Teamwork stressed at State of the Communities breakfast

March 21st, 2018

By Joseph Slacian | The Paper of Wabash County

Teamwork is the key to any success Wabash County communities experienced the past year.

That was the major theme Wednesday morning, March 14, as representatives from Wabash County and its five incorporated communities spoke at Grow Wabash County’s State of the Community Breakfast at the Honeywell Center’s Legacy Hall.

Two speakers – Wabash County Commissioners President Brian Haupert and Roann Clerk-Treasurer Bob Ferguson – used analogies to stress the importance of teamwork.

“Geese fly in formation for a reason,” Haupert told the 161 people in attendance. “Flying together in formation, the flock can fly 71 percent further than if a single goose were to fly on its own.

“With all the economic and political stresses placed on counties, cities and towns, working together makes more sense now than ever. Working together we can make our towns, our city, our county, grow and be prosperous, with the benefit being not only for ourselves, but for future generations who will call Wabash County their home.”

Ferguson, opening his talk, spoke about how it was great living in Roann, just a block away from his office. Doing so, he said, allowed him to walk to and from work.

However, several weeks ago he slipped on ice, fell and broke his wrist. He said he has been able to do some things, but on this morning he was unable to finish buttoning the sleeve on his long-sleeve dress shirt.

He approached Wabash County Commissioner Barry Eppley, who was sitting nearby, and asked him to button the button for him.

“I asked Barry because I know he has a servant’s heart,” Ferguson explained to the crowd. “I also knew I couldn’t do everything this morning. I had to ask someone else for help.

“That’s what we have to do sometimes. Sometimes we have to go out of our comfort zone. In front of you, I had to finish getting dressed.

“We can’t do everything in our towns by ourselves. We have to go outside and ask people like (the Office of Community and Rural Affairs), we have to ask people like Wabash County Commissioners, we have to ask the Town of Lagro or another community to come and help us.”

Throughout the 2 ½ hour event, speakers from around Wabash County spoke about successes in their communities. Many also noted how teamwork was vital for any success the county will have in everything from landing new jobs to reversing the population loss it has been experiencing in recent years.

Grow Wabash County

Keith Gillenwater, Grow Wabash County president and CEO, discussed successes the newly formed organization had the past year.

There were eight project wins “that were direct economic development projects that we helped through either an incentive process or as a company coming to town, or any combination of a number of things,” he said.

Private investment in Wabash County last year totaled just more than $31 million, he said, noting that was the best year since 2013.

“The average wage is the thing we’re most proud of,” he continued, noting last year the average wage was $22.83 per hour.

“The living wage in Wabash County, to be able to support a family of three, is about $15 per hour,” he said. “To be able to support a family at that $31,000 or so, we vastly exceeded that amount this year.”

Wabash County

Haupert, during his address, touched on a variety of subjects, most importantly the overpopulation of the Wabash County Jail, which, he said, “continues to be a major problem for our county.”

“We continually house an average of 145 individuals, both male and female,” he said.

Because the jail has a 72-person capacity, the county has started housing inmates at other counties, including Miami and Whitley counties.

“So why haven’t we begun building a new jail facility to handle the overpopulation issue,” Haupert asked rhetorically. “The answer is, that it is too expensive for us to consider building it. Last year we received the results of a jail study performed by DLZ Architects and Umbaugh and Associations Certified Public Accountants.”

A 224-bed facility would cost an estimated $28 million, which, according to cost estimates, would cost the county $2.56 million in annual payments for 17 years. With projected interest and fees, the total would be closer to $46 million, Haupert said.

The impact on taxpayers would be $23 per $100,000 of assessed valuation for a home, and $305 per 100 acres for agricultural land,” he continued.

Other concerns with building a new jail include where to build it, as well as hiring more personnel and an estimated utility cost of $300,000 per year.

“All of the additional operational expenses would need to be funded by the county’s General Fund,” Haupert said. “When you consider that the county really only has enough revenue to support what we currently have, it is hard to imagine that we could even open the doors on a new facility of that scale.”

Only by taking the tax rate to its maximum level would it be possible to afford the added expenses, he said.

On a related matter, Haupert said the county is looking to relocate the Wabash County Health Department, making room to expand the Wabash County Probation Department in the Wabash Judicial Annex. More details on the changes would be announced in the future.

He also discussed how commissioners worked with the Town of Lagro, the Town of Roann and the Town of North Manchester for various projects.

Town of Lagro

The town has been concentrating on infrastructure improvements in recent years, Town Council President Richard Monce said.

“We replaced the … old water tank with a 100,000 gallon water tower,” he said. “We put in some new water lines and a new well to help with the tower. Also, we did upgrades to the sewer system as well as the storm water system.

“When you’re talking about a town of 460 residents, doing improvements of any scale is very difficult.”

The town’s Park Board, Monce noted, through many fundraising activities, purchased new playground equipment to be located near the Lagro Community Building, as well as a new basketball court. The board is currently installing a new fence around the court and playground, and officials hope to purchase more equipment when possible.

Monce also praised the efforts of officials with the Wabash River Trail, which installed a new a new public restroom and pavilion in the downtown area. That development, he continued, has encouraged others to invest in the downtown area.

“Justin Gillespie and a couple of his friends have purchased an old building that overlooks the river and the River Trail,” he said. “They made improvements to that and they are hoping to put in a craft beer, wine and cheese shop in that location.”

In addition, a person with ties to Lagro but whom now lives in San Francisco recently purchase a historic home near the new pavilion. They hope to restore the home and open an Air BNB, which seeks to lease or rent short-term housing.

Referring to what Haupert spoke about, Monce talked about the Lagro Canal Foundation, which has purchased two old buildings in downtown Lagro.

“They are the last two remaining buildings in the downtown area,” he said. “They have a goal of restoring those buildings and hopefully putting in a destination restaurant in one of those buildings and would be open to what other ideas that people might have for the other one.”

Commissioners recently gave $10,000 to be applied toward a grant to help restore the two buildings.

Town of Roann

The town has received about $1 million in grants for various projects the last year, Ferguson informed the crowd.

“That’s a big deal” for a town of 478 people, he said.

It received a $400,000 grant through OCRA and a Community Development Block Grant for various water utility related projects. Funds were used to begin chlorinating the town’s water supply, painting and resurfacing the water tower, and to alleviate a problem with the town’s waterlines in one particular area of the community.

It also received a $300,000 CDBG grant to raze the old Roann school.

“We have an old school that’s way beyond repair,” Ferguson said. “It’s become a danger.

“People say, ‘You’re tearing down an old school.’ What we’re doing is we’re bringing in a green space where we can put a park or something like that that will help out the whole community. Right now the school is an eyesore. It’s a danger. Now, through this grant, we were able to get this accomplished.”

The building could be razed by the end of July, he said.

Commissioners, as Haupert noted, helped the town in obtaining the grant.

“We’re very proud of the work and effort that has gone in there and the partnership with Wabash County and the Wabash County Commissioners,” Ferguson said. “We cannot do it without you.”

Roann also received a $328,000 grant to resurface the entire community. That could start as soon as April, Ferguson said.

“When we look at that, over $1 million for a town of 478 people,” he said, “we’re very proud of that.

“What we’re even more proud of, we did not borrow one dime for our match. Not one dime. We saved the community; we saved the taxpayers, thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars. … We were able to do it ourselves. We were able to move some money around and make it happen. That’s a big deal, especially in a community our size.”

In addition to razing the old school and resurfacing the town’s streets, Ferguson said the town is close to beginning a Main Street organization.

“We’re very close,” he said. “We’re just inches away from getting a Main Street in our town.”

Town of LaFontaine

In 2016, the Town of LaFontaine received a brand new town council that has worked hard to get its water and wastewater utilities out of the red.

“When we took over,” Council member Janet Pattee said, “we had a lot of learning to do. The biggest learning event that has come to us is that nothing changes overnight.

“When we took over, LaFontaine Water and Wastewater were both in the red. We had to increase the rates, which we didn’t want to do because it affected each one of us, and we didn’t want to do it to the citizens. But we had to.

“We are proud, after two years, to say we are back in the black. “

The Council, with the help of the State Board of Accounts, has implemented measures to make sure the board has a better grasp on its finances, she said.

In addition, Pattee said, the town has received two grants from the Indiana Department of Transportation that helped to repave two streets, as well as to make the sidewalks on those streets ADA accessible.

The council also has updated ordinances, and approve the use of golf carts on town streets. Rules and regulations for the carts, Pattee said, can be found on the town’s webpage.

“We purchased a new town tractor and sand and salt spreader,” she continued. “The street superintendent really enjoyed the use of them this past winter, and they have really helped out the town.”

A park committee was created, and the panel raised funds to rehabilitate the town’s Cook-Crumley Park.

“The park is in the heart of LaFontaine on the banks of Grant Creek,” Pattee said. “It has new playground equipment and a basketball goal.”

A local business owner, she continued, deeded land just north of the park to the town. That site will be used for parking.

The town also has started cleaning up inhabitable homes, having razed one already and it has another to go. It also has put up three new signs, one on County Road 1000 S and Wabash Avenue, one on the east end of Kendall Street and one on the south end of Main Street.

“We are blessed to have two new businesses open,” Pattee noted. “I’d like to thank Keith Gillenwater for helping to bring in a new Family Dollar Store in LaFontaine. It is a welcome addition. Also, the Grant Creek Mercantile opened downtown in the Parker Building. We’re hoping to add more businesses.”

Not everything has been a success, though. The LaFontaine Subway recently closed, and officials are hoping to find someone who is willing to take over the business.

Town of North Manchester

Town Board President Chalmer “Toby” Tobias, like many speakers before him, stressed teamwork.

“To have good teamwork, first you must start with a good team,” he said.

Teamwork in North Manchester can be seen in everything from the police department, which is working with other departments around Wabash County, to local businesses and other entities working with the town help it beautify itself.

“There’s a piece of property in Manchester that’s always been kind of a head scratcher,” Tobias said of a piece of land called “The Point” on State Road 114 just west of the Norfolk Southern railroad crossing.

The Shepherd family, he said, stepped up and put a car wash at the site.

“It looks great and it’s really spruced up that part of the property,” Tobias said.

In addition, Manchester University worked with the town and erected a welcome sign.

“I’m not going to tell you to take a trip just to see the welcome sign,” he joked, “but take a trip to Manchester just to see the welcome sign.”

North Manchester and Wabash County also have worked together to improve County Road 1100 North.

“It’s the inroad for the industrial park,” Tobias said. “We appreciate them being willing to work with us and get that accomplished so we can have a wonderful road to (the park) and to our existing businesses.”

Looking toward the future, Tobias said the biggest undertaking facing the town is a housing development planned along Ninth Street and State Road 13.

“All the soil testing and preliminary work has been done,” he said. “Hopefully in the next year or so we’ll be seeing some real building happening there.”

While the trend is toward attracting new business, Tobias reminded that existing businesses should not be forgotten.

“It’s important not to ignore the existing businesses in your community,” he said.

For example, Strauss Veal Feeds is looking to make a $12 million expansion on their property on Strauss Provimi Road, he said, while OJI Intertech is looking to “physically double down” on the existing facility. Also, he continued, Midwest Poultry is looking to expand.

“I really appreciate existing businesses that are looking to reinvest and continue to grow with Manchester,” Tobias said. “Really, therefore, it also benefits the county.”

Two new firms are locating in North Manchester.

Webb Pharmacy is currently remodeling the old Indiana Lawrence Bank branch on State Road 114.

Meanwhile, Pre-Med Tech is locating in the town, adding about 60 jobs to the community.

“Teamwork is so important,” Tobias said. “I look around this room and everyone has the same goal: Do the best you can for our county and the community.”

City of Wabash

“As I look out into this room, I see nothing but partners,” Mayor Scott Long said. “Partners for the City of Wabash; partners for Manchester, LaFontaine, Lagro, Roann, Wabash County.

“We’re all in this together. We realize that. That’s the prevailing attitude throughout Northeast Indiana. That’s the reason I’m proud to be a part of not only this city and this county, and what I call ‘our community,’ the entire county, but also the Northeast Regional Partnership.”

The region’s successes are becoming known around the state, and officials from other areas come here to learn how it has become so successful.

“They come to the Northeast Regional Partnership to discuss how it is we sit down at the same table with mayors and county commissioners to discuss how it is we get things done,” Long continued. “If you don’t sit down at the table, that’s your first problem. “

Communication is important between communities, he continued, but also with supporting organizations such as Grow Wabash County, Visit Wabash County, and other groups.

Talking about the City of Wabash, Long said the community remains fiscally sound.

“We’re saving money through energy efficiency, and also have re-examined all of our insurance policies, saving a tremendous amount of money,” he continued. “Our city departments implemented energy savings in every building within the city.

“And the good news is the City of Wabash, in 2018, will be under max levy for the first time in a number of years.”

As far as teamwork goes, the city works closely with Wabash Marketplace, and also has benefited from the work of the Wabash Kiwanis Club, as well as the All-Inclusive Park committee.

The city is in the process of expanding the Northeast Industrial Park, taking advantage of 90 acres of land it has available on its complex’s west side.

Long said officials also hope to finish the second phase and begin the third phase of the city’s sewer separation program, which was mandated by the IDEM.

The city also hopes to start work on a training center at the Wabash Fire Department and build a new structure at the Wabash Street Department-Police Department complex for work on automobiles.

“I’m a firm believer that we can’t just sit around and talk about what we want to do, or think about it,” Long said. “We have to get out and do it. I realize to progress and make the City of Wabash a better place to live, work and play we have to partner with other communities, others in the communities, and other communities around us.

“We realize the things we do may not make everybody happy. The vision we possess, in the end, is what we will accomplish for the betterment of the community as a whole, and that means everybody – Manchester, Roann, Lagro, LaFontaine, Ijamsville, Treaty. This county is an entire community.

“The way we grow and get better is to work together.”