Disagreement over priorities is root cause of road issues

To the editor:

In responding to my claims that the county has been and is “overtaxing and maintaining excessive cash balances,” Councilman Jim Shelby advises county residents in his Jan. 29 letter to the editor that they “must keep county’s balances in perspective.”

The “overtaxing and excessive cash balances” in question totaled almost $17M in non-restricted funds at the end of 2015.

Councilman Shelby never describes in his response what he means by perspective or what he feels would constitute “reasonable balances.”

During the last two recessions (2001 and 2008), Mr. Shelby claims he and the Council “stopped funding road maintenance and bridge building in order to keep funding day to day county operations.” Since the Motor Vehicle Highway, Local Roads and Streets and Cumulative Bridge Funds are all restricted use funds, I give little credibility to these claims.

Councilman Shelby, like other county officials, is quick to blame our past and current road and bridge maintenance problems on insufficient funding and the lack of cash reserves.

However, the real causes for our past road and bridge problems can be traced to our county officials; their never-ending internal disagreements on priorities; and the politics surrounding the disproportionate use of county road monies on the Mount Comfort Road corridor, roundabouts, right-of-way acquisitions and related litigation.

The establishment of the Mt. Comfort TIF and Redevelopment Commission in 2009 and the concurrent issuance of a $10-plus million bond to assist with the development of TIF have lessened this problem somewhat.

However, this doesn’t mean the use of county road monies and bonding on the Mount Comfort Road corridor has gotten any less contentious. As a matter of fact, it is about to get worse, as more focus is being placed on completing the McCordsville bypass segments and the segments south of U.S. 40.

Local officials and residents in these areas are looking for financial assistance from the county to help cover the portion of their costs for these segments.

Another contributing factor for the backlog in road maintenance in the county during the past decade has been poor management by the council and failure to appropriate road and bridge funding in a timely manner.

A review of the end-of-year cash balances in road and bridge funds for the past decade clearly shows the county ended most operating years with substantial unspent local road monies.

For some years, the carryover was in excess of $760,000. Likewise, the county ended each year with significant unspent funds in its motor vehicle highway fund. Carryover balances in this fund often exceeded over $1.5 million. The story with the bridge fund was the same.

John Priore

Member, Blue River Township Board