County leaders mull voting centers and education alliance

Elkhart County commissioners, members of the Elkhart County Council and others gathered for a summit meeting in Elkhart.
Posted on Feb. 4, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.

ELKHART — How about centralizing voting at 13 locations instead of the 82 voting sites across Elkhart County?

How about adding the names of local armed forces killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to a memorial in Goshen?

Those were just two of the questions Elkhart County leaders pondered at a summit Friday. The Elkhart County commissioners and Elkhart County council members on hand reached no conclusions — it was a discussion-only gathering — but they received plenty of information to digest.

Aside from the vote center and war memorial questions, the presentations touched on the newly formed Elkhart County Education Alliance, a county-led initiative meant to promote increased education of children and teens, and more. Commissioners and the county council hold a summit once or twice a year to get a handle on the big issues the county faces.

Education alliance

Commissioners last month unveiled details of the body, which would take up where the Horizon Education Initiative left off.

On Friday, Brian Smith, the new head of the alliance’s governing board, told the gathered leaders that funding for the initiative wouldn’t come from tax revenue. Rather, the body will seek foundation grants and private funds.

“We think private industry, private foundations will be the way we make this thing happen,” said Smith.

The alliance is still taking shape — county leaders are expected to appoint the other board members today and next week — but its general parameters are set out.

The body would be tabbed with devising a plan and programs to foment improved preschool, primary and secondary education, working with the varied school districts in Elkhart County. Horizon, unveiled only days before formation of the alliance, outlines increased education as a broad objective, and the alliance would build on the data compiled as part of that effort.

The Goshen and Middlebury school districts have already agreed to work with the alliance, and Elkhart County Commissioner Mike Yoder said he hopes to reach accord with three more districts this month. Yoder spearheaded the alliance’s creation.

Among the next tasks in furthering the alliance’s formation would be the hiring of an administrator and staff to manage the new body’s day-to-day affairs and securing the necessary funds, according to Smith. The alliance would vie with other school systems nationwide for grants and other funding, but he said the Elkhart County group stands out because it represents a coalition of county government and local school officials.

No one “is trying to eat the elephant like we are,” said Smith. “It’s bold.”

Voting centers

The county council may consider formation as soon as today of a special committee to look creating voting centers in Elkhart County.

Still, any change wouldn’t likely come until elections in 2014 at the earliest, said Elkhart County Clerk Wendy Hudson. She offered a presentation on what would be required to shift to the voting center model.

As is, voting will take place this year at polling spots that correspond with each of the county’s 117 precincts. Some precincts share locales, and in all, there will be 82 distinct polling spots across the county, according to Hudson.

Under the voting center plan, currently in use in Indiana in just Tippecanoe, Cass and Wayne counties, voting would be centralized at a handful of locations and voters could go to any of them to cast ballots. There must be one voting center for every 10,000 active voters, Hudson said, which would result in 13 voting centers in Elkhart County.

The system is cheaper, though there are start-up costs. Voters where such systems are in place seem to like them, though they haven’t necessarily increased turnout, said Hudson.

War memorial

A special committee has been formed to look into the idea of adding the names of those killed in the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the memorial outside the county courthouse in Goshen.

Plenty of questions persist though, said Gary Whitehead, former head of the county veteran’s affairs office and head of the new committee. The committee would have to set out parameters of who would be named on the memorial, and permission from surviving family members would likely be required.

The memorial was erected in 1947, initially for those killed in World War II.

“I think as soon as possible would be a good timetable to get this thing going,” said Dennis Sharkey, vice president of the Elkhart County Council.

C.R. 17

If construction of the C.R. 17 upgrade from C.R. 32 to C.R. 38 proceeds as smoothly as it has thus far, the county may end up with unused funds, Elkhart County Transportation Manager Jeff Taylor said.

If so, that money will be used to put a fresh layer of asphalt atop C.R. 17 from C.R. 38 further south to C.R. 40. The section between C.R. 38 and C.R. 40 would remain two lanes.

C.R. 17 is the long-range focus of an upgrade meant to turn it into a major north-south arterial through the middle of Elkhart County. The new section between C.R. 28 and C.R. 38 — or C.R. 40, as funding allows — is set to be complete by October.

Lead abatement

The county has nearly concluded a lead abatement program funded with $3 million in federal money.

But Kris Krueger, the county’s grand administrator, said officials have applied for more funds to continue the effort, meant to minimize the potential threat, particularly to children, caused by the presence of lead in homes, primarily old paint.

Thus far, the effort has removed the lead threat from 169 Elkhart County homes. There are as many as 33,000 homes in Elkhart County with some sort of lead threat, though, and Krueger said that would require up to $168 million in all to address.

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