2014 was a strong year for economic development locally, but several challenges lie ahead.
This afternoon, officials with Dubois Strong laid out some of the biggest accomplishments of 2014 at the group’s annual luncheon at KlubHaus 61 in Jasper. Among the successes were workforce housing projects like the former JOFCO building, nearly 11 hundred new jobs added, and shovel-ready sites.
Dubois Strong president Ed Cole says today was a day not only to reflect, but also to look forward:
The keynote address for today’s event came from Indiana University History Professor Emeritus James Madison. Madison talked about a movement towards 2 Indianas, one that is thriving and one that is stuck in the 1970’s.
On that note, Madison spoke well of Jasper and Dubois County:
Today also featured a unique moment. Instead of a speaker’s fee, Madison chose to donate a copy of his recently released book to the Dubois County library system. The book, which was released last year, is titled “Hoosiers: A History of Indiana”.
Library director Christine Golden was on hand to accept the book.
Local unemployment numbers for the month of March have been released for Indiana and for the third straight month Dubois County has maintained it’s position as the county with the state’s second lowest unemployment rate.
The county’s March rate came in at 4.1 percent, a drop of 1 tenth of a percent from February and only 1 tenth of a percent behind state leader Hamilton County.
Statewide Indiana’s up-then-down unemployment rate declined slightly in March.
Yesterday the Indiana Department of Workforce Development reported Joblessness fell one-tenth of a percentage point to 5.8 percent. It was the second month for a modest decrease. The rate was 5.9 percent in February.
At the same time, there were 800 fewer people in private sector jobs. According to the report, 5,200 jobs were loss in the professional and business services sector but was partially offset by an increase of 1,900 jobs in the trade, transportation and utilities sector, as well as a bump of 1,300 manufacturing jobs.
Despite the conflicting results for March, officials point out the more than 274,000 private sector jobs that have been added since July 2009, the lowest point of employment.
Workforce Development commissioner Stave Braun says Indiana’s economic indicators in 2015 remain positive on the whole. Braun adds that continued claims for unemployment insurance remain at their lowest levels in 15 years, which he says is also an encouraging trend entering the spring and summer months.
Now locally as mentioned Dubois County’s March unemployment rate fell one tenth of a percent to 4.1 good for second best. In fact all of Dubois’ neighboring counties saw some improvement.
Daviess County was tied for fourth after seeing a drop of 2 tenths of a percent at 4 and a half. Pike County was at 4.9 percent down 4 tenths. Martin County 5.3 down 2 tenths, Spencer 5.4 down 4 tenths, Perry dropped 2 tenths at 5.7, Orange was down 2 tenths at 7.6, and Crawford County’s March unemployment rate fell 1 tenth of a percent at 8.4 percent.
Once again Vermillion County had the state’s highest unemployment last month at 8.8 percent.
Indiana’s unemployment rate remains higher than the U.S. average of 5 and a half percent and is second highest among neighboring states. Illinois had the highest rate at 6 percent and rates in Ohio and Kentucky were the lowest at 5.1 percent.
Concerns are growing among local school officials as this year’s ISTEP+ test approaches.
Northeast Dubois School Corporation curriculum director Kathy Klawitter says the district has run the test through its computer system 4 times already. These included 2 stress tests of the CTB McGraw-Hill software that ISTEP+ uses along with 2 practice tests to help students get ready.
Klawitter says the last of the 4 tests was completed on Monday. She says all 4 of the tests were complete failures due to various issues with the system:
Klawitter says frustration with the test runs district-wide as teachers and staff have also worked on the test, only to run into the same problems. Klawitter says the only thing that can come out of this is more frustration:
Now the news about the testing issues also caused much concern among members of the school board. Superintendent Bill Hochgesang told the board that he has been attempting to talk with someone at the state Department of Education offices, but nobody has returned his calls to date. The idea about potentially boycotting the test was also floated, but Klawitter told the board that would likely have serious consequences for the district in terms of state accountability and federal funding.
The testing window for Northeast Dubois schools is set to open on Friday. However, school officials say they probably will not start testing until next week in light of all of the problems.
Officials with Purdue Extension of Dubois County say recent changes in farm payments at the federal level should help local farms.
The newly proposed rules through the US Department of Agriculture would eliminate payments to anyone designated as a farm manager, but not involved in farm operations. Purdue Extension ag agent Ken Eck says that change was aimed at large farms and corporations, thus leaving money from the program for the smaller local farms:
Eck says these changes, which are part of the Farm Bill that was passed by Congress last year, will help these smaller farms to keep from going under and thus hurting local economies.
Now there are some concerns that the proposal doesn’t go far enough. Officials with the Center for Rural Affairs say there are still a lot of loopholes in the proposal. They also say having more than 1 rule in effect would create confusion for farmers and thus more problems.
The USDA is still seeking public comment on the proposal. Those comments can be submitted at regulations.gov.
The deadline for comments is May 26th.
Building renovations in the Northeast Dubois School Corporation will now move forward.
Last night, the Northeast Dubois School Board completed the paperwork for freeing up the needed funding for improvements. The board approved the remaining paperwork to refinance its loan on Dubois Middle School. This was the 2nd refinancing of that loan as the corporation also refinanced last year to make temporary repairs. Just under $2 million will be freed up as a result of this refinancing.
Now the board heard that 111 signatures were gathered on petitions from the public in favor of the building improvements. The improvements will be done in 2 phases. Phase 1 consists of 10 high-priority projects including new heating and air units at both the Northeast Dubois High School and Dubois Middle School gyms along with replacing classroom rooftop units at the middle school and upgraded controls at all buildings to meet air quality standards.
Last month, Northeast Dubois superintendent Bill Hochgesang said now is the time to get these improvements done:
Phase 1 is being funded through a slight increase in the middle school loan rate. The board approved an increase of just over 2 and a half cents for 2016, which would take that rate up to just over 30 cents. The increase will be included in the district’s 2016 budget.
The district’s building corporation, which owns the middle school, will begin issuing just under $2 million in bonds next month for this work. School officials hope the bond issue is done by June. The district is hoping to have Phase 1 projects done by the start of the 2015-2016 school year.
Now Phase 2 has 10 lower-priority projects with it. Hochgesang says those projects will be revisited in 2 to 3 years.
In other business, the board approved the reassignment of high school principal Rick Gladish. Gladish will be moving to the corporation offices this summer as the new director of school improvement, assessment, and technology. Gladish’s last day as high school principal will be June 30th.
School officials say Gladish will be working with curriculum director Kathy Klawitter initially. Klawitter is retiring in December of this year and Gladish will succeed her at that time.
Gladish has been with the Northeast Dubois district for 35 years. He first joined the district for the 1980-81 school year as an English teacher at the high school. He spent 20 years teaching English and some gym classes at the high school before taking over as high school principal for the 2000-2001 school year.
Plans for improving a dangerous intersection in northern Spencer County will soon be announced.
The Indiana Department of Transportation says they have studied community comments and suggestions and are preparing their recommendations for how to improve the intersection of US Highway 231 and State Road 62 just outside of Dale. INDOT says officials will update the community during a public meeting set for next Thursday, April 30th, in the Heritage Hills High School auditorium in Lincoln City.
The formal presentation will begin at 6 pm Central time. Following the presentation, INDOT representatives will be available to answer questions.
Now INDOT has been taking public input about improvements to the intersection since January. The intersection has been the site of several fatal accidents over the last 5 years. The most recent of these in late December took the life of 60-year-old Susan Grundhoefer.
Grundhoefer tried to cross US 231 to continue going west on State Road 62, but did not stop for an SUV that had been going southbound on US 231. Grundhoefer’s vehicle was hit in the right side door, causing it to roll over onto its roof. She was pronounced dead on scene.
At the January public hearing, INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield stated that there are several things at that intersection that can be improved:
Grundhoefer’s family also spoke during January’s hearing.
For more information, you can follow INDOT Southwest’s Facebook and Twitter pages. You can also go to vincennes.indot.in.gov.
A rate increase for Jasper water customers is one step closer to reality.
Last night, the Jasper Utility Service Board approved the recommendation of its water committee to increase rates by 17%. City officials say nearly 10% of that increase is due to city utility projects that are being mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency. 2 such projects are work on the Beaver Lake spillway and the ongoing work on the UV project.
Of course, Umbaugh and Associates had originally recommended a rate increase between 25 and 28%, but city officials did not find that palatable. Earlier this month, Jasper utilities general manager Bud Hauersperger said though the rates will be higher than other local communities initially, everything will soon balance out:
The recommendation will now be heard by the Jasper City Council at their meeting tomorrow night. If approved, the increase will go into effect on your utility bill in August.
This would be the first rate increase for Jasper water customers since 2010.