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Commissioners agree to jail work; B pod on target for April

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Porter County Sheriff David Lain said an April 1 opening date for the B pod at Porter County Jail is still in the cards but many steps must be taken to reach that goal.

County Commissioners John Evans, R-North, and Nancy Adams, R-Center, whose board oversees the jail, voiced their commitment to approve funding for a number of improvements at the jail which may end up using the roughly $1.5 million available from the 2012 refinancing of the jail building bonds.

One of those steps will be to install a new grinder station to resolve the issues with sewer lines due to items flushed into them by jail inmates. Lain said the problems have persisted over the years and one time caused a major sewage backup in December 2012.

The sewer lines contained steel hooks to catch flushed debris but occasionally large items would break the hooks off and end up causing clogs at the Sturdy Road pump station managed by the City of Valparaiso.

Valparaiso Utilities Director Steve Poulos told the Commissioners the pump station is “a critical artery to its system” serving the Silhavy Watershed and its connection at its other pump station at Horseprairie.

Poulos said that since 2009, city utility workers have had to make 191 visits to the Sturdy Road pump station to remove obstructions which has added up to thousands of dollars in labor costs. The type of debris recovered from the jail includes “bed liners, undergarments, trousers and mop heads,” Poulos said.

A study by McMahon and Associates last summer to find a possible solution to the problem suggested installing a new grinder station at the jail which could cost from $300,000 to $350,000, Poulos said.

Poulos gave three reasons fixing the problem is important Š it would prevent “operational chaos” for the Sheriff’s Department, it would save the city money the recurring repair costs, and it would also accommodate the additional gallons of sewage from the development of Pratt Industries near U.S. 30 on the east side of Ind. 49.

Evans said he would like to cooperate on the Commissioners’ end to install the grinder station. He would first like to consult the McMahon group study to get a better idea of the price and pledged to “get this taken care of as soon as the weather breaks.”

In a related matter, Lain sought improvements to the jail suggested in the recent report by consultants DLZ Indiana. Surveillance and security system upgrades could cost up to $700,000 and an update to the telephone systems would be about $200,000.

The Commissioners have already paid about $150,000 for the preparation of the unused B-pod and to replace the air conditioning unit in the Enhanced 911 dispatch room.

Lain and Evans both felt it would be worthwhile to do all the upgrades together.

“We are going to be playing catch up with this so we’re going to have to get it done,” said Lain.

Evans said he would like it if all the upgrades could be made with whatever is left in the bond refinance funds.

A pre-construction meeting for the B pod work will take place next week. Lain said that the new jail officers will also be in training, hopefully to be ready for an April 1 opening.

Also, the Commissioners approved $10,600 to continue having X-ray machines at the County Courthouse and the North County Complex, which will be paid out of the data and technology line item in the sheriff’s budget.

The service was originally paid for from the offenders’ booking fee which has not been generating necessary revenue since it was amended so that only those found guilty of an offense pay the fee.

Evans said he would like to study the fee for problems that could be fixed.

The board also approved specs to be advertised for new vehicles for the Sheriff’s fleet.

Clinic service fees

In other business, Mike Anton of Anton Insurance, the County’s servicing agent for its employee health plan, informed the Commissioners a change had to be made in the plan contracted with Porter Regional Hospital’s CareExpress clinical and wellness services.

Anton said that to be in compliance with the Affordable Care Act, the County cannot provide a free service and will need to decide on a fee to charge for clinic visits or else face discontinuing the program.

The fee could be minimal, Anton said, and the Commissioners ultimately decided to keep the contract and set a fee of $10 per visit.

“It would not be right to pull the rug right out from under our employees because the Obamacare plan has a flaw,” Evans said.

Anton said he has been in contact with U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly to see if there would be a way the County could continue the plan without having to charge a fee.

Appointments

Tabled from the Commissioners’ reorganizational meeting this month, the Commissioners announced Jon Miller as an appointment to the Jail Museum Advisory Board and Rick Burns to the Plan Commission.

Two more openings still need to be filled on the newly formed Museum Advisory Board. Anyone interested in applying please contact the Commissioners’ office, Evans said.

Special meeting

The meeting Tuesday did not include County Commissioner Laura Shurr Blaney, D-South, who was absent.

Thus, Evans and Adams withdrew a few items from the agenda such as the Plan Commission business of rezoning two parcels in Portage Twp.

Evans also put on hold the discussion of matters regarding the legal challenge to the ordinance to modify the County Council districts.

A special meeting will be advertised as soon as LaPorte County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Alevizos rules on the matter, which the judge indicated would be sometime this week.

Evans said the Commissioners’ special meeting could be this Friday or possibly early next week as the law requires 48 hours prior notice for a public meeting.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted 1/22/2014