County weighs ‘some risk’ in funding corridor study

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

Before deciding to pledge $1.75 million to studying the Midstate Corridor’s environmental impact, Dubois County Council members are reviewing the agreement for the money’s use and the county’s future financial commitment in the agreement.

Some of the council’s questions have to do with clauses that seem to indicate more money could be needed for the study, or in future phases of the project, should it be approved as a project.

Councilman Mike Kluesner stated at Monday’s meeting his belief that more money will eventually be requested.

“Before a shovel is put in the ground, the county is going to have to pay more. There’s no doubt,” he said. “This is (for) the study. This isn’t the construction.”

The local Midstate Corridor group has been working for years to get a four-lane, limited-access highway that would run north from Owensboro, Kentucky, go around Huntingburg and Jasper and continue north to connect to I-69. The corridor would ease traffic on U.S. 231 between I-64 and I-69 through Dubois, Martin and Spencer counties, organizers have said.

Dubois and Spencer counties, Jasper and Huntingburg formed a regional development authority, which is working and negotiating with INDOT on getting the project to become a state priority and, thus, eligible for federal funding.

The agreement, which is between the Indiana Department of Transportation and the Midstate Corridor RDA, states that local entities will provide the $7 million needed to pay for the environmental impact study, which would help the project qualify for federal funding.

“This road doesn’t get built without federal funding,” attorney Bill Kaiser, representing the Midstate Corridor RDA, told the county council Monday.

Private industry has pledged over the next three years $3.8 million of the $7 million, with $700,000 of that already in he RDA’s possession, Kaiser explained. Of the $3.5 that is being requested from the public sector, the county is being asked to cover 50 percent, $1.75 million. The City of Jasper has pledged 40 percent, $1.4 million. The City of Huntingburg is being asked to cover 10 percent, $350,000; the common council has not yet discussed that request.

By the end of this month, INDOT will send the signed agreement back to the RDA, which will then have 30 business days to show that it has the total $7 million committed over the next three years, Kaiser said.

The county council discussed the agreement at length Monday evening

“This money is for Tier 1,” Councilwoman Becky Beckman noted, “and there are no guarantees.”

“You are 100 percent correct,” Kaiser said. “But if we don’t take the risk to move forward on this, it (the road) will never happen”

Two things are important to attract federal dollars, Kaiser said: the project’s importance to rural development, and the local willingness to provide some funding.

“We’ve presented the opportunity that if additional local skin will at some point attract $300 or $400 million, then we are willing to consider putting additional skin in the game at some time in the future,” Kaiser said.

Council members also shared some of their questions and concerns, in particular the clauses about current and future funding.

“You’re saying that there may be an opportunity where if we fund this $3.5 (million) collectively, that we may have to pay more only down the road?” Councilman Craig Greulich asked Kaiser.

“What we said is that we will be willing to be open to that opportunity,” Kaiser said. “Say, for instance, we go through the Tier 1 study and we are at Tier 2 and there is a funding question. State says, ‘We have $20 million, we need $3 million more. Are you willing?’ There is a possibility of that.”

County Attorney Art Nordhoff said he originally had concerns about a clause stating that more money may be requested. But the agreement is only for this Tier 1 study, and if more money is needed for the study, it would be minimal, he said. While estimated at $7 million, the exact cost of the study is not yet known, Kaiser said.

“And,” Nordhoff said, “there is a provision in here that on a 60-day notice, we can walk away from this agreement.”

Council members will make their decision at their Oct. 10 meeting. That meeting, which was established as a public hearing for the county’s proposed 2019 budget, will start at 6 p.m. in the commissioners/council room on the second floor of the Dubois County Courthouse Annex, 602 Main St.

“We’re taking a bit of a chance,” council President Jerry Hunefeld said. “This is not a hundred percent guaranteed. There is some risk involved. We have to weigh that too.”

“To me, this is our best chance of getting this project moving forward,” he said. “This window may never happen again.”

 

The council also:

• Agreed to add a deputy to the sheriff’s department, which was approved by the council previously. Money to cover the new position is in the 2009 budget. The budget will be considered for approval at the council’s Oct. 22 meeting.

• Approved various additional appropriations. The bigger appropriations included $23,000 for hazmat suits for the county’s hazmat team; $16,000 for autopsy fees; $10,000 for ambulance repairs; $10,000 to help pay for a GPS machine used by the county; $10,000 for a program that will provide tax information to the public and help the auditor’s office with various calculations.

• Appropriated $7,000 from community corrections’ community transient fund to the department’s building maintenance fund to cover maintenance bills, and consented to advertise for a $6,000 appropriation for community corrections to pay for its 2018 and 2019 contract for a database the department uses for storing information on the offenders in the corrections program. The money has been generated in the department’s project income fund, which is the money offenders pay to be in the corrections program.




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