By DANIEL SUDDEATH
NEW ALBANY —
With a light agenda to consider, the New Albany City Council spent much of Monday’s meeting hearing from residents concerned about the proposed $4 million Mt. Tabor Road project.
About 18 people said they were opposed to the project as currently designed, especially the addition of a roundabout at the intersection of Klerner Lane.
“It destroys four pieces of property and damages many others,” said Klerner Lane resident Richard Poe.
“It’s just really unacceptable to us, and it’s really not needed.”
The problem is the council doesn’t have much of a say on the issue. It’s a federal aid project and the city’s 20 percent match is coming from tax-increment financing funds which are overseen by the New Albany Redevelopment Commission.
While the council does have two appointments on the five-member commission, the administration manages the project with the aid of a design firm.
But Councilman Scott Blair, who represents the Mt. Tabor Road area, said elected officials should still hear residents’ concerns.
Blair also called for the project to be scaled back, as opponents of the plan said sidewalks aren’t needed on both sides of Mt. Tabor Road.
“To me it’s too overwhelming — it’s too intrusive on people’s property,” he said.
A heavily attended public hearing was held on the project in September, and several residents voiced objections to the project and the roundabout.
Some of the people who attended the council meeting on Monday also stated their fears that the city’s project would increase the amount of traffic on Mt. Tabor Road.
Roger Baylor, co-owner of the New Albanian Brewing Co., compared the frustrations surrounding the Mt. Tabor Road project to his own complaints about the city’s downtown traffic grid.
He said during the meeting that residents in that area of the city want safer, calmer streets, and that’s what downtown business and property owners also desire by pushing for two-way streets.
“It’s exactly the same argument,” Baylor said.
As for Mt. Tabor Road, the city is in a lull between the end of the public comment period and the announcement of the final design for the project.
Blair said it’s important for residents and officials to speak out about the project while the final plan is still being determined.
Mayor Jeff Gahan — who did not attend Monday’s meeting — has said the administration would consider public input before deciding on a final design.
It’s been estimated the project wouldn’t start until 2015.
Medicaid resolution approved
The council approved the only item on its agenda up for a vote on Monday.
Councilman John Gonder sponsored a resolution asking for the state to accept federal funding tied to the Affordable Care Act that would expand Medicaid coverage in Indiana.
Gov. Mike Pence asked and received a one-year extension to continue the state’s Healthy Indiana plan instead of implementing the Medicaid expansion.
But that leaves many Indiana residents without coverage, and Gonder, a Democrat, said it only serves as an attack against President Barack Obama for pushing for health care reform.
The resolution passed 7-2, with Republican Councilman Kevin Zurschmiede and independent Scott Blair voting against the measure.
Both said the council doesn’t have enough information to tell the state what to accept. Blair added the council shouldn’t really vote on non-binding resolutions that don’t relate to matters it holds authority over.
But Councilman Greg Phipps pointed out the council listened to the concerns of residents about Mt. Tabor Road at the beckoning of Blair though the council doesn’t control that project.
Phipps said he supports the residents who are worried about the Mt. Tabor Road project, but added other people also have problems and that the council sometimes has to use its “bully pulpit” to express its feelings about such matters.
Opponents of the expansion said that while federal funding will be available for the first wave of new clients, the state will end up paying a lot of money for Medicaid patients.
Gonder said the state is “closing the door to the working poor” by not accepting the federal funding.