Harsh Indiana winter straps county budgets

Todd Saalfrank used Report!t to send NewsChannel 15 this photo of city plows
Todd Saalfrank used Report!t to send NewsChannel 15 this photo of city plows

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) — Highway departments across Indiana are struggling to balance their books and find money for road repairs after the harshest winter in decades drained their coffers.

The heavy snowfall and subzero temperatures that increased the need for supplies and manpower have prompted many communities to seek additional money or tap reserve funds.

“I like to call this the Bruce Willis Winter – it died hard,” Allen County Highway Director Bill Hartman told The Journal Gazette.

Hartman knows firsthand the pain of this winter, one of the coldest and snowiest on record. Allen County had spent more than $1 million in overtime and supplies as of late March, and Hartman has requested more money from the City Council to help cover those costs. The county still doesn’t know the full damage the winter caused to local roads and highways.

Noble County also has requested extra money.

“We doubled in overtime pay,” Highway Superintendent Mark Goodrich said, estimating that the winter cost his department $200,000 more than last year.

The situation is similar in southwestern Indiana, where Vanderburgh County officials say they need to pull $500,000 from reserve funds to pay for road repairs.

“We’ve gotten a lot of phone calls and emails about the conditions of the roads,” County Commissioner Marsha Abell told the Evansville Courier & Press. “We’ve got some very serious road (issues) here. We will not have enough money to handle all this.”

The county has less than $500,000 allocated for road maintenance and repairs. Even adding the reserves won’t be enough to fix all the problems, Abell said.

Once communities cover this year’s costs, they’ll face another struggle: deciding how much to appropriate for next year.

Adams County Highway Department Superintendent Mark Mitchell said he doesn’t plan to budget any differently next year, even though he spent nearly four times what he’d budgeted for wrecker services this year.

“Hopefully, this was a once-in-20-year-event,” he said. “This is the winter that just keeps on giving.”

Steuben County Superintendent Ken Penick said his county has gone about $200,000 over its projected expenses so far this year. But he’s not sure how that overage will affect next year’s budget planning.

“We never know what Mother Nature will deal us,” he said.

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