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Gas City receives $250,000 small business relief grant

Up to 25 Gas City businesses will soon see some financial relief from the effects of COVID-19 after the city received a $250,000 grant from the state’s Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA).

According to a press release, Gas City was one of 80 Hoosier municipalities that will receive a combined $18.6 million in grant funding through OCRA’s latest round of the COVID-19 Response Grant Program. The grant program is part of the allocation of federal CARES Act money the state received last year, the release states.

“This grant program has already provided support to more than 600,000 Hoosiers across our state,” Lt. Gov Suzanne Crouch said in the release. “This round we expanded the COVID-19 Response Grant Program so we can continue helping Hoosiers, their families and their businesses recover from the pandemic.”

In this round of the grant’s funding, communities could apply for up to $250,000 each to be used for eligible activities including mental health, childcare, food pantry or bank services; public WiFi locations, subsidence payment programs; or grants or loans to small businesses with the goal of retaining low-to-moderate income jobs, according to the release.

The Gas City funds will be used to provide grants to the hardest hit businesses to “reopen businesses, continue operations, expand their payroll, restock inventory or pay for remote working technology,” according to OCRA documents. Gas City Mayor Bill Rock said the city utilized Kleinpeter Consulting to help submit all of the requirements for the application.

“We were trying to get a grant to where we could help businesses out in Gas City that have been affected by COVID early on where they may have had to shut down, and so we’re looking to get the applications out as soon as we know the guidelines,” Rock said. “...It’s just going to be a great asset not only to the small businesses but also to Gas City as well.”

Rock said once the state provides the city with all of its guidelines and stipulations, he will set up a three-person committee and application process for city businesses to apply for the grant funding, with the goal to prioritize businesses that “suffered the most” through the pandemic. To his knowledge, the grants are stipulated to be a maximum of $10,000 per business, so in that case up to 25 small businesses could receive assistance through the grant.

“It’s just great for the businesses to be able to maybe get their heads above the water now and see there is a light at the end of the tunnel and maybe help ones that may be behind on their payments...then also maybe to bring back some employees they had to lay off,” Rock said. “And it’s just very important to see our city alive, and hopefully we can keep some people from not having to shut down or keep them moving forward.”

The city is also in the midst of planning how to allocate the approximately $1.2 million in additional COVID relief funding coming as a result of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) passing in March. Rock said some initial top-of-mind priorities include upgrades to water and sewer systems and snow removal trucks for the street department to keep the city’s roads clear in the event of emergencies.

Overall, Rock said another committee will be set up to discuss the details of the ARPA plans. He said he will also be relying on the Board of Works, Redevelopment Commission and City Council to make decisions regarding ARPA spending regarding their respective jurisdictions.

Rock said the city is also seeking various avenues of potential additional grant funding in order to continue the construction of the planned Gas City Auditorium. The project broke ground last fall, but Rock said the sudden surge of building projects as a result of COVID lessening in the area has caused steel and lumber prices to skyrocket and left the city looking for more funds to finish the project.

“We had to kind of put our brakes on it for right now until we can find other grants and funding that we need to finish it,” Rock said. “We will get it going, just it may not be as soon as we were hoping.”

'Matilda The Musical' hits center stage

The Community School of the Arts’ Theatre compANY will finally get its opportunity to perform “Matilda The Musical” tonight after production was brought to a halt just weeks before opening night last year.

The Theatre compANY worked for more than three months before pandemic forced the curtains to close just three weeks before the cast was prepared to bring the classic children’s book to life. In the meantime, the actors and actresses have been hard at work, and the public will finally have an opportunity, this weekend, to see all the hard work that’s been going on backstage.

“It was kind of strange. We had to pack up all the props. We had to pack up the entire set and kind of put that show away,” Artistic Director Shelly Inskeep said as she reflected on the past year. “We did a couple performances in the meantime, some that happened and some that got canceled as well, so I think we are extra excited to be able to put this show on because we’ve literally been waiting over a year to do so.”

Although some students graduated and moved away, Inskeep said the cast has been hard at work, relearning their parts and perfecting their skills.

“This is an exceptionally talented cast. The audience is going to be blown away by their acting and vocal abilities. With the show itself, it’s just a lot of fun,” Inskeep said. “I think that everyone who comes is going to laugh, and they’re going to cry. It’s going to take you on an emotional journey. It’s just a really well-written, smart script.”

The Tony Award-winning musical is based on the 1988 children’s book of the same name written by Roald Dahl. The play was commissioned for the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in London before hitting center stage on Broadway in the US.

The cast says the play “revels in the anarchy of childhood, the power of imagination and the inspiring story of a girl who dreams of a better life.”

“It’s just funny and really entertaining. I think anyone who comes out is going to have an awesome theatrical experience which I think we all are missing,” Inskeep sadi. “It will be nice to experience something together as a community.”

The play will be presented on April 30 and May 1 at 7 p.m. and May 2 at p.m. on the stage at the F. Ritchie Walton Performing Arts Center at Marion High School, 750 W. 26th Street, Marion, IN 46953.

Tickets are $18 for adults and $12 for students and are available for purchase online at www.csa-marion.com/tickets.

Audience members will be required to wear masks in accordance with local, state and federal guidelines, and seating will be limited due to the social distancing of tickets.

Inskeep says tickets will be available at the door, but the price will increase by $2. CSA encourages everyone to purchase tickets online in order to avoid lines at the doors.

For more information, contact CSA at 765-662-6263 or info@csa-marion.com.

Even though Inskeep characterized the rehearsal process as “unique,” she said things have gone well since the entire team didn’t have to ‘start from scratch.”

“We keep saying how fun this rehearsal process has been – and not that they aren’t all fun – but this one in particular has just been more enjoyable,” she said. “I think some of that comes from the level of familiarity and since we had started this already last year.”

Eastbrook students show off green thumbs for plant sale

Students in Eastbrook High School’s greenhouse class have been planting the seeds for the annual plant sale all year. Next week, the sale will be in full bloom.

The sale is a tradition at the high school. Each year in January, the students begin their work on planting and caring for plants growing in the greenhouse. The week before Mother’s Day, ordering forms start to go out to prospective buyers, and the following week the plants go on sale.

This year, the sale will be on May 6 from 12:30-7 p.m. and May 7 from 12:30-5:30 p.m.

Agriculture Teacher Jeff Bernaix said he and his students are expecting as many as 120 customers on the first day when doors open.

There is a range of plants on sale, from geraniums to tomatoes, and there are different arrangements and sizes depending on what a person wants to buy.

Outside of providing the opportunity to get flowers for mom for Mother’s Day, the sale also is a chance for the students to learn transferrable life skills that can be put to use in the future.

Many students said they felt that the ability to work in the greenhouse has helped them learn how to maintain their own plants at home.

“I learned how to take care of plants because I really love plants in general, like before this,” said Erin Glessner, a junior taking the class for the second time. “So it’s taught me how to keep my house plants alive around the house for as long as they possibly could be around.”

The plant sale also helps the school and its programs. The funds raised go towards a few different things. Each dollar earned goes toward starting the greenhouse project again for next year and toward financing trips to Future Farmers of America Organization (FFA) events.

Heaven Lawrence is an FFA officer in the class and offered insight into all of the trips and events this sale would benefit.

“It helps the FFA to pay for national conventions, state conventions,” said Lawrence. “For me, I’m going to the state wildlife (contest). It’s paying for the hotel room and the gas to go there, there’s a lot.”

Bernaix said that the funds will be used to buy FFA jackets for the active members as well.

There will be steps taken to make sure the sale runs smoothly and safely in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic is something that Bernaix and the students are all too familiar with. Last year, students were sent home halfway through the process and were not able to finish growing the plants. Bernaix and a team of volunteers instead took over the process.

“Last year, the bus drivers and I ran it,” said Bernaix. “We’re looking forward to getting back to normal but we don’t know what to expect. We don’t know how people are going to come back, we don’t know if they’re going to come back like they always have.”

Man faces robbery conspiracy charges

A Marion man who allegedly helped two juveniles plan and execute the robbery of a gas station last May was arrested Monday.

According to a probable cause affidavit, Marion Police Department officers responded to the Sunoco Gas Station at the intersection of 30th Street and Western Avenue on May 29, 2020 for a report of a robbery. Police reported two juveniles, one who was reportedly carrying a handgun, allegedly stole an undisclosed amount of money and several packs of cigarettes from the store.

The juveniles, ages 14 and 17 at the time of the robbery, were charged with Level 3 felony armed robbery and Class A misdemeanor theft. One of the juveniles, Jeffrey Allen Horbeck II of Marion, is now 18 and is being tried as an adult on the charges, according to previous Chronicle-Tribune reports.

When interviewed by police, Hornbeck admitted to the robbery and said that Paul Edward Stephney, Jr., 19, reportedly stole his mother’s van after he told Stephney where the keys were left, and Stephney allegedly picked up the two juveniles with another male in the van on the day of the robbery, the affidavit states.

According to the affidavit, Hornbeck told police Stephney allegedly “coerced” him to commit the robbery by waving a gun around and threatening his family, noting Stephney reportedly called both juveniles an expletive when they expressed hesitation.

The other juvenile also admitted to his part in the robbery, stating he was armed with a BB gun with no magazine in it and not a .380 handgun as Hornbeck had reported. The second juvenile additionally told police the robbery was Stephney’s idea, the affidavit states.

Stephney is charged with conspiracy to commit armed robbery, a Level 3 felony, and is being held at the Grant County Jail on a $30,000 bond, according to jail records. An initial hearing was scheduled for April 28 at 8:15 a.m. in Grant County Circuit Court.

Hornbeck is being held at the Grant County Jail on a $30,000 bond. A change of plea hearing in his case is currently scheduled for May 5 at 11 a.m. in Grant Circuit Court, court records state.

IDOH updates COVID-19 count

IDOH updates COVID-19 count

EMA Director Bob Jackson Thursday reported 19 new cases of COVID-19 in Grant County, bringing the county’s total number since the start of the pandemic to 7,604. A total of 172 county residents have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, he said.

Jackson said 75 new COVID cases have been reported locally over the past seven days, an average of approximately 11 new cases per day. Over the past 14 days, Jackson said 119 new cases have been reported, an average of approximately nine new cases per day.

The Indiana Department of Health (IDOH) Thursday reported 1,406 new COVID-19 cases statewide. That brings to 718,948 the number of Indiana residents now known to have had the novel coronavirus following corrections to the previous day’s dashboard.

A total of 12,913 Hoosiers are confirmed to have died from COVID-19, an increase of 11 from the previous day. Another 411 probable deaths have been reported based on clinical diagnoses in patients for whom no positive test is on record. Deaths are reported based on when data are received by the state and occurred over multiple days.

To date, a total of 9,749,814 tests, including repeat tests for unique individuals, have been reported to IDOH since Feb. 26, 2020.

COVID-19 vaccine information

COVID-19 vaccines are available to Hoosiers 16 and older. To schedule at a facility within the state system, visit ourshot.in.gov or call 211. Vaccines are free, but insurance may be charged an administrative fee. Appointments for the second dose will be made when the first dose is administered if receiving a Moderna or Pfizer vaccine that requires two doses.

The Grant County Health Department and Marion General Hospital (MGH) are operating vaccine clinics locally within the state system. Appointments can still be scheduled, but walk-ins are also now accepted at this time within the state system clinics.

Sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds are only permitted to receive the Pfizer vaccine, which is offered locally at MGH.

The Marion Walmart and Meijer locations are also offering COVID-19 vaccinations at their in-store pharmacies as part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program (FRPP). Eligible customers can schedule a vaccine appointment via the stores’ respective websites.

Visit uplandfamily pharmacy.com or call 765-998-8072 for information on Upland Family Pharmacy’s vaccine clinic that offers the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

All veterans can now receive a COVID-19 vaccine from VA Northern Indiana Health Care System (VANIHCS) regardless of their enrollment status or character of discharge.

Caregivers, Spouses, CHAMPVA Recipients and Veterans who are not enrolled in VANIHCS, please call (800) 360-8387 ext. 71101 to preregister. Phone lines are open 8 a.m. 4pm, Monday-Friday.

FEMA will host a Johnson & Johnson mobile vaccine clinic at Allen Temple AME Church, 3440 S. Washington St. in Marion, on May 18 and 19 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Walk-in appointments will be available, or individuals can go online or call to schedule an appointment through the state system.

If you have recently received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, flu-like systems within the first few days of vaccination are part of the body’s normal immune response to the vaccine. Those symptoms include pain, redness and swelling in the arm where you got the vaccine, as well as tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever and nausea.

Anyone who develops a severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, shortness of breath or leg swelling within three weeks after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should contact a health care provider and inform the provider of the symptoms and recent COVID-19 vaccination.

According to the Indiana Department of Health (IDOH) COVID-19 vaccine dashboard, 18,439 Grant County residents have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 15,905 are fully vaccinated through receiving both doses of a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the single dose required for the J&J vaccine. Statewide, IDOH reports 2,331,069 Hoosiers have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine requiring two doses, and 1,840,696 Indiana residents are fully vaccinated by receiving two doses or the one-dose J&J vaccine.

Jonesboro to hold working session

The Jonesboro Board of Works, City Council and Redevelopment Committee will be holding a working session on Tuesday, May 4 at 6 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Jonesboro Community Building, 700 Corder Ave. in Jonesboro.

Council approves tax abatement for Structural Steel expansion

The Marion Common Council approved 5-year and 10-year tax abatements for local company Structural Steel Services at a recent meeting.

Structural Steel is planning a three-year project that will include phasing in new automated equipment, building an addition to an existing facility and purchasing the additional equipment needed for the new space. Grant County Economic Growth Council Executive Director Tim Eckerle said that this project will help the business maintain up to date equipment.

“This keeps them at the cutting edge of technology,” said Eckerle, “which is very important in today’s world because it’s difficult to find employees, if not downright impossible at times.”

Structural Steel requested a five-year tax abatement on new equipment and a 10-year abatement on property improvements.

Structural Steel will see a tax savings of approximately $470,000 over the life of the abatements, according to the abatement schedule. Structural Steel will be investing roughly $4 million into getting the new equipment and approximately $2 million on the building expansion, documents state.

Structural Steel Services, which produces steel I-beams and other products related to industrial manufacturing, will receive a 100 percent abatement over five years for the new manufacturing equipment, with that clock running once the equipment is installed.

The company will also receive a 100 percent abatement on the first year of the property tax as well, and then the property tax abatement will decrease 10 percent each year until the end of the 10-year abatement, the schedule states.

According to the abatement schedule, the project is projected to add four new jobs and $210,000 in additional annual salary to the company. Structural Steel currently employs 54 people with annual salaries of approximately $2.34 million, the schedule states.

Eckerle said the figure of four new employees was on the low end as the growth council always tries to underestimate and over deliver.

“There are a minimum of four new jobs being created,” said Eckerle. “We always seek to underestimate job creation numbers.”

Council member Brad Luzadder said that there are other communities in the area in competition for the same customers, expressing his support for the passage of the resolution and the jobs it would bring to the city of Marion.

“I’m Marion first,” said Luzadder. “Always have been, always will be. Anyone that wants to work in the city of Marion, I’m in support of.”

The council passed the tax abatement resolution unanimously, 8-0, with council member Don Batchelor absent from the meeting.