JASPER— Jasper Mayor Terry Seitz teared up at the end of his 2018 State of the City address Tuesday as he dedicated the speech to the late J. Michael Bennett, Jasper’s former police chief who died in August.
“I dedicate this to my friend, Chief Bennett,” Seitz said as a photo of Bennett appeared on the projector screen. “That’s about all I can say.”
Tuesday marked Seitz’s seventh State of the City address as mayor and was part of the Jasper Chamber of Commerce’s State of the... event that also featured Greater Jasper Schools Superintendent Tracy Lorey, Dubois County Commissioners President Nick Hostetter and Dubois County Council President Jerry Hunefeld. The chamber holds the event each year to help inform the community about what’s going on in local government.
The full presentation can be found here: 2018 State of the City.pdf.
City of Jasper
Seitz focused on quality of place in his address, defining the term as “what makes Jasper, Jasper.”
“Our faith, our history, our business community, our workforce, our amenities,” Seitz said. “All together, it’s a pretty fantastic combination.”
Seitz talked about a few projects that are underway in the city that he believes will improve the quality of place within the city, including The Parklands of Jasper, the Jasper Cultural Center and the River Centre.
The Parklands project sits on what used to be the Jasper Country Club golf course off 15th Street. Once completed in May, weather permitting, the $7-million project will give Jasper a more than 20-acre green space in the middle of the city.
The Jasper Cultural Center and the River Centre developments are both happening on the banks of the Patoka River near the Jasper Train Depot. The roughly $16-million Jasper Cultural Center project will unite the Jasper Public Library and Jasper Community Arts Commission in one building at the corner of Mill and Third streets where the Hoosier Desk building currently stands. Demolition of the Hoosier Desk building is expected to begin in April.
Across Third Street at the old Jasper Cabinet property, Indianapolis-based developer Boxer Girl LLC is constructing River Centre, a mixed-use development that will include a hotel, retail space and apartments. Smaller projects within the River Centre development also focus on cleaning up the Patoka riverbank in the area and adding parking downtown.
Seitz also pointed out aspects of the city’s daily grind that help serve citizens. In 2017, the Jasper Police Department responded to 13,000 calls, up from 9,500 in 2016, which Seitz attributed to both the city’s growth and better productivity among the officers thanks to more advanced technology in their patrol cars that allows officers to file paper work from the road rather than returning to the station. Seitz also pointed out the city’s annual investments in infrastructure. The street department performs roughly $2 million of street and sidewalk repair annually, and the city invests about $500,000 in the storm water system annually, in addition to upgrades at the water and wastewater treatment plants.
“Through their day-to-day work City of Jasper staff members have the well-being of the city at heart and the future of the city in mind,” Seitz said.
Greater Jasper Schools
The biggest news in the school district is the construction of Jasper Elementary, a new school building that will combine Fifth Street and Tenth Street schools on land near the Jasper Middle School.
Lorey said the two schools are already working to blend their two cultures in preparation for the new school’s opening in 2020.
The building project was only a small part of Lorey’s address Tuesday. The bulk of her information focused on the school corporation as a whole. At the last enrollment count, which happened in February, Greater Jasper Schools served 3,139 students, down from 3,161 in 2017. Of those students, Lorey said, about 6 percent are English language learners representing eight native languages and 16 countries of origin. Special education students represent 12 percent of the student body, and about 32 percent receive free or reduced-price lunch.
“That, for us, is a measure of poverty in our student population,” Lorey said of the free or reduced-price lunch statistic.
Lorey also pointed out that Jasper boasts a 97 percent attendance rate for 2017 and is academically strong. At the high school, 291 students took advanced-placement courses, offering them a leg up in college.
“When they take those advanced-placement tests, anybody that scores a three, four or five is able to transfer those credits to a state university,” Lorey said. “And that’s free. ... Anytime they have opportunity to earn credit, that’s kudos to them for their academic foresight, but it’s also kudos to mom and dad in their pocketbook.”
Jasper High School students also enrolled in 992 dual-credit courses last year, which also give students a chance to earn college credit.
Although Jasper is academically strong, Lorey said the district has faced some challenges, especially with regard to standardized testing. Lorey described the ISTEP test, which is the state’s standardized test for third through eighth grades and a graduation-qualifying exam for 10th graders, as a moving target. State officials constantly tweak the test, Lorey said, and most recently made changes that led to fewer students passing statewide.
Although Jasper still has above average passing rates, Lorey said, the school did take a hit, and educators are especially dissatisfied with the graduation-qualifying exam for sophomores.
“I was always taught in tests and measurements that if you have that many kids that aren’t passing, it’s probably not the kids,” Lorey said. “It’s the test.”
County Commissioners President Nick Hostetter shared some facts about the county’s daily operations during his speech.
“I think it’s important for people to stay informed about what’s going on in local government,” Hostetter said.
The clerk’s office is preparing to open early voting for the primary elections, which will take place on the first floor of the Dubois County Annex, 602 Main St., Jasper, beginning April 10.
The solid waste department has launched a wizard on the county’s website that will tell residents how to dispose of various items properly, and the county is preparing to launch a new website.
“Dubois County was founded in 1818, and I think the website wasn’t too far behind,” Hostetter joked.
Hostetter also shared that Dubois County Community Corrections is in the black with user fees for the first time in several years and that the commissioners are revamping the county’s subdivision ordinance.
“Our main goal here is to make it easier for people to do what they want with their land without putting too much of a burden on future generations,” Hostetter said.
County Council President Jerry Hunefeld focused on three major undertakings the council has been tackling lately: the countywide wage study, the penal system study and the Midstate Corridor, which is a proposed bypass road that would ultimately connect Dubois County to Interstate 69 and northern Kentucky.
The wage study is complete, Hunefeld said, and will be publicly discussed at upcoming commissioners and council meetings. One main focus of the study was creating classifications for jobs to ensure that similar positions are treated the same throughout all of the county’s departments. The other focuses were on creating a wage scale and offering salary bumps where needed.
For the penal system study, Hunefeld pointed out that although the jail has been discussed the most, the study will also include the entire criminal justice system.
“That process is underway,” he said. “I have no idea when it will be done. It will not be soon.”
In his remarks about the Midstate Corridor, Hunefeld expressed support for the project while acknowledging that it will take awhile. Right now, local governments and industry leaders are forming a regional development authority that will work with the state to get the project funded, which will involve local investment in the project.
“I know the wheels of government move slowly,” Hunefeld said. “I know I will never see that road, but I hope that we get that road somewhere down the road.”