County road funding gets boost from state
Highway Department could get additional $1.4 million annually
By Steve Garbacz | KPC News - News Sun
Noble County is expected to get at least $1.4 million in new road funding thanks to changes made last week by the Indiana General Assembly.
In a marathon finish to the legislative session, state lawmakers finalized new gas taxes and fees to boost road funding. Those included raising the gasoline tax by 10 cents per gallon and new registration fees when vehicle owners renew their license plates.
Noble County Highway Department engineer Zack Smith said the final version of the road funding bill turned out better than what he expected after seeing revisions the Senate had made to the original proposal passed by the House.
The result: Noble County could get somewhere between $1.4 million and $1.8 million more annually.
That amount is only the portion going to the Noble County Highway Department. Cities and towns also will get additional funding based on their total road mileage.
Smith said he’ll have to wait to get more concrete numbers from the state, but the additional funding can change the county’s future paving plans “drastically.” The money could start flowing in as soon as this summer, too.
“Everything they’re talking about is immediate. They referenced spending the money in July, and it’s set up for fiscal-year 2018,” Smith said.
County Commissioner Dave Abbott asked whether there were changes to the Community Crossings grant program, which was implemented last year.
State lawmakers did tweak that program, too, changing it from a 50/50 grant to a split, with the state picking up 75 percent of a project’s cost with a 25 percent match from local governments, Smith said.
Last year, Noble County secured $1 million in funding from Community Crossings, and Smith intends to submit more projects this year for consideration.
“Community Crossings, that should be rolling out this summer,” he said. “(It’s) 75/25, so we’ll definitely have some matching funds.”
The good news from the Statehouse could impact a decision the Noble County Council has been sitting on about county vehicle registration tax. Smith had requested the county update its tax to a $15 flat rate after revenue came in about $200,000 under projections.
That happened because most people were paying a minimum charge of $7.50; drivers with newer or more expensive vehicles can pay as much as $100.
A flat fee would increase the cost for many drivers, but it also would make it easier to project year-to-year income, compared to the current method, which uses a percentage calculation based on vehicle age and value.
The Noble County Council meets next on May 1.
In conjunction with an update about funding, Smith said the Highway Department has finalized annual road ratings and is putting the finishing touches on the 2017 maintenance plan.
Overall road ratings declined from a score of 6.06 — the low end of of what’s considered “good” — to 6.02. That’s likely due to additional wear and tear on some roads and a contractor that was hired last year to repave several subdivisions not being able to do the work before winter and delaying to this year.
The county’s “primary roads” — main thoroughfares that carry a lot of traffic — are in relatively good condition, compared to the rest of the inventory. That’s because the county focused last year on fixing those roads first, which will allow repairs to be shifted to some lower-traffic routes.