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City council spars over potholes, road grants

By DARREL RADFORD - dradford@thecouriertimes.com

Winter hasn’t even started yet, but potholes jarred Monday night’s New Castle City Council meeting, creating an air of frustration from council members and city officials alike.

City Council President Mark Koger didn’t use the word “pothole” when citing a problem in the 1100 block of Main Street. He called it a “crater.”

“It happens every year,” Koger said. “Nobody will fix it. Will somebody please patch it tomorrow? That’s a main thoroughfare for ambulances, police cars, fire trucks. Do we just not care about throwing our equipment out of alignment? This is a huge, huge, pothole. I don’t complain about potholes very often but I’m sick of this one. Fix it. Fix it! Fix it right!”

“It’s the third year in a row,” Koger added. “How hard is it to fix it right so we don’t have to go back and fix it again every single time? It’s stupidity, is what it is. I’m tired of bringing it up every year.”

New Castle Street Department Commissioner Lee Walker said while the problem is obvious, the solution is a bit more complicated than meets the eye – or the city’s means at the moment.

“We don’t have the equipment at this time to properly fix every pothole there is in the city of New Castle,” Walker explained. “To take a truck and just throw cold patch in a hole, pack it down to the best of our ability and drive away when you have the weather we’ve been having, it’s going to pop right back out.”

Walker said he is in process of purchasing what he called “a hot box” to help the city mitigate big problem areas until more funding can be found.

“The only way to fix it and fix it correctly would be to cut out about a two-foot square out of every hole, probably three to four inches deep, and fill the hole with hot mix,” Walker said. “That is your permanent solution to fix a pothole. We don’t have the money in the budget to buy hot mix year round. But if we are able to get a hot box, we can use cold patch material in that and it will keep it warm and it should stay longer than what we’ve seen just throwing cold mix in there.

The pothole issue followed another tense topic – the Community Crossings Grant, which would provide funding to help improve street conditions – and why the city of New Castle has been unable to obtain it.

Councilman Aaron Dicken and Mayor Greg York had a rather animated exchange about the city’s efforts concerning the grant. Dicken said information he received from state officials indicated New Castle had no one present at Community Crossings workshop, an event he said was important to successfully obtaining the grant.

“INDOT does not review applications, due to the number submitted,” Dicken said. “Instead, they offer a workshop of how and what to submit. Is there an explanation of why we didn’t have anybody attend that meeting?”

“We didn’t intend to apply this year,” Mayor York said. “We were going to save our money for next year and you guys brought it up.”

Dicken said attendance at those meetings is important in the grant process.

“Any grant that I have applied for as the director of the art center, we had to go to a workshop. With the foundation, you have to attend to even be qualified.”

York defended the city’s efforts at obtaining the grant and said it was more complicated than Dicken was portraying.

“We went to the workshop the year before and we paid an engineer $18,000 plus to do a survey for us,” York said. “It didn’t do a bit of good. A lot of the communities there who did get grants did their own surveys. I think it’s a lot deeper than any kind of information you have.”

York also said anyone who doesn’t think New Castle made an effort to comply with Community Crossing grant requirements should ask those who work in the New Castle City Police Department office.

“We put the ladies in the police department to work for a solid week compiling how many traffic accidents, how many traffic fatalities – they were about ready to shoot us,” York said. “We turned in everything they asked with the exception of tonage. Now if you guys want to form a committee to see that gets done right next year, you are more than welcome to. I’d welcome that. I’d let you do the work.”

“That’s fair,” Dicken said. “The reason I bring this up is because personally as  a council member, I get pressure from my constituents when we do projects that we we’re trying to push to help grow the community – like the plaza, like the REMC building – because our roads are in the shape that they’re in. 

“According to INDOT, the next call for projects is Jan. 7, which is 37 days from now,” Dicken said. “We’re 0-for-2 on this grant. I’d be the first to move we hire a grant writer to have the best shot to obtain this state funding.”

“We’ve already paid $18,000 for the road study,” York replied. “That’s all they’re asking for, is the road study.”

“Well, there’s something else we’re missing here,” Dicken said.

“We didn’t get it because we didn’t have all the right information and didn’t do the due diligence,” Councilman Rex Peckinpaugh said. “The others said we were just turned down, so that kind of makes me think we would have got it if we would have jumped through the hoops they wanted us to jump through.”

York remained defensive about the grant process.

“I’d love for you to see all that goes into it,” he said. “You don’t have the foggiest clue.”

“I’m just trying to do my due diligence to hold our board and our administration accountable because the people who put me in this seat are expecting certain things, like maintenance of the basic infrastructure,” Dicken concluded. “We all know, because of our discussions, what it’s going to cost to do all of it, what it’s going to cost just to do Main Street from the north side of town to the south side of town. Personally, I think it would be great if we had a match from state funding who we complain about does not do anything for our communities to help us with that pricetag.”