JASPER — Major business plans are developing as part of an ongoing expansion at Fischer Farms Natural Foods in St. Anthony. To assist in the efforts, the Dubois County beef supplier received approval on a renewed tax abatement request Monday evening by the Dubois County Council.
Diana Fischer told the council the farm was recently chosen to participate in a climate-smart initiative through the USDA, working with universities and research companies to analyze local carbon capturing practices to help set standards for other farms. She said feeding cattle kelp, for example, reduces methane emissions by 8%. Fischer mentioned expansion efforts later this year with a new building. She said the farm intends to add four new employees by the end of May and 10 workers by the end of 2023.
Fischer also said the local beef is being sold at the Indianapolis Zoo, and may soon be offered at Indiana Colts and Pacers games.
Another ongoing development in Dubois County discussed with the council is the planned Duff Solar Park during a visit from EDP Renewables. Located adjacent to the Duff Vectran Substation on County Road South 650 West, just 600 to 900 acres of solar panels will consume the 1,500 acres of land allotted.
The council was introduced to new project manager Bridgette Chia, based out of Chicago, who noted a new interconnection agreement with the grid operator to allow connection to the existing substation. She said the company has contracted with an external engineering firm to establish the layout of the park, identifying land parcels involved, locations of panels, fences and inverters to be shared with the county later this summer.
Currently EDP is seeking an off-taker, or buyer of the energy generated by the park. Once a buyer is identified, construction could begin as early as 2024.
Chia also mentioned Senate Bill 390, which was recently signed into law by Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb. The law provides financial incentives to counties qualified as solar energy ready communities. While the county commissioners have established Dubois as a solar ready community through ordinance, the county must work with the Indiana Office of Energy Development to complete the certification process to receive funding. Once the park is operational, the county could receive $150,000 to $200,000 annually for 10 years.
Dubois County Prosecutor Beth Schroeder made a plea to the council for the need of an additional circuit court staff member, a part-time investigator and salary increases to ensure deputy prosecutor wage retention.
“Without retention of qualified prosecutor’s in my office, it doesn’t matter how much we spend on law enforcement personnel and equipment. If the arrests they make aren’t prosecuted well, we aren’t going to ensure community safety,” Schroeder told the council.
The council, though, did not entertain a motion on any of the requests, with a board consensus to take up the matters during 2024 budget hearings.
Sheriff Tom Kleinhelter addressed recent questions from council members regarding a staffing increase request. He said the county jail has seen more book-ins in the first quarter of 2023 than in the past five years and the second most for a first quarter in the past 13 years.
The council was also informed of the sheriff’s office having recently applied to the U.S. Department of Justice for a COPS Grant to partially fund two new deputies. Chief deputy Jesus Monarrez also asked the council to consider exploring a new public safety tax, but was unable to garner any specific support.
In additional appropriations, the council voted 7-0 to approve $110,000 for paving projects through the highway restricted fund, $10,591 from the clerk’s perpetuation fund to install a new door and keyless entry access and $3,000 from the prosecutor’s forfeiture fund for the purchase of new office furniture.
A $10,000 transfer was also approved for community corrections in the maintenance budget for equipment and supplies needed during a move into newly renovated facilities.
The Dubois County Council will meet again at 4:30 p.m. on Monday, June 19 in the commissioners/council room of the county courthouse annex in downtown Jasper.
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