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KCSWMD awarded substantial recycling grant

After finding themselves in an unexpected financial bind, the Knox County Solid Waste Management District has finally caught a break.

“It feels like Christmas,” said director Michelle Smith, moments after she learned KCSWMD had been awarded a substantial grant from the the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

IDEM’s Recycling Market Development Grant was open to both public solid waste entities and the private sector, so Smith found herself in competition with large corporations such as Rumpke Waste & Recycling Solutions.

“There were some big name businesses in there,” she said of the other applicants who appeared in the IDEM office in Indianapolis Thursday morning to deliver one final pitch for the applications submitted four months ago.

KCSWMD’s application was one of nine grants funded by the program, and Smith is elated that it was funded in-full, bringing $154,829 in much-needed funds to the district.

Smith says she wrote the grant to cover “everything we would need to get started here in our new place.”

The district moved into the old Anthis Heating and Cooling building on 17th Street late last year, but the property is still in need of some costly repairs and renovations to make it a fully functional recycling center.

The awarded Recycling Market Development Grant, which requires a 50% cash match, will go a long way in completing the necessary exterior work to make SWMD a more functional hub.

Specifically, Smith says the facility needs a concrete slab for the district’s compactor and one for its Hazardous Household Waste trailer, as well as concrete work completed on the loading dock at the back of the building.

It is, in large part, the expensive, concrete work that has delayed fully opening the facility to the public.

The back side of the facility already has a concrete pad near a set of large bay doors, but it is insufficient for the large trucks and trailers that would need to maneuver in and out of the space to haul away recyclables — specifically Hazardous Household Waste items.

Having the IDEM grant to help offset the costs makes the work attainable, and Smith says the news couldn’t have come at a better time.

“Losing that money from our user fees was such a blow,” she said. “We thought we would finally be able to offer the kind of recycling program we had wanted to do for so long, and then we had a wrench thrown in the whole thing.”

SWMD board members last year voted to increase the user fee by $5 — bringing it to $20 per year — all in an effort to move into a larger facility and expand recycling services.

But due to a perfect storm of setbacks, rising costs and miscommunication, they’ve actually had to cut services.

Specifically, the“wrench” thrown into Smith’s plans came from receiving far less in user fees than expected.

SWMD initially anticipated collecting $376,000 in annual user fees next year but learned just two months ago that what they will actually receive will be more than $45,000 shy of that original estimate.

The reason, she has explained, is that an estimated 2,000 parcels of property — such as farm land and empty lots — were discovered and removed by the auditor from required payment, thus resulting in the shortfall.

“The projected revenue is nowhere near the same as what I was told it would be,” Smith has said.

To bridge the gap, she told board members she tapped into the district’s modest — but steadily depleting — reserves and started making cuts, something that came as a rather unwelcome surprise to some board members last month.

Specifically, Smith said they would cut how often they’re able to accept Household Hazard Waste materials and funding — about $10,000 per year — provided to the City of Vincennes to help pay for curbside recycling pickup.

The IDEM funding can’t undo those budget cuts, as the grant was awarded specifically to complete the projects outlined in Smith’s application.

However, the director says the grant offers more than just the money to improve the recycling facility; it’s also providing a much-needed morale boost.

“I really needed this — we all did,” she said happily of her small staff. “We’re just elated.”

Smith says she has already called contractors to get things moving on the concrete work as soon as possible.

Too, she says, she’s “hoping the county will see the value in opening a drive-thru recycling center” and fund her application which requested a portion of the remaining American Rescue Plan Act funds to serve as the matching dollars needed for the grant so the district doesn’t completely deplete its modest financial reserves.

“From where I’m standing, Household Hazardous waste and recycling are pretty important assets for our county,” she said. “I figure what we do here is just as important as any other department, so we should try and see how it goes.”

Smith pointed out that SWMD relies solely on the annual $20 fee it collects from households to fund their entire operation, which has included everything from the cost of recycling the materials collected from its bins, curbside pickup and area schools to supplies and salaries.

“We have done all of that on an annual budget of $300,000 — we’re very frugal,” she said. “You’re getting a lot for that $20 a year.”

The facility, located at 810 S. 17th St., is open for recycling drop-off from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each Wednesday.

Bicknell to move forward on razing Swimland

BICKNELL — City officials earlier this month voted to move ahead in tearing out the old Swimland, and following a special meeting of the Board of Works this week, financing is now in place.

Mayor Thomas Estabrook said board members voted to allow city councilman Rod Mullins, Mullins Supply, to raze the old pool, located in Southside Park, for $10,000.

“He’s said he will do it at cost,” the mayor said, “so that’s good.

“Honestly, it’s not my preferred ending, but it’s the one that makes the most sense.”

The demolition is now more than three years coming.

In 2019, the city officially assumed control of the old Swimland pool and property at 400 Pool Drive.

City employees had already been maintaining the pool for years before acquiring the deed to the facility, which had been closed to the public since 2017.

Swimland was shut down by county health officials after being cited for 24 infractions that included the lack of a certified pool operator and the use of chlorine tablets to make up for a faulty automatic chlorinator.

Swimland was built, in large part, as a grassroots effort by community leaders back in 1963 and had always been run by a separate, independent board of directors.

But when the one remaining board member signed over the deed to the city in 2019, Bicknell leaders said it was cost prohibitive to make good on all the infractions cited in the report, and Estabrook announced that Swimland would, in fact, remain closed indefinitely.

Now, Estabrook has said it’s time to permanently pull the plug, citing the fact that the property has become the target of vandalism and is often a draw for squatters.

It’s become, he has said, a safety hazard.

Estabrook said he’s unsure on a timeline for demolition, but he’s sure it will be before the end of the year.

Some of the property, however, will stay.

“The one thing that is staying will be the metal long building locals know as the shower house and concession stand and office,” the mayor explained.

Estabrook said its crews will begin cleaning it up, tearing out some of its interior block walls to “open it up.”

It’s possible the city will use it for storage, but they also plan to leave all of the plumbing and bathroom fixtures in place.

“Because if there ever comes a time in the future where we want to put bathrooms in there, we’d have everything ready to go to do that,” he said. “We just want to keep some things and be ready in case that site turns into some other kind of park development.

“We want to plan ahead as much as we possibly can. We’ll also get the building painted, just looking better,” he said.

The mayor also said that, thanks to a matching grant from a major playground manufacturer, Southside Park, too, will get some new equipment.

The project, he said, will include the purchase and installation of two “medium-sized” pieces of equipment in what’s commonly called the kiddie-land area.

GameTime, the mayor explained, has matched the city’s $37,500 investment and will provide $75,000 in playground equipment.

Some of the pieces currently in kiddie-land, he said, are more than 30 years old.

“We want to take out one old piece, a big piece, move it someplace else, clean it up, revitalize that,” he said. “And we’ll do some other things to spruce up that area of the park, small things we can pay for out of our own pocket.

“But the idea is to revitalize that area and continue our overall park improvements. Once we have all that done, Southside Park will be in the best shape it’s been in for years.”

Estabrook said he doesn’t expect the new equipment to arrive until early 2023.

And in other business this week, the board voted to spend $10,000 crack sealing some streets that have been repaved in recent years, and members held up an earlier order to have a dog that allegedly attacked and bit a local resident upheld after the owner appealed the earlier decision.

Estabrook said the owner still has 30 days to take further legal action.

Officials with Old National Bank in Vincennes on Thursday gathered to present a $33,000 check to the Travis Burkhart Foundation. The money was raised as part of the bank’s most recent 100 Men Who Cook event. The bank, too, thanked Good Samaritan, Vincennes University, Guardian Angel Home Health, Wolfe Construction, Gary Memering and the McCormick Family Foundation for their financial support. Based in Plainville, the Travis Burkhart Foundation is a nonprofit that raises money and awareness for those suffering from traumatic brain injuries.

ONB presents check to Travis Burkhart Foundation

VU to offer free financial aid assistance

Officials at Vincennes University next month will offer free assistance to those college prospects struggling with the financial aid process.

Filling out the free application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can seem “complicated and time-consuming,” according to a release issued this week by the university, but VU, both here and at its Jasper campuses, on Nov. 6 will offer prospective students free assistance in filling out those applications, officials announced on Thursday.

College Goal Sunday is a free event that provides “hands-on help for students of all ages and families to complete and file the FAFSA form,” the release states, which is “one of the most important steps in opening the door to financial aid.”

The Vincennes Campus College Goal Sunday will get underway at 2 p.m. in Room 132 of Updike Hall Center for Science, Engineering, and Mathematics. The Jasper campus College Goal Sunday will also begin at 2 p.m. in the Jasper Classroom Building computer labs.

The FAFSA, a “student’s gateway to financial aid,” the release states, is required for them to be considered for federal and state grants, scholarships, and federal student loans at most colleges, universities, and vocational/technical schools nationwide.

The FAFSA must be filed by April 15 to be eligible for Indiana financial aid, the release states.

During these events, volunteers will walk individuals through filling out the form and answer students’ and families’ individual questions along the way.

Students should attend College Goal Sunday with their parents or guardians and bring completed 2021 IRS 1040 tax returns, W-2 Forms, and other 2021 income and benefits information.

Students who worked should also bring their income information. Students 24 years of age or older may attend alone and bring their completed 2021 IRS 1040 tax return, W-2 Form or other 2021 income and benefits information.

Students and parents are also encouraged to apply for their U.S. Department of Education FSA IDs at before the event.

Attendees may also win a scholarship as part of attending College Goal Sunday, the release states.

Students may win one of five $1,000 scholarships as those who attend and submit a completed evaluation form will automatically be entered in the drawing. The winners will be notified in the spring, and scholarships will be sent directly to the higher education institution selected by the winning students.

21st Century Scholars are also eligible for help in filling out the necessary forms on College Goal Sunday.

These income-eligible students sign a contract in the seventh- or eighth-grade promising they will graduate from high school, meet certain GPA requirements, fulfill a pledge of good citizenship, and apply for college financial aid.

Upon high school completion, 21st Century Scholars who have fulfilled those commitments and demonstrate a financial need receive state funds to help cover their college tuition and fees for up to eight semesters at eligible Indiana public colleges or an equal dollar amount at eligible Indiana private colleges.

To fulfill their pledge, scholars must also submit a completed FAFSA form on time.