Abatement issue halts council meeting

Wanda English Burnett, Editor

A request to approve tax abatements for Wagner Truss and Ertel Cellars Winery brought much discussion at the Ripley County Council meeting Monday night, March 16.

Paperwork submitted was not complete, with council member Ed Armbrecht saying, “It’s our obligation to make sure they’re in compliance.” The motion to approve the requests almost passed, but was quickly squelched when Attorney Neil Comer cited some discrepancies in the submitted forms.
Finally, after much discussion and Auditor Mary Ann McCoy leaving the meeting to get files on the matter from her office at the courthouse, the council decided to recess the meeting to 2 p.m. Wednesday, March 18.

Sheriff Tom Grills approached the council with a request to pursue a grant that will put additional police officers on the beat. The grant will be through the COPS program - Community Oriented Policing Services.

The sheriff explained to the council that the applications were being taken for $1 billion in Recovery Act Funds. This will allow approximately 5,500 law enforcement officer jobs to be created or saved. Sheriff Grills said he wanted to at least get in on the application process and try to get additional officers for Ripley County. He said his officers were “swamped” and the additional manpower would be welcomed.

The question of how the additional cars for the officers would be paid for, was asked by council member Donald Dunbar. He asked if the sheriff could buy the cars out of his home incarceration account. Sheriff Grills said he will be willing to pay as much as he can out of that account, but cautioned he already takes a lot out of this account and didn’t know how much it would cover.
After taking a straw poll of the council members, it was noted they were in favor of the sheriff pursing the grant as long as it falls in a certain perimeter.

The sheriff also requested that officers be vested for retirement at 10 years instead of the present eight. He noted that someone off the street could run for sheriff and only serve eight years, getting the retirement that some road officers have worked years for. He didn’t feel the present system was fair to officers who have been with the department for several years. The council discussed the issue, but didn’t take any action on it. This will be brought before the sheriff’s merit board and then back to the council.

In other business:

• A request from Ripley County Clerk Ginger Bradford to take $2,331.00 from the Perpetuation Fund for storage shelving in the Hunter Building and old bank, was approved unanimously.

• The additional appropriation request from Ripley County Technology Director Kelly Vollet of $40,000 to purchase the final layer for the GIS system was unanimously approved.

• Council members gave unanimous approval for requests for additional appropriations for the Ripley County Health Department: $500 for registration and conference training expenses; $500 for dues and subscriptions; $2,500 for public health threat/emergencies advertising expenses; and $1,597.74 for public information educational materials.

• Julie Brancamp, representing the Ripley County Parks and Recreation, was granted an additional appropriation of $21,408.00 from a Rising Sun Regional Foundation grant for a lighting project at the fairgrounds park.

• The request to transfer $54.37 from one account to another within the recorder’s department was granted. This money will go for dues.

• The council agreed the yearly return from the Ripley County Community Foundation will go into an endowment fund as it has in past years.

• Owen Menchhofer was reappointed to the Ripley County Area Planning Commission for a four-year term with unanimous approval.

The meeting resumed at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, March 18 with all council members present. Within a half hour, both abatements were passed unanimously. Larry Eaton, attorney for both businesses, was present and cleared up any questions that council members had regarding the paperwork.
The next regular council meeting will be held Monday, April 20 at 7 p.m. in the Ripley County Courthouse Annex, Versailles.