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Broadband for every Tippecanoe Co. address? County says: Now’s the time
County makes broadband the centerpiece of $37M American Rescue Plan Act plan. Plus, no hazard pay for health dept during pandemic. Meet Golden Apple winners. And why no blue and gold on Sagamore Pkwy.
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Tippecanoe County hopes to have broadband internet within reach of every address and every parcel by the end of 2024, in a plan rolled out Tuesday morning by the county and Tipmont REMC/Wintek.
Aiming to get fiber to spots of the county that otherwise had no set time to get service that qualified as broadband service, it’s part of what county officials called the $14.8 million centerpiece of the county’s plan for $37.9 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act money.
The Tippecanoe County Council, the fiscal body of the county, signed off on what commissioners called an outline of how the federal money will be spent by the end of 2024. (The council vote was 6-0, with Jody Hamilton abstaining; Hamilton is external affairs director for Tipmont/Wintek.)
“This is aggressive, and it’s meant to be aggressive,” Tom Murtaugh, a county commissioner, said about the rural broadband component.
“This is going to set us apart, we think,” Murtaugh said. “We’re not sure anyone else will be able to say they’re doing the same thing. You hear it a lot, but this really is a big deal.”
Tipmont has been working since spring 2019 to deploy fiber internet, following existing lines in an electric service territory to get rural broadband to its 24,800 members in parts of Tippecanoe, Montgomery, Fountain, Clinton, Carroll, White, Benton and Boone counties. The co-op’s $100 million project, spurred in part by rural broadband initiatives by the state and other sources, is expected to reach its members by 2024.
Ron Holcomb, president and CEO of Tipmont/Wintek, said the county came to the company with the idea. It mirrors the push Gov. Eric Holcomb has promised to put public money into distribution of connections to places that don’t have dense housing and businesses that are most attractive to providers. Ron Holcomb equated the work to electrifying Indiana’s rural landscape nearly 100 years ago.
“Electricity provided security, comfort and convenience, and does today,” Ron Holcomb said. “This next level of infrastructure does the same thing.
“It's a lot more than, ‘Gee, I can get Netflix. It means that you actually get to participate economically. Your family has educational opportunities. Basically, it's become a lifeline for Americans today. You need a strong broadband connection to participate as an American. Without it, you just don't play – no different than what electricity was.”
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Murtaugh said the areas targeted aren’t covered by companies in Lafayette and West Lafayette – including Xfinity and Metronet – or by providers who meet the FCC definition of high-speed broadband, with download speeds of up to 25 megabits per second and upload speeds of 3 megabits per second. The fiber lines Tipmont/Wintek are installing will have download and upload speeds up to 1 gigabyte per second.
For an interactive map with an address search: wintek.com/tippcouncil. Or click on the map below.
But the county’s project with Tipmont/Wintek will include areas along:
North River Road
Indiana 26 West
Buck Creek and surrounding areas
Indiana 26 East
The eastern portion of Otterbein
Montmorenci and surrounding areas
Shadeland and surrounding areas
The Tippecanoe County/White County border
East County Road 1200 South
The area surrounding Stockwell
Clarks Hill and surrounding areas
Purdue University Airport west
More from the county’s ARPA plan
Broadband was the biggest component of the county’s plan for the COVID-era American Rescue Plan Act money. (Lafayette has committed shares of its money to a new water tower near Wea Ridge Elementary and a study about extending water and sewer lines to the south for new housing. West Lafayette will use $7 million of the $11.4 million it received for the Dehart Combined Sewer Overflow Project, a stormwater collection tunnel under North River Road.)
Here are some of the highlights in the county’s plan – one Murtaugh called a “working document” based on estimated costs – as presented to the Tippecanoe County Council Tuesday morning.
READI GRANTS: In December, a six-county region anchored by Greater Lafayette received word that it would get $30 million from the $500 million pool in Indiana’s Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative grants. The Greater Lafayette region had submitted a plan with $119 million in potential projects. Murtaugh called the paring-down process “very much a work in progress.” The state funding – in turn, pulled from federal COVID-era relief funds – calls for local matching funds. The county’s ARPA plan includes $8.5 million for that.
Of that $8.5 million, the county is looking at:
$3 million toward a proposal for a $25.3 million Purdue Airport terminal, meant to recruit airlines that specialized in vacation destinations, including Orlando. The last regularly scheduled commercial passenger service out of Purdue Airport took off in 2004.
$2 million toward housing development. Murtaugh said that could include providing help toward infrastructure, including sewer and water lines.
$2 million toward the Wabash River Greenway Corridor, a 90-mile trail system tracing the Wabash River through much of the seven-county region.
$1.5 million in workforce development initiatives, still being designed.
REGIONAL SEWER DISTRICT WORK: In late October, county commissioners scrapped the idea for a $12.7 million regional sewer district in northeast pockets of the county, after residents from Buck Creek, Colburn and Americus balked at the price and how it might have been managed. The county’s ARPA plan includes $7.5 million to cover some of the capital costs of a new approach to a way to deal with aging septic systems threatening to pollute waterways. John Basham, a county council member, asked whether that might also help, retroactively, residents who created a regional sewer district in Romney in the past decade. Murtaugh said the money in the ARPA plan was a pool, not dedicated solely to the northeast part of the county.
THE STEELE PROPERTY: Murtaugh said the county is prepared to put $1.75 million toward water, sewer and other upgrades to get land just south of the Subaru of Indiana Automotive Inc. plant ready for development. The Steele Land Trust sold the 339 acres along Indiana 38, between Interstate 65 and Newcastle Road, in December for $8.6 million to T.M. Crowley & Associates, a firm in Carmel. In January, the Lafayette Redevelopment Commission agreed to a $160,000 contract to study ways to extend water and sewer lines to the property – seen as Greater Lafayette’s next prime spot for industrial development, partly because it’s the last available land with a rail spur. Murtaugh told the county council he expected to see the land develop quickly. “We have some great leads on the property already,” Murtaugh said.
FOOD FINDERS’ FRESH MARKET: The county’s plan is to put $500,000 toward the purchase and repairs of a former grocery store Food Finders Food Bank turned into a super market-style approach to a pantry. Katy Bunder, president and CEO of the Lafayette-based nonprofit agency, said leasing the former Sav-a-Lot store on Greenbush Street was supposed to be a temporary response to food distribution during the pandemic. Fresh Market remained popular, she said, as a place to pick up meat, produce, milk, eggs and dry goods.
“The number of clients we are serving has remained high and other food pantries are open few hours and distribute small amounts of food,” Bunder said. “That’s why we will attempt to raise enough money to purchase the former Save-A-Lot building and make the Fresh Market a permanent solution.”
Bunder said the building eventually could become Food Finders’ offices, too. She said the organization figures it will take $2.7 million to buy, remodel and repair the building. Bunder said Food Finders was hoping for help from Lafayette and West Lafayette’s shares of the ARPA money, along with direct fundraising.
DAM DECOMMISSIONING: Murtaugh said the county has two dams – each one a road – that have been deemed in poor condition. He said that work is expensive, and the ARPA money would give the county the funding to do it. Estimated cost for Marsh Lake Dam along County Road 900 East and Pretty Prairie Dam northeast of Battle Ground: $4.39 million.
RECYCLING DROPOFF SECURITY: Murtaugh said dumping at the county’s remote recycling bins, including at Southwestern Middle School and East Tipp Middle School, continue to be dumping grounds for all kinds of trash. It’s been a longstanding problem that forces county crews to pick up what’s left and dispose of it. Murtaugh said the ARPA plan includes $50,000 for camera systems to crack down on illegal dumping.
Murtaugh said individual pieces of the plan would come back to the county council when it was time for actual spending.
PANDEMIC HAZARD PAY DENIED FOR HEALTH DEPARTMENT
A month ago, Tippecanoe County Council members, divided over the idea of giving pandemic hazard pay to one set of employees and not others, stalled on a health department request to use $99,800 from a state grant to put a bit more in paychecks of 30-plus employees who helped with vaccine clinic and COVID-19-related tasks.
The next day, Khala Hochstedler, the county health department’s administrator through the pandemic, quit, saying she couldn’t stick with a job where she heard, “Thank you for your service,” while dealing with two years of unpaid time.
On Tuesday, given a month to weigh the request, council members still weren’t going for the idea.
The council voted 6-1 against a request from Dr. Jeremy Adler, the county’s health officer, to use part of a $287,000 grant from the Indiana State Health Department for the hazard pay. Adler said the grant was tied to costs related to running vaccine clinics and other COVID response expenses, but came with no set guidelines beyond that. (Adler said he’d been working with council members to use the rest of the money for vehicles for the health department.) He said other counties had used some of their state grants for similar hazard pay.
Council members weren’t moved.
Council member Ben Murray agreed that health department staff had gone above and beyond. But he said that was the case with county employees in many departments. He said all but two county employees had hourly pay, so they received overtime pay.
“That's the nature of the job,” Murray said. “Does that make me heartless? Quite possibly. … I’m struggling right now, because I am incredibly thankful, incredibly appreciative of the work that our health department and many others have done.”
Murray said he didn’t know where to draw that line, so he couldn’t vote for the hazard pay.
Minutes earlier, Murray had been the lone vote against a $10,000 hazard pay proposal for four Adult Protective Services investigators who work in in the prosecutor’s office. In that case, the money was from the state specifically for that purpose.
Council member Kathy Vernon asked whether the grant could be used to cover other expenses from the vaccine clinic and the rest, including overtime pay during that time.
Council member Barry Richard was the lone vote to give the hazard pay to the health department employees. He said he didn’t understand why the council would stand in the way of a department that found grant funding to take care of such issues. Richard, a former Tippecanoe County sheriff, said he never heard the council raise issues when the sheriff’s department accepted grants to pay for deputy overtime during special drunken driving blitz patrols.
Bottom line: It was denied.
What wasn’t clear: How that $99,800 would be used.
This and that …
HOLCOMB SIGNS TOWNSHIP TRUSTEE OUSTER BILL: The same day former Wabash Township Trustee Jennifer Teising was sentenced on 21 counts of felony theft connected to her elected role, Gov. Eric Holcomb signed a measure into law that sets a way to oust township trustees who are derelict or no-show before the next election. Senate Bill 304 – Sen. Ron Alting said it was inspired by Teising and Fairfield Township Trustee Taletha Coles – would allow a series of votes from the township board, county commissioners and the county council, followed by a court hearing, to determine whether a township trustee should be ousted. Sentenced Monday, Teising plans to appeal her conviction and a three-year sentence that include 248 combined days in the county jail and the county’s community corrections program. The Fairfield Township Board has called on Coles to resign. She’s ignored that, with the two sides feuding over access to financial records and the State Board of Accounts continues an audit of Coles’ records.
FACIAL-RECOGNITION SOFTWARE ORDINANCE ON HOLD: The West Lafayette City Council on Monday tabled a second attempt to ban the city’s police department from using facial-recognition software, except in cases of violent crimes. David Sanders, who sponsored the measure, said Monday the delay would give council members a chance to review the proposed ordinance. Mayor John Dennis vetoed a similar measure in 2021. The city council didn’t have the votes to override the veto at that time.
CITIES OPT IN TO STATE’S OPIOID SETTLEMENT: With new state legislation that would give counties and cities a larger share of a $26 billion settlement with an opioid manufacturer and distributors, Lafayette and West Lafayette city councils voted Monday to opt into Indiana’s settlement rather than continue with a separate lawsuit. In the initial settlement formula used by the state, Indiana would have put 70% through the Family and Social Services Administration, 15% to the state and 15% split among units of local government, based on population. House Bill 1193, approved this session, puts the local share at 35%. West Lafayette’s share will be roughly $650,000, according to Eric Burns, the city attorney. Lafayette’s share would be an estimated $2.4 million over the life of the settlement, Jacque Chosnek, city attorney, said.
THE LIGHTS ON SAGAMORE AND UKRAINE: Here was the suggestion Monday night from Lafayette business owner Lloyd Wells: With the Tippecanoe County Courthouse dome shining blue and gold for the people of Ukraine, how about doing the same with the light poles that cover a stretch of Sagamore Parkway in Lafayette? Mayor Tony Roswarski, who on Monday read a proclamation of the city’s support for Ukraine, said there was one problem with that. The lights never went red, yellow or green, because they’d interfere with traffic lights on the road. It was an idea, right?
A STATEHOUSE READ …
CONGRATULATIONS, GOLDEN APPLE WINNERS: Tuesday was the night Greater Lafayette Commerce honored five teachers – all from Tippecanoe School Corp. this time – with this year’s Golden Apple Awards. Before the event, Greater Lafayette Commerce made a series of brief videos to honor each winner, asking them what they want their students to take from their classes. Here you go …
Claire Brown, kindergarten teacher at Mayflower Mill Elementary School.
Denise Erickson, first-grade teacher at Battle Ground Elementary.
Lisa Lane, first-grade teacher at Hershey Elementary School.
Bill Laufman, fourth-grade teacher at Battle Ground Elementary School.
Eileesh Leuck, second-grade teacher at Mintonye Elementary School.
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