Bartholomew County paved more miles of roads this year than it has in many previous years, but far less road paving is planned next year because of a drop in funding.
This year, $1.64 million was spent to pave more than 30 miles of Bartholomew County roads during the recently completed overlay program.
“We did more than we have in years,” County Highway Department engineer Danny Hollander said.
“But that was a one-time thing. Next year won’t be anywhere near what we did this year.”
Hollander predicts only four miles of county roads will be given a new blacktop in 2013 with only $214,000 in projected funding.
He cited four factors largely responsible for next year’s anticipated drop in county road funds:
- This year’s overlay program included $541,000 from an unexpected windfall last April from the state. No such windfall is likely next year.
- $400,000 of available funding for 2013 must be spent on the third and final phase of the County Road 600N project in front of Armuth Acres. It’s required as a local match for federal funds that have already been received for the project.
- At the start of this year, Bartholomew County had $347,000 in unused funds for road work from 2011. But all funds allocated for this year have been spent.
- Compared to this year, the amount of money received through highway and local road funds will be cut almost in half for 2013.
Part of the problem is the drop in Indiana fuel tax revenue, which fell from a high of $2.6 million in 2006 to $1.98 million in 2011, according to the state auditor’s office.
In August, Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown said a wheel tax would be a more appropriate way than debt to address local needs for road and street repairs.
But the mayor added she suspects the community does not want any more taxes.
That suspicion was verified early this fall by the Bartholomew County Council, which has the final authority concerning a wheel tax.
When asked informally by The Republic if they would support a wheel tax, all members of the council said, “No.”
Even if council members changed their minds immediately, Hollander emphasized it would take several months for an approved wheel tax to start generating revenue.
“There’s no way that would take effect by next year,” he said.
The highway engineer said he can see only one other possibility to raise revenue for road funds next year.
“If the County Council would want to spend general fund dollars on it, that would help,” Hollander said.
“But they haven’t wanted to do that in the past. They’ve got their own budget and their own issues.“
The final cost of this year’s county overlay project ran $60,000 over budget, due in part to unexpected problems that developed on both Southern Crossing and Tellman Road.
But the likely 2013 Bartholomew County Commissioner Chairman Carl Lienhoop pointed out a cushion is always built into the funding for such overruns.
“If we would have gone over by $120,000, we might have cut half a mile off the program,” Lienhoop said. “But at $60,000, that’s not unexpected or a problem.”
Hollander said the commissioners will wait until after winter is over to determine what few roads will receive a new blacktop next year.