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By KEVIN KOELLING
TELL CITY – Two members of the Perry County Council members said “nay” April 24 when that body voted to spend $50,000 to have a comprehensive plan developed.
Another suggested the issue be tabled after he was thought to have offered a motion to approve the spending. Yet another said he arrived at the meeting prepared to table it, but then voted in favor of it.
As the News has reported previously, the county commissioners voted March 18 to employ the Bernardin-Lochmueller engineering firm of Evansville to develop the plan. For that to move forward, the county council had to approve the spending, which was to come from economic-development income-tax revenues.
Bernardin-Lochmueller representative Judy Thomann described how development of the plan will identify opportunities and challenges for the county, as the News reported Thursday. When Council President Stan Goffinet got to the point in the meeting agenda where a vote on authorizing the $50,000 expenditure was appropriate, two councilmen, Ron Crawford Sr. and Steve Goodson, seemingly offered the motion. Two more, seconded it.
County Commissioner Tom Hauser was in the audience and offered an explanation on how those county leaders came to a decision to develop and fund the plan and to employ Bernardin-Lochmueller. They researched the issue for three years, talking to commissioners of other counties and Sen. Joe Donnelly’s office to ask about grants, he said. That portion of the discussion was fruitless, he continued, and while the senator’s staff could not legally recommend any firm, they did say they had no negative information about Bernardin-Lochmueller “and it’s either the No. 1 or No. 2 firm in the state (so) we’re getting the best plan that we can get.”
He thought they could find a way to reduce the cost, he continued, but in extensive discussion with Bernardin-Lochmueller and other firms, could not find a way to do that. In 2011, a one-time payment of $85,000 went into the county’s economic-development income-tax fund, whose purpose matches that of the comprehensive plan, he said.
Goodson thanked Hauser for the work the commissioners did, noting the county is “way overdue” in updating its plan.
“We’ve talked about the comprehensive plan now since I came on the council,” Adams added. “I’m glad to see it come to fruition … it’s time we do it and do it right this time.”
Goffinet asked if the commissioners sought bids or got cost estimates from any other companies.
“When we talked to other firms, they told us we couldn’t get a better deal than we’d get from Bernardin-Lochmueller,” Hauser replied.
“That was conversation. We did not get anything in writing.”
“You can get them for less, but you get less,” Thomann said.
“The money has been collected from our citizens already,” Hauser said, “and it’s what we feel is the best route.”
Crawford said he attended a meeting the night before with representatives of 17 counties and he was “not in favor of doing this for this amount of money at this time.” He’d mentioned previously other companies could develop a plan for $25,000 to $30,000, he said, and one represented at the meeting provided the same figures.
He had also talked with Alvin Evans, president and CEO of the Perry County Development Corp., “and it’s kind of his impression that (a comprehensive plan) won’t really help with grants because there’s some criteria about how much people make in the county.”
Thomann had mentioned an Americans with Disabilities Act component to the plan, and Crawford noted he’d been appointed to an ADA committee formed last June.
“We had one meeting in September (2013) and put $2,000 in it and said, ‘well, that’s all we can do,’ ” he said. “So we’re really not going to do anything.”
He added the plan may be useful for zoning purposes, but “just because the money’s laying there doesn’t mean that we have to spend it.” He also suggested components of a comprehensive plan recently completed for Tell City and those of other counties could be assembled into one for Perry County at less cost, and that the commissioners talk again with Bernardin-Lochmueller about reducing the cost. Changes in state legislation are going to increase the number of prisoners housed in the county jail and related costs beginning July 1, he continued, suggesting the council table their action on the $50,000.
“I guess I’m kind of confused as to why you made a motion to pass this thing,” Adams said.
Crawford said he’d intended to communicate to County Auditor Connie Berger that he wanted to offer a second motion to table the issue.
“I had heard Steve and you talk at the same time to make the motion to approve it,” she said.
Goffinet noted a motion had been made and seconded to approve the spending and it would be the first to be voted upon.
“PCDC is very much on board with the county getting a comprehensive plan to give PCDC guidance in their endeavors,” Hauser said. The agency’s mission is to promote economic development, he noted. “We are not spending money just because it’s sitting there … we want to invest this money because we have it available to us and we feel this investment will more than pay for itself time and time (again).”
Hauser is on the PCDC’s board of directors, as is Councilwoman Jody French. She had talked to Evans privately, she said, and “he did say if it has to do with zoning and if the money is available for the investment, that going this route is much better” than the alternatives. From her perspective as assistant principal at Perry Central High School, she continued, “it’s like taking a person who doesn’t have a college degree and they’re working the same job and having a hard time making things better for themselves, so they invest in a college education so they can better their opportunities. I feel like this is the same thing for Perry County. We’re investing in Perry County so that we can better our opportunities.”
Hauser said the commissioners could discuss the issue further with Bernardin-Lochmueller, “but we have for three years.”
From the audience, Tara Damin identified herself as a county resident and former employee of a firm in Dallas, Texas that “charged almost $80,000 for a city the size of Tell City, to do something very similar to this. It’s not just each little town – you’re getting this for the whole county. I can greatly appreciate you wanting to save money for Perry County. That’s what you’re here for … but we’re going to see this coming to us back tenfold.”
That will be in the form of development opportunities, which will include businesses opening near the new hospital, she said as an example.
“I work for a competitor (to Bernardin-Lochmueller),” she continued, “and I know they do great work.” The communication between departments there will prevent having to pay costs incurred through miscalculation and miscommunication, she said. “I think you’re going to get more than what you’re expecting.”
Crawford asked Thomann how she could justify charging the same amount for a plan for an area with 60,000 people and 20 million acres.
“It has to do with the amount of man-hours it takes,” she replied, explaining certain meetings, hearings and products are common to all comprehensive plans.
Goffinet called for a vote, which brought nay votes from him and Crawford.
Damin asked Goffinet why he opposed the motion.
“I think it’s too much money,” he replied. He, too, spoke to someone the previous evening who said a plan could be developed for $25,000 to $30,000. Perry County has much national-forest land, which reduces its property-tax revenues, and “I think we can work off the old one … and we can work off the city’s.”
“Living out in the county,” Damin said, “you’re going to get a lot of city people to be on these steering committees deciding what’s going on out in the county. It needs to be a unified steering committee. It doesn’t need to be Tell City-based. It needs to be county-based.”
About talking to representatives of other companies offering lower prices, she asked, “are you truly comparing apples to apples?”
That’s why he would have preferred to table the issue, Goffinet said, “so we can discuss it some more. We’ve had this since 1993 and I don’t know what the big rush is to get this done right now.”
“When I came in tonight, I was inclined to vote to table” it,
Councilman Chet Mathena said, “but as I listened to the explanations, et cetera, I decided Perry County would be better off with a Cadillac as opposed to a Chevy … if we could save $20,000 on this and still have a functional plan, I think we’d would be better off. At the same time, I’ll put the Cadillac in my garage.”