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News
City council partners with KCDC in housing study

City Council President Tim Salters on Monday said the city is ready to be a supportive partner in the Knox County Development Corp.’s upcoming housing study.

“Mayor Yochum and I have had discussions about this, and I know this is a top priority,” he said.

For years, community leaders and elected officials have voiced a need for more mid-range housing, and KCDC’s study will help pinpoint just how great the need actually is.

Chris Pfaff, CEO of KCDC, addressed members of city council Monday night, briefly discussing the rationale for the upcoming study and outlining its objectives.

“Housing is an essential element to attract and maintain the workforce,” said Pfaff. “Without affordable and quality housing, this community is not going to prosper.”

The KCDC contends that quality housing is what will help attract young households and entrepreneurs.

“It is essential to our economic diversity,” Pfaff said, adding that the study will “get to the bottom of” the gaps that exist in the local housing market.

The past couple of years have proved to be a seller’s market, he said, with some homes selling above the original asking price.

Too, says Pfaff, some existing employees of Good Samaritan, Vincennes University and the Vincennes Community School Corp. often choose to live in neighboring counties where the housing stock is more plentiful.

“There are more than 1,400 commuters that come into the county just from Illinois,” Pfaff said, noting that Knox County could probably attract at least a percentage of them if they could find an affordable, quality home.

The needed price point, Pfaff says, will likely fall between $120,000 and $250,000, but one purpose of the housing study is to more clearly identify the gaps in the existing market.

Such information would benefit a variety of organizations, he said, specifically the KCDC itself, service providers, builders, employers and city and county government leaders.

The KCDC has already hired Thomas P. Miller and Associates in Indianapolis for the work. It’s possible the study could be done in as little as four months.

Each of the six investing organizations — including the city of Vincennes — will pay $4,500 for the housing study, for a total cost of $27,000.

Salters said he’s appreciative of how quickly KCDC is moving forward with the housing study and is eagerly awaiting the results.

“This is a good move for the city of Vincennes and the county as a whole. This study will be a tool to pinpoint our needs, so I’m all in,” he said.

In other business, newly-elected county commissioner T.J. Brink addressed council members about partnering with the county to address a paving concern just west of 15th Street in the area commonly known as Bunker Hill.

“In the eleven days I’ve been a commissioner, I’ve received a number of calls from residents of Bunker Hill,” Brink said.

Brink explained that the county will soon be paving its roadways west of 15th St., but there will be a section of city roadways in Bunker Hill left in need of repair.

“It will leave about a three block radius that’s city owned,” Brink said. “Since we’re already going to be there, we wanted to let you know our plans and open it up so we don’t have that gap if you’re willing to help out with the paving.”

Though the city must follow its own computer-based program of prioritizing street repair — one that makes the city more eligible for state grant dollars aimed at infrastructure improvements — Yochum said he is interested in working with the county to make updates in the Bunker Hill area.

“We have to follow our program, but if it works out, then absolutely.”


News
City receives one bid for VPD window restoration project

City officials on Monday received a single bid for the second phase of a window restoration project at the historic, century-old downtown headquarters of the Vincennes Police Department.

Local architect Larry Donovan, who has been working with city officials on the restoration at 501 Busseron St., said as many as five contractors initially expressed interest in the project, but only one returned an actual bid.

The bidder, however, was Mominee Studios in Evansville, the same company that did the first phase of the window restoration in 2017, and local officials said they were pleased with the work.

The city learned last spring that it had been successful yet again —the third time in five years — in securing a state historic preservation grant, one administered through the Department of Natural Resources.

Vincennes received $50,000, money for the continued restoration of the police department’s historic wood windows.

The city received the first grant, enough to do 15 of the building’s largest wood windows, in 2016. This new money will go toward restoring another 20 windows; the oldest will be restored, others will be replaced with new, vinyl windows.

Donovan structured the bid in such a way that the city would have options on what exactly it wanted to do, depending on the bid amount.

He sought a base bid, which was to do only the larger, most historic windows; there are about 20 left to do.

But there were a handful of alternates, things like other, smaller basement widows and even exterior doors and fresh paint, Donovan explained.

The base bid alone, however, came in higher than what city officials and those with grant administrator Southern Indiana Development Commission, Loogootee, had anticipated.

Mominee’s base bid was for just over $151,000.

To do everything would be much more, well over $215,000.

Michelle Carrico, a program manager with SIDC, months ago told city officials to expect the project cost to be around $121,000.

The city must put up at least half per the grant guidelines, but officials had expected to do more, possibly as much as $70,000.

Mayor Joe Yochum, however, said up to $100,000 isn’t out of the question.

He previously indicated he would take the city’s share from its allocation of Economic Development Income Tax dollars.

Donovan said he and Carrico now plan to go through the bid — and all of its various alternates — to piecemeal together the best project at the best cost.

Members of the city’s Board of Works gave Donovan the authority to award the contract as he saw fit, but he plans to report back when the board meets again later this month.

“We’ll need to look at this, compare options and talk to the city about what it wants to do,” Donovan said following the meeting.

Carrico, too, has said the city could always go after more historic preservation funds later to finish the overall window restoration, likely taking it out to a third phase.

The city is, however, on a tight deadline as, per grant stipulations, the project must be finished by the end of June.

The Neo-classical revival style building was first constructed in 1907, in part with Indiana limestone, and was purchased by the city in 2000. It’s one of just a few in Vincennes that is on the National Register of Historic Places.

It also previously served as a U.S. Post Office.

This marks the third time the city has received these particular state historic preservation funds.

Last year, the city used this same funding source to do a more than $100,000 restoration of the enclosed shelter house at Gregg Park — a Works Progress Administration-era Project — that included restored windows, tuck-pointing, interior improvements and a new roof.

The DNR grant program assists publicly owned or private not-for-profit properties that are listed in the National Register of Historic Places with grant money to undertake preservation and rehabilitation activities, according to a press release.

The purpose of these projects is to identify, document, and evaluate cultural resources, and to repair, preserve, and rehabilitate historic properties in ways that are historically appropriate and sensitive, and that maintain or enhance the viability and integrity of the resource.


News
City awards more business mini-grants, goes out for seventh round

Members of the city’s Revolving Loan Fund on Tuesday awarded another $26,000 to seven businesses in an effort to bolster them through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

This was the sixth round of grant awards for the RLF committee, which has been charged with handing out $250,000 in funds from the state Office of Community and Rural Affairs’ now revamped Community Development Block Grant Program.

With this latest round of mini-grants, the city has now awarded money to 47 local businesses, benefiting nearly 300 employees.

“So you’ve helped a lot of people and a lot of businesses,” Matt Sward with the Loogootee-based Southern Indiana Development Commission told members of the RLF committee Tuesday as they met at City Hall, 201 Vigo St.

Depending on the number of employees a business has, it can be eligible for anywhere from $2,000 up to $10,000 under the city’s mini-grant program.

Most of the seven businesses awarded funds Tuesday were in the lower tiers, earning either $2,000 or $4,000.

The city has $88,000 left to spend but has until the end of May to do so.

RLF members have oft talked in recent weeks of ways to more quickly spend the remaining monies, likely by adjusting the tiers and retroactively awarding more money to past recipients.

City Clerk-Treasurer Cathy Lane told committee members Tuesday that she ran a couple of different scenarios, looking at one specifically that would award those in the lowest tier another $1,000, those in the second-lowest an additional $2,000 and so on. Doing so would spend most of the remaining funds, likely leaving the committee with just about $10,000 left to spend.

The city has been trying to spend the $250,000 for months, and businesses have been relatively slow to come forward — but they have come forward, pointed out committee member Craig Kirk.

“Every time we think we’re done we get six more (applicants),” he said. “But I think eventually we’ll have to do something.”

Mayor Joe Yochum, also a committee member, agreed.

“I think we should wait to see if we get more applicants before we get rid of the money altogether,” he said.

It’s also possible, Sward told the committee, to go after even more OCRA funds for small businesses.

The state organization has opened up a third phase of Community Development Block Grants, and while mini-grants for businesses is a possibility, this next round will be more competitive, and there are additional opportunities for spending the funds, such as awarding it to food banks or child care centers struggling due to COVID-19.

Yochum said he is still exploring options with SIDC to see what kind of application would best suit Vincennes’ needs right now.

But even if the city hasn’t spent all of its first grant award, Sward said it wouldn’t hurt a second application for similar funds, should that be what Vincennes opts to do.

So, for now, committee members agreed it would simply go out for a seventh round of mini-grant applications and see what businesses come forward.

The county commissioners have been charged with distributing the county’s $250,000 grant award, and earlier this month awarded three more applications totaling $15,000.

The county has, so far, awarded 29 businesses money from its first OCRA grant award. They have left about $105,000 to give away.

County officials, however, have struggled more than their city counterparts in meeting low-to-moderate income guidelines set forth by OCRA.

The county has about three applications left on the table because awarding them would drop them below the 51% low-to-moderate income threshold.

Cities and towns giving away this money must be sure that at least 51% of all employees affected by the grant dollars meet federal low-to-moderate income guidelines.

The city’s current percentage sits at more than 64%.

For more information on the county’s process, see the application on the county’s website at www.knoxcounty.in.gov.

Businesses can also call City Hall at 812-882-7285 for more information on the city’s mini-grant program.


News
State Board of Accounts sites mishandling of funds at VPD

In the summer of 2019, reports began to circulate that the Vincennes Police Department was being investigated by the FBI.

Shortly thereafter, in August of 2019, then city police chief Dusty Luking was placed on administrative leave.

A report issued this week by the Indiana State Board of Accounts finally provides some answers as to why.

The compliance report, filed on Jan. 8 and instigated in the summer of 2019, indicates the investigation began when Luking himself notified the Indiana State Police of some missing money — nearly $32,000 — from the Vincennes Police Department’s vault, located at headquarters, 501 Busseron St.

The year-long investigation that unfolded — which included the FBI, ISP and the State Board of Accounts — cites internal controls that were seriously lacking, so much so that they can’t find the $32,000 at all.

Luking, too, is accused in the report of using police funds to purchase a laptop computer for personal use and in the misappropriation of money, specifically funds that were given to the VPD by the Vincennes Community School Corp. for the reimbursement of a school resource officer.

Instead of reimbursing the city’s General Fund, as was reportedly the agreement between the city and the VCSC, the money — a total of $97,000 paid over three years — was placed into a separate donation fund and used to buy everything from new vehicles to a side-by-side and decals.

The Vault

The State Board of Accounts’ report indicates that the $31,957 missing from the vault was never located during the investigation, nor could they determine whether or not it was taken all at once or in smaller amounts over time.

The missing money was reported when a court order demanded the VPD give it back to the person it was confiscated from during an arrest, according to the state report.

The investigation revealed that four VPD “staff members” held keys to the evidence vault, but they also found that a spare key was kept in an unsecured location, therefore could have been accessed by anyone at anytime.

The state also discovered that there were no cameras in or around the evidence vault, and a simple handwritten “sign in, sign out” system was missing several signatures and times.

There was no electronic logging system to identify who — and when — was entering the vault.

SRO Payments

The VPD first assigned a school resource officer to the VCSC back in 2013; an official memorandum of understanding, however, wasn’t executed until the fall of 2018, according to the state report.

The VCSC paid to the city $32,000 for school year 2013-2014, another $15,000 for the 2014-2015 school year and $50,000 for the 2015-2016 school year.

While the understanding existed that the money was to be used “solely to fund an SRO,” according to the audit, the money was placed into the police department’s Donation Fund.

Items purchased with the money included a 2015 Dodge truck and partial payment for a 2016 Polaris Ranger as well as police gear, “promotional items” and decals for vehicles — all for police department use.

Personal Purchases

According to the audit, Luking purchased with city funds a laptop computer in December of 2018. The claim listed the computer was for a “Car 16,” but after conducting interviews of local law enforcement, the state discovered that there was no “Car 16” and that the laptop was being used by one of Luking’s family members.

The report also indicates that Luking used city funds to purchase additional uniform items; a police officer’s annual salary already includes a stipend for such uniforms.

Also, according to the audit, Luking didn’t always provide detailed invoices or receipts for purchases made with a city-issued credit card, although it doesn’t mention any amounts or transactions specifically, only that they included “meals and a Walmart purchase.”

Conclusions

Overall, the audit sites a general lack of oversight and internal controls at VPD, ones that, if in place, likely wouldn’t have allowed for the missing funds or the misappropriation of money at all.

Luking retired in the fall of 2019, and city officials say they have already implemented a handful of policy changes.

New city police chief Robert Dunham, for instance, has added 24-hour vault monitoring cameras, and new locks were installed.

Access to the vault, too, is now documented and logged into a computer system, including the officer’s name and the date and time of entry.

All items in the vault have ben inventoried and catalogued into the same computer system for better tracking and accountability, according to the report.

The clerk treasurer’s office, too, has implemented a better system of internal controls for all departments, one that better tracks reimbursement funds, making sure they get where they need to go, and that all personal reimbursement requests are denied without the proper documentation, such as receipts.

The state audit findings were discussed during an exit interview with members of the city council in December.

City council president Tim Salters and District 1 member Brian Grove issued a statement that was released with the audit itself.

In it, they call the lack of oversight at the VPD “unacceptable.”

“This report only emphasizes the importance of openness and transparency,” the statement reads, adding that “changes have already been made and will continue to be made.”

And while the two councilmen say the report’s findings are “disheartening,” they add that the “actions of one individual don’t define our police department.”

“We are blessed to have a (police) department filled with individuals willing to sacrifice everything for their community, and we can’t thank them enough,” the statement reads.

The Sun-Commercial attempted to reach Luking for comment, but he did not respond.

The state audit does not indicate whether or not he will face any criminal charges as a result of the report’s findings.


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