By MATT KOESTERS
The Clark County Commissioners unanimously approved a motion to commit $2.4 million toward the construction of a new heavy-haul road connecting the Port of indiana — Jeffersonville to the River Ridge Commerce Center.
Of the $2.4 million committed, $2 million comes in the form of credits the county received in exchange for taking over 18 miles of roads and bridges from the Indiana Department of Transportation last year. INDOT allowed the commissioners to change the allocation of the funds from the proposed road connecting River Ridge to Clark County Regional Airport, Commissioners President Jack Coffman explained, as the heavy-haul road is considered a top priority of numerous top state officials and agencies.
At the outset of the meeting, several officials spoke in support of the new road, including One Southern Indiana President and CEO Wendy Dant Chesser, Port of Indiana — Jeffersonville Director Scott Stewart and Pam Fisher, the director of regulatory affairs with the Indiana Economic Development Corporation.
The county’s $2.4 million contribution will also include $250,000 contributed by the Clark County Redevelopment Commission, which approved the spending at another meeting Thursday. The remaining $150,000 must be paid over the next three years. Coffman said the remaining cost will likely be paid out of the county’s highway fund.
The $2.4 million is the county’s contribution to a total of $11 million needed from local sources for the project as part of a 50-50 split with the state government. The Port of Indiana — Jeffersonville, the River Ridge Development Authority and the city of Jeffersonville will supply the rest of the funds as part of a deal brokered between the entities. The financial obligations of the other three local parties involved in the project were not immediately made available to the public.
“It is probably going to be one of the most significant decisions that we make in all four years of this term,” said Commissioner Rick Stephenson, “because of the simple fact that the state of Indiana [is behind it], the governor’s behind it, the secretary of commerce is behind it [and] the secretary of transportation’s behind it. If you’ve got the state behind you that much and you’ve got the entities on board too - we don’t want to be the only cog that’s not involved.”
The commissioners will consider a resolution of financial support for the project at their next regular meeting, as the draft resolution was not ready to be voted upon at the meeting.
The commissioners said that they still plan to construct the proposed Airport Road, but said that other funding sources will need to be secured to complete the project. The commissioners still plan to pursue a TIGER grant through the U.S. Department of Transportation.
CAN’T PAY THE BILLS
As is their custom, the commissioners voted to approve the payment of payroll claims at the beginning of their meeting, but voted unanimously to table the payment of other claims. And at the end of their meeting, they decided to recess until 1 p.m. today in lieu of adjourning.
The county’s general fund is currently in the red. That hasn’t stopped the commissioners from paying all bills in the past, but they were able to do so because of a court order that mandated the payment of the sheriff’s department’s expenses. Superior Court No. 1 Judge Vicki Carmichael rescinded that order on Tuesday as a procedural step to allow Sheriff Danny Rodden to sue the county to cover a shortfall of $2.6 million through a mandated tax rate.
Rodden’s lawsuit against the county is set for an emergency hearing today, and a similar order allowing the county to pay the sheriff’s department’s bills will likely be handed down, County Attorney Jake Elder explained.
The general-fund shortfall does not mean the county is broke, County Auditor Monte Snelling said, and the general fund should get back in the black soon. Snelling said the county has a total of more than $25 million in the bank, but it’s mostly in funds that the county can’t use to pay general-fund expenses.
“If you had a big bowl of water, and county general was a cup floating in the middle of it, it doesn’t mean you don’t have any water - it just means you don’t have any water in the cup,” Snelling said. “No checks will bounce.”
The commissioners will likely be able to approve the payment of all claims when they reconvene today, Elder said.
A call placed with Rodden was not returned Thursday.
BRIDGE CONTRACT AWARDED
The commissioners unanimously approved the award of bridge work on bridge No. 155, which connects Brown Station Way to Spring Street in New Albany.
The low bidder for the project was Gohmann Asphalt, with a bid of $147,215. County Engineer Brian Dixon recommended that the commissioners accept the bid.