City department heads present annual reports to common council

City department heads presented annual reports to the Huntington Common Council during its meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 12.

Chief Chad Hacker discussed a variety of accomplishments tied to the Huntington Police Department in 2018. Of those accomplishments, one of the most significant for Hacker was that groundwork was laid for the construction of a new police station this year.

The police department has been headquartered in the Huntington City Building since 1904, said Mayor Brooks Fetters, with Hacker adding that the department only employed eight officers at that time. The department’s complement of officers has since swelled to 35. With the new station set to be two stories and 17,000 square feet, Hacker expressed gratitude that his staff will have more room to operate.

The station will be built on a city-owned parking lot on Cherry Street, with a projected cost of $2.5 million.

Hacker stated that the department conducted three recruiting cycles in 2018. Those cycles, he said, led to the hiring of four officers last year and another in January of this year.

The department’s ranks also grew to include a second ordinance officer in 2018, said Hacker.

“One of the biggest reasons we did that was for parking enforcement,” he explained.

After 206 parking tickets were issued in 2017, Hacker said that figure jumped to 824 last year, thanks to the hiring of the second officer.

The department implemented new software in 2018 and equipped officers with patrol rifles, said Hacker. The software, Spillman, went active in May. The rifles were purchased with grant money. In addition to the rifles, officers are equipped with a duty weapon, off-duty handgun and shotgun.

Hacker touted the department’s Citizens Police Academy, which it held for the first time last year. An eight-week program designed to give community members an idea of what being a police officer is like, Hacker said the academy’s inaugural class boasted 19 participants. Academy sessions were held on Wednesdays last fall and spanned three to four hours.

Hacker said the department plans on holding the academy again this year, though it hasn’t decided on when.

Tony Johnson, who became chief of the Huntington Fire Department last July, gave council a preview of the department’s agenda in 2019.

The department will be implementing a workplace performance evaluation program, said Johnson. The goal of the program will be to reduce firefighters’ risk of experiencing a cardiac event, which is one of the leading causes of firefighter fatalities, Johnson stated.

The program will consist of a medical evaluation and a physical evaluation. The latter evaluation will feature an eight-station course that participants are required to complete in a set time. Participants who don’t meet that time will convene with a fitness instructor and work to improve on the stations they struggled at.

“We’re hoping to catch any unknown and underlying issues that the firefighter may have that he doesn’t know about before it’s too late and leads to tragedy,” said Johnson.

Two new firefighters joined the department on Feb. 1 and are currently enrolled at the Fort Wayne Fire Academy, reported Johnson. The firefighters, Christopher Schroeder and Anthony Capozza, are in the midst of a 20-week course that will see them learn a range of skills. When the course concludes, they will return to Huntington, ready for duty, said Johnson.

Schroeder and Capozza’s enrollment at the Fort Wayne Fire Academy marks the first time in five years that Huntington firefighters have gone to the Summit City for training. Johnson said it was something he wanted the department to get back to doing with its rookie firefighters.

“They get a lot of training that it’s going to take us two or three years to get them up to that speed,” he explained.

Johnson also noted that he wanted to update some of the department’s aging equipment in 2019. He cited the department’s saws, which are almost 20 years old, as an example of equipment that needs to be replaced.

Bryn Keplinger, director of the Department of Community Development and Redevelopment, began his report with a review of Huntington’s home-building numbers in 2018, which were robust.

Last year, 47 homes were built in Huntington, said Keplinger. Typically, home-construction in the Lime City tops out at 20 to 25 new dwellings a year, he stated.

“So, we nearly doubled a traditional year,” he observed.

Keplinger added that Huntington’s home-building numbers haven’t been that high since the early 2000s.

Of the homes that were built, 70 percent were on Huntington’s south side, Keplinger noted. He cited the reopening of Horace Mann Elementary School on Waterworks Road as a driver of that activity.

Keplinger highlighted the positive trajectory of the H.K. Porter site cleanup. This spring and summer, he said, the final above-ground hazardous materials will be removed from the brownfield site, which is 12 acres and located on Sabine Street. Contaminated soil will be excavated as well.
Testing has also been completed at residences adjacent to the site, said Keplinger. Those tests revealed elevated levels of lead and asbestos in the ground. Accordingly, remedial action will occur, likely this spring, stated Keplinger.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has spent $900,000 on the site, said Keplinger. Of the site’s buildings, seven have been razed while two still stand.

Keplinger stated that the city’s comprehensive plan would soon be updated. He projected that it would take two months to update the plan, which was last revised in 2012. The first meeting regarding the plan’s update will be held Thursday, Feb. 28, in the Common Council chambers at 6 p.m. The public is welcome to attend.

Additionally, Keplinger highlighted the blueprint digitization that had taken place in his department in 2018. Over 1,400 sets of drawings representing 800 unique addresses had been digitized, he said.

Anthony Goodnight, director of public works and engineering services, touted progress that was made on closing the Huntington City Landfill in 2018.

Twenty-six acres of the landfill, which is located at 515S-300W, have now been closed, said Goodnight. He added that he and his staff have targeted another 28.1 acres for closure and that that process will unfold this year.

After March 29, garbage will no longer be accepted at the landfill, said Goodnight. He did note, though, that he was open to brush still being deposited at the site.

Even though the landfill will be closing, Goodnight said the city’s orange-sticker program would continue. Large items that citizens have marked for disposal with orange stickers available for purchase from the city will still be picked up, but they will be disposed of at a different site.

Goodnight said his office, which issues water, sewer and right of way permits, saw a large increase in fee revenues in 2018. That increase, he said, was a result of the uptick in home-building that Keplinger had mentioned. After taking in $81,000 in fee revenues in 2017, Goodnight said his office took in $266,000 in 2018.

Goodnight also cited the completion of the Etna Avenue Improvement Project and the State Street sewer separation as major accomplishments in 2018.

Steve Yoder, superintendent of the Parks and Recreation Department, said he was delighted by the public’s response to programming the department was involved in last year.

Specifically, Yoder mentioned “Christmas in the City” and a new fishing event that was held at Memorial Park. “Christmas in the City,” downtown Huntington’s annual Christmas celebration, drew between 1,500 and 2,000 attendees, he said. One of the highlights of the event, the lighting of the Christmas tree in the city’s Rotary Park, drew approximately 1,000 spectators, he said.

The Memorial Park fishing event occurred in October and saw the Indiana Department of Natural Resources stock the park’s north pond with 300 rainbow trout.

“It was a great family event,” remarked Yoder. “We’re looking forward to continuing that, maybe a couple times a year.”

Yoder also mentioned that Huntington retained its “Tree City USA” designation in 2018, which saw 173 trees planted in the city.