Kosciusko County Councilman Ernie Wiggins noted Thursday night that the county gets a lot of requests for its American Rescue Plan Act funds and the county is trying to leverage those dollars for long-term investment for the county.
The Council approved where over $600,000 of that ARPA money will go during its meeting Thursday.
The county is expected to receive over $15 million, with half received in 2021 and the other half to be received this year, but the 2022 portion has not been received by the county yet. It must spend the entire amount of federal dollars it receives by Dec. 31, 2026.
The first recommendation for funding Thursday from the county’s ARPA committee came from LaunchPad Director Sherry Searles. LaunchPad is the Kosciusko County child care and early learning coalition, which is housed at the Chamber of Commerce.
“We began our work in 2018, so we’re entering our fourth year of work to help build high-quality, affordable child care for parents in our county,” she said. “Recently, the Chamber of Commerce became a 501(c)3 so we are now a foundation, which helps in our grant writing.”
Using information from Early Learning Indiana, which is Gov. Eric Holcomb’s task force on early learning, she said $1.1 billion a year is lost in economic activity in the state and $118.8 million is lost in tax revenue because of turnover and missed work due to child care and the lack of child care.
“Kosciusko County is a child care desert, which means we only have one child care seat for every three children that need care,” Searles said.
In the county, she said there are 6,276 children under the age of 5. Of those, 3,000 need care because their parents work. When you count all the licensed and registered known programs, there are only 1,197 children under age 5 enrolled.
“We are short about 1,800 child care seats in out county. And that leaves people to ask where are the children? In some cases, folks are staying home when they would like to be in the workforce. In the really lucky families, they have a grandparent or trusted friend or relative that cares for the children,” she said. “We also know that there are a number of children in places that are unlicensed and illegally operating in this county.”
Searles said LaunchPad’s main goal is to build capacity, and they’re doing that in a couple different ways.
“In the first way that we see as building capacity is really to strengthen our current programs,” she said. “Before LaunchPad came into being, we had seven programs close in five years. It’s very difficult to make a child care program sustainable.”
She said child care is expensive for parents, but it’s also expensive to operate.
One of the things that LaunchPad is continuing to do is work to stabilize current programs, she said.
“One of the growing, innovative ways that we’re seeing happen across the country and across the state are providing shared services for the programs in our county,” Searles said. “And what that does is bring a professionalisms, automation to those programs that are often really good at taking care of children but not so good at the business part of child care. Not so good at making sure each of those spots is full and paid in full and helping parents get vouchers if they need them. So this would bring professionalism to our current programs. It would support them with business expertise, coaching and training, and also some shared purchasing for cost-sharing.”
She proposed the county fund a shared services initiative at $25,000 a year for four years.
Another LaunchPad goal is capacity building by adding new seats. With 1,200 seats needed in the county, Searles said that is ongoing work. There are some models that work, she said, including finding benevolent landlords, increasing current programs and partnerships with businesses.
Her second proposal to the county was to fund a LaunchPad position to help with the work that LaunchPad does at $50,000 per year for four years.
Council President Sue Ann Mitchell said she, Wiggins and Commissioner Cary Groninger sit on the county’s wage and ARPA committees.
“As we discussed it, what we moved forward was we would work on the shared services portion of it, so that’s what we’re here to look at this evening, the $100,000,” Mitchell told Searles. “We just felt like that was a good, strong program” that would be very beneficial with the taxpayers’ dollars.
Councilwoman Kimberly Cates made a motion to approve the $25,000 a year for four years, and Councilman Jon Garber provided the second. The motion was approved 7-0.
County Administrator Marsha McSherry then presented the ARPA committee recommendation to use $200,000 for the Justice Building fire alarm system; $120,000 for the jail showers; $36,105 for the SOPHOS MTR Cybersecurity enhancement; and $222,794.72 for the communication tower connectivity project.
The vote on the $200,000 for the fire alarm system was 5-2, with Council members Joni Truex and Mike Long voting against it because the county doesn’t have the exact cost for it, only an estimate of $186,000. The bid deadline on the fire alarm system was extended a couple times by the Commissioners to April 1.
The total cost for the cybersecurity enhancement was about $76,000, but Emergency Management Agency Director Ed Rock applied for and received a grant to pay for $40,000 of that cost.
To explain what the cybersecurity project was, McSherry read a description, which said, in part, “The purpose of this request is to provide a complete cybersecurity solution to the county by contracting services from Sophos, utilizing their Managed Threat Response service.”
In other business, the Council:
• Approved $2,977,489.69 in encumbrances from 2021 for 2022, as requested by County Auditor Michelle Puckett.
“This is not all the encumbering that we’re going to have for 2021, but this is the bulk of it,” she said. “We have sheriff’s department claims yet, and we also have some highway claims (for trucks) that are going to come later in the year.”
Puckett said the encumbrances include all wages and the majority of the claims.
• Approved an additional appropriation of $50,000 from Health Department Administrator Bob Weaver for the Bowen Center Covid testing site. He said in 2021, he requested $100,000 in federal dollars, which was approved, and he could only use the money for Covid testing. Half of that was used in 2021, and Weaver wanted to use the remaining $50,000 for 2022. Weaver estimated that by May 1, the county could be done with the testing.
• Approved an additional appropriation of $93,801 from the health department fund in the county general fund to pay the county’s share of the COVID testing site “to finish up with it,” as requested by Weaver. The money comes from the administration fee for vaccines.
• Approved two additional appropriations as requested by McSherry from the ARPA fund. One was for $11,582 for office disinfection and the other was for $8,001 for leasing of the COVID testing site. Any funds not used for the leasing of the building at the fairgrounds for the testing site will remain in cash balance, she said.
“This is to move the 2021 funds that were left into 2022 to appropriate them for spending,” McSherry said.
The lease for the testing site currently is through the end of March. The monthly lease is $2,222 “and some change,” McSherry said, and the $8,001 will get the lease through a few more months if needed.
• Approved the transfer of $70,000 in the county cumulative capital development fund from copy machines to office equipment. The purpose of the transfer is to combine the two line items in the budget.
• Approved the revised interlocal agreement between the county and the Kosciusko County Convention and Recreation Commission, as presented by Puckett. The agreement provides for the county auditor to provide services for the KCCRVC for $500 annually. The KCCRVC unanimously approved the terms of the revised agreement Wednesday. The Commissioners will be asked to approve the agreement at their meeting Tuesday.
• Heard a report on Forward Kosciusko by Katie Clark, community planner with Taylor Siefker Williams Design Group, who has been the project manager for Forward Kosciusko. She also has given similar presentations to the County Commissioners, Area Plan Commission and Redevelopment Commission. The information can be found online at www.forwardkosciusko.com.
• Approved to increase the part-time housekeeping salary from $12.68 to $15 an hour. The county is short housekeepers now and the wage committee felt that $15 an hour might be the going rate, Mitchell said.
• Approved the appointment of Oscar Hernandez to the Milford Public Library as a replacement to fulfill the term of a board member who resigned. The term ends Oct. 31, 2023.