ELKHART — The Elkhart County Highway Department is seeing red.
Jeff Taylor, highway manager, laid out a 10-year plan for road and bridge maintenance Friday, Feb. 8, that left local leaders worried. The plan, which covers 2013 to 2023, shows essential road projects adding up with funding rapidly disappearing.
“We need to talk to our legislators about this real soon,” said county council president John Letherman, who attended an all-day summit Friday with the county commissioners and department heads.
The road and bridge work plan suggests setting aside $1.5 million for paving and sealing each year using money generated by the Economic Development Income Tax, or EDIT. If the county follows through with the plan for road resurfacing and paying for other maintenance out of the EDIT fund, Taylor estimates that the county would end 2013 with an EDIT balance of $107,448.
From there, the balance would dwindle even further, Taylor projected, with the potential of a $5.3 million deficit by 2016. Other accounts for road and bridge work are also expected to plunge.
While the EDIT account typically pays for road projects, the county council has dipped into the fund to balance the annual budget for the county. This year’s spending plan was balanced by plugging in $800,000 in rainy day funds plus another $1 million from the EDIT account.
“If you use EDIT to balance the budget, then we’re going to have to decide what comes off the list,” Taylor said, referring the road and bridge projects scheduled over the next 10 years.
More pressure will be put on projects that receive federal funding, Taylor told the county council members and commissioners.
“There’s too many government entities, towns and counties, that have federally aided projects that they apply for, and the projects never move forward,” he explained.
Because of that, projects with federal funds attached now have strict deadlines, Taylor added. If counties fail to have the road projects finished by a designated time, they risk having to pay the funds back to the federal government, he said.
“They’re very, very, very serious about getting projects through the pipeline,” Taylor said. “No more excuses. Elkhart County has done a good job at getting these projects through the pipeline. We’re not the problem, but we’re going to experience consequences from other entities.”