A1 A1
NAS facilities projects outlined for summer

Five major summer facilities projects were outlined during Wednesday’s Napoleon Area City Schools Board of Education meeting, including studying ways to improve parking and traffic issues along Westmoreland Avenue.

Cory Niekamp, business manager for the district, reported the Clairmont Avenue project started May 4, which is approximately three weeks earlier than was planned, because the campus has been shut down. The project should be done by Aug. 1.

Hohenbrink Excavating in Findlay was awarded the bid for the project, which is part of a campus improvement plan agreement approved last year between the district and the City of Napoleon. The plan includes the district improving Clairmont Avenue between Briarheath Avenue and Westmoreland Avenue and then turning the road over to the city. In turn, the city will repay the district $150,000 over a three-year period.

A part of that campus improvement plan was also that the district would improve parking and traffic issues along Westmoreland Avenue.

The board approved an agreement for professional services with Mannik and Smith Group, Inc. for a parking lot improvements study. The agreement states the district has $700,000 budgeted to address the most crucial of the parking and traffic issues, but is seeking recommendations from an independent consultant as to how best apply the funds.

“... The plan is to spend the next two months with Mannik and Smith going over the various issues that we’re fighting and have them come up with a recommendation,” Niekamp explained. “Ultimately we want to add a parking lot, and so there’s a couple of options.”

According to the agreement, the district is considering expanding the parking lots at the elementary school and athletic field and adding pedestrian crosswalks to improve pedestrian safety. Other ideas considered for peak hours are to rework the drop-off and pick-up areas or reverse traffic flow to improve circulation. According to the scope of work for the study, if parking at the football stadium would be expanded, it would mean the elimination of the junior varsity softball diamond.

The third major summer project that is underway is a kickball/softball/baseball field behind the elementary school.

Niekamp said they removed the sod last week and brought in eight loads of stone. Approximately 20 more loads of stone will be brought in after the area dries out from recent rain, and it will then be leveled off and bases will be added. Niekamp added the nearby cross country course has been laid out and does not need to be modified due to the new field.

Superintendent Dr. Erik Belcher said the field behind the elementary school will be a full-size field which will used by the school, as well as the city, for games, and could also be used by the junior varsity softball team if the current diamond is eliminated. However, Belcher added the idea of expanding the parking at the football stadium is just one possibility and the district is looking to the study for the best recommendation.

Issues that need addressed include insufficient parking at the elementary school during special events; limited parking for athletic events such as football, baseball and soccer, which results in vehicles being parked in no parking zones along Westmoreland Avenue or in grassy areas at the student parking lot; no defined crosswalks on Westmoreland Avenue between the elementary school parking lot and the athletic facilities on the junior/senior high school campus; and student pick-up and drop-off issues with cars stacking up onto Westmoreland Avenue.

Niekamp added Mannik & Smith previously conducted a traffic study when the elementary school was opened, so it already has that information. This agreement is not to exceed $15,500, and the report is expected to be completed within four to five weeks.

Niekamp said the tentative timeline for work would be to develop drawings of the recommendation by the fall, with the actual construction done the summer of 2021.

The fourth project was based on a recommendation from the facility review committee regarding an annual landscaping project. Niekamp said this would include replacing the park benches by the tennis courts which were removed last summer, adding 31 trees on the junior/senior high school campus and adding park benches along Briarheath Drive.

The fifth project for this summer is the addition of an outside cafeteria patio, which is being funded through $16,350 in donations.

“The patio is laid out just north of the cafeteria today,” he said, adding the project will include the patio, landscaping and picnic tables.

NWS graphic by CODY PITTMAN 

As of Wednesday afternoon, the Henry County Health Department reported nine lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the county. The ninth case is a male in his 20s. There are also currently four probable cases in the county. To be counted as a probable case, certain criteria must be met, but those cases are not lab-confirmed. The probable case number can change depending on testing and other factors. As of one week ago (through May 13), the county had eight lab-confirmed cases.

City EMS seeing increase in calls year to year

With Napoleon emergency medical service (EMS) crews responding to more calls for service over the last several years, that personnel is more important than ever.

Since 2011, Napoleon Fire and Rescue has seen a 40% increase in patients aged 50 or older, which resulted in 378 more calls for service by 2018.

“Overall, we’ve seen an increase of 60% in calls for service, both on the EMS and fire side,” said Napoleon Fire Chief Clayton O’Brien. “In Napoleon, 80% of our calls for service are EMS.”

So far this year, the fire station has received 519 total calls, which is about 50 less than this point last year, but some of the reduction is likely due to regulations put in place to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

In 2018, the most recent numbers available, the department received 1,609 calls for service.

The department has a total of 30 EMS providers on staff, though that also includes volunteers. O’Brien said training requirements result in six months to become an emergency medical technician (EMT) while it takes 18 months to become a paramedic.

In Napoleon, anyone working full-time for the city’s fire and rescue needs to be both a firefighter and a paramedic. There are currently 10 of those on staff, including O’Brien and Assistant Fire Chief Joel Frey.

Paramedics allow the city to provide advanced life support (ALS) services to residents in a medical emergency, rather than just basic life support (BLS) services.

The COVID-19 pandemic has limited some of the ability to train volunteers.

“We can do online training, but can’t do anything in person right now,” O’Brien said.

He added that could cause the department to lose some volunteers, which he said is a concern of his.

“The biggest change for us is the amount of PPE (personal protection equipment) we have to wear on calls,” O’Brien said of how the pandemic has changed operations for EMS.

“Our response really other than that has been business as usual, because we’ve been dealing with communicable diseases for a long time,” O’Brien said.

One of the harder aspects, according to the chief, has been the social distancing aspect, which also led the city to create a secondary, temporary station at the St. Paul Lutheran Youth Center.

“We’re like a family at the fire department so we’re not used to being six-feet apart,” O’Brien said.

He added this has led to some changes in the station, specifically the kitchen area, where seating was spread out more.

“Morale’s been really great though, and I’m super proud of our area,” O’Brien said. “I think it’s really a victory for us if we are able to get out of this without either the fire station or police station being hit by this (pandemic).”

Rain leads to local flooding

With no shortage of rain through the week, Henry County is included in the National Weather Service of Northern Indiana’s flood warning that has been extended through 9 a.m. Friday.

Sunday morning was the last 24-hour recording period in which the Defiance Airport precipitation collection point reported no precipitation. For the period between Sunday and Monday at 8:24 a.m., 0.47 inches of rain was collected. By 8:38 p.m. Monday, that data collection point reported a 24-hour rain total of 3.55 inches. On Tuesday at 8:13 a.m., the data point reported a 24-hour rain total of 3.81 inches. The 24-hour period between Monday and Tuesday evenings was 0.62 inches, and between Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, it was reported as 0.17 inches.

A local storm reporter in Ottawa (Putnam County) reported 3.55 inches between early Sunday and 6:39 a.m. Tuesday. A storm reporter in Defiance reported 4.12 inches of rain between early Sunday and 1 a.m. Tuesday. Paulding County officials reported there was basement and crawlspace flooding in the Village of Payne Monday evening.

The emergency management agency in Van Wert reported 3.34 inches of rain fell between Sunday morning and Monday evening. A weather spotter in Williams County reported 2.14 inches falling between midnight and 4 p.m. Monday.

Hydrology data from the National Weather Service shows the Maumee River data collection point at Napoleon has experienced minor flooding for portions of Tuesday and Wednesday. The minor flooding stage at this data point is 12 feet, and a measurement of 12.27 feet was recorded at 3:15 p.m. Wednesday.

The service estimates this data point will peak at 12.4 feet before dropping down through the rest of the week. These estimates show this point of the river dropping to the caution stage of 10-12 feet today and then dropping below 10 feet Friday.

Flood impact data through the National Weather Service states when the river at the Napoleon point reaches 12.5 feet, recreational grounds near Napoleon begin to flood, and, at 12 feet, flooding of farm land and possibly secondary roads near the river begins.

At the Defiance data collection point for the Maumee River, a measurement of 14.56 feet was recorded at 4:15 p.m. Wednesday. This data point’s caution stage is from 8-10 feet, and its minor flooding stage is from 10-15 feet. The forecast for the Defiance point shows the levels will taper off before reaching the moderate flooding stage of 15 feet.

According to the National Weather Service hydrology forecast, the Defiance point of the river will remain in minor flooding stages into Friday and will not drop out of the caution stage until Saturday.

Looking ahead, the National Weather Service of Northern Indiana is forecasting a 30% chance of showers after 11 a.m. today, with a lingering 20% chance overnight. A 30% chance of showers is forecast between 2-8 p.m. Friday. A 30% chance is forecast after 2 a.m. Sunday morning and a 40% chance, with thunderstorms possible, after 2 p.m. that day.

The extended forecast for Memorial Day according to the weather service shows a 50% chance of showers and thunderstorms, with high temperatures near 84 degrees. Tuesday also has a chance of showers and thunderstorms.

Updated forecast shows anticipated positive

LIBERTY CENTER — It was reported the Liberty Center Local Schools’ fiscal year 2020 is expected to end in the black, although the extended forecast for the district continues to show deficit spending.

The district’s fiscal year 2019 realized deficit spending of $259,693 and district staff was able to take action throughout the year to anticipate ending fiscal year 2020 with a revenue excess of $890,753. The district started the fiscal year July 1, 2019, with a cash balance at just less than $7 million, and, if the revenue excess is realized, the June 30 cash balance will be approximately $7.84 million.

Liberty Center Local Schools Treasurer Jenell Buenger reported the finance committee met earlier in the month to review the forecast in detail.

“It’s looking much better than projected,” she said of the findings during Monday’s board meeting.

It was noted the district was able to save on expenditures through attrition, as the district was able to review its enrollment numbers and not fill in vacant positions such as a bus driver, two teaching positions, a monitoring aide and a lunchroom aide. Buenger also said grant money was able to offset some of the district’s costs.

Buenger reported the school building closures did result in some savings realized by the district. She reported not needing substitute staff resulted in approximately $50,000 in savings, approximately $25,000 were saved in utility costs, approximately $10,000 was saved in maintenance supplies since items like toilet paper and paper towels did not need to be stocked and, because summer workers won’t be necessary this year, approximately $16,000 will be saved in those costs.

Buenger reported the most recent funding cuts made by the State of Ohio in response to the COVID-19 pandemic cost the district approximately $182,000 in revenues. However, the district received approximately $900,000 from pipeline payments, an amount that was larger than anticipated.

The school district extends into a portion of Fulton County where the Nexus pipeline is located. A preliminary assessment estimated a revenue of approximately $647,000 for the district.

Buenger also reported income taxes were received in an amount approximately $200,000 more than forecast and open enrollment numbers generated approximately $100,000 more than forecast.

Using conservative data to move forward, both Buenger and Superintendent Richie Peters commented on the uncertainty being created by the school buildings closures and orders being put into place in response to the pandemic.

Fiscal years 2021-24 are still being forecast as deficit spending, with the estimates resulting in approximately $1.17 million in deficit spending for 2021, $1.93 million for 2022, $2.1 million for 2023 and $2.6 million for 2024.

In a summary prepared by Buenger for the board, it is reported she projects a 5% reduction in property taxes for the next two years due to COVID-19, a 10% decrease for the next two years, an anticipated 10% decrease in state foundation grants next year, projected decreases to the casino tax revenues and a 5% decrease to property tax allocation.

As for expenditures, Buenger notes the recently-approved 2% wage increase in the one-year teacher’s contract, along with a projected 6% increase to insurance/benefits. Salaries and benefits are typically nearly 80% of the district’s annual expenditures.

The numbers for fiscal years 2021-24 are projections at this point, but, if they were actually realized as forecast, the deficit spending would deplete the district’s cash reserves down to approximately $2.64 million by June 30, 2024. However, these forecasts are based on conservative projections and are typically realized in more positive amounts, especially as the district proactively reduces the deficit spending amounts.

“With the way things change, (forming a five-year forecast) is very difficult in normal, certain times,” said Peters, who began in the position in January 2019. “When I started, the board was very proactive in that they were facing deficit spending. Through attrition, we saved money right away, and the pipeline was a tremendous help. There was a hit from the state a week ago, but, because of those, we were able to be good for today.”

However, Peters stressed figures such as those in the forecasts are “ever-changing,” and there continues to be more uncertainty on how the state will respond to the pandemic.

“I commend the board for being proactive and having things in place,” he said. “A lot of schools are in a tough spot. We are in a situation where we do not need to make knee-jerk reactions like making layoffs. We’re looking solid for this fiscal year, and we’ll see what the future holds.”

Peters said the anticipated revenue carryover into the next fiscal year will be a benefit to the district, as he said the cuts made at the state level weren’t a surprise.

“(Making projections for) the first two years in reasonable, but, beyond that is a crapshoot. The current situation doesn’t make this any better,” Peters said of forecasting. “Nobody likes to hear the news, even though it wasn’t a surprise with the cuts. But, we’ll deal with it, analyze each position and be conservative with spending. We’re going to look closer and make sure the money we spend is serving the students.”

In other financial matters, the board accepted a $100 donation from Frost Insurance Co. for banners, $46.90 from the Box Tops for Education program for the elementary principal’s fund, $135 from the LC Athletic Boosters for a hotel room for gymnastics and $1,500 from solar company ConnectGen to provide internet access for those in need for remote learning.

The board also approved a transfer of $110,000 from the general fund to the lunchroom fund. Buenger said the lunchroom fund was doing well for the year due to cuts previously made, but when the school closures happened, no revenues were being generated for the fund as lunches were still provided to students.

The board also approved authorized signers to the administrative petty cash checking account to add newly-hired payroll specialist Breanna Sharp.

Mississippi gov is pranked in shout-out to high school grads

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — This one slipped through the cracks.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves asked people to submit names of high school seniors so he could read them aloud on a webcast — a recognition for teenagers who are missing traditional graduation ceremonies because of the coronavirus pandemic.

On a Facebook live session Saturday, Reeves started reading the names of graduates from Florence High School, his alma mater, when he came to one his staff now assumes someone submitted as a prank — “Harry Azcrac.” The 45-year-old Republican governor read it, paused briefly and kept going.

A video clip became the butt of jokes on Twitter, and the governor handled it with good humor.

“Harry’s submitter has a bright future as a Simpson’s writer!” Reeves tweeted, also noting that he would be back online reading more graduates’ names: “Maybe even Ben — the pride of the Dover family.”

Reeves spokeswoman Renae Eze said Wednesday that the governor’s staff spent hours grouping almost 10,000 individually submitted names by school. As for Harry Azcrac, she said: “We can probably say it’s not a real person.”