Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

September 20, 2013

City, county negotiating Merkel Road upgrades

Debbie Blank The Herald-Tribune
The Batesville Herald-Tribune

---- — The Ripley County Commissioners presented Batesville leaders with a letter at their Sept. 16 meeting, stating they would contribute $100,000 to upgrade Merkel Road north of Morris if the city would take over the county road’s maintenance, reported Mayor Rick Fledderman.

Batesville officials asked the commissioners Aug. 19 to authorize improvements to Merkel Road between State Road 46 and Lammers Pike and either pay for the estimated $767,000 project or partner with the city on it. Batesville has annexed land on both sides of the county road, which leads to its new and vacant 72-acre industrial park, then the almost-full Batesville Commerce Center.

After studying the narrow road, consultant Steve Moore of VS Engineering, Indianapolis, suggested widening it from 20 to 24 feet and resurfacing it, plus adding a stone shoulder, which would benefit large trucks driving to current Batesville Commerce Center tenants and future industrial park ones.

With the $100,000 offer just 13 percent of the total price tag, “we did express some disappointment in (them) not funding more for the road,” said Fledderman. The commissioners told Batesville leaders that total is more than dollars they contributed for other projects. The mayor told them, “‘You need to look at the impact this has on current jobs with 300 employed at the commerce center.’” He reminded the panel how a better Merkel Road would benefit “public safety and job creation and retention.”

“We told them we would take it under advisement” and discuss the proposal with the Batesville Economic Development Commission and Batesville Board of Works.

Fledderman said, “We have to find the funds. We’re going to go back” to the commissioners for more discussion. County Auditor Bill Wager said, “This year, 2013, we should get $958,886” in Economic Development Income Tax funds at the county level. “Batesville will get $224,231.”

There could be other funding sources. The current industrial park fund contains about $250,000, which must be spent on the park, “but this is a road leading into the park,” the mayor noted. “I did have a discussion several months ago with Grant Hughes,” the Lawrenceburg Regional Economic Development Grant program director, who told Fledderman funding Merkel Road improvements “was something they would consider. They’ve come out with a new application and criteria for the grants.”

Leaders also may choose to dip into city EDIT dollars, which have accumulated to a projected $1.56 million in 2014. He explained they have been hoarding that money. “We’re very conservative. We want to save it for major projects.”

What can citizens and businesses do to get a better Merkel Road? “Contact the commissioners,” suggested the mayor. “We showed them through data and statistics we have a large financial impact on the county ...

“We want to partner with the county. I can understand their situation, but they need to understand ours. It’s all about creating jobs.”

Once the project’s total dollar amount is locked in, “there’s some legwork we have to do,” such as utilities relocation and easements, before construction can begin. He wants that to be “as soon as we can.”

Debbie Blank can be contacted at debbie.blank@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.