County approves tax for justice system upgrades


Monday evening, the Dubois County Council unanimously passed an ordinance that will institute a new income tax to help fund the costs for expanding the Dubois County Security Center and Community Corrections facilities.

The tax will see a 0.2% increase on the current income tax — which stands at 1% — and all of the new contributions will be funneled directly into the future project.

“I think it has been well-documented that the need is great,” said Jerry Hunefeld, who is the council’s president. “And we’ve been over capacity for years, and I’m thankful it has been addressed. And we are taking baby steps, but we are taking steps to move to complete correction.”

The new tax will raise an estimated $2.483 million annually, and the median household, which has an income of about $57,000, will see an annual increase of about $107.

Other council members echoed Hunefeld’s message before the vote. Mike Kluesner referenced the facility’s overcrowding and said he believed his hands were tied. Charmian Klem said the increase is “the most basic way that we can fund the project without taxing the citizens more than what we should for the project.”

Jasper Mayor Dean Vonderheide was one of two men who spoke during a public hearing before the ordinance passed. He voiced support for alternatives to the tax, and asked council members to use good judgment when making their decision — whatever it would be.

“We’d like to not be backed into a corner where we’re limited in the funding that we need to continue to service our citizens,” Vonderheide said, adding he thinks the county has a lot on its plate beyond the jail and justice system, like the Midstates Corridor, for example.

He wanted members to take into consideration some of those future needs and how they might be funded.

Jasper resident Adrian Engelberth also spoke during the hearing. He thanked the council members for searching for ways to build the jail without raising taxes, but said he understood if they determined the tax was necessary to fund the project.

The new tax will sunset when the project’s debts are paid, or in 22 years, whichever comes first. It will start being withheld on Oct. 1, and the county will begin receiving it in 2020. The county has been looking into what improvements need to be made to the county’s justice system as a whole, and two options are being considered.

The cheaper of the two — $43.1 million — includes remodeling the current security center; adding on a jail pod building that will increase the number of beds to between 244 and 270; expanding the community corrections facility; adding surface parking; and adding a building that would house the courts and a connector between the courts facility and jail.

The other option, at $50.8 million, includes using the Old National site at Sixth and Mill streets. This would include adding a building on the east side of the site for the jail beds and a parking garage on the west side; the Old National building would also be renovated and used for administrative offices, and the current community corrections facility would still be expanded.

Councilman Doug Uebelhor explained before the vote that even with the tax in effect, he believes the county will need to continue to search for ways to supplement the project funding, like user fees that come from individuals using the facilities.

“And I also think this is not gonna get us the whole way if we’re gonna choose one of the two options,” he said of the tax increase. “We have to also find other alternatives as well.”

The council also:

• Heard a presentation from Amy Weyer, president of the Dubois County Museum’s board of directors, on the future sustainability of the museum. She asked the council to consider appropriating an additional $50,000 in funds for each of the next two years for the creation of a museum director position. After those two years, the job will become self-sustainable. Council President Jerry Hunefeld said discussion about the position will be ongoing.

• Heard Mary Ann Hayes deliver a history of the museum, which will celebrate its 20th birthday in August and attracted 9,399 visitors in 2018. Her speech included information about the museum’s beginnings, awards it has received over the years and facility highlights. The site houses 50,000 square feet of exhibit space, and 41,850 recorded and cataloged artifacts. It is the largest county museum in the state.

• Approved the hiring of a new 911 dispatcher position. The council appropriated $21,184 for the new, full-time employee’s pay from July through the end of the year. Also approved modifying the salary ordinance to pay the new employee.

• Approved the purchase of a new Dubois County Community Corrections vehicle for field officers. The car will be paid for out of the community transition program fund. The new vehicle will be a Dodge Charger, and it will cost $15,094 after a trade-in of an old truck.

• Heard from County Clerk Amy Kippenbrock, who is requesting to purchase four new “poll pads” for election sites, to prevent slowdowns at the polls. The devices are Apple iPads equipped with printers that are used for checking voters in on election days. Hunefeld told Kippenbrock to put the $6,000 for the devices in her budget, and the conversation will continue at budget time.

• Heard that Gary Fritz, deputy director of the county’s emergency management office, will retire in June 2020. Tammy Humbert, the office’s director, would like to fill the position while Fritz is still working. The council voiced support of Humbert advertising the position in her 2020 budget and bringing someone in to shadow Fritz. During his time at the local department, Fritz brought in about $2 million in grant funding to the county.

• Approved appropriating $40,500 for the installation of a railroad crossing signal at County Road 600 West near Duff. The motion passed 5-2.

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