Jefferson County’s Commissioners met for a lengthy meeting on Thursday to approve and consider several items on its July docket, including an application for a much needed COVID-19 loan package that could be made available to local businesses.

Visit Madison Inc. was before the Commissioners to seek approval to apply for a CARES Relief Loan created by the federal government for distribution to local businesses that have been affected by the pandemic. The loans, which would be administered by Visit Madison, are intended for small companies of less than 50 employees with a focus on those owned by veterans, minorities and women. Up to $150,000 is being sought.

In addition, Visit Madison is hoping to receive $200,000 in grants to help make up a budget shortfall due to tourism losses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tawana Thomas, executive director of Visit Madison, said the organization operates with an annual budget of around $400,000, but with virtually all summer festivals canceled and tourism slowed, the organization is running woefully behind.

“Getting this money wouldn’t solve everything but it would give us a little bit of security moving forward,” Thomas said. “No one knows what is going to happen in the future and we have to be prepared.”

The near two-hour meeting began with what ended up being a back-and-forth exchange between County Assessor Karen Mannix and representatives from Tyler Technologies.

Mannix was on hand at the board meeting to announce that she had awarded the contract for the county’s data collection project to Lexur Appraisal Service after a blind-bid process. Mannix said that she had submitted public notices in The Madison Courier on June 30, July 2 and July 4, but the bid from Lexur was the only one she received.

Mark Folkerts and Troy Fryman, representatives of Tyler Technologies, which holds the current contract, attended the meeting via Zoom and objected to the process saying they were not given adequate notice to place a bid to retain their services. Mannix countered that not only did everybody have the same amount of notice, but Fryman himself had called her office on July 2 to inquire about what was needed to put in a bid but she never heard back from the company.

“I don’t call or email companies to tell them to put in bids,” Mannix told the commissioners. “That’s something I’ve never done.”

Folkerts then accused Mannix of tampering with the bid process, saying that her decision to go with Lexur was “intentional.”

“The short notice was intended to bring in another company. It’s an unfair practice,” Folkerts said. “Somebody told the assessor that people were going to quit this company and that’s why she went in this direction.”

Mannix responded by again pointing out that every company had the same amount of notice and that Lexur’s bid was the only one received.

After some discussion about possibly resubmitting the bid process, the Commissioners agreed to go with Mannix’s recommendation and award the contract to Lexur. Mannix said that Lexur’s bid will cost about $27,000 less over the next year than the existing contract with Tyler. As a result of the decision, Tyler Technologies will be given a 30-day termination notice as soon as the paperwork is filed.

The Commissioners also set up a separate corporation to facilitate financing, construction and operation of the new jail to be located at J.A. Berry and Hutchinson Lane on Madison’s hilltop. The new corporation will own the jail, but will lease the building to Jefferson County, which will maintain all control over the project. According to project attorney Rick Hall, the procedure is routinely used for public projects of this size in the state.

The county will pay for the building with revenues from income taxes, with property tax revenue being used as a backup. Hall said that he sees no reason why property tax revenue will be needed.

The Commissioners appointed Warren Auxier, Cliff Carnes and Andy Crozier as directors of the building corporation. According to Hall, the directors are required to not be county employees and should be individuals that the Commissioners trust. The next step will be to hold a public meeting with the bid process beginning at the end of the year.

As part of the process of building the new jail, the Commissioners also approved the formation of a committee to explore options on how to best utilize the existing jail once it becomes empty. The hope is to turn the facility into a drug addiction/mental health treatment center.

In other business:

• TV15, the county’s public access channel, has requested an increase in its budget. Currently, the channel receives 15% of what is paid by cable companies that operate in the county with the rest going into the county’s general fund. The Public Video Service Board asked that the amount be increased to 50% in order for TV15 to purchase new equipment and develop original programming. The Commissioners did not rule on the request

• The Commissioners approved a request to apply for grants totaling $850,772 through the Indiana Department of Corrections for staff, salary, benefits, drug court, jail treatment and other items.

• Jefferson County Highway Superintendent Robert Phillips updated the board on several projects throughout the county. Lower Dry Fork Road was expected to open on Friday evening, the bid process for work on Bridge 109 is slated to begin in August, and the county has chosen Brooksburg-Manville Road as its next gravel road to be paved, a process that will be completed next year.

This story has been edited to correct and clarify information pertaining to the CARES Relief Loan program.