by Mitchell Kirk
A mandate issued by the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance is requiring Cass County to make significant budget cuts, hitting the highway department the hardest, according to county officials.
The highway department’s local roads and streets fund was reduced from the originally budgeted amount of roughly $500,000 down to about $150,000, nearly a $350,000 hit. Cass County Highway Department Superintendent Jeff Smith said this fund pertains to the department’s summer road program, which includes mostly asphalt products. Due to the cut, Smith said the department is looking at trying to spend $175,000 less in asphalt products.
“It will definitely affect the road program if we’re not successful in seeking additional appropriation later,” Smith said, adding that roadwork has already been decreasing lately because of rising oil prices.
The $175,000 that was cut could have been used to chip and seal 16 miles of road or lay down two miles of pavement, Smith said.
Cuts also forced Smith to eliminate about another $105,000 he had planned to use to buy a dump truck. Smith said the department currently has 22 and tries to replace one per year.
Cass County Council members reluctantly voted in favor of the reductions at a recent meeting, some of them expressing disagreement with the mandate issued by the DLGF.
“We have to do it, but this is going to, in my opinion, severely impact the amount of maintenance that can be done,” said Councilman Brian Reed.
The council also voted to reduce its general fund by about $300,000, per the DLGF mandate.
Smith said he suspects the DLGF required his department to make these cuts because of the cash balance of around $400,000 in the local roads and streets fund. Because the department did not spend it, Smith said he feels the DLGF deemed it worthy of being trimmed, not knowing he was planning to use it on future projects.
As the highway department makes its cuts, the state House of Representatives prepares to propose its recommended budget, part of which suggests using all of the state’s gas tax dollars toward road funding.
The Cass County Farm Bureau has lobbied in favor of that change. Dave Forgey, president of the bureau, said it makes the most sense.
“Initially when they were set up, all of the gas tax money was used on road funding,” Forgey said. “However, over the last few several years, it’s been used to fund the Department of Revenue, State Police as well as the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. We as the Farm Bureau think that taxes originally set up for road maintenance should be used for road maintenance. We need counties to take care of the roads but we need taxes to go back to them so they can.”
Smith said it was very possible that this proposal, if adopted, could help ease the bind the highway department finds itself in.
“If it increases the amount of revenue coming into funds we use for roadwork, it would certainly be a benefit,” Smith said. “We would welcome discussion of that.”
Mitchell Kirk is a staff reporter at the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5130 or email@example.com.
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