Union County Council on Nov. 18 tabled an additional appropriation to pay $20,000 out of the county's economic development income tax (EDIT) to cover the county's portion of the community grant coordinator position shared between the county, Town of Liberty, Union County Foundation (UCF) and Town of West College Corner.

The position was developed as a joint effort between the county, Liberty and UCF, each contributing $20,000 to cover a one-year contract. West College Corner joined later with a smaller contribution. The contract was approved by Union County Commissioners at its Nov. 5 meeting before coming to council, who must appropriate the money. Union County auditor Cheryl Begley reported to council the $20,000 contract payment must be forwarded to UCF by Jan. 3, 2022, who will then disburse payments to the coordinator. Begley noted some concern about handing over county tax funds to an independent non-profit, but a review by the Indiana State Board of Accounts cleared the payment if a signed contract is in place.

The coordinator will be paid $60,000 per year as a contract worker, with no benefits. Council president Richard Blank noted the sum is roughly equivalent to a county employee earning $35,000 a year, once the county's expenditures for benefits and taxes are considered.

Blank asked for a motion to approve the additional appropriation from council. Council member Jim Hensley Jr. asked if they had a choice if the county is already under contract.

“We go through this all the time on council. Where commissioners, or anybody else, spends money before we approve it and then that puts us in a corner. That's what bothers me,” Hensley continued.

After more discussion, Blank again asked council for a motion. Council member Trish Persinger inquired about the impact of not approving the appropriation, if the county would be in breach of contract; Blank agreed. Council member Bonnie Adams suggested council could go ahead and approve the appropriation and judge the results.

“I don't think we have a problem with all of this, the problem is that this happens all the time. People submit [requests] and want money ... and they don't come here and talk about it, until we're put on the spot and backed into a corner,” said Persinger.

Begley informed council the board can table the discussion and re-advertise the appropriation for review at its December meeting. If approved in the December meeting, payment can be made to UCF before the deadline. Council agreed to table the matter.

Blank noted the grant coordinator position is modeled after a position in Rushville, which has been successful in bringing new funding and projects into the community.

“In Rushville … the mayor can make decisions without council approval, you can't do that when you've got municipalities, they can't make decisions outside of meetings,” said council member Chris Rosenberger. “That person, under the authority of the mayor, can go out a buy a piece of property. I went to the meeting in Rushville, yeah it works great for them, but it won't work when you've got three municipalities involved.”

Also discussed:
-Council approved a resolution to finalize the sale of a portion of the courthouse grounds to the State of Indiana. While the property transfer began as part of upcoming work on the sidewalks and intersections adjacent to the state highways, the property was taken several years ago as part of the previous sidewalk refresh, but was never purchased. The state will reimburse the county $4,160 for the property.

-Union County Development Corporation (UCDC) had submitted an additional appropriation from the Union County innkeepers' tax. UCDC executive chair Melissa Browning explained the Union County Innkeepers' Board recently met and approved a total of $27,555 in expenditures from its tax fund.
A project to produce a promotional video highlighting Union County is allocated $1,500. An allocation of $5,000 is set aside for a bike trail to the new Union County park on the south side of Liberty. An allocation of $10,000 is set aside to cover office expenses related to tourism. UCDC's 2022 festivals received $10,000 in funding. A contract for legal fees was allocated $1,000. A discrepancy over Union County Bicentennial event spending was corrected with a $55 allocation.

Hensley inquired for more details on the promotional video. Browning replied UCDC is working with UCF to produce a video advertising the benefits Union County to prospective visitors and residents. The idea came about as part of the Indiana READI grant program, where a video was made to promote the southeastern Indiana region. UCDC and UCF thought investing in a video specifically for Union County would generate interest in the community.

Persinger asked if a plan is in place for the bike trail. Browning replied several proposals have been made for a bike trail; the funding will be set aside to evaluate the best option with which to move forward. Persinger inquired about the $10,000 for the UCDC office. Browning replied it is to cover personnel costs for anything related to tourism and will be tracked closely.