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County asks coroner to rethink car quandary

– It’s back to the drawing board for the county coroner’s office after Allen County Council members rejected the department’s request for a new car Thursday.

Five of the seven council members voted no to a request from Michael Burris, chief investigator and deputy coroner for a new $23,134 vehicle to replace a 2001 Jeep Cherokee with 129,000 miles on it.

Council members questioned Burris on the necessity of the department’s three take-home vehicles.

Burris said investigators use the vehicles on their way to and from the office, as well as during off-hours for work-related calls.

“There is one person on call every night from 4 p.m. until 8 a.m. and all day Saturday and Sunday,” Burris said.Council President Darren Vogt, R-3rd, suggested that employees drive to and from work in their own vehicles and that the department earmark one vehicle for the person on call.

The mileage was not excessive, said Councilman Roy Buskirk, R-at large. The car that the coroner’s office wants to replace has logged about 7,000 miles a year since 2010, he said.

Vogt asked Burris to investigate the situation and “see if there’s a better way to do it” before resubmitting his request.

Juvenile center

Also approaching the council for funding were members of the Allen County Juvenile Center, who asked for $33,873 for an abbreviated version of a mentoring program called Check and Connect that was introduced by Allen Superior Court Judge Dan Heath in December.

The program provides schools with mentors who intervene with truant students to keep them in school and out of trouble.

The department did not get an anticipated grant that would have helped fund the program, so it will initially be smaller in scope, said Jamie Mann, chief juvenile probation officer. It will be initiated in two Allen County school systems – Fort Wayne Community and East Allen County, Mann said.

Four part-time mentors will be responsible for 20 to 25 students who meet predetermined criteria for being high-risk for truancy and for disengaging from school.

The Check and Connect program, developed at the Institute on Community Integration at the University of Minnesota, is in place in counties nationwide. Representatives from the university will conduct a two-day training workshop in May, Mann said. The mentors will work during school hours and will be off during summer break, she said.

The council agreed to provide the requested funds.

“I like this program but liked it even more when I thought a grant was paying for it,” said Councilman Tom Harris, R-2nd. “Hopefully, if you get a grant next year, we can move these funds around to where they are needed most.”

“I’m excited about this program and what it will do for the youth of our community,” said Buskirk, the council’s liaison for the juvenile center.

Highway money

The highway department was granted a request for $1.8 million, part of which will help cover the high costs of the particularly harsh and long winter.

The additional money was needed to pay for salt, fuel, new snowplows and employee overtime during winter storms, highway department Controller Kim Yagodinski said.

The funds will be taken from the department’s rollover funds – money left over from the previous year’s budget – and there will be enough left to provide a cushion in case of a disaster or weather event, Yagodinski said.

The council’s grant also included $1.1 million for the Bass Road project. Improvements to the road will include intersection upgrades at Hadley and Kroemer roads and overall widening from Hillegas to Scott roads.

Bass will be widened to three lanes – one eastbound lane, one westbound lane and a continuous center two-way turn lane.

Most of the work will take place in 2015, Yagodinski said.

A 10-foot-wide multiuse trail will be constructed on one side of the road, and the trail will run along the north side of Bass, crossing Bass immediately east of the Hadley intersection, then continue west along the south side of the road.

Construction will be done in sections over several years, based on the availability of federal funding. The estimated cost of the entire project is $38.5 million, with federal funding covering about 80 percent of the project.