On Monday, November 21, Winchester City Council held their normally scheduled meeting addressing a wide range of topics.
Due to Mayor Bob McCoy being unable to attend, City Council President Tom Sells resided over the meeting. The Council members in attendance then approved the minutes of the previous meeting and the accounts payable.
City Clerk-Treasurer Kerry Sayre presented the council with some additional appropriations to approve. The first was for $30,000.00 for sidewalk rehabilitation. The second was for $3,312.00 to help care for the Police Department’s two K-9 Officers. Both of these were approved by the council members.
Sayre also noted that the city had received a letter from Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita requiring the city to set up two accounts for any funds received as a part of the Opioid settlement that Indiana is involved in. One of these accounts is to be restricted access and the other unrestricted. The first readings to establish these accounts passed 4-0. The second and third readings will take place at the next meeting on December 5.
Another item introduced at this time was amending the salary ordinance and employee handbook to address firefighters and police officers losing vacation time. Both departments are short staffed and this has resulted in employees having to cover those shifts. In turn making it difficult for them to use their allotted vacation time before it expires. The Council agreed with this issue and it approved.
A citizen’s questions regarding the City’s Abandoned Vehicle Ordinance were then addressed. The question concerned unplated vehicles on private property. It was eventually decided to review the ordinance and amend it to match the State’s ordinance on the matter.
The council was to discuss the recent requests for assistance from Fountain Park Cemetery but it was decided to wait until the next meeting to do so due to the absences of the Mayor and Teale. Council Member Jim Nuñez informed the council that the rear drive had been completed following the recommendations suggested by Water Superintendent Chris Martin.
In old business, no one has met the minimum bid for the properties on the corner of Union and Short Streets. A motion was made to repost the properties for a minimum bid of $5,000.00. This was approved 3-1. Discussion then occurred with Wesleyan Church Pastor Randy Yaryan stating that the Church would like to purchase the property, and has made a solid offer of $2,000.00. Council Member Nuñez mentioned what the City had paid to demolish the buildings on the site and remained firm on the $5,000.00 minimum. Council Member John Boyd stated that even at $5,000 the City would be taking a loss, and should Yaryan and the Church purchase the sites it would also save the City the cost of mowing and other such maintenance on the property. Boyd then suggested amending the motion to be a minimum bid of $2,500.00. This vote ended in a 2-2 tie. With no one present to break the tie the previous motion stood.
Winchester Police Chief Mike Burk then explained the Lateral Entry Program to those in attendance. As the department has been having difficulty retaining officers and attracting new officers due to other nearby departments offering better pay and benefits, Chief Burk has requested amending the salary ordinance and employee handbook to adopt this program in the hopes of attracting new officers and giving some incentive for officers to remain here. “This is a nationwide issue,” stated Burk. “Unfortunately we are not in a position to be able to offer sign-on bonuses like other departments,” he continued. “This program would allow recruits with 2 to 9 years of law enforcement experience to receive certain benefits during their probationary periods,” Burk explained. “There would also be benefits should any recruit have had any specialized training,” he added. “During their probationary periods, these recruits would receive personal time, vacation time, and take home vehicle privileges, in line with other officers of similar experience,” stated the chief. A motion was made to make this amendment and vote on accepting it at the next meeting.
Deputy Police Chief Brandon Barndollar then addressed the council asking for a line item to be placed in the police budget in 2023 for the care of the City’s K-9’s. “When I started as a K-9 handler 17 years ago, we began taking donations and doing things such as the disc golf tournament to raise funds to care for the dogs and take some of that burden off of the city,” said Barndollar. “These dogs are a great asset to the department and our community and we need to take care of them. Our veterinarian recently brought to my attention information about insurance for police dogs. We should take care of our canine officers as we would our human officers. I’m asking for the creation of a line item of $3,900.00 in the Police budget to cover medical insurance for our two police dogs,” he continued. Barndollar was then asked about the insurance premiums and replied that there was a $500.00 per dog premium and that insurance on the dogs worked much like that for a human. It was then proposed to accept this and raise the amount to $5,000.00 to cover the premium for both dogs.
There was a brief discussion over whether the city should provide tablets for council members. The members in attendance agreed that it was unnecessary at this time.
The floor was then opened for citizens’ concerns. Asking that they limit themselves to three minutes. Resident Eric Lewis brought up the topic of the city requiring press credentials for a recent event. He stated that if this is done for future events, it should be publicly posted with rules as to why someone could be denied these credentials. He also brought to the council’s attention a 1989 City ordinance that states that the City Clerk-Treasurer is the only official that has the right to preside over a Due Rights Process Violation not the Mayor or the City Attorney.
Resident Joshua Kimbrell questioned Council Member Nuñez’s remaining firm on the $5,000.00 minimum bid and the city’s willingness to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to demolish blighted structures when that money could be better used by the fire or police departments. When Kimbrell was informed that he had exceeded his three minutes he insisted that he had the right to continue to speak. As no other citizens wished to address any concerns, the meeting was adjourned.