After a year of fighting about repaving streets in 2014, Carmel leaders say the road repair budget looks strong for 2015.
The Carmel City Council approved a $4 million budget amount for road repaving in 2015 and then waited to see if Indiana’s Department of Local Government Finance would make any cuts.
That $4 million for salt and repaving was confirmed by Mayor Jim Brainard and council e-mails, but the money broken up into different budget line items.
The 2015 budget proposed $15,260,974 in the Motor Vehicle Highway Fund and $1,092,183 in the local roads and streets budget. There were no DLGF cuts to MVHF but the department did cut $172,817 from local roads and streets, which is something that regularly happens if the state government doesn’t predict as much revenue as the city does.
City Councilor Luci Snyder said it is expected that Brainard – who is the chief executive in charge of the budget – will replace the DLGF cuts later this year. He will either do that by using additional revenue that wasn’t anticipated by DLGF or by making cuts to other departments. Brainard said she expects that there will be enough revenue, but Snyder said she wants to keep an eye on that.
“He (Brainard) is the chief executive and should be making those decisions,” Snyder writes in an e-mail. “However, since we discovered that for several years the money was not replaced, we will now be watching carefully.”
City Councilor Rick Sharp told Current that he thinks 2015 looks good for road repaving and Brainard agrees, but there’s some disagreement about whether it’s always been good.
“The road budget really is fine,” Brainard said. “Actually it’s so good that we skipped a year in the recession.”
In 2006 to 2010, Brainard consistently budgeted for about $2 to $3 million a year for road repairs, but that number dropped to essentially zero in 2011 and less than $100,000 in 2012.
When Carmel annexed Southwest Clay Township in 2004, there was an agreement to redo all of the new area’s roads, even though they would not yet pay taxes to the city. In 2011, the city opted to spend $4 million to redo the new annexed road, using some unexpected County Option Income Tax revenue, but that might not much for the rest of the city.
In 2014, the City Council voted to move $700,000 in money from the city’s rainy day fund to increase the year’s city roads budget to $3.3 million. Brainard said he was told to cut money from the roads budget with the understanding that it was always going to be restored. Sharp said he remembers it differently and he claims that Brainard underfunded the roads budget that year without council input.
Brainard said a rough winter last year caused some potholes that needed to be filled, but that the city was able to successfully fill them all. Sharp said he didn’t think last year’s winter contributed to holes in the road, because he said potholes are caused a cycle of freezes and thaws. He said the roads were mostly frozen with little thaws and he puts neglect of the roads as the culprit.
Dave Huffman, director of the streets department, said in an e-mail that progress was made in 2014 to the roads that needed to be repaved after leaner budgets in some years. He said contractors completed work on all roads on that year’s list except Gradle Drive and Civic Square, which will be completed in the spring due to winter rolling in.
As for salt, Huffman said the city is in good shape.
“We have two full barns of salt and plenty left to order so there should be no worries there,” he writes.
Huffman said that any funds not used after Civic Square will then be used for 2015’s list of paving projects. He said it’s fair to say that around $3.8 million be used for paving.
Brainard said he doesn’t think there’s a huge repaving need at the moment.
“It’s not bad now,” he said. “We were actually hoping to get Range Line and City Center Drive done this fall, but the contractor didn’t get that done in time. So those roads need some help. But we’ll get that first thing in the spring.”
Brainard said 2014 ended well since there wasn’t much snow in October to December. There was some snowfall around Halloween, but nothing compared to a polar vortex the year before. Brainard said any savings from a mild winter can go to repaving streets.
“The savings? We just spend less money,” he said. “The salt doesn’t go bad so we’ll save it. But the salt isn’t the biggest expense. Overtime can be difficult. It all depends on when the snow falls. Is it on a holiday or Monday nine to five? So it all depends on when the snow comes.”
Fortunately, the 2015 snow fall has been accurately predicted by weather forecasters, which has allowed the city ample time to pre-salt and avoid large pileups. Brainard said preparation is the key.
Not only does he want to keep schools open and motorists safe, but Brainard said spending money on road salt is important for economic development. It might be snowing in Indiana, but the corporate headquarters in Carmel still need to make business deals with companies located in warm weather environments. Last year, retail sales struggled in the first quarter due to a rough winter. That’s why Brainard said he likes to not just plow the roads in dense economic development areas such as the Carmel Arts & Design District and the Carmel City Center, but he likes to lift the snow and actually move it out of those areas so they can melt elsewhere. He also said it can be tricky to plow in these areas because there are so many residents living near the businesses, so it can hard to plow at night if you disturb sleeping neighbors.
The ice is already starting to melt here in Carmel, but Brainard said it’s too early to start spending salt and road clearing money on other projects. The winter might not be over yet. So when does he expect the season to end?
“In Indiana?” he laughs. “April 1 maybe.”