek sealed bids on a new firetruck. The city hasn’t had a new fire truck, the mayor said, since 2004.
The city had looked to the Vincennes Township Fire Department to possibly purchase from it a used truck, but the numbers never came together, Estabrook said.
The board decided it best to take some cash reserves, make a down payment on a new one and finance the rest.
“We’ll have better information as to how we will do that once we get those bids,” Estabrook said.
The mayor hopes to see the board make a decision on a new fire truck next month.
And finally, the board approved the expenditure of about $2,500 to make improvements to what is commonly called the “old library” at City Hall.
Estabrook said he wants to remove some 35-year-old wall paneling and replace the carpet, among other improvements.
The plan, he said, is to “freshen it up” and add some decorative cases to better display the artifacts recovered from a water-logged time capsule buried by city residents in South Side Park 50 years ago.
The community opened that vault over Labor Day weekend but found that most of its contents had been ruined due to a water leak.
Estabrook and city staff have been painstakingly drying out items pulled from the vault and found more was salvageable than originally thought. Among the items are letters written by grade school students back in 1969 as well as some newspaper clippings, china and wooden nickels, among other things.