The LOHUT contains a surtax of the vehicle excise tax as well as a wheel tax.. That money can be used to reconstruct, construct, repair or maintain streets under county, city or town jurisdiction.
Highway Administrator Laurie Baker and Supervisor of County Highways Jason Peters Monday morning spoke to the council about the funding they currently have for road projects this year. Of the $1.2 million available, the county plans to pug 13.5 miles of road and pave at least five miles of road that totals just over $500,000. The rest of the funds will be used for materials, dust control, and other actions conducted by the highway department.
The Executive Director of Michiana Area Council of Governments (MACOG) James Turnwald told the council members that funding is stagnant for road funding. He said that there are currently 60-70 miles of roads that are in need of repair as they stand. With the LOHUT, the county could do double the number of roads that could be redone along with bridge maintenance.
While the 2015 state legislature devoted this session to education funding, it was noted that the General Assembly will turn its attention to road funding in 2016.
The county commissioners voted unanimously last week to give support to the county council for the LOHUT. The council members were also given letters of support from the City of Plymouth and the Town of Culver. Another letter of support was anticipated from the Town of Bourbon this week.
A motion by the council would have produced a first reading of an ordinance for the LOHUT, but no council member provided a motion for voting action. It died for a lack of a motion.
The council members feel LOHUT could not even begin to help the county’s funding problem for roads.
Council President Matt Hassel says the council knows that there is a distinct problem with the county roads. Two harsh winters and the lack of funding to maintain those roads has led to even bigger problems. He believes the council can come up with a better solution to tackle the road conditions.
“We just haven’t researched all of our options yet before we ask the public to pay more money,” said Hassel. “We’ve offered using some of the Rainy Day fund to give them extra funding to take on additional roads this year and we’ll see what they bring back to us.”
There is currently $3.5 million in the Rainy Day Fund.
The council has also asked for a definitive road plan from the highway department.
“We need to know what roads we are going to keep and maintain at a higher standard. We need to know which roads are priority roads. Some of those roads may need to go back to gravel. I hate to say that, but since 2003, according to the information brought to us, money is just not there. It’s not keeping up to maintain those roads.”
The highway department can utilize MACOG traffic surveyors to help prioritize highly traveled roads for repair.
Four residents spoke out against the LOHUT during Monday’s meeting and the council members also expressed dissenting comments from the constituents in their districts.