A restructuring of the Vigo County Highway Department and the creation of a new county Geographic Information System (GIS) Department gained approval and funding Tuesday from the Vigo County Council.

The measure merges the highway department into the engineering department with the county engineer heading the new department under the title Engineer/Highway Director. It increases the salary of engineer from $78,036 to $90,623. The assistant engineer’s salary will increase from $64,630 to $69,130.

The new GIS Department will have a director, at a salary of $60,313, and GIS technician at a salary of $45,006. Both positions will be advertised by the county.

“As far as the leadership structure for the highway, this is what progressive counties in the state are doing,” said Commissioner Brendan Kearns. “It is unique to Vigo County [government], but it is not unique [statewide]. We have been working on this for eight months and is a net gain in the end.”

The measure also eliminates the positions of GIS plat mapping supervisor in the county auditor’s office and assistant highway superintendent.

The council tabled eliminating the highway position now held by Bob James, who would move into the highway superintendent position, pending that appointment by county commissioners. Two county commissioners are attending conferences and a vote could not be made on the appointment until later this month.

“I think it will make what we do more efficient,” Robbins said. “Ultimately I think this is the right thing to do for the county and one of the reasons this is a unique opportunity to restructure is because we have vacancies” in the highway department, with the county superintendent retiring and others not yet filled.

The county has been using GIS since 2003, Robbins said, however, has not expanded its use since. Robbins said a new GIS department can input information which can generate charts and maps showing status of roads, drains and culverts, enabling the department to better target repair and maintenance programs. The department can also input new data for other departments, ranging from surveyors to the auditor’s office.

The moves result in more than $163,000 in appropriations, but more than $135,600 in cost reductions. The costs of the new GIS Department for this year will be done from current funding in the budgets of the county auditor, Area Planning Department and county engineer.

The council met for nearly four hours, with the merger taking much of their time, as the council had to revise wording on several ordinances resulting in votes to amend, then approve the amendments.

In other matters, the council also approved changes in the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department at the request of Sheriff John Plasse. The position of major was eliminated, replaced with chief of operations, increasing pay for that position by $10,000. Plasse paid for the move by eliminating a lieutenant position, reducing the number to five from six lieutenants in the department.

Additionally, merit deputies will receive one half of the total sick days accumulated, but unused, sick days upon retirement after 10 years. The measure eliminates a requirement of 20 years to receive that benefit. The county would pay $8,280 for a retiring deputy with the maximum of sick days, Plasse told the council.

The council also:

• Approved $154,351 for the Vigo County Parks and Recreation Department to purchase land for Bicentennial Park in the Dresser area near the Wabash River. The county approved the funds last year, however, the parks department was not able to close on the purchase of private property, requiring the council to reappropriate the funds.

• Approved a 10-year real property tax abatement for Industrial Maintenance Engineering doing business as AIS Gauging. The company will move into a former Pfizer laboratory building in the Vigo County Industrial Park II. The company will invest $750,000 and employ 18 new full-time positions, resulting in the Vigo County company having 26 full-time employees, said company attorney Jeffrey A. Lewellyn.

• Approved a re-establishment of a cumulative fund for Sugar Creek Fire Protection District and New Goshen Fire Protection District that would enable the fire protection districts to increase to a maximum tax levy of .033 cents per $100 assessed value. The measure would take effect in 2021. With the approval by the council, impacted county taxpayers now have 30 days to file a remonstrance on the measures.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com. Follow on Twitter@TribStarHoward.

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