County revises income tax spending plan

Bartholomew County officials have approved an amended capital improvement plan which directs spending of increased tax revenues from the local option income tax which went into effect in January.

The plan calls for money from the tax to be used toward constructing a new Bartholomew County highway garage on East 25th Street, just east of Petersville, expected to be one of the larger county expenses this year.

Within the next few weeks, the county is expected to finalize a deal to pay up to $150,000 to buy 25 acres of land for the facility east of the Clay Township fire station, Commissioner Larry Kleinhenz said. The property is currently owned by the Bartholomew County Solid Waste Management District.

In addition to the land, the revised plan also calls for paying up to $1.5 million for other garage-related expenses this year. While most of this money will be spent on soft costs such as architectural, engineering and consulting services, the amended capital improvement plan states a portion will be used to issue bonds, which means borrowing money.

But county officials are waiting to finalize actual spending amounts because they say they won’t know the total cost for the highway garage for another two months.

Last November, the county council authorized up to $6 million in bonds to pay for the new facility. But on Feb. 5, commissioner Carl Lienhoop informed the council costs could rise as high as $9.4 million, according to two of the project’s consultants.

Through cost-cutting efforts, Lienhoop said the commissioners now believe they can keep total expenses at $7.5 million, and avoid additional bonding by using reserve funds.

But those costs won’t be known until construction bids are open April 22. For that reason, the commissioners are trying to avoid being specific in regard to how much they’ll spend on other big-ticket projects, Kleinhenz said.

“We want to wait and see how much the highway facility will actually cost,” Kleinhenz said. “We’re committed to not using any additional tax revenue than we have already received.”

The Bartholomew County Council voted 4-3 on Oct. 10, 2017 to raise the county’s local income tax rate from 1.25 percent of a worker’s gross pay to 1.75 percent. Council members voting in favor of the 40 percent increase were Mark Gorbett, Laura DeDomenic, Jorge Morales and Chris Ogle. Council members opposed were Bill Lentz, Evelyn Pence and Matt Miller.

Prior to the vote, county officials gained strong public support after saying the increased revenue was necessary to combat a growing opioid crisis in Bartholomew County.

Last year, additional income tax revenue received by the county totaled about $4.8 million. Figures released last fall indicate the county would be investing about $550,000 into five programs to combat opioids and narcotics recommended by the Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress through 2019. Both the city and council agreed to a 50/50 split in the costs of those programs.

In addition to addressing the opioid addiction problem and building the highway garage, county officials are also considering new windows and exterior upgrades at the Bartholomew County Courthouse, as well as a $1 million replacement of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system at the Bartholomew County Jail.

Until the cost of the garage is known, the revised plan calls for spending up to $1,243,445 for the improvement of public buildings, as well as up to $603,000 for improvements other than buildings.

While repairs to fix erosion at the base of the Bartholomew County Memorial for Veterans will likely take place this year, investments in the jail’s HVAC system, as well as exterior courthouse upgrades, are expected to wait until another year, Kleinhenz said.

The county is also obligated to pay $250,000 as their share for a new overpass over the railroad crossing at State Road 46 and State Road 11 in 2019. This will be the last payment on a $2 million commitment made by the county in 2017.

Up to $200,000 will also be spent this year for county road improvement projects, other than overlay and chip and seal. Roads frequently mentioned as needing the most attention this year include Georgetown Road, Baker Holler Road and Hartman Drive.

The revised plan also calls for up to $90,000 for the purchase and repair of machinery and equipment.

Up to $15,000 has been earmarked to obtain two seats on the Columbus Economic Development Board for this calendar year. A county commissioner and a county council member would occupy those two seats.

If there is any revenue left after those expenses are made, it will be spent on road and bridge improvements, Kleinhenz said.