Jasper board checks and balances in 2019December 27, 2019
By ALLEN LAMAN
JASPER — Though it doesn’t often garner the same spotlight as groups like the Jasper Common Council, the Jasper Board of Public Works and Safety is an important cog in the city’s government.
5K run and walk requests and short-term street closures remained common on agendas in 2019, but the board also played a hand in bigger endeavors, like approving millions of dollars worth of street work and signing off on a police department body camera contract.
According to one of the board’s members, the outfit serves to check the council.
“It’s just a matter of protocol, I believe,” said Nancy Eckerle, who is one of the group’s two appointees. “So that checks and balances can occur. So, the various departments of fire, police, city engineer [and] street department — they all have budgets that have been approved by the city council. But then when they go to spending those dollars, the board of public works becomes [those] checks and balances.”
She explained that the board functions to ensure police and fire protection have what they need, to take care of various city departments and to field requests from residents. Its decisions are made by Eckerle, Tim Bell and Mayor Dean Vonderheide.
In the summer alone, 71 stretches of pavement were tended to by the Jasper Street Department — including popular thoroughfares; cul-de-sacs; and short sections of drives, avenues and boulevards across Jasper. That work totaled nearly $2 million.
Another big stretch of streetwork recently wrapped up when 12th Avenue near Kimball Electronics was dug up and rehabbed as part of a roughly $500,000 Community Crossings project.
When it comes to the police department, the board interviews prospective police officers at the end of their application process. In 2019, board members approved of and oversaw the hiring of four new officers, as well as the entering of a body camera contract worth north of $200,000.
The board also approved local organic popsicle business Strasse Pops to sell its products in several city parks — a move that was made during a time when the common council was investigating a mobile food vendor ordinance that is now up and running.
Eckerle couldn’t think of anything specific the board will tackle in 2020, but she did note that items on Jasper’s new comprehensive plan could lead to action next year.
“How do all of the departments tie into [the] city’s comprehensive plan?” she asked. “And then what would some of those projects be that would need to come before the board of public works for approval? So, I think that will be interesting as we dig more into that [comprehensive] plan.”
She compared the work the public works and safety board does to that of another, prominent government trio in Dubois County.
“On the county level, the city council compares to the county council,” Eckerle said. “And then the county commissioners, that kind of compares to the board of public works. Because the councils approve the overall budget, and then the county commissioners and the board of public works, we approve the day-to-day operations of some of those operations and the contracts they enter into.”
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