It was a scene that wouldn’t have looked out of place at the Pentagon.
The County Office Building’s Salmon Room was filled with people — several in military dress uniforms — conducting a meeting.
What was going on was food-related safety training for disaster situations, and the people in uniform were from the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.
And the reason they were here in Brown County conducting that training goes back to a woman who has been serving local families for the past 19 years.
Story continues below gallery
A couple of years ago, Brown County Child Support Administrator Dannetta Dorsett found out that Indiana was going to be updating the computer system for tracking child support.
Dorsett realized that this was going to mean a lot of training for herself and the rest of the staff, taking them away from the county and their work, while costing the county money to send them to that training.
So, she came up with an idea: Use federal child support incentive funds to make Brown County the place to train.
Each year, based on the performance of the Brown County child support program in meeting federal criteria regarding child support enforcement, the federal government sends Indiana IV-D incentive money.
Of the money the local office earns, 22 percent is held by the state, 22 percent each is distributed to the county clerk’s office and the county general fund, and the remainder goes to the child support program at the county prosecutor’s office.
All of it is supposed to be used in ways that benefit and enhance child support, Dorsett said.
In the case of the county general fund money, much of it simply had not been used.
So, Dorsett approached the county about using it to make technology improvements in the Salmon Room that would make Brown County an ideal training site for the Indiana Department of Child Services.
Since October 2013, $43,366.75 of IV-D incentive money has been spent on improvements to the Salmon Room, the county courthouse and the Law Enforcement Center. Around $24,000 went into the Salmon Room, improving connectivity for computers and adding videoconferencing equipment.
Child services training is hands-on and involves everyone in the room being logged into the state child support system. Dorsett said she has been to training where system crashes were a regular interruption.
“Then you have to start all over again, rebooting and going through the process,” she said.
She wanted to make certain Brown County’s site would not have those problems.
County technology services director Ric Fox set up a Wi-Fi access point in the Salmon Room to provide high-speed access to most of the state’s servers, so trainers here can access things in Indianapolis much as if they were there.
He also made certain the access point could handle more than the potential 30 or 40 laptops that would be connected to it during training.
The incentive money also purchased a “whiteboard” — the large, computerized screen on which documents and agendas are displayed at many government meetings — and the document camera that allows for their projection.
The document camera makes training much more effective, Dorsett said, allowing instructors to easily show a room full of people a hard copy of a letter or a step-by-step walk-through of what to do in a computer program.
The Department of Child Services conducted about 10 training sessions in 2014. More are planned for this year.
The benefits have not only been to the child support office, Dorsett said.
With the Salmon Room being the main meeting room for many county functions, the same equipment also benefits the county commissioners, council and various other boards, who make use of the document camera, whiteboard and even the desks and chairs the incentive money purchased.
Other county departments are realizing the benefits as well, and that comes back to those people in military uniforms.
County food inspector Jennifer Heller Rugenstein organized the November training that brought in 25 people from across the state and another nine from outside Indiana. They were there to receive Food and Drug Administration training on food safety during disasters.
Rugenstein has coordinated several training sessions and said the benefits are much the same as for the child support office. Instead of paying for hotels and food for local people to leave their offices, she is able to get them the training they need a short walk from their offices.
“If you figured what it would cost to send a person — or multiple people — if you figure sending them to Indianapolis for a three-day training, we’re saving money in the long run,” Dorsett said.
It also brings people from out of the county — instructors and students — who are spending their money in Brown County on hotels, food and shopping.
“Some vendors in town have been able to come in and cater lunch for them,” Fox said. “It’s really been a benefit for everybody.”
They are still saving money over training elsewhere, Dorsett said, not having to travel as far as they used to or pay more than $20 a day just to park.
The Brown County Convention and Visitors Bureau gives Rugenstein a packet to send to training participants about places to stay and eat.
In the past, some federal employees have stayed in Bloomington or Columbus because of hotels needing to have a contract with the federal government. However, at least one local hotel qualifies, and Rugenstein said she has made an effort to make sure training participants know that.
“Every time, I ask them to leave me any complaints — anything we can do to make it better — and I have had none yet,” Dorsett said.
Instead, instructors and people working in technology services at the state level have complimented the facility, Dorsett said. And the community has left an impression on them, as well.
“The town is great. We always go out and eat at the local venues to sample the foods that they have there,” said Al Bugenhagen, an instructor in food safety who has traveled from New York twice to conduct training in Brown County. “We have never had a bad meal.”
Angela Davis, a senior manager with the Communications and Training Unit of the Child Support Bureau, was involved in training twice in Brown County in 2014.
“It’s a great facility. It has all the tools that we need,” she said. “It’s been wonderful. They really go out of their way to be helpful to us, especially Dannetta and the tech staff.”
Bugenhagen had similar praise for Rugenstein.
Davis said the location is convenient for people around southern Indiana and to the training staff in Indianapolis.
“The staff has been very accommodating,” Davis said. “They seem happy to have us there, and we’ve been grateful for that.”