Meeting at the Farm Bureau building on North Jackson Street in Greencastle, second-term District 44 State Rep. Jim Baird (R-Greencastle) and his two newly-elected State Senate cohorts, Pete Miller (R-Avon) and Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville), shared information and tackled questions from about two dozen constituents.
Time and time again, the topic turned to the deteriorating state of Putnam County roads and bridges and the lack of money available to do much, if anything, about them.
"I'd like to thank everyone who brought up that we need more road money," Putnam County Commissioner Nancy Fogle said from the audience, explaining that the county maintains more than 700 miles of roads and this year will have a grand total of $300,000 to do it.
"It's a problem we have every year," Fogle said, further noting that hiring an asphalt company to resurface our roads with hot mix is a $102,000-a-mile proposition.
That figure caused County Council President Darrel Thomas, another audience member, to raise three fingers.
"Three miles," he said, doing the maximum road resurfacing math for those in attendance.
Rep. Baird, a one-time county commissioner before being elected to the statehouse, could easily commiserate with his county brethren.
He told the Update gathering that Senate Bill 505 proposes raising the gasoline tax from 18 cents to 20 cents per gallon. The formula for how the gasoline tax money is disbursed, Baird commented, "is more complex than the school formula in my opinion," he said.
Removing the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and the Indiana State Police from that funding mechanism has been proposed and theoretically would mean more gas tax money being available to the counties. However, that move would require finding a new funding stream for those two agencies somewhere else in the state budget.
Sen. Miller, meanwhile, pointed out that not as much money is available through the gasoline tax because of the recent economic factors. Today's cars and trucks are more efficient, which means people are buying less gasoline to operate them. And because of the higher gasoline prices that have prevailed in recent years, Hoosiers are driving fewer miles and using less gasoline.
"Our infrastructure is vitally important," Sen. Bray said. "Our infrastructure is the core to getting our goods to market and getting our people to work and maintaining our employment."
The subject seemed to frustrate several audience members, including Wes Hacker of the Belle Union area, who stressed, "If we don't do something about our infrastructure, pretty soon we're not going to have anything to drive on."
He said the county's efforts to repair roads by "putting a band-aid on it" is a lost cause, adding that, "In my opinion, that money's being wasted."
Commissioner Fogle asked him pointedly, "Did you call the highway garage?"
"They'd have to bring the whole highway department down to Belle Union for two years," Hacker reasoned to laughs from the audience.
Sen. Miller, whose background is in budgets and financing under former Gov. Mitch Daniels, said the current revenue forecast "shows a structural surplus for the state."
"We are the envy of other states," Miller said. "We're in a very solid position.
"It makes a difference for us (at the legislature) actually," he added. "When the budget is tight, we just say 'no' to everything."
Miller has introduced 10 bills this session, including Senate Bill 1, which has generated much publicity over suggesting money from the Indiana Safe Schools fund may be used for school resource officer programs, including hiring certified law enforcement personnel as armed security guards within schools.
Also discussed briefly was Senate Bill 324, which evolved from a fatal accident that claimed the life of Steven Overbay, 27, an INDOT employee from Roachdale, who was killed while on duty as a flagman along U.S. 36 last September.
The designated state employee death benefit was only $50,000, which "is not enough," said Miller, who was moved enough by the incident and its effects on the family involved to introduce the legislation that's currently before the State Senate.
The bill calls for an increase in the state employee death benefit from $50,000 to $100,000.
"It's too late to help his family," Miller conceded of the Overbays, adding that it hopefully would serve to benefit others in the future.
The next Putnam County Legislative Update session is scheduled for 8 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 16 at the Farm Bureau building. The March meeting will be conducted in conjunction with the Ag Day breakfast at 8 a.m. Saturday, March 16 at the Community Building on the fairgrounds.