Chesterton Tribune



County highway department working on asset management

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County Planner Robert Thompson reported Porter County was awarded $817,544.51 in Community Crossings grant money.

The grant is a 50-50 match from the state for road improvements and will work in conjunction with new priorities and initiatives the Highway Department is pursuing under Director Rich Sexton.

Senior Highway Engineer Matt Gavelek said the Department is pursuing a long-term asset management plan to maintain roads at the right times so they don’t later need major intervention and to determine which roads should be priority projects.

Gavelek said the plan is about working within the current budget to optimize the time and money spent on repairs. “Asset management works on the basis that an ounce of preservation is worth a pound of cure.”

Gavelek said roads tend to deteriorate on a reverse S curveÑthey go from being acceptable to needing repair very rapidly, so intervening when the roads appear fine is often the best way to maintain quality.

Major steps in the process will be determining district specific needs and using Roadsoft software to take frequent inventories of the County roads. All the data involved will be updated by Gavelek as neededÑnot just revisited every few years. The inventory software isn’t just for roads either. Other features like signs, guardrails, culverts and markings can be added to the inventory, although Gavelek said the focus will be on roads for the first year.

Commissioner Laura Blaney, D-South, said the plan sounds like a good way to use grant money wisely. Commissioner Jeff Good, R-Center, said the plan is the missing piece of the County’s move toward being data-centric in how roads are maintained.

In other Highway Department business, the Board approved a lease agreement with Cross Roads Bank to purchase four new plow trucks later next year for a total cost of $763,758.36 after trade-in value. The trucks need to be built, but doing the lease agreement now locks in a low interest rate of 3.45 percent, according to County Attorney Scott McClure.

Employee Handbook

The Board approved the 2019 employee handbook, which had significant revisions written by County Human Resources Director Rhonda Young. The changes take effect Jan. 1.

The Board praised Young’s work on the new handbook. “The last time this County had a major rewrite of its policies was over 20 years ago, so you had a big job,” said Commissioner Jim Biggs, R-North. Good said the new handbook is more purposeful and eliminates some gray areas.

One gray area Young fixed was the amount of vacation time employees are entitled to based on their tenure with the County. Young said different departments interpreted the old handbook in different ways because it was unclear where the line was for employees who were at or near the threshold for receiving more vacation time.

Employee sick days and personal days have also changed. Young said employees used to be entitled to 9 sick days and 3 personal days. Now employees have paid time off (PTO), so they don’t have to say what they’re calling off for. Employees will now get 10 days, or 70 total hours of PTO. Young said this allows flexibility since employees can take only what they need instead of using whole days. Along with this, the employee sick bank, where employees used to donate unused days off, will be eliminated and replaced with short-term disability, much of which will be paid for by the County, for those who need it and qualify. McClure said that going along with this, employees will not be allowed to donate any more days to the sick bank this year and the sick bank days will remain available until the short-term disability is instituted in January.

Other approvals

The Board also approved an update to its master agreement with Shive-Hattery, the firm working on renovations to the Courthouse, Expo Center, and old jail building, to include design and build out for the temporary Child Support space in the former restaurant space on the first floor of the old jail at 157 Franklin in Valparaiso. The Commissioner’s purchased the building in April with plans to renovate it into a new annex building, and the Prosecutor’s Child Support Division will be the first office to move in later this week after a long-term lease for that office’s previous space at 15 N. Franklin was determined to be invalid by independent law firm Newby, Lewis, Kaminski & Jones.

The Board passed a resolution establishing the intent to hold a Commissioners sale for tax certificates. The details of the sale are yet to be announced.


Posted 12/13/2018




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