County Government

Lower tax rate will shortchange bridge maintenance fund

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Montgomery County property owners will pay less into the cumulative bridge fund, which will shortchange a maintenance plan by nearly $5 million in 10 years if the rate is not raised, according to the county engineer.

The Board of Commissioners voted 2-1 Monday to lower the fund’s rate to $0.004 from $0.075 per $100 of assessed valuation following a request from the county council. Commissioner John Frey cast the “no” vote.

The fund supports the construction, repair, maintenance and inspection of bridges. Council members had sought a lower rate ahead of the anticipated bonding of a planned bridge project on C.R. 100W just outside Crawfordsville.

It was also meant to free up money in the general fund, which the council has cited in previous requests. About $500,000 will flow into the fund as a result, auditor Jennifer Andel said.

Engineer Jim Peck said the reduced rate will begin sapping funding for his 10-year $14 million bridgework plan by 2025. A separate study prepared by the county’s financial consultant indicates a similar shortfall under the new rate.

The timetable raised concerns about the long-term impact on the aging infrastructure.

“We’re not addressing the underlying issue — that we continue to cut, and cut and cut services,” commissioner Dan Guard said. “We take things out of line items and… it’s not fair to the taxpayer to continually ask for more money and cut services.

“That can’t continue, so we need to find a way that we’re providing the services that people pay for. And taking out of the bridge fund and compromising on bridges to help general budget doesn’t, to me, make sense — especially when we’re talking that we might be good for five years, but then we’re not going to find ourselves in a very good position in [2025.]”

The lower rate is set to be factored into next year’s county budget, which the council is scheduled to adopt today. The reduction will take effect on property taxes that will be paid in 2021.

Frey initially spoke in favor of the reduction, but added “this isn’t the way to do this, in my opinion.” Commissioner Jim Fulwider said the council should have provided more information before asking for a vote.

In other business, the commissioners:

• Approved a request from treasurer Heather Laffoon to cancel the contract with collections agency Eagle Accounts Group effective Dec. 31. Debt collections have declined over the years, Laffoon said, and the office is seeking a more aggressive approach. Laffoon plans to recommend another company at a future meeting.

• Set a Nov. 23 hearing on a resident’s noncompliance with an order to remove a dirt bike or quad track from the county’s right-of-way in the Chigger Hollow subdivision. Caleb Thayer has not responded to written notice of the violation sent in June. At the hearing, highway director Jeremy Phillips will seek approval for the department to remove the track at Thayer’s expense. Thayer no longer owns the property where the track was built, but county attorney Dan Taylor said he is still responsible for correcting the issue.

• Authorized county engineer Peck to apply for a use variance from the City of Crawfordsville for construction of the new salt barn at the highway department.

The commissioners’ next meeting is set for 8 a.m. Oct. 26 at the courthouse.

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