TWO inescapable conclusions confront Bartholomew County officials and Indiana legislators in these early days of 2013:
Roads and bridges must be repaired.
It’s going to take more money to get the job done.
Although Columbus and Bartholomew County can take justifiable pride in their road maintenance programs of the past, the reality of the 21st century is that rising expenses and declining revenues have placed both governments in catch-up mode with few resources available to reverse those trends.
The city of Columbus has had to dip into revenues generated by an EDIT (economic development) tax to help fund road repairs, and even with that added funding, there will likely be several miles of road work that will have to be shifted into next year.
Things aren’t much better in the county. Last year $1.64 million was spent to pave more than 30 miles of county roads. This year, the county highway department expects to have only $214,000 available to blacktop only four miles of road.
There is a certain inevitability on the subject of road conditions. They deteriorate and need to be maintained and repaired. The condition is even more critical with local bridges. Bartholomew County officials hope that this will be the year that a 102-year-old bridge in Newbern will be replaced. Based on recent history, that isn’t something on which to bet the farm. The project was launched in 1999.
It is obvious that maintaining this element of the infrastructure in the city and county cannot be adequately accomplished under present funding. The question is where the money will come from.
There has been a serious drop in the funds made available through the Indiana fuel tax revenue.
That’s an issue that will come before the Indiana General Assembly in this year’s session. While legislators appear to be in accord on the need to do something about the deteriorating conditions, there is a serious question on where to get the money to pay for it.
Possibilities at the state level include raising the fuel tax, using some of the state’s surplus or developing other revenue streams.
Locally, officials face similar bad choices. State lawmakers can say that they have provided counties like Bartholomew the opportunity to address their own needs, providing them the opportunity to enact a wheel tax, revenue from which could be used to fund road repairs.
That notion has been considered in the past and firmly rejected by the County Council. There is no evidence that the attitude has changed.
Another option would be to dip into the general fund. Again, there is little enthusiasm for that given priorities in other areas.
There is no debate about what will happen if more money is not allocated on both the state and county levels. Our roads and bridges only will deteriorate more.
And that will cost this generation and those to follow more than money.