HANCOCK COUNTY – Officials are considering a funding strategy involving over $5 million for projects to improve government buildings throughout the county.
The Hancock County Commissioners are asking the Hancock County Council to approve the issuance of general obligation bonds in a principal amount not to exceed $5,575,000.
County commissioners president John Jessup said the funds are targeted for several county building projects. One is remodeling the county’s community corrections building in downtown Greenfield to house the county prosecutor’s office, whose current building is nearly 150 years old and is deteriorating. Another is remodeling the basement of the Hancock County Courthouse Annex to accommodate the county’s information technology department.
Upgrades are slated for the county highway department as well, Jessup continued, including creating a location for the county facilities manager to operate out of.
A proposed ordinance associated with the bond issue that the council will vote on soon also outlines flooring improvements and renovations to the building housing the county’s Purdue Extension.
The bond issue will be paid off with property taxes, but not in a way taxpayers should notice, said county council member Jim Shelby. Despite the bond, the county’s tax rate is expected to go down because of all the recent economic development driving up the county’s assessed value, he continued.
While the tax rate may be going down – property owners, particularly residential ones – are still anticipating higher tax bills after seeing a sharp rise in assessments this year, however.
Shelby noted the county is responsible for about nine buildings and that the latest proposed bond issue is part of a series meant to maintain many of them.
“In the past we haven’t really kept them up the way we should,” he said. “This is to bring the county buildings up to snuff.”
The initiative follows other general obligation bonds the county issued earlier this year and last. One, for over $1.2 million, was approved earlier this year for equipment and renovations at the county’s 911 center.
In 2021, officials approved another for nearly $5.4 million for remodeling the county’s former jail in downtown Greenfield with the intent of moving community corrections there when its current location is occupied by the prosecutor’s office.
That’s been a source of debate among officials, as the commissioners anticipated the former jail’s cells could be easily renovated into living quarters for community corrections’ work release program. The council recently opted not to fund work release in 2023, however. The program was suspended in May 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and has yet to return.
“We kind of think the paradigm has changed, the rationale for work release,” Shelby said.
Circumstances have shifted from when the work release program first started decades ago, he continued.
“When there was a significant number of people in the justice system that were there because they just made some dumb decision,” Shelby said. “And so there were a number of people that our judges and prosecutors thought needed to be taught a lesson under supervision, so they put them on work release so they can continue to support their families, work.”
Shelby said that now, however, most crime is driven by addiction, often disqualifying candidates from work release due to the heightened risk associated with temporarily leaving detainment.
That’s caused another paradigm shift leaders have been reacting to by implementing navigation for mental health and substance use services in the county’s justice system and new jail.
Keely Butrum, a county council member, said she’s not against the concept of general obligation bonds being used for renovation and building needs.
“However, in this specific circumstance, I still have some outstanding concerns about the scope of the work, whether or not I consider it all necessary,” she said.
Butrum added she feels some of the projected construction costs might be high, and also has concerns over the work being assigned to BW Construction instead of bidding it out competitively.
Jessup noted the commissioners hired BW Construction by a 3-0 vote as the construction manager as advisor for the planned work to the former jail building.
“That is a professional service; we do not have to get bids,” Jessup said, adding he and the other commissioners were impressed with the work the company did on the new county jail east of Greenfield and past remodel at community corrections for isolating inmates during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said that as construction manager as advisor, the firm works directly for the county carrying out tasks like putting bid packages together for work.
“But they do not hold the contracts,” Jessup continued. “The contracts are held in the name of Hancock County, they just manage them for us. So everything goes out to public bid — every subcontractor goes out to public bid. We choose them — the board of commissioners — with the help of our advisor, then we’re the holder of the contracts.”
It’s not the first time BW Construction and the commissioners have raised concerns for Butrum. Jessup’s wife’s business contracts him to work with BW Construction as a construction superintendent. The commissioner filed a conflict-of-interest disclosure statement with the state regarding the relationship earlier this year, and maintains neither he nor his wife’s business perform work on projects contracted by Hancock County government.
Jeannine Gray, a county council member, is hesitant toward the proposed general obligation bond as well.
“At this point, to the best of my recollection, we’ve only been provided a very short list of some of the things that will come from the next G.O. bond,” she said. “I think we’ll see a long period of questions and searching for answers before I’m comfortable with it.”
A public hearing on the bond is at 8:30 a.m. Sept. 14 at the Hancock County Courthouse Annex, 111 American Legion Parkway, Greenfield.