Road bids higher than expected

Bartholomew County government usually pays $1 million to match a $1 million state grant match for road overlays.

But to get $1 million from the state for Phase II of the Community Crossings road overlay program, the local match will now be more than $1.8 million.

That came as a surprise to most of the Bartholomew County commissioners, as well as county highway Superintendent Dwight Smith, during the commissioners’ Monday meeting.

However, Smith understands why the local match skyrocketed. When the county applied for Phase II funding for new blacktop through Indiana’s Community Crossing program, they agreed to carry out all projects in their application if given the money, he said.

Unfortunately, the agreement was made before the price of crude oil soared to historic highs.

If Bartholomew County receives the grant and doesn’t do everything in its original proposal, Smith said the state will take some of that grant money back.

Commissioner Larry Kleinhenz said he thought the bids that were opened Monday to lay 27 miles of new asphalt on deteriorating county roads would rise to between $90,000 to $100,000 more per mile than last year.

But the cost ended up rising to over $140,000 per mile, compared to $79,018 per mile cost in 2021.

“It almost makes you not want to pave anything,” Kleinhenz said.

The two bids for the overlay project were:

  • Milestone Contractors, Inc. of Columbus: $2,811,075
  • Dave O’Mara Contractors of North Vernon: $2,948,621

The highway department will be allowed to look over both bids, and make a recommendation to the commissioners “in the next week or two,” commissioner Chairman Carl Lienhoop said.

What softens the blow significantly for the county is that matching funds won’t have to come from local property or income taxes. On May 16, county officials said federal money from the American Relief Program (ARP) for COVID-19 relief can and will be used as matching funds.

In April 2021, Bartholomew County Auditor Pia O’Connor told elected officials that, instead of asking for an itemized list of county government revenue losses to receive ARP reimbursement, the federal government was simply allowing counties like Bartholomew to list a standard amount of revenue losses of $10 million.

This is essentially money the county can spend where they feel it is most needed, O’Connor said.

But Bartholomew County council member Jorge Morales has repeatedly reminded others that it doesn’t matter if the funds are generated by the county or by Washington, D.C.

“It’s all tax money,” Morales said.

Lienhoop said he couldn’t compare the total tons of asphalt used last year to what will be used this year. For that reason, the commissioners’ chairman was hesitant about making year-to-year comparisons.

There are no rural subdivisions scheduled to get a new blacktop this year as there were last year, Kleinhenz said.

“If we would have had subdivisions, it would have cost us more,” he said.

Smith recently completed his annual inspection of over 700 miles of county road for repairs to be made next year.

“The roads did not look too bad,” Smith said. “I thought they were going to be worse than what they were. But we will have some subdivisions on the list for 2023.

Smith has not yet turned that list over to the county commissioners for consideration.