The state’s infrastructure funding package plan, approved in March by Governor Mike Pence, made its way down the pipes, and Howard County is set to receive a little more than $2 million in additional funding.
However, once it’s broken down between the townships, schools, and other entities, $742,288.66 will be provided to the county itself. From there, about 75 percent of the funding, tapped from the state-held reserves of income tax dollars, will be used for road repairs. The rest will go toward Howard County’s nearly-depleted rainy day fund, according to Howard County Auditor Martha Lake.
“The legislators have been working to try to find ways to help counties with their road money because, with the roads in Indiana, there are a lot of highway departments that are having trouble making ends meet and keeping the roads so they are safe. There was a lot of discussion before the legislative session even started about how they were going to do this. Were they going to realize taxes, or what was going to happen?” said Lake.
The topic of road funding proved to be quite the ordeal this year at the state level, with the eventually-approved, short-term road funding project resulting in about $580 million being redistributed to local governments for road projects as one time payments. The funds are drawn from the state’s $2 billion budget reserve.
“This is instead of raising taxes because for the last two years they’ve been working hard to figure out a way to fund roads and help departments and the counties,” said Lake. “This is what they came up with.”
County highway engineer Ted Cain said the funding is a welcome boost, bolstering the roughly $1 million allocated by the county for road repairs. It’s especially helpful with the deficit between rising asphalt prices and decreased gas tax funds, which are used for road repair costs.
“The price of asphalt, over the last several years, has really increased,” said Cain. “The last couple years it hasn’t, but our funds have stayed stagnant for the last 15 to 16 years. Again, the price of asphalt has almost tripled. We can’t pave near as much as we once could to maintain our roads.
“We need an increased funding source. We operate off of gas tax, but we have more fuel-efficient cars. So we’re using less gas. The revenues are dropping, and we have to come up with some way of how are we going to maintain our infrastructure.”
According to Cain, the cost of paving an 18-foot-wide, mile-long stretch of road costs about $55,000. So, $556,716 of the funding being used for road repairs will cover about 10 miles worth the road work.
Cain said Howard County’s roads, in comparison to other Hoosier roads, are fairing well. However, he contends a longer-term solution is really necessary.
“What’s going to happen next year and the year after that?” said Cain. “We’ve had some of this stuff throughout the years. We’ll get some money, and it’ll be for a year, two years, and then all of a sudden that dries up. Then you’re back to square one again with trying to maintain your infrastructure with not enough money. We’re fortunate our roads are in pretty decent shape, but there’s other communities out there. And I don’t know what they’re going to do because their infrastructure is falling apart.”
He did add that the additional funding came with “no-strings attached” or limitations on what kind of roadways the package could be used on.
Lake said that even though the funding is being drawn from the county’s state-held income tax reserves, there shouldn’t be any negative side effects because of its use.
“The only time there might be a negative is if the economy changes,” said Lake. “If there’s a recession, they would have to put our regular collections that we get every month toward supporting our budgets. They’d maybe have to freeze those so they wouldn’t increase.”
The county council is expected to officially allocate the funding to the highway fund during its May 24 meeting.
The council also will address the $185,572 of remaining funding that may go toward the rainy day fund, according to Lake. However, an ordinance amendment must be passed for the rainy day fund transfer to happen.
The move could come as one step toward replenishing the rainy day fund, which was depleted to about $55,000 by the purchase of the county’s P-25 radio system backbone in February.
“We have a lot of projects pending, so it’s going to be very helpful,” said Lake. “That’s the plan as far as I know right now, go back into the EDIT fund, and it will be transferred to the rainy fund.”