GOSHEN — More than 130 miles of roads in Elkhart County need to be repaved and repaired this year, but where the $7 million to do the work will come from still remains in question.
The county’s highway department requested $2.7 million for its paving program to cover part of the maintenance, but the Elkhart County Council disagreed Saturday, May 11, on which account part of that money should be taken from.
The council appropriated $1.2 million this weekend from the county’s wheel tax fund with no questions asked. But when the highway department requested another $1.5 million from the county’s economic development income tax, or EDIT, fund, the council was a little more hesitant. EDIT funds have primarily been used for road maintenance projects since 1989, but the county dipped into account this year to take out $1 million to balance the 2013 budget.
County commissioner Mike Yoder spoke on behalf of the highway department at the meeting, suggesting that the county delay a $554,159 payment to the Major Moves account, temporarily relieving some pressure from the already strained EDIT account.
“We have significant and serious problems,” Yoder said.
Instead, the council voted to approve just $1 million from the EDIT fund, reasoning that the highway department would be able to supplement the remaining $500,000 requested with savings from previous roadwork and other projects.
Still, Yoder advised the council to take another look at its Major Moves account, pointing out that it has a balance of $10 million. The county borrows funds from the account for large projects and pays itself back later.
“We’re borrowing money from ourselves,” Yoder said. “I know all of the philosophical problems and questions, but I’ve got roads falling apart, and $10 million sitting in there for some future project doesn’t really help us out this year. The commissioners are trying to do their job, which is maintaining the roads.”
Councilman David Hess said Elkhart County has roads that are “going downhill,” but they’re not as bad as roads in neighboring counties.
“I mean, there’s light years of difference,” he said. “I hauled a load of hay two weeks ago west of North Liberty. I could hardly keep on the county road it was so bad. I hope we never get in that situation, but it just seems to me that our timing is not correct.”
Hess wanted to delay the council’s decision on appropriating EDIT funds, adding that the picture might be clearer in just a couple of months.
“July is not too late to come back and look at this and see what the dollars are,” he said. “And furthermore, I just don’t think we can not make our payments back to ourselves. If we start down that slippery slope, we might as well just kiss the Major Moves fund goodbye.”
But Yoder urged the council members to make a decision sooner rather than later.
“You’re still going to have $10 million in that Major Moves account,” he said. “You may or may not have EDIT dollars. If you do not have the EDIT dollars in July, does that mean you’re not going to pave roads?”
Councilman David Foutz said the county has an obligation to keep its infrastructure in good shape, adding that “roads are part of the impression of who we are.”
“Money in the bank is fine, but I think it’s important for us to have roads that are adequate,” he said.
At Saturday’s meeting, the county council approved three other additional appropriations for the highway department, including $5,000 for supplies for building repairs, $50,000 for an oil storage tank and $21,000 to subcontract a company for stormwater sewer cleaning services.