by PRESS TIMES STAFF
Streckenbach calls interchange a major accomplishment
Brown County Executive Troy Streckenbach last week highlighted the completion of the new diamond interchange at Hwy. 29 and Hwy. VV in Hobart as a particularly impactful achievement for the county during his 2023 budget proposal speech Sept. 30.
The interchange, for which the county received a roughly $20 million federal BUILD Grant, officially opened following a ribbon cutting ceremony held Sept. 28.
Streckenbach said the interchange will provide several benefits to the villages of Hobart and Howard.
“It’s making that section of the county safer and then creating the opportunities for economic development,” he said. “This is really leading to great opportunities for economic growth.”
The villages of Hobart and Howard each kicked in about $3 million of the more than $25 million total project cost to fund construction of the roundabouts and connections to the local road network.
Village Administrator Aaron Kramer has called the interchange the culmination of a dream for many in the region which, in addition to the economic benefits will also improve safety for motorists and pedestrians.
Construction began in April 2021 and the interchange was opened to traffic in early September.
Hobart and Lawrence boards come together to discuss addition of DEO
The Hobart Village Board, along with the Lawrence Town Board, met Thursday, Oct. 6, to discuss the possible addition of a direct enforcement officer (DEO) to the Hobart/Lawrence Police Department.
A DEO would function within both municipalities to assist both Hobart’s and Lawrence’s building inspectors with addressing complaints and code violations and issuing citations when necessary.
Currently, complaints and code violations are handled by Scott Beining, building inspector and zoning administrator for the Town of Lawrence, and Todd Gerbers, Hobart’s director of planning and code compliance. But if information about a resident or vehicle needs to be looked up or a citation needs to be written, an officer from the police department usually needs to become involved.
Police Chief Randy Bani said having a DEO in the department would eliminate the need for the building inspectors to act as a middle man.
“To have an officer doing it is the correct way to do it,” he said. “If someone calls for a flat tire, you’re not going to send somebody to go look and see if it’s a flat tire and then call the mechanic to come fix the tire, right? You just send the mechanic and get it done.”
Both Hobart and Lawrence are experiencing significant growth, but with that growth comes an increase in issues to be dealt with.
Beining said that hiring a DEO would be a way to make sure both municipalities are able to handle the additional workload.
“Our communities are safe, successful, growing and clean and we need to be proactive,” Beining said. “We can’t be complacent on those things.”
Hiring a DEO to take on complaints and code violations would also be a safer option, in some instances, than having a building inspector do it.
Earlier this year while arressing concerns about vehicles being stored on a property in Lawrence, Beining had threats made against his life and his family.
Gerbers said there have not been any issues quite as extreme in Hobart yet, but noted that some interactions have been a cause for concern.
“Some of them do become very belligerent to us at the door,” he said. “They don’t like being told that they have to clean up their property. Sometimes you’re a little concerned about going to a door. It’s not overly bad as of yet, but it has happened.”
While members of both boards seemed to agree that the creation of a DEO position was a good idea, there was much disagreement about what that position should look like.
Five potential options are on the table for the DEO position.
Option 1 is to hire a full-time officer for the position.
With this option, the DEO would split their time between the two municipalities, spending 20 hours a week addressing issues in Hobart and 20 hours each week doing the same in Lawrence.
Some board members voiced concerns about a full-time DEO becoming overbearing in the community and looking for problems.
But Bani said the position would still primarily be complaint-driven and, as a member of law enforcement, the DEO would spend any extra time helping in the department where needed.
“Our job is not going to be to go out there and nitpick everybody and be the Gestapo handing out citations,” he said. “Our job would be to try and get them into compliance. We’re certainly not looking at this being a moneymaker in any event. We’re not going to be out tagging people for every violation we can possibly find. If complaints and code violations do not take up that much time, the officer would be available to assist with other police tasks.”
Options 2 and 3 both involve hiring a part-time officer to fill the position. Option 2 would employ a three-day-a-week DEO and Option 3 would employ a DEO two days per week.
These options would address concerns about whether there is enough workload to require a full-time DEO; but Bani said finding an officer who wants to work part-time can be difficult, and getting them to stay long-term is even harder.
“We’ve hired part-time officers,” he said. “We got away from that because it was costing us an arm and a leg to bring them in, train them, equip them, and then they get a full-time job. So we were just a stepping stone — we just became a training ground for everybody. So that didn’t work.”
Option 4, a way to ease into a full-blown DEO position by offering an existing officer overtime each week to take on the extra duties, was quickly ruled out due to concerns over the resulting uneven distribution of overtime and the added stress on officers who already work 84 hours over a two-week period.
The fifth option available to the board members would be to not hire a DEO at all.
No decision was made regarding the DEO position, but the two boards will come together again on Thursday, Oct. 27, to review the budgetary impact of each option and make a final decision.