Members of the Urban Enterprise Association on Tuesday put their list of new policies and procedures into practice as they awarded funding to a downtown business owner in need of a new roof.
Scott Kirchoff, a local insurance agent who co-owns his building at 305 Busseron St., went before the UEA, as its members met at City Hall, 201 Vigo St., with a request for financial help in putting on a new roof and replacing the brick parapet wall around it.
Kirchoff said he purchased the building back in 2002; a new tar roof was put on three years later.
“And over the years, it has survived,” he said with a shrug of his shoulders. “But the last few years we’ve had to patch it every time it rains. It’s become a losing battle.
“Every time we patch a hole, water comes in from somewhere else, and we’re starting to see damage inside the building.”
Replacing the brick parapet wall, Kirchoff said, must be done before the new roof can be put on, and the work combined, UEA members read from those estimates, is expected to cost just over $40,000.
Kirchoff came armed with two bids for the roof and another two for the masonry work, which is consistent with the UEA’s new rules.
“I just don’t want to lose the old building, not if we can save it,” Kirchoff told the UEA.
After being challenged months ago by an applicant who claimed the UEA’s funding decisions were unfair, UEA members, after much discussion, opted not to approve any hard and fast rules in terms of how it decides to award funding, such as a percentage of the total request.
Their financial situation is simply too fluid, they agreed.
But in an effort to maintain some consistency Tuesday, UEA member and its legal counsel Jonathan Feavel, said in looking back over the kinds of awards the UEA has made this year, especially similar projects in scope and size, the UEA has awarded about half the total cost of the project.
“We’ve had a number of requests in the neighborhood of $20,000, and we came back at $10,000,” Feavel said.
Agreeing, UEA member Dan Osborne suggested the board consider awarding half the $40,0000 estimated cost, or $20,000; the rest of the board voted unanimously to approve his motion.
In other business, the UEA did vote to give final approval to a list of 14 new policies and procedures in terms of how it handles applicants for funding, both local businesses and homeowners within the Urban Enterprise Zone.
Among the new rules are one that mandates all property taxes be up to date and another that says applications must be submitted at least five days prior to the UEA’s meeting to be considered.
Another is that the project, to be eligible for its approved reimbursement, must be complete within a year’s time.
Applicants, too, must wait at least five years before coming back for more money on the same project — or address — and they must first have approval from the city’s Historic Review Board, if applicable, before funding is awarded.
The board also approved a rule that says if a building is sold within two years of the receipt of funds, the UEA reserves the right to seek its money back.
UEA members, too, thought seriously about meeting once a month — instead of every other month as has been the case for years — but in the end they decided to keep with tradition and meet in special session should the need arise.
Discussions of the UEA’s processes began in June after complaints were lodged against the organization by previous applicants Brett and Lara Dawson — complaints that allege the UEA favored some applicants over others and operates with a general lack of overall guidance and rules.
The couple even took their frustrations before the city council.
Council members — who appoint UEA members as does the mayor — encouraged them to consider adopting a set of rules to make things easier, both on applicants and UEA members alike.
Established in 2002, the UEA provides tax breaks to businesses located within its boundaries. The UEA, in turn, gets 24% of any savings realized by participating businesses to spend fixing up other properties within the zone, which, theoretically, increases the tax base.
The UEA’s overall mission is relatively simple: to make buildings within the Urban Enterprise Zone look nicer, thereby drawing more business and investment.
It’s been just under a year since county elected officials ramped up security measures inside the Knox County Courthouse.
And it’s been money well spent, they agree.
Commissioner Kellie Streeter reported to her fellow commissioners recently that additional security equipment added to the courthouse entrance in January, so far, has uncovered an astonishing number of weapons — weapons that, until this security upgrade was complete, likely made their way, for years, into offices and courtrooms undetected.
Deputies have found so far this year 30 loaded guns, more than a thousand knives, nearly 30 canisters of pepper spray and two sets of brass knuckles.
Commissioners were left rather wide-eyed at the lengthy list.
“And it’s amazing how many people try to bring in full bottles of alcohol, too,” Streeter said. “It’s just crazy.”
The county commissioners in the fall of 2019 added several security measures to the courthouse, including the installation of metal detectors and x-ray machines.
Unfortunately, and largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they were merely fixtures as deputies had to be redistributed across all county offices, doing things like taking temperatures and enforcing the statewide mask mandate.
But in January, the new metal detector and scanner went live and has been manned ever since by two sheriff’s deputies.
To aid the process, the commissioners, too, more than a year ago changed the way visitors enter and move through the courthouse.
The entrance facing Eighth Street, for example, was permanently closed to visitors, allowing only employee access.
Visitors now must enter through the Seventh Street side, specifically through the south door as that entrance is the only one, too, that is handicapped accessible.
A year prior, commissioner Kellie Streeter applied for and received a $76,000 homeland security grant, which paid for a majority of the improvements. The county council offered an additional $37,000, and county clerk David Shelton found money within his own budget to complete the cost of installing electronic doors throughout the courthouse, ones both exterior and interior, including over at the annex.
The county council, too, eventually approved the hiring of two additional deputies; there are now four in the courthouse at all times.
And in addition to uncovering more than 1,060 weapons on courthouse visitors, it’s actually proven to be a relatively easy process for both the public and the deputies alike.
“I think a lot of people were concerned there would be lines at the door,” Streeter said. “And while it was a bit rocky those first few months, everything is moving along fine, especially now with the courts back in session and the courthouse full of people again.”
In the months since the security equipment was added, Streeter, too, said as part of some technology upgrades, the commissioners, too, have added some enhanced video surveillance inside the courtrooms so they can be more closely monitored.
But if the security roll out has gone well, Streeter said it’s because of the deputies left in charge.
“I give all the credit to the officers,” she said. “They’ve learned these machines, done quite a bit of training and overall done great.”
She called it all “money well spent.”
“It was jut an unsafe situation, all the time,” she said, “and the employees knew it.”
Sheriff Doug Vantlin agreed and said the additional security equipment has helped deputies to better protect the courthouse and the people within it.
He’s sure the majority of the people who brought in those pocket knives or even loaded guns likely didn’t intend on using them — but the courtroom can be an emotional place. And it’s best to keep them out, he said.
“It’s stopping the potential for problems,” Vantlin said of the more than a thousand confiscations this year.
“Most of them aren’t there looking for trouble, but they shouldn’t be allowed into the courthouse anyway, just for the protection of everyone inside. Divorce hearings, child custody cases, those things can get pretty heated. And this just makes our jobs a lot easier.”
Anyone found with such weapons on their person or in a bag is asked to take them back to their vehicles. The deputies will not hold them.
After a hiatus in 2020, Taste of Knox County is returning later this month — offering residents savory deals for dining out locally.
The event, sponsored by the Knox County Chamber of Commerce, gives locals the opportunity to enjoy special deals at participating restaurants and bars, says chamber president Jamie Neal.
“Residents benefit with the deals, but the real point of the program is to highlight the restaurants in the area,” she said.
Neal says dozens of Knox County restaurants will be featured. The offers will vary by business but will include a variety of discounts and even some speciality menu items, like the pumpkin spice cinnamon sticks from Main Street Bobe’s.
Customers, too, have the chance to win prizes by sharing photos to their Facebook or Instagram pages, using the hashtag #tasteofknoxco.
Neal hopes the special offers and chance at prizes are enough to get more residents out to local establishments to help bolster an industry that has seen a lot of challenges over the past 18 months.
“We know our restaurants have had a tough year trying to adapt to new procedures and everything else because of COVID, and we’ve done a lot for our retail establishments so we wanted to do something specifically for our restaurants,” she said.
It was, in fact, COVID that cancelled the event last year.
“Our ultimate goal was to do this each fall and spring, but when we went into the start of this year, everything was still so unknown because of the pandemic, so we waited until fall,” said Neal.
Even after bars and restaurants reopened at full capacity, they — along with nearly every other sector of business — faced a new set of hurdles.
“Now, they’re facing big challenges with staffing and food costs,” said Neal. “So we want to help give them a boost, and this is one way our community can support our Knox County restaurants.”
Area residents interested in the special deals are encouraged to visit the Knox County Chamber of Commerce Facebook page or their website at www.knoxcountychamber.com.
Businesses, including restaurants, bars and speciality shops, that would like to participate in the program have until Friday to register.
Participation in the program is free for businesses with a Chamber membership.
“And if they’re not a Chamber member, this is just one of the many things we do to help promote businesses. There’s still time to join,” Neal said with a laugh.
To register your business for the event, or for more information about becoming a Chamber member, call 812-882-6440.
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — More than 6,600 Afghan refugees who began arriving at the Indiana National Guard’s Camp Atterbury training post nearly six weeks ago are awaiting resettlement.
Additional evacuees are expected to arrive in the coming weeks, although it's unclear how many, said Mark Howell, regional spokesman for the federal Transportation Security Administration overseeing Operation Allies Welcome.
Officials said they're also uncertain if the refugees will be permanently resettled by early November, as hoped. Howell said in a telephone interview Friday that many Afghans are still completing medical and security screening checks. Once cleared, they'll work with nongovernmental organizations to determine housing assignments, sponsor families and work authorizations before they can leave the post.
Camp Atterbury, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Indianapolis, is one of eight sites in the U.S. that the Department of Defense is using for Afghan special immigrant visa applicants, their families, and other Afghan personnel.
The U.S. military expects to begin receiving new Afghan evacuees in the United States this week, including at Camp Atterbury.
U.S. officials said last week that about 14,000 more Afghans are expected to come to the U.S. About 53,000 are already scattered across eight military installations in the U.S.; Capacity is 64,000.
They have been delayed by a measles outbreak, medical checks and a vaccination campaign, as well as immigration processing, which involves interviews, biometric exams and applications for work permits. Afghan evacuees waiting at U.S. bases in the Middle East, Spain and Germany can be flown in only once space opens up.
About 100 refugees have completed their health and safety screenings and left Camp Atterbury, Howell said. They were all American citizens, spouses of American citizens or green card holders.
Exodus Refugee Immigration, an Indianapolis agency, has helped at least four Afghan families resettle in the city in the last month, said executive director Cole Varga. They were all U.S. citizens or had visas and family ties to the Indianapolis area. None of them came from Camp Atterbury, but rather from one of the other U.S. military facilities housing refugees, Varga said.
It's unclear how many Afghans have resettled in Indiana, but the state is projected to take 490, according to U.S. officials. They could be processed at any of the eight temporary housing sites, Howell said.
Of those housed at Camp Atterbury, about 58% are male, 42% are female and more than 47% are 18 years or younger, Howell said. Eight babies have been born there since refugees first arrived Sept. 2.
More than 6,100 Afghan refugees at Camp Atterbury have been vaccinated against measles, mumps, and rubella and varicella (chickenpox) between Sept. 6-17, according to National Guard officials.
The evacuees must be vaccinated against measles, COVID-19, and other diseases before they can leave the temporary housing site.
Camp Atterbury has so far confirmed 24 cases of COVID-19 among Afghan refugees, Howell said. Individuals who test positive, as well as any family members they've traveled with, are quarantined on-site. Refugees are tested for the coronavirus every other week, Howell said.
Soldiers and volunteer teachers have also started a makeshift school for Afghan children while they await resettlement.
Roughly 39 girls and 38 boys are being taught the basics of the English alphabet and some simple words at Camp Atterbury, Howell said, and more educational and cultural awareness services are being developed.
Casey Smith is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.