Kokomo and its surrounding areas had a lot of highs and lows in 2011.
Howard County reached a settlement for its property tax dispute with General Motors Components Holdings, and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce recognized the city as the “Community of the Year.”
On the other side, the community encountered stories of homicides, a man who had more than 100 dogs removed from his home, and a group of people who were serving for the greater good and were attacked in the middle of the night in a foreign country.
Amid all that, there were schools reforming, a major county facility has become the property of a college, members of the city’s largest unions signed historic four-year contracts and an annexation ensued to the chagrin of some of the future residents of the city.
The following is a list that reporters and editors at the Kokomo Tribune have compiled as the 10 biggest news stories of 2011.
Annexation makes kokomo 12th largest city
After three years of remonstrance and legal fights, Special Judge Thomas Lett ruled in December in favor of Kokomo’s East Side Annexation, paving the way for Kokomo to become Indiana’s 12th largest city.
Remonstrators to Kokomo’s east-side and west-side annexations had challenged the legality of the actions.
The West Side Annexation takes effect Jan. 1, but Kokomo Fire Department crews have been responding to the Indian Heights neighborhood since October, shortly after the new Fire Station 2 went into operation.
With more than 7 square miles of territory to the south and west of the city being added, city officials have been planning for years how to best extend city services.
The biggest expense was the $2 million fire station, which the city originally borrowed to build. But when the city received its share of the General Motors Components Holdings’ property tax settlement, the city paid off the station’s outstanding debt.
With approval of the two annexations, Kokomo will now encompass 30 square miles and its population will increase to more than 56,800 residents. The annexed area covers 12.2 square miles.
Kokomo now surpasses Lawrence, Mishawaka, Greenwood, Elkhart, Noblesville and Anderson in size.
Kokomo recognized for its recovery effort
About 300 Kokomo community leaders were on-hand at the J.W. Marriott hotel in Indianapolis to cheer as Kokomo received the Indiana Chamber of Commerce 2011 Community of the Year award.
The honor, received in October, was seen as vindication by many Kokomo residents, who have endured one blow after another since Delphi began preparing for bankruptcy in 2005.
Kokomo’s narrative wasn’t one of rags to riches, but rather of a city that came together in hard times to make progress.
From the depths of 2008 and 2009, when Forbes magazine declared Kokomo one of “America’s Fastest Dying Cities,” Kokomo not only held together but managed to make systemic changes that, in the eyes of the chamber’s board, “Set the stage for long-term gain.”
“The automobile industry has been an important, and continues to be an important, element of this community,” chamber President Kevin Brinegar said in announcing the award. “And it may not be the same as it was in past generations, but Kokomo not only has survived the downturn but is thriving.”
Killing a window to justice system issues
Charles Miller was drastically underweight and babbling incoherently when police arrested him.
Neighbors suspected the reclusive Center resident had been isolated from the world for months when he suddenly decided to start firing a rifle from inside his tiny, shack-like house. Three of the estimated 16 shots Miller fired hit a 22-year-old delivery driver, who survived.
That was in July 2010. Less than a year later, Miller was dead, killed in a Miami Correctional Facility cell by his cellmate, a predatory killer named Joseph Brown.
Thus Miller became a primary example of the deficiencies of Indiana’s criminal justice system and a top story of 2011. Sentenced to 20 years, Miller, a Vietnam veteran, never received help for his problems.
His death raised numerous questions about crowding in our state prisons, and the reasons why our prison population has quadrupled in the past 30 years.
While walking along the Nickel Plate Trail in Bunker Hill on Aug. 21, 76-year-old Kokomo resident Arthur “Art” Anderson was stabbed in the neck and died at the hands of Shane Golitko, 22, according to police.
Indiana State Police said Golitko stabbed Anderson, an assistant Scoutmaster from Kokomo, as he led an adult and two children on a hike.
Golitko, after his arrest, pleaded not guilty to murder and remains in the Miami County Jail. The case is pending in Miami County Circuit Court.
The slaying was one of several area homicides reported in 2011.
On Aug. 15, Howard County sheriff deputies found Lonnie Lewis, 85, dead in his home. Deputies arrested Bradley Ryan, 37, Lewis’ neighbor, on charges of murder and robbery resulting in serious bodily injury. Ryan remains jailed without bond. His case is pending in Howard Superior Court 4.
On Sept. 11, Kokomo police found Linda Fink, 52, dead in her Union Street apartment. The case is under investigation as a homicide, and there have been no arrests.
On Nov. 30, Kokomo police arrested Ronald Calvert, 50, on a charge of murder in the death of his mother, Joyce A. Philapy. Calvert said in a jail house confession he beat and stabbed her because “he was tired of her.” His case is pending.
Settlement reached with GMCH
An agreement was reached between Howard County officials and General Motors Component Holdings over the 2010 personal property taxes payable this year.
Last May, after GMCH purchased former Delphi Electronics & Safety facilities in Kokomo, it filed with the Center Township assessor a personal property assessment of $7.4 million for 2010 taxes payable in 2011.
According to the Howard County auditor’s office, the assessed value for the same personal property submitted by Delphi for 2009 taxes payable in 2010 was $217.9 million.
As part of the agreement, which was announced Thursday, GMCH has dropped an appeal with the Indiana Tax Review Board and agreed to pay Howard County $5 million in taxes, or the equivalent of what Delphi paid in previous years.
Because of the dispute with GMCH, other local property owners paid higher taxes in 2011.
As a result of the settlement and $5 million payment by GMCH, the Howard County Council and Center Township Board voted to return $981,000 to residential property owners in 2012 in the form of a homestead credit.
The city of Kokomo used $1.1 million of its funding to retire the bonds on the new southside fire station and repair sidewalks around city schools. No decision has been made on how the remaining $1.1 million will be spent.
The Kokomo/Howard County Public Library, Kokomo-Center and Northwestern schools voted to retain the funds.
Missionaries attacked in Haiti
A group of local missionaries survived an attempted robbery and shooting while serving in Haiti, and say the story is proof of God’s provision and protection.
Four of the 14 workers from Oakbrook Church volunteering at Double Harvest, an agricultural project about 30 miles outside of Port-au-Prince, sustained gunshot wounds about midnight Nov. 17 when six armed Haitian men broke into their living quarters and began shooting.
No one was seriously injured in the attack, which the workers said was nothing short of miraculous. Oakbrook’s executive pastor Morgan Young and volunteer Rex Byers both sustained minor gunshot wounds to their thighs, volunteer Bruce Donaldson was shot in the elbow and a bullet grazed volunteer Chris Herr’s hand. Oakbrook director of connections Jason Braun sustained injures to his feet as he jumped from a second-story window to run and get help for the group.
The missionaries have said despite the attack, the work in Haiti is not done.
“All I can say is this,” said Mark Malin, Oakbrook senior pastor. “There is still tremendous need in Haiti and there are still tremendous people in Haiti, and even these six guys who did this to our team, they need Christ. He’s the only hope they have.”
UAW signs 4-year contracts
Here is a rough idea of how the next four years will be for thousands of Kokomo auto workers: Raises for entry-level wages but not for more senior workers, a few thousand dollars in bonuses, $25 health care co-pays and promises of job preservation.
United Auto Workers, which has four local union representing Chrysler Group LLC and General Motors Co. employees, approved four-year contracts in September and October.
The deals are not as big as they might have been in the past, but they are a big step up from the 2007 agreements, and 2009 emergency changes, analysts have said.
Chrysler, which has roughly 4,500 hourly workers in Kokomo, had with fewer resources, had a slimmer deal than those at Ford Motor Co. and GM.
GM’s contract, which includes close to 900 people at subsidiary General Motors Components Holdings in Kokomo, had some variation from the corporate-wide agreement. Skilled-trades workers accepted pay cuts as part of the plan.
Area Schools adjust to reform
Kokomo area schools began a juggling act this fall.
Eastern-Howard School Corp. took in 128 transfer students, while Kokomo-Center School Corp. lost about 75. Northwestern went up 38, Western got 34 and Maconaquah enrolled 18 more.
Students began transferring among school districts, as well as into private schools, without having to pay tuition as part of state-wide education reform.
Indiana School Superintendent Tony Bennett, alongside Gov. Mitch Daniels, pitched the reform in early 2011.
Other elements besides the tax-supported school transfer vouchers included bolstering charter schools and limiting teachers’ collective bargaining rights to salary and benefits issues.
While many teachers have agreed there needs to be reform, few have spoken in favor of Bennett and Daniels’ plan.
Ivy Tech takes over Event Center
Following months of negotiations, Howard County turned over ownership and operations of the Kokomo Event Center to Ivy Tech Community College.
In the agreement to transfer ownership, Ivy Tech has agreed to allow the event center and the Automotive Heritage Museum to continue using the building on U.S. 31 for a minimum of four years, with a required three years notice for the two entities to vacate the facility.
An appraisal of the building and adjoining 11 acres, done by Ivy Tech, set the value at $3.6 million.
Ivy Tech is expected to spend $250,000 for renovations to the existing event center building. The college started conducting classes at the building in the fall.
Howard County purchased the building in 1997 and used funds generated from the 5 percent innkeepers’ tax to make the bond payments.
Annually, the county budgets $160,000 for the operation of the event center, which will end when Ivy Tech takes ownership.
109 dogs rescued from home
Northside resident Don Lambert is due to go to trial in January on an animal cruelty charge, but the proprietor of Don’s Dogs has his defenders.
Animal control officers, backed up by Kokomo police, raided Lambert’s home on Apperson Way Sept. 2, and took out 109 small dogs. The dogs were mostly being kept in cages, stacked two and three high in Lambert’s un-air conditioned garage.
“This is by far the worst animal hoarding situation I have seen in over 25 years of veterinary practice, and I am glad to see the animals being freed from these awful conditions,” Kokomo vet Todd Cooney said in a statement to police.
Kokomo Humane Society officials had long been suspicious of Lambert, who they said resisted all offers of help, and wouldn’t let them inspect his property. Lambert, however, characterized his work as a rescue operation. After the raid, Lambert agreed to give up his claim to the animals, and the Humane Society started adopting them out.