County to get $8.3M in federal act

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

Dubois County is due to receive $8.3 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act.

And what the county can do with it is specific. But the Dubois County Commissioners discussed Monday morning some possibilities within those guidelines.

“I look forward to it coming down in the pipe,” Commissioner Elmer Brames said, “and making sure that we understand all the regulations are stipulations on how we spend the money, so that we can move forward.”

The American Rescue Plan Act was signed last week by U.S. President Joe Biden. The $1.9 trillion package provides aid to businesses, governments and individuals, including an anticipated $1,400 stimulus payment to adult individuals, depending on the person’s annual income.

The money can be used to aid in the response to the COVID public health emergency, to pay essential workers, for government services or for investing in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure. It could also be used to provide assistance to households, businesses or nonprofit organizations.

Since the county is working on establishing a regional sewer district, some of the funding could help with future infrastructure, Commissioners President Chad Blessinger said. Extending broadband services is another topic that has been discussed extensively.

Blessinger said he saw an idea a county is California is pursuing that may be a possibility here. The county launched a grant program to entice providers to extend access to areas that don’t have service.

“I thought it was an interesting idea, something we could consider,” he said.

The state has a broadband grant program but providers tend to look for the areas that have many houses to serve. Those areas that have very few houses tend to be left out. If the county were to offer a program, it could be to get providers into those less populated areas, Blessinger explained.

“We could maybe make it more worth their time to take the less sparsely populated areas,” he said.

A recent report on broadband services compiled by Dubois Strong and Regional Opportunity Initiatives, or ROI, shows the issues, Blessinger said. “There's a good percentage of people that don't have access,” he said, “and those that do have access are well below the FCC minimum that would be considered high speed broadband. There's definitely a need for that.”

The commissioners will continue discussing at future meetings what the funding could be used for in the county.

The commissioners also:

• Changed the date for opening bids for renovating and making improvements to the Dubois County Security and Dubois County Community Corrections buildings. They will be opened at 10 a.m. Friday, March 26.

• Discussed the idea of enacting local legislation that would designate the county as a 2A, or Second Amendment, sanctuary county. Local small business owner Eric Jochim brought the proposal and discussed it with the commissioners. The move would not disregard state and federal laws. It would instead send a message to lawmakers and those that represent the county that the county does not want laws that would be considered against the U.S. Constitution.

• Consented to moving forward with the paperwork for one of two finalists for director of the 911 department. A committee that includes Blessinger, County Councilman Craig Greulich, Sheriff Tom Kleinhelter, 911 Board member Scott Uebelhor and human resources director Markie Rhodes will make the selection on Thursday. With the commissioners consenting to the selection, the administrative and processing paperwork can start after the committee selection, Greulich said. The commissioners know who the two finalists are, but their names were not shared publicly; one is a current 911 employee and the other an employee of the sheriff’s office. The formal approval by the commissioners will be done at their April 5 meeting. The new director will work with and train under current Director Jeana Mathies until she retires on May 7. A total of 23 people originally applied for the position, Greulich said.

• Approved giving Emergency Management Director Tammy Humbert a payout of $6,000 and Health Department Administrative Director Shawn Werner a $4,000 payout for the hundreds of extra hours they’ve worked but have not been paid for to deal with the pandemic in the county. The two did not ask for any compensation, but the commissioners felt the duo should get some compensation because the county appreciates all the hard work they have done. The Dubois County Council will determine what fund from which the payouts will come.

• Heard that Saturday’s vaccine clinic at Jasper Middle School went well. In six hours, about 1,100 doses of the vaccine were dispensed, Werner said. There was a power outage that lasted for 30 to 45 minutes, but everything that needed power was already full, so operations were able to continue, he said.

• Approved a request from the Jasper Arts Center to use the courthouse restrooms and northeast lawn from 5:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 5 for its 18th Chalk Walk festival; the backup date is June 12. The Chalk Walk will start at 8 a.m. and health precautions, like social distancing, will be in place, said Bruce Conway, events coordinator at the Jasper Arts Center.

• Approved keeping the restrooms at the Courthouse open for the Downtown Chow Down, which is a Wednesday evening event at which food trucks are stationed around the Courthouse Square for a couple hours. It was suggested in previous meetings that Jasper City Hall restrooms be open for the events; but Kate Schwenk, who is with the city, explained that the restrooms are not separate enough to keep people from getting access to offices in City Hall. In the courthouse’s basement, the restrooms are situated between two sets of doors; the second set of doors leading into the courthouse can be kept locked. The event will run from 4 to 8 p.m. on the second Wednesday of the month from May to October.




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