There was a lengthy discussion during the County Council’s meeting Monday on the consideration of appropriating $525,000 for the Blue Zones Project.
Following the opening of the meeting by Council President Mandy Campbell the floor was opened for public comments.
Several County residents voiced opposition to the appropriation of the $525,000. They said they didn’t believe the health program would benefit the majority of residents in the county. Others were concerned with losing their rights to freedom of choice and the risks involved with the 3-year program that has a total price tag of just over $2.3 million.
Julie Spitznagle who owns property on Sage Road told the council she wanted to ask them not to vote on the Blue Zones project. She said it is a waste of money and the funds could be used for other things in the county that would benefit everyone. She said people can get the same information from the internet, their doctors, or other sources.
Connie Nicholl on Oriole Lane in Plymouth said she is against Blue Zones after researching it on the internet. She asked if anyone had read the book 1984 by George Orwell and stated, “This is Blue Zone.” She said it was a waste of taxpayers’ money and will tell people how to live, eat, sleep and what to teach kids in school. She said, “It’s big brother government stepping in again to our private lives.”
Cyndi Casper who lives on Jarrah Road said she and her husband are against Blue Zones. She asked the council to vote against the appropriation. On a side note, she commented that the votes are always 5 to 2 and it annoys her. She asked if there were any free thinkers on the County Council.
Andrea Chamberlin who lives on Muckshaw Road in Argos said she would vote no for Blue Zones. She is a registered nurse and said in her research of Blue Zones their first goal states that the initiative is to help with chronic disease and poor health. She said the plan doesn’t factor in genetics. She said that is a major factor in one’s life expectancy. She said if you are concerned, why don’t we have access to ICU at the local hospital. She said to check the ER wait times and asked if the med check was still closed. She suggested free accessible programs in the community including a place to exercise.
Eric Holsopple, St. Joseph Health System Hospital administrator in Plymouth said while the hospital is owned by Trinity there is no conflict of interest with Blue Zones. He explained that Blue Zones will provide a lot of policies and the backing to help implement the policies. They will be our consultants and provide factual information for the local communities in Marshall County. He said the county needs additional infrastructure to improve health such as making it easy for people to walk and bike and make healthy choices.
Linda Yoder Co-Chairman of the Marshall County Crossroads Regional Planning Teams on Health and Wellness committee confirmed that if the county is not awarded the READI Grant their donation of $525,000 won’t be needed. She also said there are 70 active communities across the country active with Blue Zones.
Yoder spoke about the Governor’s Public Health Commission which recently released alarming statistics regarding Indiana’s health rankings. Indiana ranks 45th of the 50 states in smoking and tobacco use, 46th in obesity, 43rd in mental health, 41st in childhood immunizations, and 45th in public health funding. She said Marshall County ranks 64th out of the state’s 92 counties. Yoder said Blue Zones will help put the infrastructure in place for citizens to make healthier choices easier.
The Marshall County Council voted 5-2 in August to support the use of ARPA Funds in the amount of $525,000 as a portion of the public match for the READI Grant match.
During Tuesday’s County Council meeting it was noted that Bourbon put $10,000 into the Blue Zones project with Bremen putting in $100,000, Culver $75,000, and Plymouth $525,000.
Councilman Tim Harman questioned if the council could legally appropriate the funds since the grant award won’t be known until Thursday, December 16th. He also said he didn’t believe the request for funds met the regulations set by the federal government for use of the ARPA Funds and he was worried that policies created could turn into mandates. He also discussed a major increase in the county’s health insurance premiums which will be between 35 to 55 percent.
When the time came for consideration of the appropriation of funds for Blue Zones, Councilman Jesse Bohannon immediately made a motion to table the request so the new council members who will take their seats next month to make the decision on the matter. His motion to table failed with a 5 to 2 vote. Bohannon and Harman voted in support of tabling the decision while the remaining five members, Mandy Campbell, Steve Harper, Jim Masterson, Heath Thornton, and Jon VanVactor, voted against the motion.
Councilman VanVactor then made a motion to approve the appropriation of $525,000 for the Blue Zones project and Jim Masterson seconded the motion. The vote was 5 to 2 with Bohannon and Harman voting no.
Councilman Tim Harman did state that he would be filing an appeal with the State Board of Accounts or a grievance with the Department of Local Government Finance because he doesn’t think the five council members followed the county’s ordinance plan for use of the American Rescue Plan Act Funds that the commissioners approved.