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With much of last Tuesday's Culver town council meeting occupied with discussion of tax draw matters -- continued from the previous meeting -- another significant news item nearly escaped mention. Council vice president Ginny Munroe, presiding in the stead of president Sally Ricciardi, who Munroe earlier announced was resting at home after a hospital stint, said the council offered David Schoeff the position of Culver town manager, a position he has formally accepted since that meeting took place.
Schoeff, hailing from Huntington, Indiana, has some dozen years as an engineer and has headed up the utility department in that community as well, said Munroe, who added she and fellow council member Lynn Overmyer, a native of Huntington, both checked out his references with good results. The new town manager would start June 1, Munroe noted, and plans to bring his family here after selling their home.
During the public input portion of the meeting, resident Mike Stallings asked the council about an announcement by the town clerk at the previous meeting that Culver's tax rate this year jumped from the previous year, since the previous year's (lower-than-expected) rate was derived from a mis-advertised budget. That misadvertisement apparently resulted in more than $400,000 less in funding for Culver than was originally planned for.
Munroe said the town hasn't yet tracked down copies of receipts to verify any amounts, though she noted Culver usually has a surplus in each of its funds.
Stallings said there "never was enough money to do anything" with regards to the $6,000-funded tree commission, of which he is a member, and sidewalk funding. He said Culver has "a lot of bad trees" and asked the chances of the tree commission receiving more funding.
Fellow tree commission member Tom Kearns, noting the commission has placed 10 trees in the public right-of-way at School Street, emphasized the sidewalk program needs improvement, and there are a number of large, weakened tree branches in town which could kill someone or damage a car if they fall.
"We need more in our budget," Kearns added. "We're no longer able to get DNR matching grants."
In response to council member Ed Pinder's suggestion that the commission request funds at budget time, Kearns noted the town was apparently able to operate last year in the absence of $450,000 unadvertised, and so should be able to take care of dangerous limbs which can't wait for budget time to be dealt with.
Culver town marshal Wayne Bean stressed that the town does indeed need to operate with financial reserves, citing some towns rendered penniless by weather disasters and the like.
Stallings also suggested a better system of checks and balances in monitoring town finances, to prevent a future event similar to the misadvertisement.
"I would advise you, as a citizen and taxpayer, that you should look carefully from here forward to make sure you shut the door and the horse isn't out of the barn," he said. "It's the fiduciary responsibility of this board and others (that you) be cognizant of what goes on."
While agreeing with Stallings' point, Overmyer pointed out council members shouldn't be expected to do the clerk's job.
"I don't want that town clerk's position," she said. "I'm perfectly happy to sit behind this table and say what the budget is and what we can and can't do."
Munroe said she sees what's in the general fund and what is spent from each account in the budget, but said she's never seen checks received from the state for town budgeting.
Council member Bill Githens said he's on the "same page" as Stallings and hopes to calculate a trend with funds, once receipts are fully researched and made available.
"What's disappointing to me," said Munroe, "is, I assumed when we advertised for a million dollar budget, we received it...we continued spending money, thinking that. I probably wd have said 'no' if I had known (the expected draw wasn't received). My assumption is, when you're told by the clerk, the money's there."
Present clerk Karen Heim said the state of Indiana is moving towards an online program called Gateway for towns and cities to use in budget creation. The program makes numbers easier to look at and presents annual reports, and will enhance transparency.
Munroe said town clerks carry insurance and the question of whether previous clerk Casey Howard, who was in charge when the advertisement was made, could make a claim to recoup some or all of the monies.
Githens promised more answers once Heim has all the receipts available for study.
In other discussion, town attorney Jim Clevenger said a service contract with DLZ Engineering lists the startup date for Culver's downtown revitalization project as January, 2013, though a collective decision was made a few months earlier that the project would launch this fall. Munroe said she would follow up, along with utilities manager Bob Porter.
Vanadco has replaced welcome signs at Culver's entryways with attractive new signs, Overmyer announced, at a total cost of $1,300.
Munroe reported a local realtor has contacted her about the NIPSCO power plant on Academy Road as an unattractive welcome for visitors to the community. Munroe said some landscaping could be requested.
Culver fire chief Mike Grover said he has put the department's grass truck out to bid with multiple problems.