Each January, we ask elected officials and other community leaders to reflect on their work in the past year and set some goals for the next. Taking cues from their constituents, here’s where they plan to focus their energies in 2016.
Sheriff Scott Southerland predicts 2016 will include more training for officers and more drug dealers going to jail.Target locked: Cracking down on heroin use will continue to be the department’s primary goal in 2016. Southerland would have liked to have seen more heroin and methamphetamine dealers land behind bars in 2015, but he’s not giving up.In class: The sheriff’s goal for 2015 was to send each deputy to two specialized classes, like accident reconstruction training. He said they were really close to doing that. The department also is getting deputies certified as instructors for classes that officers usually have to attend out of county, so overtime costs are reduced. “There’s not much left that we can’t do ourselves, which is going to really make it easier,” he said. Having better trained deputies also means they’ll be more professional and more effective, he said. “I want them to be as trained or better trained than anybody out there. We may be small, but there’s no reason we can’t be good.”
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Proud of in 2015: Implementing a computer-aided dispatch system; hiring two new deputies; getting all deputies trained to administer and carry naloxone, the opiate overdose prevention drug; getting a grant for bulletproof vests; updating standard operating procedures; organizing the basement storage room and shredding 117 banker boxes of old records dating back to the ’80s; adding 16 to 17 new volunteer reserve officers; and securing a pay increase for new officers that will total $3,000 over nine years. “We’re trying to give some of the new guys an incentive to stay longer and not to be here for five, six, seven years then go to another agency for more money,” Southerland said.
Police Chief Ben Seastrom says 2016 will be a year of providing better law enforcement in town limits.More officers: Beginning in January, three new part-time officers will start patrolling Nashville, and other volunteers will help with parking enforcement.Public input: The police department will schedule public meetings at the station on Hawthorne Drive. Residents will be invited to talk with officers about any issues they have in Nashville.
Proud of in 2015: Creating a crisis intervention advocate to better help victims; creating a detective position to provide “better investigations”; and changing from a marshal’s office to a metropolitan police department. “We did this so we could raise our standards and eventually change our benefits,” Seastrom said. The department will now be overseen by a merit commission comprised of community members.
prosecutorProsecutor Ted Adams said his primary goal in 2016 will be obtaining justice for a murdered Indiana University student.Hannah Wilson: “April 24 changed the vision and our goals of our office,” Adams said. On that day, Wilson’s body was discovered in Brown County. Jury selection for the trial of Daniel Messel is scheduled to begin June 1.
Blood draws: Blood draws are done when a person suspected of drunken driving refuses a breath test. Adams wants to be able to have these done at Brown County’s ambulance station instead of at hospitals. Now, officers have to drive out of county to obtain the blood sample from the suspect at a hospital, leaving the county short an officer for a couple of hours.
Child support: In 2015, the prosecutor’s office created a brochure campaign to educate people on what services its child support division provides. The state gave the division a high rating, Adams said. “We continue our efforts to let people know who we are and what services we can provide.”
Proud of in 2015: Achieving a high conviction rate on bench trials; earning 50 to 60 continuing legal education credits in 2015, exceeding his required six to 12; preserving some money in the 2015 budget; and generally transitioning the office, since 2015 was his first year working with his staff.
Brown County Schools Board of Trustees
President Carol Bowden thinks 2016 will bring a new superintendent, another national We the People team celebration and voter approval of a referendum.More money? On May 3, Brown County voters can decide for or against adding 8 cents per $100 of assessed value to the property tax rate “to continue what we have in place and to continue to improve to allow our students to be matched up with any other student in this state,” Bowden said. The board will work this spring on convincing voters of the reasons.New leader: Superintendent David Shaffer will retire at the end of this school year. The application window opened Dec. 1 and will close in mid-January.
Setting steps: One goal Shaffer wanted to accomplish before he left was to create a salary schedule that would allow teachers to look years ahead and estimate what they would be earning. That hasn’t happened yet. Bowden said restrictions from the state level on the school district’s general fund have made it difficult. Already, 95 percent or more of the general fund is going toward wages and benefits for staff, Bowden said.
Higher tech: Incorporating more technology into the classroom will continue. “We have some teachers that are really excited about using Canvas,” Bowden said. It’s used by teachers all over the country to communicate ideas, programs and educational opportunities. Bowden wants to continue to see students use technology so they are prepared for whatever path they choose after high school: “Not just college, but vocational skill trades, because they’re all using technology in one form or another,” she said.
Proud of in 2015: The Brown County Junior High School We the People team winning the state championship and qualifying to compete in the national competition next spring; and Tom Jackson filling the board seat left by the death of board member John Mills.
Brown County Commissioners
President Dave Anderson is eyeing the courthouse for 2016, Diana Biddle’s thoughts are on county roads, and Joe Wray wants, first of all, to do no harm.At the garage: Biddle said she never would have expected Superintendent Michael Magner to get about 23 miles of road paved for the year, between budget constraints and delays from the July flood. In 2016, Biddle’s goal is to get least 20 more miles paved. But she also wants to focus more on bridges, which could limit the money available for paving.Security: Anderson said he is concerned that the county hasn’t addressed the lack of permanent security at the courthouse. He said he understands that the issues of lack of space and energy efficiency there may take longer to resolve, but he wants to see security addressed in 2016.
Transparency: “I don’t like secrets, and I’d like to get away from some of the, ‘I can tell you, but don’t tell anybody else about that,’” Anderson said. Commissioners maintaining a completely public profile is essential, he said. Anderson thinks the commissioners have improved in the past year in being open to public input. “I would never deny anybody an opportunity to say something at a meeting,” he said.
Economic development: Anderson said economic development remains a priority, but the focus needs to stay on quality, not just quantity.
Build a bridge? Biddle said that the opportunity to incorporate a covered bridge into INDOT’s Yellowood Road project instead of a standard bridge has all but slipped through the county’s fingers due to a lack of private support, monetarily and vocally. “It’s not a project where we’re going to go out and do a lot of bake sales,” she said. “If the community wants it, then the community needs to have a buy-in. It can’t be a commissioner-driven project.” The county does not have the money to pay for the bridge, and no one at the state has been willing to provide money outside of the original scope of the project, Biddle said.
Proud of in 2015: Reducing the scope of right-of-way needed for the Yellowood Road project; keeping regular hours in the commissioners’ office; improvements at the county highway and sheriff’s departments; and multiple groups cooperating to find a new home for Mother’s Cupboard and Habitat for Humanity, pull the Pioneer Village into one cohesive property and share some labor such as snow removal between the town and the county. “I think those were ‘outside the box’ kind of things that we did this year,” Biddle said.
Brown County Council
It’s been a learning year for the Brown County Council, with four of its seven members newly elected in 2015.Making sense: New members have been learning what each office does and what they need to function, said Debbie Guffey. “That was my main goal: to see where the money was going.” Dave Redding praised Brown County Auditor Beth Mulry and her Chief Deputy Crissie Oaldon; their reports and spreadsheets have helped council members get a grasp on potential money shortages before the problems show up, Redding said.Community participation: Redding said he enjoyed the crowds at meetings earlier in the year; he was disappointed to see mostly empty seats in recent months. To increase participation, he suggested having meetings of the council and other government bodies at the high school at times when students can attend, giving them an introduction to how local government works.
Transparency: Darren Byrd said this has been the council’s biggest accomplishment. “I like how much more clear everything seems to be — putting stuff out on the table for the people in the county to see. It’s their money. It’s their budget. It’s the residents who should see what’s going on here.” Guffey said she wants to keep the dialogue with the public going. That doesn’t just mean making spreadsheets public but also being able to explain to her constituents how and why money is spent.
Stretching every dollar: Byrd said that’s biggest challenge the council faces in 2016, same as last year. “Everything’s so tight,” he said. “Everything’s there, but everything’s tight.”
Brown County Redevelopment Commission
President Joe Wray said the commission didn’t quite live up to its mandate in 2015: “Jobs, bring jobs to the community.” Member Jim Schultz added, “I would say that we got off to a very slow start.”Our niche: The commission needs to determine what niche is Brown County’s to fill, Wray said. “We’re not going to have a Subaru plant here, I know that,” he said. Getting the attention of outside businesses may mean having properties already lined up before businesses come looking. The county also needs to determine what the right role of the redevelopment commission is in Brown County, Schultz said. What works in other locations might not work here.Vision: Before anything can be done, the commission needs to figure out a vision for the commission and the county, Schultz said. But that will require taking greater initiative to shape it. “Change is gonna occur in Brown County. That’s an absolute,” Schultz said. “The question is, ‘Will it be positive for the citizens of Brown County?’”
Cooperation: To create economic opportunities, the county’s redevelopment commission will need to work closely with the state and town, Schultz said. They also need to be working in cooperation with other county boards, such as the Area Plan Commission, he said. Wray said he regularly checks in with Nashville Redevelopment Commission President Ric Fox.
Longer term: Schultz said he would like to see if it is possible to make the terms of commission members longer, up to three years. That would guarantee some continuity, necessary when dealing with economic issues.
Town economic development
Town Manager/Economic Development Director Scott Rudd said he will release the draft of the town’s three-year plan in 2016 and start implementing it. Town and county residents gave input about what it should contain throughout the year.More connected: Top among local leaders’ goals for several years has been to offer high-speed Internet to more places in Brown County. This year, Nashville became the state’s first Broadband Ready Community by setting up a government framework for providers to follow, and Rudd has been speaking with several of them about expanding in the town and county.More fun: In 2015, Brown County was designated as one of 27 bronze-level Ride Centers in the world by the International Mountain Biking Association. In the fall, the convention and visitors bureau was awarded a $25,000 grant to further market the county to those visitors. Rudd and other county leaders will continue to work on making Nashville and Brown County an even more mountain biking-friendly destination.
More stable: “Improve the financial strength and quality of the Nashville water and wastewater utilities” is another top goal for 2016, Rudd said. The town is undergoing financial studies of both utilities and seeking grants and loans to improve aging infrastructure while keeping utility bills down.
More permanent: Overall, Rudd said he wants to “position Nashville as a premier town to live, work and do business.” A key piece is providing middle-income housing, said Nashville Redevelopment Commission President Ric Fox. He said the Hawthorne Hills senior apartments under construction are a good start, but so far, he wasn’t aware of anyone else saying they wanted to do another project, such as for families. The redevelopment commission has been talking about what it could do to help an interested developer locate such a project in Nashville. Rudd said in 2016, the town also will “invest in the community’s quality of life amenities and assets, including playgrounds, parks, trails, cultural amenities, etc.”
Proud of in 2015: Being awarded funding to establish a revolving loan fund for local businesses; convening a group of community leaders to successfully appeal the proposed FEMA floodplain maps and secure state funding to restudy the flood plain; securing the town’s first local and state economic development incentives for businesses in Nashville; forming a Christmas Committee of volunteers to enhance holiday celebrations in the county; and developing stronger relationships with key federal, state, regional and county leaders.
Nashville Town Council
President Charles “Buzz” King hopes 2016 will be a year of growth for town employees and “good changes” that will benefit residents and visitors.Back in business: In 2015, the town saw turnover in the water/sewer/street departments, lost the superintendent over those departments, replaced its town marshal/police chief and replaced a council member when he took the utility leader job. The challenge this year has been getting everyone back up to speed.Rolling along: Replacing the “lost knowledge” set back at least one of King’s goals for 2015: reworking the intersection at Van Buren and Washington streets to possibly include a turn lane. Before INDOT paves Van Buren/State Road 135 this summer, King expects to talk with the state about new curbing and see what else INDOT can do to improve the main road through town.
Village Green: The new restrooms on the southeast corner of the Jefferson/Main intersection should be open by summer or earlier, King said. He said he’s also working, “personally,” on “things that will make the Village Green a tourist mecca.” He declined to go into any specifics yet but mentioned redoing the “town pump” and “other projects if we can fund them.”
Proud of in 2015: Getting “great input” from town and county residents; getting the Hawthorne Hills senior apartments under construction; and seeing tourists downtown enjoying themselves and noticing the unique and great things this town has that locals might take for granted. “It you’re seeing it as an out-of-towner, it really is a great place,” King said. “It can be special, if we let it.”