Carroll County Health Officer Dr. Emily Backer made a proposal at the Monday, Feb. 21, County Commissioners’ meeting. Dr. Backer explained the Carroll County Health Department is essentially closed to services for county residents. She said the Food Sanitarian is working part-time and a former Environmental Sanitation worker is working only a few hours. There is no nurse. She said the Cass County Health Department has been performing vital records duties for Carroll County so people have access to death and birth certificates.

Dr. Backer said Cass County has offered to merge the two health departments to be able to fully staff both departments by hiring a limited number of staff. It was explained the Cass County Health Officer and Dr. Backer worked out some details. Cass County, with roughly 40,000 people, would handle all of the funds and obtain grants. They would also ensure the Carroll County Health Department would maintain the hours held before most of the employees left.

Dr. Backer said the merger would mean that more programs would be available to Carroll County residents in the local health department. She said the shot schedule would resume as it was before LPN Joyce Yoder passed away. She also said the Carroll County Board of Health recommended the merger as well. Dr. Backer said there would be no additional funding from the county, except for wages. She explained Cass County would hire for both departments and the workers would be considered Cass County employees and would be paid as such. Dr. Backer said it was expected only a very few new employees would need to be hired because Cass County already employs a host of staff, including three to four Registered Nurses.

Attorney Ted Johnson advised the joint health department would have an independent budget from the two counties and the budget would be approved by the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF).

Commissioner Steve Pearson said he wanted to hear how the Cass County Commissioners felt about the matter before doing anything else. Commissioner Loren Hylton was positive about the merger saying he believes it is going to continue to be a struggle to staff the local health department. Commissioner Bill Brown said he believes Carroll County residents should have their own health department but added, “I am willing to listen.”

Dr. Backer said Warren and Fountain counties have operated a joint health department since 1966. She also said other counties are discussing merging with other counties as well. She said the joint health department would have a board of directors with people from both counties. She said the joint health board would develop the budget and both Cass and Carroll County councils would then approve it.

Commissioners voted unanimously to approve a prepared resolution stating Carroll County is interested in pursuing a merger with Cass County. It was noted by Johnson the resolution is nonbinding.

Broadband Internet

Commissioners learned from Justin Meeks, a Barnes and Thornburg representative, there are rules about using the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. Johnson said there is competition for the funds and the county must follow state procurement rules. He also stated the Indiana State Board of Accounts (SBOA) “lays out” the process for using the ARPA funds. Johnson explained, normally counties can hire services without a formal procedure, however this is not the case with ARPA funds.

Meeks said the county must adopt an ARPA use plan before anything else is done and he agreed that a formal procurement procedure had to be followed. He said it does not matter if the county “loans” the requested $1.5 million to the Carroll County Economic Development Corp. (EDC) to purchase broadband services or if the county pays a broadband company itself, the rules will have to be followed. He said if the county gives $1.5 million to EDC, it would be considered a “loan” and the money “loaned” would have to come back to the county by Dec. 1, 2026, legally.

EDC Director Jake Adams, who indicated he was presenting the proposition on behalf of the broadband company, said the plan was for EDC to hold the contract with the broadband company, Broadway Broadband.

Broadway representatives said the cost to the consumers per month ranges from $55 to $115 and there is an additional connection fee if the length of the connection is more than 150 feet. The plan is to install 141 miles of fiber in the county.

Commissioners endorsed a prepared resolution which stated in part, that the group supports the efforts of the EDC to identify and recommend qualified Internet service providers…and the county will use Barnes and Thornburg for legal counsel on all matters relating to the county’s use of ARPA funds for compliance with Indiana laws as well as federal laws.

The next Commissioners’ meeting will be March 7 at 9 a.m.

The recorded video of this meeting can be found on YouTube on the “Debbie Lowe” channel.
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