The Jefferson County Board of Commissioners renewed the county's annual contract with Economic Development Partners for the upcoming year.

The board voted unanimously Thursday night to continue using the organization's services, though some in the audience - including incoming middle-district board representative Robert Little - asked the commissioners to consider other options.

"First off, I'm not against EDP," Little said. "I think the county has to have some form of it to survive. But I think it's time we look for a new road, because the one we've been on the past 12 years is not working."

The EDP contract calls for a payment of $80,000 a year or 10 percent of the gaming fund - which draws revenue from an agreement with Switzerland County and Belterra Casino - whichever is less. The current contract expires on Dec. 31, and the commissioners said it was common practice to consider a renewal toward the end of the year.

Hanover resident Warren Auxier asked the board if it had discussed the EDP contract with the city of Madison, which is still considering options for a possible restructure and has not entered into an agreement with EDP for 2013.

"I've been following the city very closely, and it's very obvious they have not reached a conclusion, at least publicly, as to how they're going to go on this. It appears if the county obligates itself we would be limited as to what our opportunities are," he said.

While the board said they have had talks with the city about EDP and will continue to do so, Commission President Julie Berry said the board could not speak for the City Council or Mayor Damon Welch regarding their thoughts on a contract renewal.

"I know that we've got two active industrial prospects that we're working with right now," Berry said, referring to a recent report from EDP Interim Director Bernie Murphy. "Our contract ends Dec. 31, so, I don't think it would be good business to let that contract expire."

County Attorney Wil Goering added that when the blue ribbon panel was formed by the city to review EDP, the county originally was left out of the process. The county was added to the talks only after the preliminary report, he said.

"It's the city that's broken the partnership, as far as I'm concerned, not the county," Goering said. "And we can't wait for the city, because we've got things in the county that require economic development."

Commissioner Tom Pietrykowski said the contract includes a 30-day cancellation clause, and it can be adjusted. In the meantime, he said he is open for discussion and options for EDP.

"Until we hear of something better to do, I think the prudent thing to do is to get a contract in place," he said.  

Also at the meeting, the commissioners honored Berry for her 12 years on the board. Berry, a Democrat, was the first female to be elected as a commissioner for Jefferson County.

She decided to not seek re-election this year. Little will take over her middle-district seat on Jan. 1.

At the last commissioner's meeting, Pietrykowski and Cash voted to name a hilltop street connecting State Road 7 and Wilson Avenue in honor of Berry. County Engineer Jim Olson reported that the street is now open to traffic, though minor construction still remains.

In addition to the street, Pietrykowski and Cash on Thursday approved a proclamation that recognized Dec. 21 as "Julie Berry Day" in Jefferson County.

Pietrykowski later read a prepared statement from Berry. She thanked her fellow county officials, those she has worked alongside over the years and the public.

She requested that the commissioners continue the annual traveling meetings to reach out to more community members, and she also encouraged more women to run for public office.    "Our community is a good place full of good people," she wrote. "I know I will miss this job, especially the people."

In other business:

• The commissioners voted unanimously to change the payroll schedule for county employees from 24 to 26 times a year. Recently, county employees sent a letter to the commissioners requesting the change and arguing that the formula sometimes left pay gaps of up to three weeks.

The payment schedule was switched from 26 to 24 payments in order to fix a recording issue that Berry said auditor Celeste Reed inherited and later fixed.

The new payment schedule will begin next year.

• The commissioners also heard from RQAW, an Indianapolis firm handling designs for the county extension office, which will be located at the Jefferson County 4-H Fairgrounds.

The firm was asked earlier this year to cut down project expenses given that the initial preliminary plans were estimated at $786,000. A scaled-down version later presented to the commissioners was about half as big in square footage and carried an estimated cost of more than $500,000.

Joseph Mrak, the company's senior vice president, said he felt that the scaled-down version of the project took out too many aspects of the building. It removed several things such as the paved parking lot, a kitchen, additional restrooms and a few offices. He proposed adding a few amenities back into the project but also keeping the changes modest.

Early next year, Mrak said his staff would solidify designs and present the final plans for approval and then bidding to the county.

• The county's insurance provider Travelers Insurance will appeal a Scott County Circuit Court judge's decision to not award damages relating to the 2009 Jefferson County Courthouse fire. Travelers will use Jefferson County as a subrogation party in a lawsuit that targets the contractors believed to have started the fire, though the proceedings will be at no cost to the county.

If the appeal succeeds, the county could be awarded about $300,000 for out-of-pocket expenses paid after the fire.

• The county has started the search process for designers to address an ongoing drainage issue at the Audubon Park residential area in anticipation of receiving state grants. No bids will be awarded until the county hears back from the state regarding the grants, Olson reported.  

• The commissioners approved purchasing backup server software at a cost of $5,640 from company CDWG.

• The board's first meeting next year will be Jan. 11 at 9 a.m. At that time, the board will approve a meeting schedule for the rest of 2013. Traditionally, the board meets twice a month.