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News
Council to take a look at outdated fees

The city council may begin the new year with a bit of much-needed housekeeping.

City clerk-treasurer Cathy Lane on Monday took before council members a long list of rather outdated fees and ordinances, ones she hopes they will begin taking a look at to either update or do away with altogether in the coming months.

Fees, she pointed out, are meant to deter undesirable behavior, but some of the city’s are so low that they aren’t doing much good at all.

And many of them aren’t being enforced as a result.

A parking ticket, for instance, only costs $25 — so little that police rarely issue them, and rarely does the city go after an unpaid citation.

“It’s pointless to go after it because it’s such a small amount of money,” Lane said, adding that that same philosophy extends to several other fees as well.

Council president Tim Salters, too, said the city has fallen into the practice of not going after those who don’t pay “because we’re spending more money than we’re getting back.”

Council members commented, though on what people parking illegally — such as on sidewalks or curbs — has done to deteriorate streets.

“There are parts of Main Street that look awful,” said councilman Brian Grove. “The curbs are really taking a beating, so we need to get a handle on that.”

Lane, too, said the fees associated with the permits for the construction of a commercial building are quite low, just $3 per $1,000 set to be spent, but with a maximum of $25, barely enough to cover the city’s time in inspecting and issuing the permit at all.

Another area of concern, she said, is golf cart registration.

Those fees, she said, haven’t been updated since the initial ordinance allowing for golf carts on a handful of city streets was passed more than a decade ago.

The $12 annual fee, she said, “barely covers the cost of the stickers” that are placed on the back of the carts.

“We don’t want to make money. We just want to do a better job of keeping up with them.”

Parking signs, too, she said, present a similar issue.

People, per the Board of Works, can be granted parking signs to mark a handicapped or resident-only space on a city street.

Once those signs are granted, there is an annual fee of just over $90, but people rarely pay it, and city officials typically don’t go after the ones who don’t.

“There are a handful of people who pay that, and bless you,” Lane said to the council. “But we don’t even know where all they are.”

Councilman Marc McNeece suggested an inventory but admitted that would be laborious and time-consuming to complete.

The city, too, has a “mechanical license,” Lane said, one of which most people aren’t even aware.

The city’s ordinance governing mechanical licensure includes things like pinball machines, electrical pool tables or bowling machines, some amusement rides and even gambling devices, among other things.

Such machines are meant to be registered — and the associated fees paid — each year, but few actually do.

“Most communities issue a little sticker to place on them to show that they registered and paid, that way everybody knows you’re good until next year,” Lane said,.

And while a handful of local business owners do willingly pay the annual fee, many others don’t. And no one, she added, is really out looking for that compliance sticker, rendering it “insignificant,” she said.

And that, she added, begs a question.

“If we have an ordinance we’re not following, what’s the point of the ordinance?” she challenged the council. “We either need to be making sure it’s being followed or get rid of it.”

Many communities, too, issue licenses for food trucks, Lane added.

Food trucks are heavily legislated and permitted through the Knox County Health Department, but a city permit is not currently required.

“So we have no way of seeing who is coming into the city, where they’re setting up,” Lane said. “That might be something we want to look at.”

And to help offer guidance, Lane is looking to other Hoosier cities of a comparable size.

“I want to see what people close to us are doing,” she said. “Some are really progressive in that way, so it’s been good to see what they’re doing.”

Lane said her own eyes were opened to some of these issues when they opted to deny some transient merchant licenses during the pandemic.

The city passed legislation years ago that requires the permitting of transient merchants, such as those selling door-to-door, whether it be magazines or vacuums.

“That was passed as a way to keep track of who is coming into the city, where they’re going to be, because inevitably someone called the city saying someone was knocking on their door trying to sell something,” Lane said. “The city needed to be in a position to tell them whether they were legitimate or not.

“But during the pandemic, we denied people access to go door to door. They thought it was their right to do so, but we thought people had a right not to be bothered during a pandemic.”

Many of these outdated fees can likely be done simply by amending an existing ordinance; others will take new legislation altogether.

Manpower, too, is likely to be an issue. The more rules there are on the books, the more people it takes to enforce them, and right now all the city has is the city inspector to keep up with the work.

“This will take some coordination with my office,” Lane said, “but we are hoping (any updates or changes) will help us keep track and make it easier for people to renew these registrations.

“We have so many issues and complaints right now that we can’t follow up on everything. But the pandemic did open our eyes to a few things, making it easier for residents was one concern.

“We are trying to keep better track all of this miscellaneous income. We want to be proactive instead of reactive.”


News
Stewart recognized with Circle of Corydon Award

Knox County Health Officer Dr. Alan Stewart on Tuesday was recognized with Gov. Eric Holcomb’s second-highest honor, the Circle of Corydon Award, for his efforts in battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stewart was surprised with the recognition at a joint meeting of the city’s three civic organizations, Rotary, Kiwanis and Civitan.

Rotary member Jim Gislason, on behalf of the organizations, wrote a letter to the governor asking that Stewart be recognized for his efforts, pointing specifically to his unwillingness to see a single dose of the COVID-19 vaccine wasted.

In the COVID-19 vaccination clinic’s early days — when it was set up at the Community United Methodist Church — the entire program was built, Gislason said, from Stewart’s determination and the tireless efforts of about 150 local volunteers.

An example of his commitment to the community, Gislason told the large group gathered at the Charles C. Hedde MD Health Education Center, was a rather disappointing trip to Oaktown for an on-site vaccine clinic.

With an extra 36 doses of the vaccine already drawn up — and no one else in line to receive one — he placed the syringes into a tackle box and went door-to-door. The last four he gave to willing patrons at a nearby Casey’s convenience store.

“No doses were thrown away that day,” Gislason said. “And time and time again, he did this.”

Word of his commitment, Gislason said, eventually “reached the desk of Gov. Eric Holcomb.”

“He was equally impressed, and it is my pleasure to announce that he has appointed Dr. Alan Stewart to be a member of the Circle of Corydon,” Gislason said, to which the room erupted into applause and a standing ovation as a very shocked Stewart came up to grasp his award.

Stewart, however, gave the credit to those who have served alongside him, not the least of whom is clinic coordinator and COVID nurse Betty Lankford.

“It feels very good, very humbling to get an award like this,” he said, straining to be heard over the the din of the crowd leaving the Hedde Center Tuesday afternoon. “But it shouldn’t be an individual award. This took teamwork.

“We’ve had a great team working with the immunization clinic, the health department in general, to combat the pandemic. And with all the struggles and the things we’ve been through, the ups and the downs, our team stuck together. We’re going to win this contest against COVID.”

Stewart, too, spoke briefly to the crowd of civic group leaders, focusing not on the danger still looming now nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, but the advancements made in science along the way.

It’s time, he said, to begin focusing on the positive.

“We’ve learned so much, made dramatic advancements in science over the last two years,” he said.

“Yes, there has been a lot of frustration and tragedy, and while we must continue to treat the problems we have, it’s time to look forward.”

The Circle of Corydon Award was created by Gov. Holcomb and is signed jointly by the recipient’s state Senator or Representative, in this case Sen. Mark Mesmer, who couldn’t be at the ceremony Tuesday due to a prior engagement, Gislason said.

The award is named after the town of Corydon, which played a pivotal role in Indiana’s history as the first state capital where early leaders drafted the first Constitution.

Holcomb awards the Circle to those who have made “remarkable contributions that have bettered Indiana and demonstrated the qualities exemplified by our greatest citizens,” according to Holcomb’s press secretary Erin Murphy.

Only members of the Indiana General Assembly may nominate individuals for the Circle. State Senators and Representatives may nominate two constituents each year.


AP
Medical groups argue against Indiana vaccine mandate limits

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Numerous Indiana medical and business groups argued Tuesday against a Republican proposal aimed at ending the statewide COVID-19 public health emergency and forcing broad exemptions from workplace vaccination requirements.

The proposed changes to state law faced criticism during a legislative committee hearing that it wrongly sends a message that the coronavirus pandemic is over at a time when Indiana’s infections and hospitalizations are rising again.

Republican House Majority Leader Matt Lehman presented the proposal as a step toward protecting individual rights by allowing workers to claim medical or religious exemptions if their employers required COVID-19 vaccinations.

That proposal includes three administrative actions sought last week by Gov. Eric Holcomb that he said would allow him to end the statewide COVID-19 public health emergency order that’s been in place since March 2020, but it goes further amid a national conservative pushback against President Joe Biden’s proposed vaccination mandates on large businesses.

Lehman said he believed the Republican-dominated Legislature should act quickly to prevent workers from being fired as Democrats questioned why GOP leaders were trying to force it through with final votes set for Monday — nine days after the proposal was released on Saturday. The Legislature wasn’t set to resume its session until early January.

“I’ve had people that are saying “I’m on the chopping block,’” Lehman said. “This can’t wait until January. I think we need to take this action now.”

Representatives of the Indiana Medical Association, Indiana Hospital Association and other medical groups argued the proposal would discourage attempts to increase the state’s COVID vaccination rate and limit hospitalizations and deaths.

Indiana hospitals had about 1,760 COVID-19 patients admitted as of Monday — a roughly 45% increase from two weeks earlier after declines from a summer surge peak of nearly 2,700 patients in September, according to the state health department. Indiana has continued averaging about 20 deaths a day from COVID-19.

Indiana State Medical Association representative Dr. Stephen Tharp, who is the Clinton County health officer, said the group believed the bill would hurt attempts to get more people vaccinated, prolonging harm to the economy and health care system.

“We all want this pandemic to end,” Tharp said. “But we see patients every day who would have benefitted from vaccines.”

Despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranking Indiana’s 50.5% rate of fully vaccinated people as the country’s 11th lowest vaccination mark, Holcomb disputed arguments that ending the state’s public health emergency order would signal that the pandemic’s risk had passed.

“I hope it sends the message that if you get vaccinated, the odds of you ending up in the hospital or worse go way down,” the Republican governor said Monday. “A large number of people in Indiana, across the country and world have done just that, and they’re avoiding dire consequences.”

Indiana law generally currently allows businesses to hire or fire non-union workers for any reason unless it is in violation of anti-discrimination laws covering factors such as age, gender or race. State law also requires K-12 students and those at state residential colleges to get immunized for several diseases, including diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella and meningitis.

Major business organizations argued against the proposed vaccination exemptions, which employers would have to accept from workers “without further inquiry.” The head of the state chamber of commerce said the proposal “significantly discourages” employers from requiring vaccines even if they believe it is best for their employees and customers.

Many people testifying during the more than six-hour-long hearing spoke against encouraging COVD-19 vaccines, arguing against the proposed federal mandates, questioning the effectiveness of face mask use and maintaining that natural immunity from COVID-19 infections was the best protection.

Several nurses and health care workers told lawmakers about facing job losses because their requests for religious exemptions have been denied, saying they worried about hospitals losing so many workers that there will be too few available to treat patients.

Kristi Grabowski of Anderson said her husband was at risk of being fired for not getting the vaccine shots and that lawmakers shouldn’t approve “half measures” instead of outright terminating the governor’s COVID-19 executive orders.

“Gov. Holcomb is not a king. It is your job to remind him of that,” Grabowski said. “Hoosiers’ medical liberty must not be tied to federal purse strings.”


News
Vincennes getting by with a little HELP

The City of Vincennes on Tuesday was officially selected to participate in a new state program looking to help Hoosier communities maximize their federal COVID-19 dollars.

Mayor Joe Yochum announced that the city was selected for the Office of Community and Rural Affairs’ Hoosier Enduring Legacy Program — or HELP.

The program, the mayor said, “presents a unique opportunity for communities to learn how to best spend their recovery funds in order to create a lasting positive impact and legacy,” according to a press release.

The city will enter the program in July alongside counterparts in both Daviess and Dubois counties.

As part of the award, the city will be allotted monies — monies the city council months ago voted to bolster by $20,000 — to hire a community coordinator, a person to spend a full year developing a Strategic Investment Plan to direct the city in spending their American Rescue Plan Act funds.

HELP communities, too, will be able to work alongside officials at Indiana University, Purdue University and the Indiana Arts Council as well as the Indiana Department of Transportation, the Indiana Department of Health, the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority and the Columbus-based CivicLab and NEXT Studios, among other resources.

But the opinions the mayor is most excited to hear are those of the general public as they will be asked to participate in the process through a series of public meetings next year.

There, too, will be local committees put together to look more specifically at the areas of broadband deployment, quality of place initiatives, community wellness and development of the local economy.

“I’m excited about this because we’ve always had great participation in the planning of our comprehensive plans, downtown plans, and I’m hoping for more of the same with this,” he said.

The HELP designation, too, includes up to a million dollars in matching funds that can be used to bolster the city’s $3.5 million share of ARPA monies, the mayor said.

He’s hopeful to hire the community coordinator in May; planning should begin shortly thereafter.

Vincennes was one of nine Hoosier communities to achieve HELP designation.

“We still have a lot to learn about how we can spend these ARPA monies, but this will get our community involved in the progress we can see with these dollars,” he said.

“It will give everybody a chance to be heard,” he said.

Plans to spend the more than $11 million in federal funds flowing into Knox County continue to take shape.

County elected officials, for instance, have enlisted the help of Loogootee-based Southern Indiana Development Commission, a popular grant administrator, as well as a legal firm and financial advisors in Indianapolis and Seymour respectively.

The rules associated with spending the federal funds — ones aimed at bolstering communities through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — are still somewhat fluid; as such, many elected officials are still sitting on the money, concerned about unintentionally breaking those rules, possibly even being forced to pay it all back.

The county has received a handful of specific requests for the money — everything from new fire hydrants to stipends for county employees — but they’ve granted no requests.

It is likely, however, that at least some of it — possibly upwards of half — will go to help cover the cost of a $32 million expansion to the Knox County Jail next year.

The commissioners, too, have said they hope to hold a series of public meetings to garner feedback from the community on how they believe the money should be spent.

At least a portion of the state’s interim rule is, however, quite clear, that the money can be spent shoring up funds that experienced shortfalls the direct result of the pandemic — such as the Indiana Motor Vehicle Highway tax — or water infrastructure projects.

As such, elected officials in Bicknell have moved forward in spending at least some of the $640,000 they received in ARPA funds on a pair of such water-related projects.

The City of Vincennes, too, plans to spend $1.5 million bolstering about $8 million in drinking water infrastructure improvements beginning next year.


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