New town hall off the table in Hope

HOPE – The long-discussed proposal of construction a new, modern town hall in Hope appears to have been shelved.

It was one of three agenda items Tuesday where the Hope Town Council took steps to rein in spending — or illustrate why fiscal frugality is necessary.

A newly constructed town hall to replace the current smaller structure built in 1978 was estimated to cost about $2.5 million, clerk-treasurer Diane Burton said.

The study included a recommendation for the town to take out a $1 million loan to be paid back at $3,875 a month over a 40-year period.

But several council members nodded their heads in agreement with councilman Clyde Compton, who spoke against passing on a 40-year debt to future generations.

To help the council test whether it could afford the monthly payments, Burton suggested setting aside an equivalent amount over a three-year period while other funding sources for a new city hall could be sought.

At the end of the three years, the town would have set aside $139,500 that could either be spent on the building or on another project, she said.

But in response, Compton brought up an upcoming sanitary sewer project in the Goshen Meadows subdivision, as well as a necessary replacement of storm sewers and water lines under the town’s Washington Street.

“We have two projects that are each over $1 million that we can’t fund now,” Compton said. “And both need to be done in three to five years.”

In a follow-up interview, Compton said the most likely source of funding for a town hall — a federal grant program that would pay 30 percent of the costs — was dropped in early 2017.

With little to no economic growth in Hope, the amount of income available for town government for future spending will either be stagnant or possibly drop, council president Ed Johnson said.

An informal consensus showed the council was not interested in pursuing the study’s financial recommendations.

Water bills

Some positive financial news for the town was reported during Tuesday’s meeting. Beginning in two years, the town will have an additional $1,409 a month in expendable income after debt reserve payments are paid off, Burton said.

But the clerk-treasurer also said much of that money may end up being spent on addressing a deficit in the town’s water budget.

While $660,725 in total expenses are anticipated this year, only $551,269 in revenue is expected — leaving a 16.5 percent deficit, Burton said.

“We’re kind of upside down, which is not a good thing,” Burton told the council.

Much of that deficit stems from the fact that the town buys its water from Eastern Bartholomew Water Corp., which was given permission late last summer to enact a 37.4 percent rate hike in two separate phases.

Since the town raised its own water rates in 2015 to finance a utility upgrade, the new hike enacted by Eastern Bartholomew is considered politically sensitive in Hope.

Town leaders are still working on a plan to address the utility’s rate increase, Burton said.

Other factors causing the water and sewage budget to go up by more than $24,000 from last year include the purchase of a new dump truck and scheduled water meter replacements.

Raises

Although non-elected administrators in Hope have gotten a raise for 2018, it’s less than a 3 percent pay hike originally proposed.

Councilman Ohmer Miller stating he felt more comfortable giving smaller raises, and 2 percent increases were approved.

The vote pertained to the salaries for Town Manager J.T. Doane, Utility Superintendent David Clouse, Town Marshal Matt Tallent and Building and Zoning Administrator Greg Potts.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.